Mongol raids into Palestine

Mongol raids into Palestine

Mongol raids into Palestine took place towards the end of the Crusades, as a follow-up to the temporarily successful Mongol invasions of Syria, primarily in 1260 and 1300. Following each of these invasions, there existed a period of a few months during which the Mongols were able to launch raids southward into Palestine, reaching as far as Gaza.

The raids were executed by a relatively small part of the Mongol army, which proceeded to loot, kill, and destroy. However, the Mongols appeared to have had no intention on either occasion of integrating Palestine into the Mongol administrative system, and a few months after the Syrian invasions, Mamluk forces returned from Egypt and reoccupied the region with little resistance.[1]


Mongol campaigns of 1260

The 1260 Mongol offensives in the Levant. The early successful attacks on Aleppo and Damascus led to smaller attacks on secondary targets such as Baalbek, al-Subayba, and Ajlun as well as raids against other Palestine towns, perhaps including Jerusalem. Smaller raiding parties reached as far south as Gaza.

In 1258, the Mongols under the leader Hulagu, on their quest to further expand the Mongol Empire, successfully captured the center of power in the Islamic world, the city of Baghdad, effectively destroying the Abbasid dynasty. After Baghdad, the Mongol forces, including some Christians from the previously conquered or submitted territories of Georgia, Cilician Armenia, and Antioch, then went on to conquer Syria, domain of the Ayyubid dynasty. They took the city of Aleppo, and on March 1, 1260, conquered Damascus,[2][3][4][5] destroying the Ayyubid Dynasty as well.

With the Islamic power centers of Baghdad and Damascus gone, Cairo, under the Mamluks, became the center of Islamic power. The Mongols probably would have continued their advance on through Palestine towards Egypt, but had to stop their invasion because of an internal conflict in Turkestan. Hulagu departed with the bulk of his forces, leaving only about 10,000 Mongol horsemen in Syria under his Nestorian Christian general Kitbuqa, to occupy the conquered territory.[6]

Kitbuqa continued the offensive, taking the cities of Baalbek, al-Subayba, and Ajlun[7] and sending Mongol raiding parties further into Palestine, reaching as far as Ascalon and possibly Jerusalem. A Mongol garrison of about 1,000 was placed in Gaza,[8][9][10] with another garrison located in Nablus.[11]

Hulagu also sent a message to King Louis IX of France, saying that they had remitted Jerusalem to the Christians. However, modern historians believe that though Jerusalem may have been subject to at least one Mongol raid during this time, that it was not otherwise occupied or formally conquered.[12][13]

Battle of Ain Jalut (1260)

After retreating from Syria to Cairo, the Egyptian Mamluks negotiated with the Franks of the rump Kingdom of Jerusalem at Acre, and the Franks adopted a position of passive neutrality between the Mamluks and the Mongols, even though the Muslim Mamluks had been the traditional enemies of the Crusaders. At the time, the Franks appear to have regarded the Mongols as a greater threat than the Muslims. Thus the Mamluk forces were permitted to pass through Crusader territory unharmed, and amass a sizable force to confront the remains of the Mongol army in September 1260, at the historic Battle of Ain Jalut in Galilee. The Mamluks achieved a major victory, which was important not only for the region, but also in that it was the first time that the Mongol Army had suffered a major defeat. It became the highwater mark for the Mongol conquests, as after this battle, though the Mongols would again attempt several invasions of Syria, they would not be successful until 1300, when again they would only hold territory for a few months.

Sidon incident (1260)

The Crusader Julian de Grenier, Lord of Sidon and Beaufort, described by his contemporaries as irresponsible and light-headed, took the opportunity in 1260 to raid and plunder the area of the Bekaa, in what had recently become Mongol territory. When the Mongol general Kitbuqa sent his nephew with a small force to obtain redress, they were ambushed and killed by Julian. Kitbuqa responded forcefully by raiding the city of Sidon, destroying walls and slaying Christians, although it is said that the castle remained untaken.[12][14]

Mongol raids during Edward I's Crusade (1271)

In 1269, the English Prince Edward (the future Edward I), inspired by tales of his uncle, Richard the Lionheart, and the second crusade of the French King Louis, started on a Crusade of his own, the Ninth Crusade.[15] The number of knights and retainers that accompanied Edward on the crusade was quite small,[16] possibly around 230 knights, with a total complement of approximately 1,000 people, transported in a flotilla of 13 ships.[17][18] Many of the members of Edward's expedition were close friends and family including his wife Eleanor of Castile, his brother Edmund, and his first cousin Henry of Almain.

