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Hulegu Khan

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Hulegu Khan
ᠬᠦᠯᠡᠭᠦ ᠬᠠᠭᠠᠨ
Painting of Hulegu Khan on Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, early 14th century.
Reign1256 – 8 February 1265
SuccessorAbaqa Khan
Bornc. 1217
Died (aged 47)
Zarrineh River
IssueSee below
MotherSorghaghtani Beki

Hulegu Khan, also known as Hülegü or Hulagu[n 1] (c. 1217 – 8 February 1265), was a Mongol ruler who conquered much of Western Asia. Son of Tolui and the Keraite princess Sorghaghtani Beki, he was a grandson of Genghis Khan and brother of Ariq Böke, Möngke Khan, and Kublai Khan.

Hulegu's army greatly expanded the southwestern portion of the Mongol Empire, founding the Ilkhanate in Persia. Under Hulegu's leadership, the Mongols sacked and destroyed Baghdad ending the Islamic Golden Age and weakened Damascus, causing a shift of Islamic influence to the Mamluk Sultanate in Cairo and ended the Abbasid Dynasty.



Hulegu was born to Tolui, one of Genghis Khan's sons, and Sorghaghtani Beki, an influential Keraite princess and a niece of Toghrul in 1217.[3] Nothing much is known of Hulegu's childhood except of an anecdote given in Jami' al-Tawarikh and he once met his grandfather Genghis Khan with Kublai in 1224.

Military campaigns

The siege of Alamût in 1256
A Mughal painting of Hulegu's siege of Alamut

Hulegu's brother Möngke Khan had been installed as Great Khan in 1251. Möngke charged Hulegu with leading a massive Mongol army to conquer or destroy the remaining Muslim states in southwestern Asia. Hulegu's campaign sought the subjugation of the Lurs of southern Iran,[3] the destruction of the Nizari Ismaili state (the Assassins), the submission or destruction of the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad, the submission or destruction of the Ayyubid states in Syria based in Damascus, and finally, the submission or destruction of the Bahri Mamluke Sultanate of Egypt.[4] Möngke ordered Hulegu to treat kindly those who submitted and utterly destroy those who did not. Hulegu vigorously carried out the latter part of these instructions.

Hulegu marched out with perhaps the largest Mongol army ever assembled – by order of Möngke, two-tenths of the empire's fighting men were gathered for Hulegu's army[5] in 1253. He arrived at Transoxiana in 1255. He easily destroyed the Lurs, and the Assassins surrendered their impregnable fortress of Alamut without a fight, accepting a deal that spared the lives of their people in early 1256. He chose Azerbaijan as his power base, while ordering Baiju to retreat to Anatolia. From at least 1257 onwards, Muslims and Christians of every major religious variety in Europe, the Middle East, and mainland Asia were a part of Hulegu's army.[6]

Siege of Baghdad


Hulegu's Mongol army set out for Baghdad in November 1257. Once near the city he divided his forces to threaten the city on both the east and west banks of the Tigris. Hulegu demanded surrender, but the caliph, Al-Musta'sim, refused. Due to the treason of Abu Alquma, an advisor to Al-Muta'sim, an uprising in the Baghdad army took place and Siege of Baghdad began. The attacking Mongols broke dikes and flooded the ground behind the caliph's army, trapping them. Much of the army was slaughtered or drowned.

The Mongols under Chinese general Guo Kan laid siege to the city on 29 January 1258,[7] constructing a palisade and a ditch and wheeling up siege engines and catapults. The battle was short by siege standards. By 5 February the Mongols controlled a stretch of the wall. The caliph tried to negotiate but was refused. On 10 February Baghdad surrendered. The Mongols swept into the city on 13 February and began a week of destruction. The Grand Library of Baghdad, containing countless precious historical documents and books on subjects ranging from medicine to astronomy, was destroyed. Citizens attempted to flee but were intercepted by Mongol soldiers.

