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Death of Muhammad II of Khwarezm. From Jami' al-tawarikh by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani. (Public Domain)

In Pursuit Of The Shah, The Mongols Discover The West


In 1219, Genghis Khan led his armies into the mighty Khwarazmain Empire (present-day Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran) and smashed it. The provocation of this attack was due to the mistreatment of ambassadors and merchants. The Mongols had sent envoys to Shah Ala ad-Din Muhammad II to establish a trade deal and relations, but the Shah and his advisors suspected them of being spies and sent them back.  This could very well have been true, given the Mongol nature to scout out areas they had an interest in. Genghis sent one more envoy to the Shah, but when this attempt also failed, he declared war.  After the Mongol invasion and conquest of the Khwarazmain Empire, Genghis’ generals Subotai and Jebe initiated a hunt for the fleeing Shah, which would eventually lead to the great raid of Europe starting in 1220.

Khwarezmid Empire's Area (Arab League/ CC BY-SA 3.0)

Khwarezmid Empire's Area (Arab League/ CC BY-SA 3.0)

In Pursuit Of The Shah

What led the Mongols to push further west after the Khwarazmain Empire had been partially subdued? There are multiple answers and all provided by Subotai. The first answer is pursuit. After the Mongols devastated the major cities of Bukhara, Samarkand, and Urgench in northern Khwarazm, Genghis Khan made it clear that he wanted the feeling Shah Ala ad-Din Muhammad II captured. In 1220, Genghis decided that a force of 30,000 men should pursue the Shah and he summoned Subotai, his son-in-law, Toguchar, and his son, Jebe. Each of these three generals was assigned a tumen (a division roughly consisting of 10,000 men) with Subotai in charge of the operation. Genghis Khan, according to a Muslim chronicler, stated: “Do not come back until you have taken the prisoner. If he flees before you, follow him through his domains, whithersoever he may turn. Spare every town which surrender to you, but destroy ruthlessly anyone who gets in your way and offers resistance”.

ISLAMIC, Persia (Post-Seljuk). Khwarizm Shahs. Dinar of 'Ala al-Din Muhammad II. (CC BY-SA 2.5)

ISLAMIC, Persia (Post-Seljuk). Khwarizm Shahs. Dinar of 'Ala al-Din Muhammad II. (CC BY-SA 2.5)

To escape the carnage of his empire and regather his forces, the Shah fled to Balkh. It was here at Balkh that he learned that Samarkand had fallen. While in Balkh, the Shah pondered the idea of relocating to Afghanistan, but reconsidered, given that not too long before, he had conquered the land and the locals may not be so welcoming to receive him.


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Cam Rea is an author and military historian. He has written numerous articles for Ancient Origins, Classical Wisdom Weekly, and has authored several books, including: The Wars of Israel: A Military History of Ancient Israel from the End of Judges to Solomon

Top Image: Death of Muhammad II of Khwarezm. From Jami' al-tawarikh by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani. (Public Domain)

By Cam Rea

Cam Rea's picture

Cam Rea

Cam Rea is a Military Historian and currently the Associate Editor/Writer at Strategy & Tactics Press. Mr. Rea has published several books and written numerous articles for Strategy & Tactics Press and Classical Wisdom Weekly. His most current publication is... Read More

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