When Edward finally arrived in Acre on May 9, 1271, he immediately sent an embassy to the Mongol ruler Abaqa.[19] Edward's plan was to use the help of the Mongols to attack the Muslim leader Baibars.[20] The embassy was led by Reginald Russel, Godefrey Welles and John Parker.[21] [22] Abaqa answered positively to Edward's request in a letter dated September 4, 1271. The historians Runciman and Grousset quote the medieval French Estoire d'Eracles, a continuation of the twelfth-century Latin chronicle of William of Tyre:

"The messengers that Sir Edward and the Christians had sent to the Tartars to ask for help came back to Acre, and they did so well that they brought the Tartars with them, and raided all the land of Antioch, Aleppo, Haman and La Chamele, as far as Caesarea the Great. And they killed all the Sarazins they found."
Estoire d'Eracles, p. 461, [23][24][25]

In mid-October 1271, the Mongol troops requested by Edward arrived in Syria and ravaged the land from Aleppo southward. Abaqa, occupied by other conflicts in Turkestan, could only send 10,000 Mongol horsemen under general Samagar from the occupation army in Seljuk Anatolia, plus auxiliary Seljukid troops,[25] but they triggered an exodus of Muslim populations (who remembered the previous campaigns of Kithuqa) as far south as Cairo.[21] The Mongols defeated the Turcoman troops that protected Aleppo, putting to flight the Mamluk garrison in that city, and continued their advance to Maarat an-Numan and Apamea.[25]

When Baibars mounted a counter-offensive from Egypt on November 12, the Mongols had already retreated beyond the Euphrates, unable to face the full Mamluk army.

Mongol campaigns of 1299–1300

Mongol offensives in the Levant, 1299-1300

In the summer of 1299, the Mongols under Ghazan successfully took the northern city of Aleppo, and defeated the Mamluks in the Battle of Wadi al-Khazandar (also known as the 3rd Battle of Homs), on December 23 or 24, 1299.[26] One group of Mongols under the command of the Mongol general Mulay then split off from Ghazan's army, and pursued the retreating Mamluk troops as far as Gaza,[26] pushing them back to Egypt. The bulk of Ghazan's forces then proceeded to Damascus, which surrendered sometime between December 30, 1299, and January 6, 1300, though its Citadel resisted.[26][27] Ghazan then retreated most of his forces in February, probably because their horses needed fodder. Ghazan also promised to return in November to attack Egypt.[28]

Accordingly, there existed a period of about four months from February to May 1300, when the Mongol il-Khan was the de facto lord of the Holy Land.[29] The smaller force of about 10,000 horsemen under Mulay engaged in raids as far south as Gaza,[30] returned to Damascus around March 1300, and a few days later followed Ghazan back across the Euphrates.[31]

The Egyptian Mamluks then returned and reclaimed the entire area in May 1300,[32] without a battle.[33]

The fate of Jerusalem in 1300

Medieval sources give many different views of the extent of the raids in 1299-1300, and there is disagreement among modern historians as to which of the sources are most reliable, and which might be embellished or simply false. The fate of Jerusalem, in particular, continues to be debated, with some historians stating that the Mongol raids may have penetrated the city, and others saying that the city was neither taken nor even besieged.[34]

The most often-cited study of the matter is that by Dr. Sylvia Schein in her 1979 article "Gesta Dei per Mongolos", where she concluded that "The alleged recovery of the Holy Land never happened."[35][36] However, in her 1991 book, Schein includes a brief footnote saying that the conquest of Jerusalem by the Mongols was "confirmed" because they are documented to have removed the Golden Gate of the Temple of Jerusalem in 1300, to transfer it to Damascus.[37] This was based on an account from the 14th century priest Niccolo of Poggibonsi, who gave a detailed architectural description of Jerusalem, and mentioned the acts of the Mongols on the gate. Another scholar, Denys Pringle, described Poggibonsi's account as saying that the Mongols tried to destroy, undermine, burn, or remove the gate, but without success, and when the Mamluks returned, they had the gate walled up.[38] [39]

In his 2007 book Les Templiers, Alain Demurger states that the Mongols captured Damascus and Jerusalem,[40] and that Ghazan's general Mulay also was "effectively present" in Jerusalem in 1299-1300.[41] According to Frederic Luisetto, Mongol troops "penetrated into Jerusalem and Hebron where they committed many massacres."[42] In The Crusaders and the Crusader States, Andrew Jotischky used Schein's 1979 article and later 1991 book to state, "after a brief and largely symbolic occupation of Jerusalem, Ghazan withdrew to Persia"[43].

