Baghdad falls

On this day, 10 February 1258, the Abbasid capital city of Baghdad finally fell to the Mongols after a 13-days-long siege. The majority of Baghdad’s population was erased from existence. The caliph and more than 3,000 Abbasid officials and notables were also killed. The mosques, palaces, libraries, and hospitals were burned down.

The fall of Baghdad is also considered to mark the end of the Islamic Golden Age. Baghdad would never recover its former glory.

Painting According to The Travels of Marco Polo, Hulagu (left) orders to imprison Caliph Al-Musta’sim among his treasures to starve him to death | Wikimedia

Background

in 1242/43, the Mongols defeated the Seljuks of Rum and forced them to recognize the Mongol Great Han as suzerain. After a temporary retreat in 1252, the Mongol commander Hulagu returned to take Iraq, to besiege Baghdad.

The Siege of Baghdad

From December 18, 1257, to January 16, 1258, the right-wing of Hulagu’s army crossed the Tigris River and arrived at Nahr Isa near al-Dujayl, north of Baghdad. Before inflicting the siege, Hulagu sent an envoy to the Caliph with the message: “If the Caliph is in submission, let him come out. Otherwise, this means war.”

From January 22 through 29, the Mongol army swarmed in like ants and locusts from all directions, forming a circle around the ramparts of Baghdad and setting up a wall. A unit consisting of one thousand “crews” of Chinese artillerymen helped breach the walls. They set up catapults opposite the Ajami Tower in the southeast corner of the city and breached it.

By February 5, the Mongols controlled a stretch of the wall. The Caliph attempted too late to negotiate but was refused. On February 10th the city surrendered. Three days later, the Mongols entered the city, and Baghdad was subject to a week of sack and pillage.

Much of the population was put to the sword, the gutters and canals of the city running red. Before they were done, the Mongols destroyed large sections of the city; gratuitously ruining canals and dykes forming the city’s irrigation system and water supply.

Aftermath

In response to the Mongol threat, Egypt fell under the Mamluk slave dynasty (1250-1517), which defeated Hulagu’s garrisons at Ain Jalut (1260) and in Syria and Palestine, thus marking the high point of Mongol expansion but leaving them in control of the rest of the Middle East. Soon afterwards the Great Mongol Empire itself broke into sections divided among the relatives of the last Great Han.

Sources:
Jami’ al-Tawarikh by Rashid-al-Din Hamadani (1247–1318)
History of the Ottoman Empire by J. Shaw
The Mongol Conquests of Abbasid Baghdad by Kaiqi Hua

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