Monday, February 27, 2006

The cry of Jehad — The Mongol Cataclysm

Every adult Muslim male, capable of bearing arms, is a soldier of Islam. It is his foremost duty to engage in jehad fi sabil ullah[1] till infidelity gives way to Islam. But here in their very midst, and only in a few months, the Mongols had converted the dar-ul-Islam of Muhammad Shah into the dar-ul-harb of Chingiz Khan.

While the North Asian invaders retreated into the mountains to escape the summer heat, the cry of jehad rose up in the mosques and circulated through the towns and cities. The Turks, Persians, Afghans, and Arabs responded to the call and gathered around the leaders of their own races. They lacked unity of command and each leader was motivated by his own ambition—but with more than a million men, excellent horses, and the best arms and armor they far outnumbered the 150,000 Mongols.

[1] Jehad (exertion) in the path of God (from the Koran, chapter IX verse 29). Read in the context of the times this verse was meant to protect the early Muslim Arabs from their neighbors—it later became a tool for the Islamic conquests. Under the Turks this verse became the justification for all the massacres and plundering in Europe and India. Today it is used to indoctrinate Islamist extremists in madrassas and terrorist camps.

The situation was critical for Chingiz Khan because some of his subordinate allies, like the Uighurs, had just then taken permission to return to their own homes. His best generals, Chepe and Subotai, were exploring new lands in the west—while Muqali was administering faraway China. Some other generals like Tilik Noyon had died in the recent campaigning and the total strength of the Mongol army had been thinned. So the reports of the millions scattered in different cities arming and raging for jehad alarmed Chingiz—but with stern determination he planned and executed the bloodiest campaign of his career.

Until now the war had been fought on the standards of those times where the ruling class and the soldiery were eliminated if they resisted but the majority of the population was left alone. However when that same population took to arms and called for the murder of all unbelievers these standards had to be changed. And with this in mind Chingiz ordered his sons and generals, “I forbid you to show mercy to my enemies without an explicit order from me. Firmness alone keeps such spirits dutiful. An enemy conquered is not subdued, and will always hate his new master.”

The Mongol threw whatever he had at the cities of Islam before these millions could be gathered and led by Jelal-ud-din. His soldiers, in obedience of the explicit orders, massacred every living soul inhabiting those cities. When they learned that people were trying to save themselves by falling on the heaps of the slain and playing dead, the Mongol generals ordered their soldiers to cut-off the heads of all enemies. Those who saved themselves by hiding could not escape—at one place the retreating Mongols sent back groups of soldiers to hunt out and kill these persons. In another city they forced the muezzin of a mosque to cry out the loud call to prayer—the Muslims came out of their hiding places, in the belief that the hated Mongols had left, and were massacred.

The cities too were burned and dismantled—the walls were razed down and even the foundations were dug up and ploughed over with soil so that no trace of the habitation was left! And all this while select Mongol units chased and fought Jelal-ud-din all across his father’s former domain, giving him no chance to gather an effective army. When the summer heat returned the Mongols withdrew once again into the cool mountain ranges.

This time they set up camp in the Afghan mountains and did not indulge in a hunt. It had been a successful but intense campaign and there was plenty of rest and recuperation needed. News from west came that General Chepe had died while leading his army back to Chingiz. The Khan’s eldest son Juchi had been sent to camp in the wild lands around the Aral Sea because of his failure to capture Jelal-ud-din at Urgench. Tuli the youngest had also given cause for Chingiz to be angry—after storming many cities and slaughtering the inhabitants Tuli had taken mercy on the people of Herat, had forbidden the slaughter and had placed a Mongol to govern over them.

Chingiz Khan’s anger was justified when, in the coming autumn, the jehadis of Heart rebelled and killed the Mongol governor and his men. Tuli was sent to redeem his earlier mistake while Chingiz took 60,000 men to finally hunt down the elusive Jelal-ud-din in person.

Up to this time the lands in the east, on the border with India and among the Afghan hills, had not been affected by the Mongol conquest. Hence Jelal-ud-din had raised a fresh Turk army from the garrisons here and was marching north—to the important city of Bamiyan that held a large garrison of its own along with some treasure. Chingiz reached that place before the Muslims and sent a part of his army with a Mongol general to deter the Turk prince. With the rest of his army the Khan besieged Bamiyan.

The defenders of Bamiyan had prepared for the coming contest by destroying all the grass and crops of the countryside—they had even gone to the extent of removing the thousands of boulders and stones that could be used by the Mongol siege engines! The only option for Chingiz was to raise wooden towers and shoot flaming arrows into the crowded city and then scale the walls. The Mongols redoubled their efforts at Bamiyan—their middle-aged emperor got off his horse and ignited the spirit of his men by running forward at the very head of one of the storming units into the doomed city.

Chingiz left the destroyed city of Bamiyan to collect his scattered divisions. When Jelal-ud-din learnt that Bamiyan was gone and Chingiz had pulled together his army he fled towards India—these events will be described later.

Across the Turk empire cities had been pillaged and burnt, hundreds of thousands had been killed, and hundreds of thousands had been dragged away from their homes in slavery. Truly a horrifying story—but this same story had been told much earlier when the banners of Islam had first entered these lands. And in the same way the Turks had created such bloody scenes in attacking the cities of India. But the Muslim invasions went further in forcing the population to convert to their religion—and in this respect the Mongols differed greatly from them.

After the horrors of an Islamic invasion the conquered population was persuaded to convert to Islam. Those that refused would be forced to live under repressive laws, forbidden to ride horses or bear arms, forced to pay a capitation tax, and forbidden from building new places of worship. Over time, it was calculated, such pressures would force the people to finally embrace Islam.

