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Conquest of Khwarizm and Reconnaissance into Europe

In 1218 the Khwarazm Shah, Mohammed II, slaughtered a Mongolian caravan and a delegation of ambassadors at Otrar in Transoxiana (roughly present day Uzbekistan). In vengeance, Genghis Khaan attacked the Khwarazm in 1219 and a Muslim state that reached to the Caspian Sea in the west and to the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea in the south came under his rule in 1225.

Genghis retaliated against Khwarizm with a force of more than 200,000 troops, and Khwarizm was eradicated by 1220. A detachment of about 25,000 Mongol cavalry, as part of the Khwarizmian campaign, had crossed the Caucasus Mountains, had skirted the Caspian Sea, and had briefly invaded Europe.

The renown of Jenghiz Khan's victories had been prodigious among the Turks of Transoxania; the grandeur of Rome and that of the caliphate had not effaced in their minds the memory of an almost superstitious admiration for that China, model of all splendor, type of all empires, which had so often dazzled or conquered their fathers. At first they did not wholly believe in it.

Muhammed the Fighter pressed with questions the ambassador whom Jenghiz Khan had sent him; this was a Moslem Turk, called Mahmud Yelvaj, who was fanatical in his nationalism and devoted body and soul to his master, the pagan emperor of the Mongols. One day Muhammed took Mahmud to the chase and said to him: 'Thy khan, did he really conquer the land of China ?'-and he detached from his arm a jewel of infinite value and made a present of it to Mahmud Yelvaj." The secrecy of the interview, the solemn oath which was taken, the attitude of those present, all betrayed anxiety. These Turks of the Occident felt that they could not successfully contest the game against a Turk who was master of China.

Jenghiz Khan, concealing his march, had boldly crossed the desert of the red sands and emerged in Transoxania, marching thence straight upon Bokhara in the rear of the sultan of Kwarezm. The garrison of the city-twenty thousand men, say the Moslem chronicles-tried to cut its way out, probably hoping to rejoin the sultan at Samarkand; it was defeated, and Bokhara " the holy " opened its gates to the pagan emperor. "All the sheikhs, the mollahs, the muftis, all the inhabitants, great and small, went out from the city to put themselves at the mercy of the khan" (April, 1220).

The first days of April, 1220, had arrived; during five months without one single pitched battle, two successful sieges, one of Bokhara, one of Samarkand - defended by a hundred thousand men who were poorly commanded and poorly organised, but who were brave - had enabled the Mongols to conquer Turkestan, Ferghana, and Transoxania. The four armies then joined forces before Samarkand. Jenghiz Khan could detach twenty-five thousand men for the conquest of the West.

There is nothing in military history to be compared with that fantastic excursion of the twenty-five thousand from Samarkand to Feodosia and the Don. It was the most extraordinary folly which has ever been committed against war, a learned extravagance, a mathematically calculated romance, a reasonable absurdity. Precursors of the great conquest, they went at a gallop, marking out the stopping-places for the army which took fifteen years to follow them. The Persians, the Turks of Azerbaijan, the Armenians, the Georgians, the Circassians, the Alani, the Turks of the Kiptchak, the Venetians of the Crimea, the Russians, the Bulgarians, and the Hungarian Bashkirs saw pass in a whirlwind of dust the Mongolian standard, always victorious.

From Bokhara Jenghiz Khan hastened to Samarkand, where the sultan Muhammed had abandoned his army. There were there about forty thousand men, disorganised and demolished by the flight of the sultan and by the departure of Jelal ad-din. They bravely accepted battle and fell upon the Mongols, while these were manoeuvring to invest the place, they repulsed them and made some among them prisoners, but the next day they were driven back behind the walls. The clergy and the citizens then took flight; the sheikh ul-Islam and the cadi opened one of the gates while the garrison was being massacred in the defence of the other gate. The city escaped plunder by paying a tax of 200,000 pieces of gold, but thirty thousand men of arts and crafts had to leave their hearths to go to Karakorm, to China, and to Siberia, to work for the "inflexible" emperor, his princes and his nobles.

This was the commencement of the Mongolian system of recruiting by force, of compelling the service of artisans, of confiscating industries for the benefit of the nation. It was by their brutal requisitions of men that the Mongols renewed art and opened new paths for the imagination.

After defeating the Georgians and the Cumans of the Caucasus, the small Mongol expedition advanced in 1222 into the steppes of the Kuban. Combining rapid movement with guile, the Mongols again defeated the Cumans, captured Astrakhan, then crossed the Don River into Russia. Penetrating the Crimea, they stormed the Genoese fortress of Sudak on the southeastern coast, then turned north into what later became known as the Ukraine.

The Mongol leaders now thought they had accomplished their mission. Before returning to Mongolia, however, they decided to rest their troops and to gain more information about the lands to the north and the west. They camped near the mouth of the Dnieper River, and their spies soon were scattered throughout eastern and central Europe.

Meanwhile, a mixed Russian-Cuman army of 80,000 under the leadership of Mstislav, prince of Kiev, marched against the Mongol encampment. Jebe and Subetei, another great Mongol general, sought peace; however, when their envoys were murdered, they attacked and routed Mstislav's force on the banks of the Halha River. Historian Charles Halperin estimated that by this time the "destructive power of the Mongol war machine eclipsed anything the Russians had seen before," and the Kievan Russians found themeselves faced no longer with a renewal of the sporadic raids of the past but with the threat of subjugation and foreign domination.

Genghis's general, Subeedei (Subedei), began campaigning in Russia and established a Mongolian rule that lasted up to 1480. In compliance with a courier message from Genghis, the expedition then marched eastward. As the Mongols were marching north of the Caspian Sea, Jebe died of illness. In 1224 Subetei led the expedition back, after a trek of more than 6,400 kilometers, to a rendezvous with the main Mongol armies, that were returning from their victories over the Khwarizm.

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Page last modified: 01-07-2012 18:54:06 ZULU