In his 1987 article "Mongol raids into Palestine", Reuven Amitai stated, "It seems most likely then that the Mongols raided Palestine by themselves in 1299–1300. The Mongol forces rode as far as Gaza, looting and killing as they went, and they entered several towns, including Jerusalem. In the end, all the raiders returned to the Damascus area . . . by the middle of March 1300."[44]

European rumors about Jerusalem

Whatever the truth may have been, the Mongol advance led to wild rumors in Europe at the time, that perhaps the Mongols had captured Jerusalem and were going to return it to the Europeans. These rumours, starting around March 1300, were probably based on accounts from Venetian merchants who had just arrived from Cyprus.[45] The account gave a more or less accurate picture of the Mongol successes in Syria, but then expanded to say that the Mongols had "probably" taken the Holy Land by that point. These rumors were then inflated widely, due to wishful thinking, and the urban legend environment of large crowds that had gathered in Rome for the Jubilee. The story grew to say (falsely) that the Mongols had taken Egypt, that the Mongol Ghazan had appointed his brother as the new king there, and that the Mongols were going to further conquer Barbary and Tunis. The rumors also stated that Ghazan had freed the Christians who were held captive in Damascus and in Egypt, and that some of those prisoners had already made their way to Cyprus.[46]

By April 1300, Pope Boniface was sending a letter announcing the "great and joyful news to be celebrated with special rejoicing,"[47] that the Mongol Ghazan had conquered the Holy Land and offered to hand it over to the Christians. In Rome, as part of the Jubilee celebrations in 1300, the Pope ordered processions to "celebrate the recovery of the Holy Land," and he further encouraged everyone to depart for the newly-recovered area. King Edward I of England was asked to encourage his subjects to depart as well, to visit the Holy Places. And Pope Boniface even referred to the recovery of the Holy Land from the Mongols, in his bull Ausculta fili.

In the summer of the Jubilee year (1300), Pope Boniface VIII received a dozen ambassadors, dispatched from various kings and princes. One of the groups was of 100 Mongols, led by the Florentine Guiscard Bustari, the ambassador for the Il-khan. The embassy, abundantly mentioned in contemporary sources, participated in the Jubilee ceremonies.[46] Supposedly this ambassador was also the man nominated by Ghazan to supervise the re-establishment of the Franks, in the territories that Ghazan was going to return to them. There was great rejoicing for a short time, but the Pope soon learned about the true state of affairs in Syria, from which in fact Ghazan had withdrawn the bulk of his forces in February 1300, and the Mamluks had reclaimed by May.[46] But the rumors continued through at least September 1300.[48]