After the horrors of a Mongol invasion the population was declared free to follow their ancestral faith as long as they obeyed the Mongol laws. The conquered peoples, Chins, Turks, Persians, were brought into the administration and even into the army. The Mongols kept their own traditions but allowed the Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians to debate each other and to propagate their faiths—but without the power of the state to help them in their mission. Much later the Mongol Empire broke into several mini-empires ruled by the various descendants of Chingiz—these rulers, having lost touch with their ancestral land of the Gobi, eventually converted to the faith of their subject peoples.
Chingiz Kha-Khan(on the left Chingiz is portrayed with Sinic features while on the right he has a distinct Turkic physiognomy. These paintings were done long after the death of Chingiz by his subjects in China and Central Asia.)

At the time of the Mongol invasion of Central Asia and Iran the peoples to their west were engaged in bloody religious wars. The crusades had pitted Europeans against Arabs, Armenians against Turks, Christians against Jews, and Muslims against Christians in wars that seemed to serve no purpose. The Mongols under Ogdai, the son of Chingiz, and later under Mangu, his grandson, defeated the Seljuk Turks, the Christians of Antioch, and the Mamluk Turks. For the brief duration of Mongol rule over West Asia, Christian, Muslim, and Jew could freely perform the duties of their religions and visit the holy places of their prophets unhindered.

It should also be remembered that there were many Muslims serving under Chingiz like the Naiman Turks, the Uighur Turks, the Muslims of Kara-Khitai, and many Turkomans. During the call for jehad these Muslims remained loyal to Chingiz and fought against their co-religionists without the least fear or apprehension. Had they joined the jehadis, the remaining army of Chingiz would have suffered greatly in trying to defeat the Muslims—but as long as they had religious freedom these Naimans, Uighurs, and Turkomans remained true to their salt and fought for Chingiz. For them the law of the Mongol Khan was above the law of the Prophet in the political sphere.

And after the fighting ceased the conquered Muslims became devoted to these same Mongol laws and followed them as religiously as they did the laws of the Koran. As late as in the 16th century the Turk prince Babur remarked in his memoirs, “My forefathers had always observed the rules of Chingiz Khan strictly…Now those rules certainly had no divine authority, so that a man had to obey them; still they were good to follow by those who inherited them. Every man who had such good regulations should follow them.”

Read More......

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Fall of the Muslim Turks — The Mongol Cataclysm

The wandering tribes of North Asia had been fused into a permanent standing army. The tribal warrior’s attachment to his own tribe had been replaced now by a passionate loyalty to his military unit. Even in the harsh winter months, when there was no military campaign, Chingiz would organize great hunts across thousands of miles of steppe land. Nothing less than regular military campaigns, these hunts served the purpose of keeping the tribesmen fighting fit and prevented them from turning their weapons against each other.

But even these measures could not rob the tribesmen of their traditional desire for independence and personal ambition. And so General Subotai had to be sent on a campaign to subdue the Merkit tribe in the northern Gobi—at that same time a new danger was rising in the west. An ambitious Naiman prince named Gutchluk, who had escaped from the early Naiman campaign of Chingiz to the Turk kingdom of Kara-Khitai, had made himself the lord of those Muslims. Unlike the Turk population of Kara-Khitai Gutchluk was only a nominal Muslim but he established his rule by immediately employing his new army against the neighboring Uighurs and Tibetans.

To eliminate this threat Chingiz turned to his most energetic general. Chepe led two divisions in campaigns across and back over the Central Asian mountain ranges and Tibet. Using classic divide and conquer, Chepe enlisted the Buddhists against the Muslims, and offered an amnesty to all save the Naiman prince. Chepe sent a thousand white-nosed horses to Chingiz in memory of his first meeting with Chingiz on the battlefield. This successful campaign brought the domains of Chingiz in direct contact with the world of Islam.

A world created by the Arabs and inhabited also by Persians, Kurds, and Afghans, and which for the past few centuries had been under the Turk rule. These Turks were different from their nomadic brethren in that they embraced completely the religion of the Arabs and the culture of the Persians, and they now traced their descent either from Prophet Muhammad or from the great Persian Kings of yore. Some of these Turks had established their rule in parts of North India and some had usurped power from the Arabs in Egypt.

The greatest among these was Muhammad Shah who ruled a dominion[1] stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Syr River—the river drained into the Aral Sea. Another river to the south, likewise draining into the Aral Sea, was the Amu (Oxus). Between these two rivers were the cities of Samarkand and Bokhara and many well-garrisoned forts. In this vast plain, protected by these garrisons and fed by supplies from the cities and from the countryside, stood Muhammad Shah with 400,000 soldiers, waiting for the coming contest with the master of North Asia and China.

Proud of his Turk soldiers the Shah had scornfully dismissed all the tales of the Mongol conquests; “They have conquered only unbelievers—now the banners of Islam are arrayed against them.” His first victorious skirmishes against the patrols of Chepe’s division did not improve this view—Chepe had been exploring the newly annexed lands of Kara-Khitai and was at that time unaware of the war. However another division, under Juchi the eldest son of Chingiz, had wound its way through the high mountain ranges in the winter of 1220 and was following the River Syr down from its source.

Juchi was trapped within the narrow valley by Muhammad Shah[2] and for a full day that single division clashed head-on with the entire Turk army. Both sides were unable to force a decision due to the narrow confines of the battleground—the Mongols could not maneuver and the full force of the Turks in the rear couldn’t touch the enemy fighting at the front. At nightfall the Mongols set fire to the grass and disappeared in the blinding smoke—the next day the ground was found littered with bodies. Though many more Turks than Mongols had fallen, the Shah declared victory, but in a clear admission of his anxiety, urgently asked for reinforcements from the forts in Persia—especially for skilled archers. Chingiz when hearing of this first encounter praised his son and sent him an additional brigade of 5000 horsemen.