Hulegu (left) imprisons the Caliph among his treasures to starve him to death. Medieval depiction from "Le livre des merveilles", 15th century.

Death counts vary widely and cannot be easily substantiated: A low estimate is about 90,000 dead;[8] higher estimates range from 200,000 to a million.[9] The Mongols looted and then destroyed. Mosques, palaces, libraries, hospitals—grand buildings that had been the work of generations—were burned to the ground. The caliph was captured and forced to watch as his citizens were murdered and his treasury plundered. Il Milione, a book on the travels of Venetian merchant Marco Polo, states that Hulegu starved the caliph to death, but there is no corroborating evidence for that. Most historians believe the Mongol and Muslim accounts that the caliph was rolled up in a rug and the Mongols rode their horses over him, as they believed that the earth would be offended if touched by royal blood. All but one of his sons were killed. Baghdad was a depopulated, ruined city for several centuries. Smaller states in the region hastened to reassure Hulegu of their loyalty, and the Mongols turned to Syria in 1259, conquering the Ayyubid dynasty and sending advance patrols as far ahead as Gaza.

A thousand squads of northern Chinese sappers accompanied the Hulegu during his conquest of the Middle East.[10]

Conquest of Syria (1260)

Hulegu and Queen Doquz Qatun depicted as the new Constantine and Helen in a Syriac bible.[11][12]

In 1260 Mongol forces combined with those of their Christian vassals in the region, including the army of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia under Hethum I, King of Armenia and the Franks of Bohemond VI of Antioch. This force conquered Muslim Syria, a domain of the Ayyubid dynasty. They captured Aleppo by siege and, under the Christian general Kitbuqa, seized Damascus on 1 March 1260.[a] A Christian Mass was celebrated in the Umayyad Mosque and numerous mosques were profaned. Many historical accounts describe the three Christian rulers Hethum, Bohemond, and Kitbuqa entering the city of Damascus together in triumph,[13][14] though some modern historians such as David Morgan have questioned this story as apocryphal.[15]

The invasion effectively destroyed the Ayyubids, which was until then a powerful dynasty that had ruled large parts of the Levant, Egypt, and the Arabian Peninsula. The last Ayyubid king, An-Nasir Yusuf, had been killed by Hulegu this same year.[16] With Baghdad ravaged and Damascus weakened, the center of Islamic power shifted to the Mamluk sultan's capital of Cairo.

Hulegu intended to send forces southward through Palestine toward Cairo. So he had a threatening letter delivered by an envoy to the Mamluk Sultan Qutuz in Cairo demanding that Qutuz open his city or it would be destroyed like Baghdad. Then, because food and fodder in Syria had become insufficient to supply his full force, and because it was a regular Mongol practice to move troops to the cooler highlands for the summer,[17] Hulegu withdrew his main force to Iran near Azerbaijan, leaving behind one tumen (10,000 men or less) under Kitbuqa, accompanied by Armenian, Georgian, and Frankish volunteers, which Hulegu considered sufficient. Hulegu then personally departed for Mongolia to play his role in the imperial succession conflict occasioned by the death some eight months earlier of Great Khan Möngke. But upon receiving news of how few Mongols now remained in the region, Qutuz quickly assembled his well-trained and equipped 20,000-strong army at Cairo and invaded Palestine.[18][unreliable source?] He then allied himself with a fellow Mamluk leader, Baybars in Syria, who not only needed to protect his own future from the Mongols but was eager to avenge for Islam the Mongol capture of Damascus, looting of Baghdad, and conquest of Syria.