See also


  1. ^ Amitai, Mongol Raids, pp. 247-248
  2. ^ Saudi Aramco World "The Battle of Ain Jalut"
  3. ^ Grousset, p. 581
  4. ^ "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", Runciman, p.307
  5. ^ "The king of Armenia and the Prince of Antioch went to the army of the Tatars, and they all went off to take Damascus".|Gestes des Chiprois, Le Templier de Tyr. "Le roy d'Arménie et le Prince d'Antioche alèrent en l'ost des Tatars et furent à prendre Damas". Quoted in "Histoire des Croisades III", Rene Grousset, p586
  6. ^ Runciman, p.310
  7. ^ Amitai-Preiss, p. 32.
  8. ^ Jean Richard, p.428
  9. ^ Amin Maalouf, p.264
  10. ^ Tyerman, p.806
  11. ^ Amin Maalouf, p.262
  12. ^ a b The British historian Steven Runciman believes that Nablus and Gaza were occupied, but that Jerusalem itself was not taken by the Mongols. Runciman, p.308
  13. ^ "Hulegu informed Louis IX that he had handed over the Holy City to the Franks already, during the brief Mongol occupation in 1260 (although, as we have seen, this is nowhere indicated in any of the Muslim sources, still less in the Frankish appeals for help to the West), and the claim was reiterated in 1274 by Abaqa's envoys.", Jackson, p.174
  14. ^ "It happened that some men from Sidon and Belfort gathered together, went to the Saracens' villages and fields, looted them, killed many Saracens and took others into captivity together with a great deal of livestock. A certain nephew of Kit-Bugha who resided there, taking along but few cavalry, pursued the Christians who had done these things to tell them on his uncle's behalf to leave the booty. But some of the Christians attacked and killed him and some other Tartars. When Kit-Bugha learned of this, he immediately took the city of the Sidon and destroyed most of the walls [and killed as many Christians as he found. But the people of Sidon fled to an island, and only a few were slain. oe43]. Thereafter the Tartars no longer trusted the Christians, nor the Christians the Tartars." Fleur des Histoires d'Orient, Chap. 30
  15. ^ Hindley, pp. 205-206
  16. ^ Nicolle, p. 47
  17. ^ Tyerman, p. 818
  18. ^ Grousset, p.656
  19. ^ "When he disembarked in Acre, Edward immediately sent envoys to Abagha (…) As he (Abagha) could not commit himself to the offensive, he ordered the Mongol forces stationned in Turkey under Samaghar to attack Syria in order to relieve the Crusaders” Jean Richard, p.446
  20. ^ "Edward was horrified at the state of affairs in Outremer. He knew that his own army was small, but he hoped to unite the Christians of the East into a formidable body and then to use the help of the Mongols in making an effective attack on Baibars", Runciman, p.335
  21. ^ a b Grousset, p.653.
  22. ^ Runciman, p.336
  23. ^ "Et revindrent en Acre li message que mi sire Odouart et la Crestiente avoient envoies as Tartars por querre secors; et firent si bien la besoigne quil amenerent les Tartars et corurent toute la terre dantioche et de Halape de Haman et de La Chamele jusques a Cesaire la Grant. Et tuerent ce quil trouverent de Sarrazins", Estoire d'Eracles, Chap XIV
  24. ^ Quoted in Grousset, p.653
  25. ^ a b c Runciman, p.336
  26. ^ a b c Demurger, pp. 142-143 "The Mongols pursued the retreating troops towards the south, but stopped at the level of Gaza".
  27. ^ Runciman, p.439
  28. ^ Demurger, p. 99
  29. ^ "For a brief period, some four months in all, the Mongol Il-Khan was de facto the lord of the Holy Land", Schein, p. 810
  30. ^ "Meanwhile the Mongol and Armenian troops raided the country as far south as Gaza." Schein, 1979, p. 810
  31. ^ Amitai, p. 247
  32. ^ Schein, 1979, p. 810
  33. ^ Amitai, p. 248
  34. ^ Phillips, p. 128. ""Disillusionment came swiftly. Jerusalem had not been taken or even besieged; Ghazan evacuated Syria within a few weeks of its conquest probably because his horses were short of fodder. He attacked it again in 1301, and planned further campaigns for the next two years, but achieved nothing. His bitterness at the failure of the European powers to provide the military assistance he had asked for expressed itself in 1303 in yet another embassy to Philip IV and Edward I, to which Edward replied tactfully that he and Philip had been at war and could not send help."
  35. ^ Schein, 1979, p. 805
  36. ^ Schein, in her 1991 book mentioned in a footnote that the Mongol capture of Jerusalem was confirmed because they had removed a gate from the Dome of the Rock, and transferred it to Damascus. "The conquest of Jerusalem by the Mongols was confirmed by Niccolo of Poggibonsi who noted (Libro d'Oltramare 1346-1350, ed. P. B. Bagatti (Jerusalem 1945), 53, 92) that the Mongols removed a gate from the Dome of the Rock and had it transferred to Damascus. Schein, 1991, p. 163
  37. ^ "The conquest of Jerusalem by the Mongols was confirmed by Niccolo of Poggibonsi who noted (Libro d'Oltramare 1346-1350, ed. P. B. Bagatti (Jerusalem 1945), 53, 92) that the Mongols removed a gate from the Dome of the Rock and had it transferred to Damascus. Schein, 1991, p. 163
  38. ^ Denys Pringle, 1993, The Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, p.106
  39. ^ Pringle, p.106
  40. ^ "In December 1299, he (Ghazan) vanquished the Mamluks at the Second Battle of Homs and captured Damascus, and even Jerusalem", Demurger, Les Templiers, 2007, p.84
  41. ^ "Mulay, a Mongol general who was effectively present in Jerusalem in 1299-1300", Demurger, Les Templiers, 2007, p. 84
  42. ^ Frédéric Luisetto, p.205-206 "Troops penetrated in Jerusalem and Hebron where they committed many massacres (...) In Hebron, a cross was even raised on top of the mosque of Abraham", also p.208 "We have knowledge of the violences perpetrated in Jerusalem and Damas"
  43. ^ Jotischky, The Crusaders and the Crusader States, p. 249
  44. ^ Amitai, "Mongol Raids into Palestine", p. 247
  45. ^ "The earliest letter was dated 19 March 1300 and addressed to Boniface VIII. Its contents suggest that it was probably written by the Doge Pietro Gradenigo (1289-1311). - Schein, 1979, p. 814
  46. ^ a b c Schein, p. 815
  47. ^ Riley-Smith
  48. ^ Schein, p. 805