[1] Muhammad Shah’s empire is known to history as Khwarizm with his capital and ancestral town at Urgench (Central Asia).
[2] Juchi’s officers advised him to use deception and long-range maneuvers for several days until his father could come up with the main army, but the first-born son refused saying, “If I turn away from this battle, how will I face my father?

Meanwhile the division of Chepe, instead of crossing the Syr, had turned behind Prince Juchi’s division to go further east, turn back and then emerge at the River Amu, behind the army of the Shah. Such movements of men and animals across the high mountain ranges seemed nothing short of magic to Muhammad who was in danger of being cut-off from his base in Iran. The Shah promptly divided his army to tackle both Juchi and Chepe—in this way he was forced to dissipate the power of his much larger force due to the strategic movements of the Mongols[3].

The first of the frontier towns to fall was Otrar. Some time needs to be spent in retracing events that had taken place at this town the previous year since these were the main cause of the war between the Mongols and the Muslims. When their domains had first come into contact Chingiz had proposed trade relations to Muhammad, which the latter had accepted[4]. However the name and fame of Chingiz became known in the wider world and the Arab Caliph of Baghdad proposed an alliance with the Mongols against the hated Turk Muhammad. Nothing came of this proposal but around that time a convoy of Mongol merchants was stopped at Otrar and put to death on suspicion of being spies.

When Chingiz sent a high-ranking Mongol delegation to protest, Muhammad had the chief envoy executed and burnt the beards of the rest. In fierce rage Chingiz cried out, “There cannot be two suns in the heavens...or two kha-khans on earth!” He used the incident to declare war and motivate his soldiers to fight with ardor saying, “You go with me to strike with our strength the man who has treated us with scorn!

And now when Otrar had fallen, the Mongols razed it to the ground in revenge and drove out the mostly Persian townspeople. The offending Turk governor responsible for executing the Mongol merchants had molten silver poured into his ears while the Turk garrison was slaughtered. At Tashkent and Jend too the Turk soldiers were slaughtered while the Persian townspeople were left alive to serve the new rulers.

All this time Muhammad Shah waited for the Mongols to come within range of his main army. He knew that if he advanced to fight Juchi or Chepe, these divisions would tire out his forces in long-range maneuvers and leave him open to the final smashing blow delivered by the main Mongol army under Chingiz, which was probably hovering behind them.

And then, like a sudden bolt of lightning on a clear day, came the calamitous news that the main Mongol army was approaching from the west! In an extra-ordinary maneuver Chingiz avoided entering the mountain ranges and took his army across the entire breadth of Central Asia to cross the River Syr far downstream. Now Muhammad was not merely cut-off from his Persian base, he was about to be annihilated by the numerous Mongol armies approaching from different directions. He further divided his army to defend the main cities of Bokhara and Samarkand, and took away the rest across the Amu River and into the region of Balkh.

The 20,000 strong Turk garrison of Bokhara did not have the strength to oppose Chingiz and decided to join their Shah across the Amu. Chingiz heard of their escape and sent three divisions, which pursued the Turks at a distance and then fell on them when they were about to cross the river. Chingiz entered this city of Islam and rode into its main mosque on his horse—he had acquired some knowledge of the Muslim peoples and their religion and he used it in psychological warfare. “The sins of your emperor are many,” he told them. “I have come…I, the qahar-i-khuda, to destroy him.”[5]

The walled city of Samarkand had a garrison of nearly 110,000 Turk and Persian soldiers, along with twenty armored elephants—they far outnumbered the portion of the army now under Chingiz. But the Mongols had learned to deal with fortified cities in their China campaigns. Gathering up the rural population from hundreds of miles around Samarkand they forced them to drag the Chinese siege engines and to dig mud ramparts. The defenders of Samarkand mistook these captives to be part of the Mongol army and were so intimidated that they surrendered the well-fortified city! 30,000 Turks of the Kankali tribe even offered to join the army of Chingiz—these men were taken into service and then massacred a few days later.

The main army of Muhammad Shah had ceased to exist—there were of course the men recruited by his son Jelal-ud-din around the Aral Sea in the far north but the Mongols now blocked that path. Then there were the garrisons in the other cities of the empire, and still closer to Balkh were the Afghan tribes. But Muhammad got no time to ponder and decide because two Mongol divisions, marching separately under Chepe and Subotai, came riding hard after the Turk ruler. At the same time Chingiz sent two of his sons north to tackle the forces under Jelal-ud-din.

Chepe and Subotai chased Muhammad Shah east towards Baghdad, destroyed each force that he gathered together, and finally drove him north towards the Caspian Sea. Muhammad Shah took refuge on an island and finally died there a few months later. The two Mongol generals decided to explore the mountain lands of the Caucasus—their adventures here will be described later.

The force under Jelal-ud-din was also defeated and his ancestral town of Urgench was stormed—but the valiant prince escaped. All standing armies of the Muslims had been crushed and only the garrisons in the southern cities, the innumerable townspeople, and the peasantry remained to be tamed. By this time the heat was building up and Chingiz pulled back into the Central Asian mountain ranges and ordered a massive hunt for the summer months to keep his army fit and busy.