The Mongols, for their part, attempted to form a Frankish-Mongol alliance with (or at least, demand the submission of) the remnant of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, now centered on Acre, but Pope Alexander IV had forbidden such an alliance. Tensions between Franks and Mongols also increased when Julian of Sidon caused an incident resulting in the death of one of Kitbuqa's grandsons. Angered, Kitbuqa had sacked Sidon. The Barons of Acre, contacted by the Mongols, had also been approached by the Mamluks, seeking military assistance against the Mongols. Although the Mamluks were traditional enemies of the Franks, the Barons of Acre recognized the Mongols as the more immediate menace. Instead of taking sides, the Crusaders opted for a position of cautious neutrality between the two forces. In an unusual move, however, they allowed the Egyptian Mamluks to march northward without hindrance through Crusader territory and even let them camp near Acre to resupply.

Battle of Ain Jalut

Hulegu leading his army

When news arrived that the Mongols had crossed the Jordan River in 1260, Sultan Qutuz and his forces proceeded southeast toward the 'Spring of Goliath' (Known in Arabic as 'Ain Jalut') in the Jezreel Valley. They met the Mongol army of about 12,000 in the Battle of Ain Jalut and fought relentlessly for many hours. The Mamluk leader Baybars mostly implemented hit-and-run tactics in an attempt to lure the Mongol forces into chasing him. Baybars and Qutuz had hidden the bulk of their forces in the hills to wait in ambush for the Mongols to come into range. The Mongol leader Kitbuqa, already provoked by the constant fleeing of Baybars and his troops, decided to march forwards with all his troops on the trail of the fleeing Egyptians. When the Mongols reached the highlands, Egyptians appeared from hiding, and the Mongols found themselves surrounded by enemy forces as the hidden troops hit them from the sides and Qutuz attacked the Mongol rear. Estimates of the size of the Egyptian army range from 24,000 to 120,000. The Mongols broke free of the trap and even mounted a temporarily successful counterattack, but their numbers had been depleted to the point that the outcome was inevitable. Refusing to surrender, the whole Mongol army that had remained in the region, including Kitbuqa, were cut down and killed that day. The battle of Ain Jalut established a high-water mark for the Mongol conquest.

Civil War

Coin of Hulegu, with the symbol of a hare

After the succession was settled and his brother Kublai Khan was established as Great Khan, Hulegu returned to his lands by 1262. When he massed his armies to attack the Mamluks and avenge the defeat at Ain Jalut, however, he was instead drawn into civil war with Batu Khan's brother Berke. Berke Khan, a Muslim convert and the grandson of Genghis Khan, had promised retribution in his rage after Hulegu's sack of Baghdad and allied himself with the Mamluks. He initiated a large series of raids on Hulegu's territories, led by Nogai Khan. Hulegu suffered a severe defeat in an attempted invasion north of the Caucasus in 1263. This was the first open war between Mongols and signaled the end of the unified empire. In retaliation for his failure, Hulegu killed Berke's ortogh, and Berke did the same in return.[19]

Even while Berke was Muslim, out of Mongol brotherhood he at first resisted the idea of fighting Hulegu. He said, "Mongols are killed by Mongol swords. If we were united, then we would have conquered all of the world." But the economic situation of the Golden Horde due to the actions of the Ilkhanate led him to declare jihad because the Ilkhanids were hogging the wealth of North Iran and because of the Ilkhanate's demands for the Golden Horde not to sell slaves to the Mamluks.[20]

Communications with Europe


Hulegu's mother Sorghaghtani successfully navigated Mongol politics, arranging for all of her sons to become Mongol leaders. She was a Christian of the Church of the East (often referred to as "Nestorianism") and Hulegu was friendly to Christianity. Hulegu's favorite wife, Doquz Khatun, was also a Christian, as was his closest friend and general, Kitbuqa. Hulegu sent multiple communications to Europe in an attempt to establish a Franco-Mongol alliance against the Muslims. In 1262, he sent his secretary Rychaldus and an embassy to "all kings and princes overseas". The embassy was apparently intercepted in Sicily by Manfred, King of Sicily, who was allied with the Mamluk Sultanate and in conflict with Pope Urban IV, and Rychaldus was returned by ship.[21]

