Statue of Hulagu Khan in Mogolia
Hulagu with his Kerait queen Doquz Khatun
Hulagu Khan at the siege of Baghdad
Hulagu (left) imprisons the Calif among his treasures to starve him to death. Medieval depiction from "Le livre des merveilles", 15th century
Hulagu Khan, also known as Hülegü, Hulegu (Mongolian: Hülegü Khaan, "Warrior"; Mongolian Cyrillic: Хүлэг хаан; Chagatai/Urdu:ہلاکو - Hulaku; Persian/Arabic: هولاكو; c. 1217 – 8 February 1265), was a Mongol ruler who conquered much of Southwest Asia. Son of Tolui and the Kerait princess Sorghaghtani Beki, he was a grandson of Genghis Khan, and the brother of Arik Boke, Möngke Khan and Kublai Khan. Hulagu's army greatly expanded the southwestern portion of the Mongol Empire, founding the Ilkhanate of Persia, a precursor to the eventual Safavid dynasty, and then the modern state of Iran. Under Hulagu's leadership, the Mongols destroyed the greatest center of Islamic power, Baghdad, and also weakened Damascus, causing a shift of Islamic influence to the Mamluks in Cairo. It was also in Hulagu's reign that historians switched from writing in Arabic to writing in Persian.
Hulagu was born to Tolui, one of Genghis Khan's sons, and Sorghaghtani Beki, an influential Kerait princess. Sorghaghtani successfully navigated Mongol politics, arranging for all of her sons to become Mongol leaders. Hulagu was friendly to Christianity, as his mother was a Nestorian Christian. Hulagu's favorite wife, Dokuz Khatun, was also a Christian, as was Hulagu's closest friend and general, Kitbuqa. It is recorded however that he was a Buddhist as he neared his death, against the will of his Christian wife Dokuz Khatun.
Hulagu had at least three children: Abaqa, second Ilkhan of Persia from 1265–1282, Taraqai, whose son Baydu became Ilkhan in 1295, and Teguder Ahmad, third Ilkhan from 1282-1284.
Hulagu's brother Mongke had been installed as Great Khan in 1251. In 1255, Mongke charged his brother Hulagu with leading a massive Mongol army to conquer or destroy the remaining Muslim states in southwestern Asia. Hulagu's campaign sought the subjugation of the Lurs, a people of southern Iran; the destruction of the Hashshashin sect; the submission or destruction of the Abbasid caliphate based in Baghdad; the submission or destruction of the Ayyubid states in Syria, based in Damascus; and finally, the submission or destruction of the Bahri Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt. Mongke ordered Hulagu to treat kindly those who submitted, and utterly destroy those who did not. Hulagu vigorously carried out the latter part of these instructions.
Hulagu marched out with perhaps the largest Mongol army ever assembled – by order of Mongke, two in ten fighting men in the entire empire were gathered for Hulagu's army. He easily destroyed the Lurs, and the Assassins (also known as the Hashshashin) surrendered their impregnable fortress of Alamut to him without a fight, accepting a deal that spared the lives of their people.
The Mongol army, led by Hulagu, set out for Baghdad in November of 1257. Once near the city, Hulagu divided his forces, so that they threatened both sides of the city, on the east and west banks of the Tigris. Hulagu demanded surrender; the caliph refused.
The caliph's army repulsed some of the forces attacking from the west, but were defeated in the next battle. The attacking Mongols broke some 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 then laid siege to the city, constructing a palisade and ditch, wheeling up siege engines and catapults. The siege started on January 29. The battle was swift, by siege standards. By February 5 the Mongols controlled a stretch of the wall. Al-Musta'sim then tried to negotiate, but was refused.
On February 10 Baghdad surrendered. The Mongols swept into the city on February 13 and began a week of massacre, looting, rape, and destruction.
The Grand Library of Baghdad, containing countless precious historical documents and books on subjects ranging from medicine to astronomy, was destroyed. Survivors said that the waters of the Tigris ran black with ink from the enormous quantities of books flung into the river. Citizens attempted to flee, but were intercepted by Mongol soldiers who raped and killed with abandon.
Although death counts vary widely and cannot be easily substantiated, a number of estimates do exist. A low estimate is that close to 90,000 people may have died (Sicker 2000, p. 111). Higher estimates range from 200,000 to a million!
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!
Marco Polo reports that Hulagu starved the caliph to death, but there is no corroborating evidence for that. Most historians believe the Mongol accounts (and Muslim) that the Mongols rolled the caliph up in a rug, and rode their horses over him, as they believed that the earth was offended if touched by royal blood. All of his sons but one were killed.
Baghdad was a depopulated, ruined city for several centuries and only gradually recovered something of its former glory. Of all the Mongol Khans, Hulagu is, for obvious reasons, the most feared and despised.
Thus was the caliphate destroyed, and Mesopotamia ravaged; it has never again been such a major center of culture and influence. The smaller states in the region hastened to reassure Hulagu of their loyalty, and the Mongols turned to Syria in 1259, conquering the Ayyubids and sending advance patrols as far ahead as Gaza.