[3] It should be said that the Mongols spread their army across a wide range to lessen the pressure of securing food and fodder for their men and herds. In the modern interpretations of the Mongol campaigns these wide-range movements and multi-pronged attacks are only regarded as brilliant strategic moves without considering the mundane food-and-fodder issues.
[4] Chingiz made this proposal in a very patronizing tone, pointing out how he had conquered China and so many Turkic tribes; thus implying that the Muslim Turks of Muhammad were no match for the Mongols in military power and that it was in their interests for the two empires to engage through trade.
[5] In this speech he worked on the age-old Muslim fear that because of their sinful ways the wrath of God (qahar-i-khuda) would one day fall on them like a calamity. Chingiz also told them that the annual Haj pilgrimage to Mecca was a mistake because, “The power of heaven is not in one place alone, but in every corner of the earth.

Read More......

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The China Campaigns — The Mongol Cataclysm

The Chinese year of the sheep usually brings out the creative talent in individuals, while life for the country goes on undisturbed. The year 1211 was anything but undisturbed—for in this year of the sheep the Mongol yak-tail standards had been planted on the mountain ranges overlooking the Chinese plain. The gates of the Great Wall had been captured and opened by the frontier tribes, while further east in the Liaotung peninsula, the Liao princes had opened a diversionary campaign. Three advance divisions, led by Muqali and the two youngsters Chepe and Subotai, raced through the valleys and gorges in search of the Chin armies trudging up from the plains.

For the Chins had not been sleeping all this while. Their armies, composed mainly of foot soldiers with the officers in chariots, marched over the frontier roads to send the ragged tribal army fleeing back to the Gobi. Unfortunately they were ignorant of these frontier regions while Chepe, Muqali, and Subotai had formed a photographic memory of all the roads and rivers when they had marched across and back through these same regions in service of the Chins only a year ago.

The Mongol divisions outmaneuvered and destroyed these armies. The survivors trooped back to the cities and forts and spread panic among the inhabitants—but the Chin population rallied together. Fresh armies were assembled and the forts were readied for defence. While the three divisions had been fighting the Chin field armies, the main Mongol army under Chingiz had targeted the outlying forts and towns. They now reached the Chin capital but merely rode around its imposing walls. When the autumn season came Chingiz ordered a withdrawal to the steppes.

The following year the herdsmen returned to feed their horses and cattle on the fresh grass and laid siege to the Chin capital. But the steppe warriors had no experience of siege warfare and they again merely rode around the walls, fighting off the relieving armies coming up from the south. Further north the Liao princes were hammered by a 60,000 strong Chin army and appealed for Mongol aid.

The energetic Chepe rode north with his division and laid siege to the fort serving as the base of the Chin operations. Once again the Mongols failed in the art of siege warfare. However deception and long-range maneuvers were the crux of steppe warfare and these were now employed against the Chins. Chepe and his division vanished from the siege, leaving behind all their tent and baggage. For two days the Chins cautiously watched the abandoned camp while Chepe continued riding away at a slow pace. Then shifting to their fresh horses the Mongols galloped back with drawn swords—the Chins were celebrating their victory and looting the Mongol camp when Chepe fell on them. The unguarded fort was captured at a gallop!

But the campaign as a whole was unsuccessful in crushing the power of Chin and once again the Mongols retired to the steppes to pass the lean winter season. In 1214 Chingiz devised a new strategy. This time his divisions were grouped into three separate armies operating north, south, and east of the Chin capital. They laid siege to the strongest fortified cities—but this time the siege-work was done by the villagers uprooted from the countryside.

In the previous campaigns the village population would hide in forests and hills and return to their homes once the invading force had passed through. These villagers provided information about the movement and strength of the Mongol armies but more importantly, they formed the backbone of the Chin infantry. By dragging these villagers from their homes and using them in siege-work the Mongols were striking several blows at the Chins. City after city surrendered to this ferocious assault and many Chin generals joined the service of Chingiz.

Now Chingiz concentrated his forces around the Chin capital. This time his overconfident Mongols proposed to assault the walls from all sides, sacrificing many soldiers, but at least obtaining a chance to enter the fortified capital at one unguarded place.

Chingiz refused. He instead sent a peace proposal that the Chin Emperor gladly accepted—by one term of this proposal Chingiz was married to a Chin princess and thus admitted as an equal to the Chin royal family. When the steppe warriors retired to their homes the Chin ruler shifted his residence to the southern capital—the campaign of 1214 had struck a psychological blow on the nervous Emperor.

But this very flight of the Emperor aroused the national ardor of the Chin generals. These high-spirited men had earlier argued against accepting the Mongol peace proposals—the Chin generals had wished to lead out their armies and crush the enemy who, they believed, had been weakened by the ceaseless campaigning. The Emperor had decided otherwise but now that he was gone the Chin generals broke the terms of the treaty and attacked the garrisons loyal to Chingiz. Each small success boosted their confidence and ultimately they grew bold enough to send an army against the Liao princes.

These reports came to Chingiz while the Mongols were about to cross the Great Wall—this time there could be no winter retreat to the Gobi. However Chingiz sent home one division under Chepe to watch the situation in the steppes while a second division raced down after the Chin Emperor. He could not be allowed now to find a new base in the southern capital.

Chingiz established his own base in the mountains under the Great Wall. A third division under Subotai was sent towards Liao—after defeating the Chin armies the young general pushed on towards Korea and brought back the submission of that country. Now the veteran Muqali was sent with a brigade (5000 men) as a probe towards the Chin capital. To protect him against the Chin field armies Subotai’s division marched on the flanks while Muqali collected bands of renegade Chin soldiers along the way (who otherwise could have engaged in guerrilla warfare later on) and employed them in the siege.

The spate of recent defeats, the death or surrender of the leading generals, and the absence of the Emperor had filled the Chin soldiers and civilians in the capital with despair. One of the remaining Chin generals deserted to Muqali while another, loyal to the end, embraced death by drinking poison. Looting broke out in the streets and many places were carelessly set on fire. The same capital that had defied the might of Chingiz all these years now fell to General Muqali without a struggle.