On 10 April 1262, Hulegu sent a letter, through John the Hungarian, to Louis IX of France, offering an alliance.[22] It is unclear whether the letter ever reached Louis IX in Paris – the only manuscript known to have survived was in Vienna, Austria.[23] The letter stated Hulegu's intention to capture Jerusalem for the benefit of the Pope and asked for Louis to send a fleet against Egypt:

From the head of the Mongol army, anxious to devastate the perfidious nation of the Saracens, with the good-will support of the Christian faith (...) so that you, who are the rulers of the coasts on the other side of the sea, endeavor to deny a refuge for the Infidels, your enemies and ours, by having your subjects diligently patrol the seas.

— Letter from Hulegu to Saint Louis.[24]

Despite many attempts, neither Hulegu nor his successors were able to form an alliance with Europe, although Mongol culture in the West was in vogue in the 13th century. Many new-born children in Italy were named after Mongol rulers, including Hulegu: names such as Can Grande ("Great Khan"), Alaone (Hulegu), Argone (Arghun), and Cassano (Ghazan) are recorded.[25]



Hulegu had fourteen wives and concubines with at least 21 issues with them:

Principal wives:

  • Guyuk Khatun (died in Mongolia before reaching Iran) – daughter of Toralchi Güregen of the Oirat tribe and Checheikhen Khatun
    • Jumghur (died en route to Iran in 1270s)
    • Bulughan agha – married Jorma Güregen, son of Jochi (from Tatar tribe, brother of Nukdan khatun) and Chechagan Khatun, daughter of Temüge (Otchi Noyon)
  • Qutui Khatun – daughter of Chigu Noyan of Khongirad tribe and Tümelün behi (daughter of Genghis khan and Börte)
    • Takshin (d. 12 September 1270 of urinary incontinence)
    • Tekuder (1246–1284)
    • Todogaj Khatun[26] – married to Tengiz Güregen, married secondly to Sulamish his son, married thirdly to Chichak, son of Sulamish
  • Yesunchin Khatun (d. January/February 1272) – a lady from the Suldus tribe
  • Dokuz Khatun, daughter of Uyku (son of Toghrul) and widow of Tolui
  • Öljei Khatun – half-sister of Guyuk, daughter of Toralchi Güregen of the Oirat tribe
    • Möngke Temür (b. 23 October 1256, d. 26 April 1282)
    • Jamai Khatun – married Jorma Güregen after her sister Bulughan's death
    • Manggugan Khatun – married firstly to her cousin Chakar Güregen (son of Buqa Timur and niece of Öljei Khatun), married secondly to his son Taraghai
    • Baba Khatun – married to Lagzi Güregen, son of Arghun Aqa


  • Nogachin Aghchi, a lady from Cathay; from camp of Qutui Khatun
  • Tuqtani (or Toqiyatai) Egechi (d. 20 February 1292) – sister of Irinjin, niece of Dokuz Khatun
  • Boraqchin Agachi, from camp of Qutui Khatun
    • Taraghai (died by lightning strike on his way to Iran in 1260s)
      • Baydu
      • Eshil – married to Tuq Temür and then his brother (son of Abdullah Aqa, a general of Abaqa)
  • Arighan Agachi (d. 8 February 1265) – daughter of Tengiz Güregen; from camp of Qutui Khatun
  • Ajuja Agachi, a lady from China or Khitans, from camp of Dokuz Khatun
  • Yeshichin Agachi, a lady from the Kür'lüüt tribe; from camp of Qutui Khatun
    • Yesüder – Viceroy of Khorasan during Abaqa's reign
      • A daughter (married to Esen Buqa Güregen, son of Noqai Yarghuchi)
      • Khabash – posthumous son
  • El Agachi – a lady from the Khongirad tribe; from camp of Dokuz Khatun
    • Hulachu (executed by Arghun in October 1289)[27]
      • Suleiman (executed with his father)
      • Kuchuk (died in infancy after a long illness)
      • Khoja (died in infancy)
      • Qutluq Buqa (died in infancy)
      • 3 daughter
    • Shiba'uchi (d. Winter 1282)
  • Irqan Agachi (Tribe unknown)
    • Taraghai Khatun – married to Taghai Timur (renamed Musa) of Khongirad (son of Shigu Güregen) and Temülun Khatun (daughter of Genghis Khan)
  • Mangligach Agachi (Tribe unknown)
    • Qutluqqan Khatun – married firstly to Yesu Buqa Güregen, son of Urughtu Noyan of the Dörben tribe, married secondly Tukel, son of Yesu Buqa
  • A concubine from Qutui Khatun's camp:
    • Toqai Timur (d. 1289)[27]
      • Qurumushi
      • Hajji
The funeral of Hulegu (Bibliothèque nationale de France)