Medieval sources

  • Le Templier de Tyr (circa 1300). Chronicle du Templier de Tyr, Online (Original French).
  • Hayton of Corycus (1307). Flowers of the Histories of the East, Online (English translation).
  • Estoire d'Eracles (circa 1300), Online (Original French).

Modern sources

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  • Amitai-Preiss, Reuven (1995). Mongols and Mamluks: The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War, 1260-1281. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 978-0521462266. 
  • Barber, Malcolm (2001). The Trial of the Templars (2nd ed.). University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 978-0-521-67236-8. 
  • Encyclopedia Iranica, Article on Franco-Persian relations
  • Foltz, Richard, Religions of the Silk Road, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, ISBN 978-0-230-62125-1
  • Demurger, Alain (2007) (in French). Jacques de Molay. Editions Payot&Rivages. ISBN 2228902357. 
  • Hazard, Harry W. (editor) (1975). Volume III: The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries. A History of the Crusades. Kenneth M. Setton, general editor. The University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-06670-3. 
  • Jackson, Peter (2005). The Mongols and the West, 1221-1410. Longman. ISBN 0582368960. 
  • Lebédel, Claude (2006) (in French). Les Croisades, origines et conséquences. Editions Ouest-France. ISBN 2737341361. 
  • Newman, Sharan (2006). Real History Behind the Templars. Berkley Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-425-21533-3. 
  • Nicolle, David (2001). The Crusades. Essential Histories. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-179-4. 
  • Phillips, John Roland Seymour (1998). The Medieval Expansion of Europe. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198207409. 
  • Prawdin, Michael (pseudonym for Charol, Michael) (1940/1961). Mongol Empire. Collier-Macmillan Canada. ISBN 1412805198. 
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  • Richard, Jean (1996). Histoire des Croisades. Fayard. ISBN 2-213-59787-1. 
  • Riley-Smith, Jonathan (1987, 2005). The Crusades: A History (2nd ed.). Yale Nota Bene. ISBN 0-300-10128-7. 
  • Runciman, Steven (1987 (first published in 1952-1954)). A history of the Crusades 3. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140137057. 
  • Saunders, J. J. (2001). The History of the Mongol Conquests. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0812217667. 
  • Schein, Sylvia (October 1979). "Gesta Dei per Mongolos 1300. The Genesis of a Non-Event". The English Historical Review 94 (373): 805–819. doi:10.1093/ehr/XCIV.CCCLXXIII.805. JSTOR 197910). 
  • Schein, Sylvia (1991). Fideles Crucis: The Papacy, the West, and the Recovery of the Holy Land. Clarendon. ISBN 0198221657. 
  • Schein, Sylvia (2005). Gateway to the Heavenly City: crusader Jerusalem and the catholic West. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.. ISBN 075460649X. 
  • Sinor, Denis (1999). "The Mongols in the West". Journal of Asian History 33 (1). 
  • Turnbull, Stephen (1980) (2004). The Mongols. Osprey Publishing Ltd.. ISBN 9780850453720. 
  • Weatherford, Jack (2004). Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-609-80964-4. 

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