The Chin Emperor was chased further south into the lands of his Sung enemies—to whom he now appealed for aid. The Mongol division penetrated into the hostile kingdom, circled around its main cities and forts and came back to Chingiz from the north—after crossing the frozen rivers far upstream. General Muqali was left to pacify the Chins with a large section of the army. Muqali was given his own yak-tailed standard as a mark of this independent command. And while a dynasty had fallen and an empire was being conquered, back home in the Gobi another grandson was born to Chingiz—the future ruler of China—Kublai.

Read More......

Friday, February 17, 2006

Statecraft — The Mongol Cataclysm

Chingiz’s name spread among the peoples of North Asia, many tribes and clans taking up service under him—soldiers that he welcomed with open arms. But, learning from the bitter experience of his childhood, Chingiz demanded unflinching loyalty from them. He also showed great foresight by now proposing an alliance of equals with the powerful Toghrul Khan of the Keraits. Living to the west and with an admixture of Turkic blood, these people had built permanent houses of mud and were engaged in agriculture and trade. The reason for this alliance was simple—Chingiz wished to keep the Keraits engaged on their western frontier against other Turkic tribes while he built up the strength of the Mongols in the east[1].

Chingiz got a golden opportunity for rapidly increasing his power when he learned that the Chin Empire (northern China) had launched a campaign against the neighboring Tatar tribe—the murderers of his father. Quickly gathering his men and calling on the Keraits of Toghrul Khan, Chingiz poured this cavalry over the Tatar lands, destroying their power. For this service the Chin general sent him expensive gifts and a Chinese title of commander against rebels—his ally Toghrul also received titles and rewards.

But this unnatural alliance between two powerful leaders was reaching breaking point. The enemies of Chingiz, whether Mongols or other defeated tribes, warned Toghrul of the growing power of his friend and a new alliance was quickly formed. Chingiz was engaged in a hunt with only 3000 soldiers when two horse-herders brought the alarming news that a large horde of Keraits, Merkits, and Jadrans[2] was hurling towards his camp. The rest of Chingiz’s army was then dispersed in the faraway grazing grounds of their own region.

Chingiz quickly sent off brave volunteers to keep the campfires burning and to drive away the cattle from his camp. The women, children, and treasures were mounted on horses and camels—Chingiz covered their retreat with his small army for eight or nine miles. The exhausted tribesmen finally stopped to rest in a narrow gorge among a cluster of hills.

The enemy saw the Mongol campfires burning and wasted time in attacking the empty tents—following in the tracks of the elusive Mongols they soon came to the hills at daybreak. Chingiz immediately attacked them with his refreshed army and sent their advance guard flying in confused retreat. His men formed up on the plain in their traditional clan-squadrons while the main army of Toghrul and his allies came up to that place. Again underestimating the Mongol strength they made a general frontal attack. The loyalty so cherished and nurtured by Chingiz among his men now bore fruit—the Mongol squadrons fought to the last man and yielded only the ground under their dead bodies.

The usual tribal practice of fleeing from difficult battles and living to fight another day was replaced by solid discipline and desperate courage as the different clans sacrificed themselves for the sake of their commander. The carnage continued throughout the day and as the Mongol lines were thinned the sun began to set. As a last resort Chingiz sent a picked body of men through the advancing enemy and around their lines to take a hill called Gupta. Seeing the dreaded yak-tailed standard on the Gupta hill behind them, with Mongol warriors shooting down arrows[3], the enemy checked their advance and slowly retreated. Under cover of darkness Chingiz collected the remains of his loyal army and fled.

Thus was fought the Battle of the Gupta Hill. Chingiz was defeated but he had fought a superior enemy to a standstill and had also saved all his people from captivity. On the true nature of the desperate fight and, as a tribute to the military skill of Chingiz, the wise old Toghrul Khan remarked, “We have fought a man with whom we should never have quarreled.”

The chase of the Mongols and the usual long-range maneuvers were halted by the onset of winter. Chingiz, grown even more famous in the estimation of the steppe tribes, used this period to collect his army and gather all the Mongol clans and neighboring tribes in a grand coalition to oppose the Keraits and their allies. Before the winter snows had begun melting he launched them at the unprepared enemy and defeated them—hunting out their leaders and enrolling the common soldiers in his own army.

The Turk tribes on the west, the Naimans and Uighurs[4], had only just heard of the extermination of their dreaded Kerait enemy, and were eagerly making plans for raiding the Kerait lands, when the army of Chingiz steamrolled into their lands! Without giving anyone time to think, Chingiz had pacified the Keraits by admitting them as equals to his Mongol soldiers and had immediately set them out to destroy their Turk enemies[5]. The campaign against these Turks lasted three years and ended in their annihilation and absorption into the growing empire of Chingiz.

[1] Chingiz considered the Keraits to be a prime target for his audacious new plan…something he had announced to his council, “Our elders have told us that different hearts and minds cannot be in one body. But this I intend to bring about. I shall extend my authority over my neighbors.”
[2] The Jadrans were related to the Borjigin Mongols. Their leader Jamukha’s ancestor had broken off from Chingiz’s family to form a separate clan called Jadran.
[3] The Kerait prince was wounded in the face by one such arrow, probably hastening the retreat.
[4] Found today in the western parts of the Xinjiang military district of China.
[5] The other reason for this campaign was that Jamukha and other enemies had taken shelter with these tribes.

Basing himself in the Kerait mud city of Kara Korum (black sands) Chingiz called for a council of Khans to elect a single man to rule over them—an Emperor. The choice was natural and all the Khans chose Chingiz as the Kha-Khan (Khan ruling over other Khans). It was on this occasion that he was hailed, for the first time, by the new name of Chingiz[6].