Hulegu Khan fell seriously ill in January 1265 and died the following month on the banks of Zarrineh River (then called Jaghatu) and was buried on Shahi Island in Lake Urmia. His funeral was the only Ilkhanate funeral to feature human sacrifice.[28] His tomb has never been found.[29]



Hulegu Khan laid the foundations of the Ilkhanate and thus paved the way for the later Safavid dynastic state, and ultimately the modern country of Iran. Hulegu's conquests also opened Iran to both European influence from the west and buddhist influence from the east. Thus, combined with patronage from his successors, would develop Iran's distinctive excellence in architecture. Under Hulegu's dynasty, Iranian historians began writing in Persian rather than Arabic.[30] It is recorded however that he converted to Buddhism as he neared death,[31] against the will of Doquz Khatun.[32] The erection of a Buddhist temple at Ḵoy testifies his interest in that religion.[3] Recent translations of various Tibetan monks' letters and epistles to Hulegu confirms that he was a lifelong Buddhist, following the Kagyu school.[33]

Hulegu also patronized Nasir al-Din Tusi and his researches in Maragheh observatory. Another of his proteges were Juvayni brothers Ata Malik and Shams al-Din Juvayni. His reign as the ruler of Ilkhanate was peaceful and tolerant to diversity.[34]



  1. ^ Mongolian: Хүлэгү/ᠬᠦᠯᠡᠭᠦ, romanizedHu’legu’/Qülegü, lit.'Surplus'; Chagatay: هلیگو; Persian: هولاکو خان; Arabic: هولاكو خان; Chinese: 旭烈兀; pinyin: Xùlièwù [ɕû.ljê.û]
  1. ^ "On 1 March Kitbuqa entered Damascus at the head of a Mongol army. With him were the King of Armenia and the Prince of Antioch. The citizens of the ancient capital of the Caliphate saw for the first time for six centuries three Christian potentates ride in triumph through their streets".[13]


