The Fascinating Story of the Battle of Ain Jalut — 1260 A.D.
To understand the importance of the battle of Ain Jalut, fought in 1260 AD, it is vitally important to first understand the historical context of that time period. It was a little after the time of the notorious Genghis Khan, and the Mongols were one of the most fearsome forces in the world. With their cavalry archers and swift raids, they decimated anyone who stood in their path. Genghis Khan’s vision had been to become the emperor of the entire world, a dream that can often be mirrored with that of Alexander the Great, who had similar goals.
Mongke Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, became the Great Khan in 1251, and he planned to follow in the footsteps of his legendary grandfather. Hulagu Khan, the brother of Mongke Khan, was charged with subjugating the kingdoms of the west. By 1260 he either completely annihilated or subjugated Cilician Armenians, Antioch, and the 500-year-old Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad. The plan was to move through Jerusalem and face the last major Islamic power left in the world, the Mamluk Sultanate. In 1260, envoys were sent to Qutuz the Mamluk in Cairo with various threats in words like,
“We have conquered vast areas, massacring all the people….Fortresses will not detain us, nor armies stop us….We shall shatter your mosques…kill your children and old men together…..”
Qutuz responded by beheading the envoys and displaying their heads on the gates of Cairo.
The death of the Great Khan
However, the power dynamic changed when the Great Khan died in an expedition to China, and Hulagu had to return back home to decide who would be the next Great Khan. He left only a small force behind to keep the presence of the Mongols in the area. Seeing the opportunity, Qutuz the Mamluk invaded Palestine and allied with a fellow Mamluk leader, Baibars, to defend Islam and free the Mongol occupied Damascus and most of Bilad al-sham.
Seeing the now growing military strength of the Mamluks, the Mongols tried to bring forth a Franco-Mongol alliance but failed to do so since Pope Alexander IV forbade it. Alternatively, although there was a long-standing Christians against Muslims feud between the Mamluks and the Franks, the Franks understood that the Mongolian hordes would spare none, and thus they allowed the Mamluk armies to pass through their lands. When news came that the Mongols had crossed the Jordan river, Qutuz headed towards Ain Jalut in the Jezreel Valley to meet them.
The history-defining battle
On September 3rd, 1260, the two sides numbering 20,000 men each met in battle in Ain Jalut. The Mongols were the first to strike. The Mamluks had a clear advantage because they knew the terrain very well, and Qutuz used that fully to his advantage. The strategy was actually laid out by Baibars because he had spent the most time in the region. Qutuz hid most of his forces in the highlands, and Baibars fought the Mongols with hit and run tactics in an attempt to bait them out.
The fighting dragged out for hours with neither side gaining the advantage until Baibars finally feinted and pretended to withdraw from the battle. The angered Mongol commander, however, made the fatal mistake of not suspecting the trick and heedlessly chased the retreating army. When the action finally reached the highland, Qutuz’s army surrounded the Mongols, and the Mongols were suddenly trapped in the tight vice of the Mamluk armies.
The tables finally turned in the favor of Mamluks
The Mongols, however, were known for their ferociousness in hand to hand combat, and they fought with mad bloodlust to break out of the trap. When Qutuz saw that the Mongols were about to break out from the left plank, he led his vanguard of forces to the battle and crushed the Mongolian forces, who rapidly retreated with what was left of their men to Bisan.
Although they managed to launch a successful counterattack, the Mongol army did not have the numbers to sustain the battle, and soon the entire army including their commander was completely annihilated. This was the first time in history that someone had managed to defeat the Mongols in close quarters combat.
The future of the Muslim Empire
In the aftermath of this historic victory, however, Qutuz was assassinated by the agents of Baibars so that he could assume power and become the sole Mamluk ruler. He again defeated the Mongols and drove them out of Syria, and he also subjugated the remaining crusader kingdoms and made a strong empire. Due to issues of succession, Hulagu could not gather a force strong enough to avenge the defeat at the hands of the Mamluks. Furthermore, there was infighting amongst the Mongols, since the Khan of the Kipchak Khanate had turned Muslim and upon hearing what Hulagu had done to the Abbasids, he sent the following message to Hulagu
“He (Hulagu) has sacked all the cities of the Muslims and has brought about the death of the Caliph. With the help of God, I will call him to account for so much innocent blood.”
The end of the Mongol Empire
The resounding defeat at the hands of the Mamluks signaled the end of the Mongol empire, with Kublai Khan being the last Great Khan of the empire. The Mongols were fighting against the Kipchaks and had suffered defeat in the invasion of Caucus in 1263. Although further forces were dispatched to fight the Mamluks, they too failed in their attempts to bring down the Muslim empire. This is the reason why the battle of Ain Jalut was such a historic event in the history of the world. It finally brought an end to the widespread terror that the onslaught of the Mongols had brought to the world, and stability was restored once again