On his part Chingiz too had an announcement for the other Khans regarding their followers, “These men, who will share with me the good and bad of the future, whose loyalty will be like the clear rock crystal—I wish them to be called Mongols. Above everything that breathes on earth, I wish them to be raised to power.”

All the Keraits, Tatars, Naimans, Uighurs, and Merkits were to mingle with the numerous Mongol clans and form a permanent army. This army was organized on the traditional decimal basis, from the basic unit of 10 (squad) to the highest of 10,000 (division)[7], but the various clans and tribes were evenly distributed into these military units. Loyalty to the clan or tribe was replaced by loyalty to the unit—men of a squad were to be devoted to each other and they could not leave a wounded comrade behind. No man of the army could leave the battlefield, or turn to plunder, until the standard of Chingiz Khan was moved. Living to fight another day had always been the ideology of wandering tribes and selfish mercenaries—it was not an option for successful standing armies.

And while this extraordinary man, with all his determination and patience, was shaping a permanent army out of wandering tribes, to the outside world all these battles and campaigns seemed to be business-as-usual in the tribal areas. Indeed the frontier commanders of the Chin Empire had even tried to intervene in the recent tribal wars—supporting one tribe against the other. Their forefathers had built a massive wall to keep the tribes out of the civilized areas—with little success—but they had thought of another way to contain the growing power of Chingiz.

The Chin Emperor asked for military assistance in his war against the Sung Kingdom of southern China and Chingiz, the supposedly loyal commander against rebels, sent some of his divisions across the Great Wall. These divisions marched across northern China, performed the assigned duty for their overlord, and then marched back to the steppes—and in doing all this they noted down all the river crossings, important forts and towns, and all the roads and passes of the Chin Empire. This valuable information was delivered to Chingiz.

By this time Chingiz had been making contact with the tribes and kingdoms[8] on the frontier of the Chin Empire—to impress them with his power and authority Chingiz had his standards displayed all along the numerous gates of the Great Wall. When the Chin Emperor did nothing in response to this provocation, the frontier tribes concluded that he feared the Mongols, and they waited for the inevitable. But the Chin Emperor was really ignorant of these antics, and knowing this, Chingiz struck a blow in an entirely different area—the tribes and kingdoms of the southwest.

If the Mongols were to campaign in the Chin Empire, their own homes in the Gobi would have to be protected from the aggression of these neighboring tribes. These campaigns lasted several years and ended with a series of alliances similar to those that Chingiz had made with the Keraits. Soldiers from Hia and other kingdoms joined the Mongol army. Chingiz also had the frontier tribes within China at his call…but the millions of the Chin Empire still outnumbered the 100,000 strong steppe army.

[6] From the various translations: “perfect warrior”, “limitless ocean”, “great sovereign”, “the sound of iron being forged” etc.
[7] The Mongol designation for these units was: 10 (Arban), 100 (Jagun), 1000 (Minghan), 10,000 (Tuman). For convenience their rough modern equivalents: respectively squad, company, battalion, and division will be used in this work.
[8] Chief among them were the princes of Liao, who had been displaced by the Chins. Chingiz promised to restore the throne of Chin to them.

Read More......

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Humble Beginnings — The Mongol Cataclysm

Cataclysm—the upheaval or revolution—literally meaning a sudden flood of water. It was indeed a revolutionary flood that erupted in 12th Century Mongolia and swirled across the known world and beyond for two centuries. Mongolia today is a landlocked country sandwiched between the military-economic powers of Russia and China. In the 12th Century the land was sparsely dotted with habitation and the leading powers of that age were too far away to influence life in the steppes. The cold treeless plateau was littered here and there with lakes and rivers while stretches of burning desert and thinly forested mountains marked the boundaries with the more civilized regions. Such a land could not sustain a settled population and the various tribes moved from place to place with their herds—searching for pasture and game and fighting each other over these scarce resources.

Horses had been the principal vehicles for these battles, and even more for the mobility of the tribes, ever since their domestication thousands of years earlier. From the early centuries of bareback riding, cavalry had been improved by developments that came about in the steppes, or were imitated from inventions in the civilized areas[1]. In this period the steppe cavalry was inferior to its neighbors in the matter of armor—other powers, particularly the Muslim Turks, used expensive chain-mail while the Mongols and allied tribes made do with coats of leather. This leather was stiff and fairly strong—it also had plates of iron sewn in to provide extra protection—but it did not provide the flexibility and freedom of movement that a warrior clad in chain-mail possessed. This freedom of movement was important for soldiers engaged in close combat, which however was a rare part of battles in the steppes, rare even more in hunting.

In the endless open plain big game hunting was necessary to feed many mouths. For these hunts strategies and tactics were evolved that eventually came to be used in war. The Mongols would patiently follow the tracks of wild animals for days together while shooting iron-tipped arrows at long range. On other occasions a large tribe could encircle animals scattered across several hundred miles of land, then slowly close the trap over the next few days and weeks, and finally hunt them all down. Similar tactics were used in war.

The whole basis of steppe warfare was long-range maneuvering, to tire out the enemy tribe or to ensure that their various units were too far spread out to be effective in pitched battles. The lay of the land was also important—the enemy tribe would ideally have to be stranded on marshy lands or trapped between patches of forest, after which, the attack would be launched. And even then, these pitched battles were not for annihilation. The men, women, and children of the enemy were either absorbed into the victorious tribe or allowed to wander off. In all the thousands of years of such warfare there were moments, rare moments, when a coalition of tribes was formed, which had the numbers and resources to launch attacks on civilized neighbors.

