Why Did the Mongol Army Attack the Abbasid Caliphate?

Noer Huda By Noer Huda
11 Min Read
Mengapa Tentara Mongol Menyerang Daulah Abbasiyah?
Mengapa Tentara Mongol Menyerang Daulah Abbasiyah?

In 1258, a tragic event unfolded in Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate. The Mongol army, led by Hulagu Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, laid siege to and destroyed the city. Al-Mustasim, the highest leader of the Muslim community at the time, was killed in a brutal manner.

Millions of Baghdad’s inhabitants were either killed or captured. Libraries, mosques, and palaces, which were the centers of Islamic civilization, were burned to the ground. Many consider this event the end of the Islamic Golden Age.

But what exactly drove the Mongol army to attack the Abbasid Caliphate? What made them so fierce and uncontrollable? What were the impacts of their assault on the Islamic world and the world at large?

A Diminishing Power

The Abbasid Caliphate had ruled the Islamic world since 750 until 1258, succeeding the Umayyad Caliphate, which was deemed illegitimate by most Muslims. The Abbasids moved their capital from Damascus to Baghdad, which then grew into the largest and most sophisticated city of its time. Under Abbasid rule, the Islamic world saw rapid advancements in science, art, literature, architecture, and trade. They also succeeded in conquering and Islamizing various regions, from North Africa, Spain, Central Asia, to India.

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However, the glory of the Abbasids didn’t last. From the 10th century onwards, their power began to wane due to various rebellions, divisions, and invasions. Several regions that had been under Abbasid control, like Egypt, Spain, and Persia, broke away to form their own dynasties.

Moreover, the Abbasids had to face threats from the Seljuk Turks, who were both allies and rivals. The Seljuks were nomadic people from Central Asia who had converted to Islam and served as mercenaries for the Abbasids. However, they also demanded political rights and territories from the Abbasids, sometimes even threatening Baghdad itself.

By the 13th century, the power of the Abbasids had significantly declined. They only controlled the area around Iraq, while other regions were under the influence of the Seljuks or other dynasties. The Abbasid Caliphs also lost their authority and prestige as leaders of the Muslim community.

They were more concerned with worldly matters, such as building luxurious palaces, amassing wealth, and indulging in pleasures with their concubines. They also often depended on officials, commanders, and scholars who frequently abused their power. Thus, the Abbasid Caliphate became weak and vulnerable to external attacks.

An Unstoppable Conqueror

Meanwhile, in the far east of Asia, a new power emerged that would shake the world. They were the Mongol army, led by Genghis Khan, a charismatic and military genius leader. Genghis Khan managed to unite various nomadic tribes that were previously hostile to each other, forming a vast and powerful kingdom.

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The Mongol army was renowned for its speed, toughness, and cruelty. They used horses for war, bows and arrows as their main weapon, and employed clever and flexible strategies. They didn’t hesitate to slaughter, loot, and burn everything in their path.

Genghis Khan began his conquest campaign in the early 13th century. He succeeded in defeating and subjugating various kingdoms and empires, such as China, Khwarezmia, Russia, and Central Asia.

He also sent his envoys to various countries, including the Abbasid Caliphate, to offer peace and trade, provided they recognized Mongol sovereignty. However, many countries rejected this offer, with some even insulting and killing Mongol envoys. This infuriated Genghis Khan, who vowed to seek revenge.

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After Genghis Khan’s death in 1227, the Mongol empire was divided into four khanates, each led by one of his sons or grandsons. One of the most important khanates was the Ilkhanate, led by Hulagu Khan, Genghis Khan’s grandson. Hulagu Khan was responsible for the conquest of the Middle East, including the Abbasid Caliphate.

He led a Mongol army of about 150,000, consisting of various tribes and nations, such as Turks, Persians, Armenians, Georgians, among others. He was also assisted by several allies, like the Kingdom of Armenia, the Sultanate of Rum, and the Hashshashins.

Hulagu Khan began his invasion of the Middle East in 1256. He succeeded in defeating and destroying several countries and cities, such as the Nizari Ismaili state, the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Fatimid Caliphate. He also sent his envoys to Baghdad, offering peace to Caliph Al-Mustasim, provided he submitted to Mongol rule, paid tribute, and surrendered all possessions and weapons.

However, Caliph Al-Mustasim rejected this offer, arguing that he was the leader of the Muslim community, and that he had a strong and loyal army. He also relied on support from his allies, like the Seljuks, Egypt, and Syria. He even insulted and expelled Mongol envoys.

This enraged Hulagu Khan, who vowed to punish Caliph Al-Mustasim. He then led his army towards Baghdad, besieging the city in January 1258. The battle lasted several weeks, with both sides attacking and defending.

However, the Mongol army had advantages in numbers, weaponry, and strategy. They also used siege engines, such as catapults, cannons, and bombs, capable of demolishing the city’s walls and buildings. Finally, on February 10, 1258, the Mongol army breached the city’s defenses and entered Baghdad.

A City Shattered

The Mongol army’s entry into Baghdad was marked by a horrific massacre. They killed millions of people, including men, women, children, and elderly. They also captured and enslaved many others. They burned libraries, mosques, palaces, and schools, destroying centuries of knowledge and heritage.

They looted treasures, artifacts, and manuscripts, some of which were thrown into the Tigris River, turning its water black with ink. They also destroyed the city’s infrastructure, such as dams, bridges, and irrigation systems, causing famine and disease.

Caliph Al-Mustasim was captured and executed in a cruel manner. According to some accounts, he was wrapped in a carpet and trampled to death by horses. Others say he was locked in a tower with his treasures and left to starve. His death marked the end of the Abbasid Caliphate, and the beginning of a new era in the Islamic world.

The Mongol army’s attack on Baghdad had profound impacts on the Islamic world and beyond. It marked the end of the Islamic Golden Age, a period of great achievements in science, art, literature, philosophy, and trade. It also led to the decline of Baghdad as a major cultural and economic center.

Many scientists, scholars, artists, and craftsmen were killed or fled to other regions, such as Persia, Egypt, and Andalusia, spreading their knowledge and skills. The Mongol invasion also disrupted trade routes, leading to economic recession and poverty.

Moreover, the Mongol army’s attack on Baghdad had psychological and spiritual effects on the Muslim community. It shattered their sense of security, pride, and unity. It also raised questions about their faith, leadership, and destiny. Many saw it as a divine punishment for their sins and corruption. Others saw it as a test of their faith and resilience. Some even converted to Islam, impressed by the Muslims’ faith and courage.

The Mongol army’s attack on Baghdad also had global implications. It facilitated the spread of the Black Death, a deadly pandemic that killed millions of people in Asia, Europe, and Africa. It also led to the rise of new powers, such as the Ottoman Empire, the Safavid Empire, and the Mughal Empire.

These empires adopted some of the Mongols’ military, administrative, and cultural practices, but also emphasized Islamic identity and unity. They also contributed to the revival of Islamic civilization, albeit in a different form and context.

In conclusion, the Mongol army’s attack on the Abbasid Caliphate was a turning point in history. It marked the end of an era and the beginning of another. It also showed the destructive power of conquest and the resilience of faith and culture. It is a reminder of the importance of unity, tolerance, and innovation in facing challenges and opportunities.

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