Hulagu Khan, also known as Hülegü or Hulegu (c. 1218 – 8 February 1265), was a Mongol ruler who conquered much of Western Asia. Son of Tolui and the Keraite princess Sorghaghtani Beki, he was a grandson of Genghis Khan and brother of Ariq Böke, 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 siege of Baghdad (1258) destroyed the greatest center of Islamic power and also weakened Damascus, causing a shift of Islamic influence to the Mamluk Sultanate in Cairo. Under Hulagu’s dynasty, Iranian historians began writing in Persian rather than Arabic.
Hulagu was born to Tolui, one of Genghis Khan’s sons, and Sorghaghtani Beki, an influential Keraite princess. Sorghaghtani successfully navigated Mongol politics, arranging for all of her sons to become Mongol leaders. She was a Christian of the Church of the East (often referred to as “Nestorianism”) and Hulagu was friendly to Christianity. Hulagu’s favorite wife, Doquz Khatun, was also a Christian, as was his closest friend and general, Kitbuqa. It is recorded however that he converted to Buddhist as he neared death, against the will of Doquz Khatun. The erection of a Buddhist temple at Ḵoy testifies his interest in that religion.
Hulagu had at least three children: Abaqa Khan, Tekuder, and Taraqai. Abaqa was second Ilkhan of Iran from 1265–82, Teguder Ahmad was third Ilkhan from 1282–84, and Taraqai’s son Baydu became Ilkhan in 1295. Mīr-Khvānd mentions two more children, given as Hyaxemet and Tandon in an early translation; Hyaxemet initially served as governor of Armenia and Azerbaijan, while Tandon was given Diyarbakır and Iraq. The order of birth is listed as Abaqa, Hyaxemet, Tandon, Teguder, then Taraqai. His daughter-in-law, Absh Khatun, was sent to Shiraz to reign in 1263.
Hulagu’s brother Möngke had been installed as Great Khan in 1251. In 1255, Möngke charged 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 of southern Iran, the destruction of the Assassins, the submission or destruction of the Abbasid Caliphate 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. Möngke 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 Möngke, two-tenths of the empire’s fighting men were gathered for Hulagu’s army. He easily destroyed the Lurs, and the Assassins surrendered their impregnable fortress of Alamut without a fight, accepting a deal that spared the lives of their people.
Hulagu’s Mongol army set out for Baghdad in November 1257. Once near the city he divided his forces to threaten the city on both the east and west banks of the Tigris. Hulagu demanded surrender, but the caliph, Al-Musta’sim, 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 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 laid siege to the city on January 29, 1258, constructing a palisade and a ditch and wheeling up siege engines and catapults. The battle was short by siege standards. By February 5 the Mongols controlled a stretch of the wall. The caliph 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 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 quantity of books flung into the river. Citizens attempted to flee but were intercepted by Mongol soldiers.
Death counts vary widely and cannot be easily substantiated: A low estimate is about 90,000 dead; 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. Il Milione, a book on the travels of Venetian merchant Marco Polo, states that Hulagu starved the caliph to death, but there is no corroborating evidence for that. Most historians believe the Mongol and Muslim accounts that the caliph was rolled up in a rug and the Mongols rode their horses over him, as they believed that the earth would be offended if touched by royal blood. All but one of his sons were killed. Baghdad was a depopulated, ruined city for several centuries. 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.
In 1260 Mongol forces combined with those of their Christian vassals in the region, including the army of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia under Hethum I, King of Armenia and the Franks of Bohemond VI of Antioch. This force conquered Muslim Syria, a domain of the Ayyubid dynasty. They captured the city of Aleppo and, under the Christian general Kitbuqa, seized Damascus on March 1, 1260. A Christian Mass was celebrated in the Umayyad Mosque 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, until then a powerful dynasty that had ruled large parts of the Levant, Egypt, and the Arabian Peninsula. 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 shifted to the Mamluk Sultans’ capital of Cairo.
Hulagu intended to continue southward through Palestine towards Cairo to fight the Mamluks. He sent a threatening letter to the Mamluk Sultan Qutuz in Cairo. He demanded that Qutuz open Cairo or it would be destroyed like Baghdad. At that moment Mongke Khan died, so Hulagu, as an heir and potential Great Khan, was obliged to return to Mongolia for the election of a new Khan. Hulagu left behind only two tumens (20,000 men) under the leadership of his favorite general Naiman Kitbuqa Noyan, a Nestorian Christian. Upon receiving news of Hulagu’s departure, Qutuz quickly assembled a large army at Cairo and invaded Palestine. Qutuz allied himself with a fellow Mamluk, Baibars, who wanted to avenge Islam for the Mongols’ capture of Damascus, their looting of Baghdad and their conquest of Syria.
The Mongols, for their part, attempted to form a Frankish-Mongol alliance with (or at least, demand the submission of) the remnant of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, now centered on Acre, but Pope Alexander IV had forbidden such an alliance. Tensions between Franks and Mongols also increased when Julian of Sidon caused an incident resulting in the death of one of Kitbuqa’s grandsons. Angered, Kitbuqa had sacked Sidon. The Barons of Acre, contacted by the Mongols, had also been approached by the Mamluks, seeking military assistance against the Mongols. Although the Mamluks were traditional enemies of the Franks, the Barons of Acre recognized the Mongols as the more immediate menace. Instead of taking sides, the Crusaders opted for a position of cautious neutrality between the two forces. In an unusual move, however, they allowed the Egyptian Mamluks to march northward without hindrance through Crusader territory and even let them camp near Acre to resupply..
A thousand squads of northern Chinese sappers accompanied the Mongol Khan Hulagu during his conquest of the Middle East.
After the succession was settled and his brother Kublai Khan was established as Great Khan, Hulagu returned to his lands by 1262. When he massed his armies to attack the Mamluks and avenge the defeat at Ayn Jalut, however, 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.
Even while Berke was Muslim he was at first desisting from the idea of fighting Hulegu out of Mongol brotherhood, he said Mongols are killed by Mongol swords. If we were united, then we would have conquered all of the world. but the economic situation of the Golden Horde due to the actions of the Ilkhanate led him to declare jihad because the Ilkhanids were hogging the wealth of North Iran and the Ilkhanate’s demands for the Golden Horde to not sell slaves to the Mamluks.
Hulagu sent multiple communications to Europe in an attempt to establish a Franco-Mongol alliance against the Muslims. In 1262, he sent his secretary Rychaldus and an embassy to “all kings and princes overseas”. 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 a letter, through John the Hungarian, to the French king Louis IX, offering an alliance. It is unclear whether the letter ever reached Louis IX in Paris — the only manuscript known to have survived was in Vienna, Austria. 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, anxious to devastate the perfidious nation of the Saracens, with the good-will 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 able to form an alliance with Europe, although Mongol culture in the West was in vogue in the 13th century. Many new-born children in Italy were named after Mongol rulers, including Hulagu: names such as Can Grande (“Great Khan”), Alaone (Hulagu), Argone (Arghun), and Cassano (Ghazan) are recorded
Hulagu Khan died in 1265 and was buried in the Shahi Island in Lake Urmia. His funeral was the only Ilkhanate funeral to feature human sacrifice. He was succeeded by his son Abaqa, thus establishing his line.