Such had been the Hiung-nu and Yeuh-chi of the past. At the beginning of the 12th Century too a coalition of Mongol clans was formed by Khabula Khan of the Borjigin Mongol[2] clan. After Khabula’s death the rule over the coalition passed to his grandson Yesugai—but in 1170 Yesugai Khan was poisoned by enemies of the eastern Tatar tribe. The coalition had already fallen part but even the Borjigin clan was on the point of dispersal because Yesugai had left behind an inexperienced successor—his 13-year-old son, Chingiz[3].
[1] Although this point is controversial, especially with regard to the Aryan Theory, there seems to have been a simultaneous domestication of animals across different regions. The development of wheels, chariots and reins took place in civilized areas, while saddles and stirrups were used first among the horse-riding steppe peoples.
[2] Mongol is said to be derived from Mangkhol. It was really a linguistic group later split into tribes…going further east or west the similarity in languages diminished and the tribes mingled with the neighboring Sinic or Turkic peoples respectively.
[3] His birth name was Temujin but since he is known to history by his adopted name Chingiz, this name will be used throughout the article to avoid confusion. And for the same reason the word Mongol will be used throughout for the army of Chingiz even though in this early period his men were only one clan among the Mongol-speakers.

Humble Beginnings

To make matters worse for the orphan Khan, Targoutai of the Tayichud clan had announced that he was now overlord of the Mongol clans. Many Borjigin tribesmen joined the enemy because a strong ruler would better protect their families and herds than a helpless orphan like Chingiz. To confirm his claim Targoutai came hunting for Chingiz. The boy fled but was captured and, after an adventurous escape, lived like a fugitive for some time. After the storm had ebbed he returned to his mother and siblings and very bravely went to the families that had served his father and asked them to pay their annual tax of a horse or an ox to him. In this manner Chingiz scratched out an existence for his family and followers without approaching other tribes for aid[4].

The Borjigin Mongols were now the weakest tribe in the steppe region, quietly tending their herds and horses in summer, and fighting off robbers and wild animals in winter. But Chingiz, with ingrained patience and quiet determination was building up his armed strength by befriending capable young men from other tribes. The names of those tribes or clans are not important but the names of these men should be remembered for they were destined to become the divisional commanders of the future Mongol war machine.

1) Borchu: the first of these friends helped Chingiz in recovering stolen horses from a gang of Tayichud robbers. Borchu went on to command the right wing of the Mongol army and was given the honor of being seated next to Chingiz in his council. Kassar and Temugu, younger brothers of Chingiz, also displayed their skills in archery and riding while fighting minor skirmishes with robber bands. At the age of 17 their older brother, the Khan, decided to get married[5].

2) Chepe Noyon: this gallant fighter belonged to the Tayichud clan that was defeated by the Chingiz when he was a still a boy. Chepe asked Chingiz for a horse so that he could continue fighting. When this bold request was granted, he skillfully cut his way through the surrounding Mongols and escaped. A few days later the young man returned and offered to join the service of such a chivalrous Khan. For his swiftness and agility he received the nickname of arrow (Chepe or Djebe) and later became commander of 10,000 cavalry (Noyon).

3) Subotai Bahadur: very different from Chepe in his origin but similar in daring was Subotai. His Uriankhi tribe—herders of reindeer in the far north—had joined the services of Chingiz. In one battle the Khan asked for a warrior to lead the initial assault—the young Subotai stepped forward. Instead of leading any charge he rode alone to the enemy camp, declared himself a fugitive from Chingiz, and convinced them that the Mongols were yet far away. When Chingiz bore down with his horsemen he was stunned to see that the enemy tribe had not even armed in self-defence!

4) Muqali: Muqali and Bayan were older than Chingiz and the former belonged to the Jurkin clan. Muqali would go on to become the independent military commander of northern China. Of more humble origins were Soo the expert crossbow wielder and Arghun the lute-player—both destined to become divisional commanders of armies that would campaign across thousands of miles of steppe, mountains, and desert.

5) Sons: by the time Chingiz began his world conquests he was already in his fifties and was the father of young men like Juchi, Chagtai, Ogtai, and Tuli. His famous grandson Kublai acted as nominal administrator of the tribal homeland when his elders were away on the conquest of Turan and Iran.

The campaigns of these sons and generals were to come later. For the moment the quiet but steady emergence of the Borjigin Mongols had alarmed their Tayichud enemies. Their leader Targoutai received word that the Mongols were moving from the summer grazing grounds to the area of their winter pasture—this was a golden opportunity to crush forever the growing power of Chingiz! The Mongols would be hampered by their cattle and their families in the slow-moving carts and, if they chose to ride out and fight the Tayichuds, would be overwhelmed by superior numbers.

Chingiz had under his command 13,000 warriors while Targoutai, as befits a leader of confederate tribes, had almost 30,000. Targoutai quickly collected his warriors and galloped across the rolling steppes towards the Mongol caravan winding its way through the hills. The Mongols received word of their approach and quickly armed in self-defense. Chingiz led his warriors to a plain blocked on one side by a thick forest—on the other side were placed the Mongol carts with the women and children who were given bows and arrows to shoot down anyone who came close. Into this enclosure of carts were driven the cattle. With his column of warriors, their flanks protected by the trees and the carts, and the hills covering their rear, Chingiz fought the aptly named Battle of the Carts.