After Baghdad, in 1260, Mongol forces combined with those of their Christian vassals in the region, such as the army of Cilician Armenia under Hetoum I, and the Franks of Bohemond VI of Antioch. This force then conquered Muslim Syria, domain of the Ayyubid dynasty. They took together the city of Aleppo, and on March 1, 1260, under the Christian general Kitbuqa, they also took Damascus. A Christian Mass was celebrated in the Grand Mosque of the Umayyads (the former cathedral of Saint John the Baptist), and numerous mosques were profaned. Many historical accounts describe the three Christian rulers (Hetoum, Bohemond, and Kitbuqa) entering the city of Damascus together in triumph, though some modern historians such as David Morgan have questioned this story as apocryphal.
The invasion effectively destroyed the Ayyubid Dynasty, theretofore powerful ruler of large parts of the Levant, Egypt, and Arabia. The last Ayyubid king An-Nasir Yusuf was killed by Hulagu in 1260. With the Islamic power center of Baghdad gone and Damascus weakened, the center of Islamic power transferred to the Egyptian Mamluks in Cairo.
Hulagu's intent at that point was to continue south through Palestine towards Cairo to engage the Mamluks. However, Great Khan Mongke had died in late 1259, requiring Hulagu to return Karakorum to engage in the decision on who the next Great Khan would be. Hulagu departed with the bulk of his forces, leaving only about 10,000 Mongol horsemen in Syria under Kitbuqa to occupy the conquered territory. Kitbuqa's forces engaged in raids southward towards Egypt, reaching as far as Ascalon and Jerusalem, and a Mongol garrison of about 1,000 was placed in Gaza, with another garrison located in Naplouse.
The Mamluks took advantage of the weakened state of Kitbuqa's forces. The Crusaders, though traditional enemies of the Mamluks, also regarded the Mongols as the greater threat. Discussions took place between the Muslims and the Christians, with debate about whether or not to join forces against the Mongols, but the Muslims were not in agreement with this action. So instead, the Crusaders allowed the Egyptian forces to come north through Crusader territory, and resupply near the Crusaders' powerbase of Acre. The Mamluks then engaged the remnants of the Mongol army in Galilee, at the Battle of Ayn Jalut. The Mamluks achieved a decisive victory, Kitbuqa was executed, and the location established a highwater mark for the Mongol conquest. In previous defeats, the Mongols had always returned later to re-take the territory, but they were never able to avenge the loss at Ayn Jalut. For the rest of the century, the Mongols would attempt other invasions of Syria, but never be able to hold territory for more than a few months. The border of the Mongol Ilkhanate remained at the Tigris River for the duration of Hulagu's dynasty.
Hulagu returned to his lands by 1262, after the succession was finally settled with his brother Kublai Khan established as Great Khan. But when Hulagu massed his armies to attack the Mamluks and avenge the defeat at Ain Jalut, he was instead drawn into civil war with Batu Khan's brother Berke. Berke Khan, a Muslim convert, had promised retribution in his rage after Hulagu's sack of Baghdad, and allied himself with the Mamluks. He initiated a series of raids on Hulagu's territories, led by Nogai Khan. Hulagu 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.
Hulagu sent multiple communications to Europe, in an attempt to establish a Franco-Mongol alliance against the Muslims. In 1262, he sent an embassy to "all kings and princes overseas", along with his secretary Rychaldus. However the embassy was apparently intercepted in Sicily by King Manfred, who was allied with the Mamluks and in conflict with Pope Urban IV, and Rychaldus was returned by ship.
On April 10, 1262, Hulagu sent through John the Hungarian a letter to the French king Louis IX, offering an alliance. It is unclear whether the letter ever reached Louis IX in Paris, as the only known manuscript survived in Vienna, Austria. However, the letter stated Hulagu'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, avid to devastate the perfidious nation of the Sarasins, good-willing 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 Hulagu to Saint Louis.
Despite many attempts, neither Hulagu nor his successors were ever able to form an alliance with Europe. However, the 13th century did see a vogue of Mongol things in the West. Many new-born children in Italy were named after Mongol rulers, including Hulagu: names such as Can Grande ("Great Khan"), Alaone (Hulagu), Argone (Arghun) or Cassano (Ghazan) are recorded.
Hulagu Khan died in 1265 and was buried in the Shahi Island in Lake Urmia. His funeral was the only Ilkhanid funeral to feature human sacrifice. He was succeeded by his son Abaqa, thus establishing his line.
Hulagu Khan laid the foundations of the Ilkhanate State, and by doing so paved the way for the later Safavid dynastic state, and ultimately the modern country of Iran. Hulagu's conquests also opened Iran to both European influence from the west and Chinese influence from the east. This, combined with patronage from his successors, would develop Iran's distinctive excellence in architecture. Under Hulagu's dynasty, Iranian historians also moved from writing in Arabic, to writing in Persian.