  1. ^ Grousset, René (1970). The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia. Rutgers University Press. p. 358. ISBN 9780813513041.
  2. ^ Vaziri, Mostafa (2012). "Buddhism during the Mongol Period in Iran". Buddhism in Iran: An Anthropological Approach to Traces and Influences. Palgrave Macmillan US. pp. 111–131. doi:10.1057/9781137022943_7. ISBN 9781137022943.
  3. ^ a b c "Hulāgu Khan" at Encyclopædia Iranica
  4. ^ Amitai-Preiss, Reuven. The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War
  5. ^ John Joseph Saunders, The History of the Mongol Conquests, 1971.
  6. ^ Chua, Amy (2007). Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance–and Why They Fall (1st ed.). New York: Doubleday. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-385-51284-8. OCLC 123079516.
  7. ^ "Six Essays from the Book of Commentaries on Euclid". World Digital Library. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  8. ^ Sicker 2000, p. 111.
  9. ^ New Yorker, April 25, 2005, Ian Frazier, "Invaders - Destroying Baghdad"
  10. ^ Josef W. Meri (2005). Josef W. Meri (ed.). Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. Psychology Press. p. 510. ISBN 0-415-96690-6. Retrieved 28 November 2011. This called for the employment of engineers to engage in mining operations, to build siege engines and artillery, and to concoct and use incendiary and explosive devices. For instance, Hulagu, who led Mongol forces into the Middle East during the second wave of the invasions in 1250, had with him a thousand squads of engineers, evidently of north Chinese (or perhaps Khitan) provenance.
  11. ^ "In May 1260, a Syrian painter gave a new twist to the iconography of the Exaltation of the Cross by showing Constantine and Helena with the features of Hulegu and his Christian wife Doquz Khatun" in Cambridge History of Christianity Vol. 5 Michael Angold p. 387 Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-81113-9
  12. ^ Le Monde de la Bible N. 184 July–August 2008, p. 43
  13. ^ a b Runciman 1987, p. 307.
  14. ^ Grousset, p. 588
  15. ^ Jackson 2014.
  16. ^ Atlas des Croisades, p. 108
  17. ^ Pow, Lindsey Stephen (2012). Deep Ditches and Well-Built Walls: a Reappraisal of the Mongol Withdrawal from Europe in 1242 (Master's thesis). University of Calgary. p. 32. OCLC 879481083.
  18. ^ Corbyn, James (2015). In What Sense Can Ayn Jalut be Viewed as a Decisive Engagement? (Master's thesis). Royal Holloway University of London. pp. 7–9.
  19. ^ Enkhbold, Enerelt (2019). "The role of the ortoq in the Mongol Empire in forming business partnerships". Central Asian Survey. 38 (4): 531–547. doi:10.1080/02634937.2019.1652799. S2CID 203044817.
  20. ^ Johan Elverskog (2011). Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 186–. ISBN 978-0-8122-0531-2.
  21. ^ Jackson 2014, p. 173.
  22. ^ Jackson 2014, p. 178.
  23. ^ Jackson 2014, p. 166.
  24. ^ Letter from Hulegu to Saint Louis, quoted in Les Croisades, Thierry Delcourt, p. 151
  25. ^ Jackson 2014, p. 315.
  26. ^ Landa, Ishayahu (2018). "Oirats in the Ilkhanate and the Mamluk Sultanate in the Thirteenth to the Early Fifteenth Centuries: Two Cases of Assimilation into the Muslim Environment (MSR XIX, 2016)" (PDF). Mamlūk Studies Review. doi:10.6082/M1B27SG2.
  27. ^ a b c Brack, Jonathan Z. (2016). Mediating Sacred Kingship: Conversion and Sovereignty in Mongol Iran (Thesis). hdl:2027.42/133445.
  28. ^ Morgan, p. 139
  29. ^ Henry Filmer (1937). The Pageant Of Persia. p. 224.
  30. ^ Francis Robinson, The Mughal Emperors And The Islamic Dynasties of India, Iran and Central Asia, pp. 19 & 36
  31. ^ Hildinger 1997, p. 148.
  32. ^ Jackson 2014, p. 176.
  33. ^ Martin, Dan; Samten, Jampa (2014). "Letters for the Khans: Six Tibetan Epistles for the Mongol Rulers Hulegu and Khubilai, and the Tibetan Lama Pagpa. Co-authored with Jampa Samten". In Roberto Vitali (ed.). Trails of The Tibetan Tradition: Papers for Elliot Sperling. Amnye Machen Institute. ISBN 9788186227725.
  34. ^ Nehru, Jawaharlal. Glimpses of World History. Penguin Random House.[ISBN missing][page needed]
  35. ^ Yilmaz, Atif (10 October 1962), Cengiz Han'in hazineleri (Adventure, Comedy), Orhan Günsiray, Fatma Girik, Tülay Akatlar, Öztürk Serengil, Yerli Film, retrieved 1 February 2021

Works cited

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