Against this superb defensive position the traditional steppe maneuvers were impossible. Targoutai had wished to overwhelm the smaller Mongol force in the open plain—slightly taken aback at the sight of the defensive formation, but still confident of his superior numbers, he launched the attack. While his heavy cavalry built up momentum for a charge Targoutai sent ahead the light archers and spearmen to cover this advance. At the critical moment this cloud of skirmishers fell back and armored horsemen, formed into squadrons of 500 men, charged all along the Mongol front. Chingiz had formed his smaller army into a charging column with heavier squadrons of 1000 men. These cavalry squadrons rammed through the Tayichuds opposite them and began shooting arrows at the lightly armed soldiers in the rear. While the rest of the Tayichuds found their path blocked by the carts, the Mongols who had ridden clear through in a column of steel, drew their swords and turned around their compact squadrons at the stationary enemy, killing off a quarter and scattering the rest!

[4] In his immortal words, “to go as a beggar with empty hands is to arouse scorn, not fellowship.” Chingiz was determined to first build-up his own strength before he negotiated with other powers.
[5] At a young age Chingiz had expressed an interest in marrying the daughter of a strong chieftain of the Khongiraad tribe, friendly to his father. But all this while Chingiz had held off since he did not have the resources to start a family.
Read More......

Monday, February 13, 2006

Hindu defeats or Hindu victories

The study of history educates, excites, and motivates—this is why so many young people take a liking to history after they have started their careers. Additionally in India the history textbooks, written in my time under left wing supervision, were so dull and uninspiring that we used them as sleeping pills during the evening prep!

The alternative to the leftist whitewashing was what we read in the illustrated stories of the Amar Chitra Katha series or what we learned from our elders. Now with the gradual whittling down of the Congress hegemony, the expansion and diversity in the media business, and the explosion of free information on the Internet, the alternative view on Indian History should be widely available and open to discussion.

This is the case with the periods dealing with ancient and modern histories of India—it is NOT the case with the medieval periods, particularly those dealing with the confrontation/interaction between India and Islam. True, there are several right wing websites and books that rip-off the leftist mask and present in graphic detail all the relentless wars, the attacks on religion, the looting and vicious taxation, and the endless bloodbaths of this period.

But even the right wing is confused on how to present this period? Should it be a mournful saga of Hindu defeats caused by lack of unity, inferior military technology, and the caste system? Or should it be an inspiring tale of unbending resistance carried on by successive generations till the formation of the British Raj? All available information can be molded to buttress either viewpoint but there are other questions to consider. Should the modern Indian youth be galvanized and angered by past atrocities or should they be inspired by the heroism and valor of their forefathers? Most of the rightists appear to favor the former approach but they must realize how difficult it is to harness and direct such anger.

Should the medieval period be criticized for the clear lack of material or economic development, or should it be praised for maintaining India’s economic primacy till the ruin brought on by the industrial revolution? In other words should we whitewash the medieval atrocities and focus our energy against the colonial policies of the British Empire? This has been the leftist approach but it has robbed us of the ability to engage and deal constructively with world powers for our own strategic interests.

Both the left and the right have ignored military history in all their writings—this would explain their inability to understand or explain the rise of new powers that excelled in the use of a particular military technology. By way of example heavy cavalry (Turks, Afghans), light cavalry (Rajputs, Marathas, Sikhs), infantry (Ahoms, Purbias, Jats, Ruhelas, Berads, Telingas), and artillery (Europeans).

Moreover the right wing websites while describing with relish the victories gained by the Rajputs, the Marathas, and the Sikhs, add the qualifier that despite these triumphs “the invaders and their followers were not driven out or converted back to their ancestral faith.” What effect does this have on the diverse Indian Muslim population of today?

It would be impossible to answer such questions in a single article or even in a single book! On this blog such issues relating to medieval periods will be examined from the perspective of military history. And instead of getting bogged down in the same stories of Indian History it would be interesting to study the outside world and its impact on our history——beginning with the Mongol Cataclysm.
Read More......

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Marwari Horses

Marwari horse

Happened to see the show "Safari India" on NDTV India, which covered the saga of the Marwari Horses. This is one of the few surviving indigenous horse breeds in the world.

I had covered part of its story in my guerrilla warfare article.

There is very little information on the lineage of these horses and I was hoping to see some coverage on the show. The opinion expressed there was that the Marwari was purely indigenous but the Kathiawari had some Arab admixture—this is echoed in the medieval text Ain-i-Akbari which claims that the Kathiawari was descended from seven (eight?) horses, which had run wild from a ship that was wrecked on the Gujarat coast! This mythical story acually reflects the resemblance of the Kathiawari to the Arab.

In fact both these breeds came up with the successful Rajput resistance to the Turk invaders in the 13th and 14th Centuries and their decline ran parallel to the decline of the Rajput Kingdoms in the 19th Century (for the revival see Marwari Horse for export).

On the show the British were wrongly blamed for preferring European thoroughbreds in their army—actually they didn't have much of a choice. The British Empire started from the south and the east of India where there were no local breeds of horses. Naturally they had to build their own cavalry from imported horses. And secondly the indigenous cavalry (mostly of Mughal nobles like the Nawab of Arcot or Mirza Najaf Khan) was not reliable enough—they could not work under the orders of the infantry commander and were more useful in plundering or in recce missions.

A Marwari stallion named Jukaldan Ayragi is shown in this 18th century Rajput miniature painting from Kishangarh in the Marwar region. The show didn't cover the state of Marwari horses in Marwar itself but even the coverage of the Shekawati region was good enough. The Rajput families are doing all they can to preserve this wonderful symbol of India's warlike history.

It should inspire Punjabis and Marathas to make efforts to preserve their horses as well. Of the former the Multani breed (in Pakistan) is believed to be surviving but the Lakhi breed (Punjab) is dying out. The Dakhini breed, on the backs of which the Maratha Empire was formed, is EXTINCT! There are fewer than 100 specimens left.

Hopefully Maratha families can take inspiration from the Rajputs and make an effort to save the legacy of their forefathers.
Read More......