Battle of Ain Jalut

Eyridiki Sellou | Oct 20, 2023

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The Battle of Ain Yalut (Arabic عين جالوت) occurred on September 3, 1260 and pitted the Egyptian Mamluks against the Mongols settled in Palestine, in the Jezreel Valley in Galilee, north of present-day Israel.

This battle is considered an event of great importance by many historians, as it was the first time the Mongols were defeated.Hulagu Khan, ruler of the Ilkhanate, was never able to avenge the defeat suffered, and in subsequent expeditions, he was only able to defeat the Mamluks on one occasion. Thus the Mongol advance in the Near East was halted and the myth of Mongol invincibility collapsed.

As soon as he was elected jaghan in 1251, Möngke set out to execute the plan of world conquest conceived by his grandfather, Genghis Khan. For the task of subduing the nations of the West, he chose his brother, Hulagu.

Hulagu assembled what is perhaps the largest army in the history of the Mongol Empire (more than 120,000 men). This work took him five years, which is why it was not until 1256 that he was ready to begin the invasions. From Persia, Möngke instructed his brother to go south and subjugate the Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad; from there he would have to go to Palestine, and then to Egypt, to confront the Mamluk Sultanate. Möngke also ordered his brother to treat well those who submitted without resistance, but to annihilate those who refused to do so. The Nizarids, from Persia, were so intimidated by Hulagu's reputation that they put up no resistance. However, the invader massacred them and continued his attack on what was left of the Abbasid Caliphate.

Sack of Baghdad

It is said that the Abbasid caliph Al-Musta'sim was offered the opportunity to surrender, but decided to defy the Mongols, assuring them that Allah would punish them if they dared to attack him. He did not even bother to recruit an army of loyal Muslims to defend Baghdad or strengthen the city's defenses. Thus, led by Hulagu, the Mongols captured and destroyed Baghdad in 1258, and carried out a massacre that decimated the population.

Conquest of Syria

Then, Hulagu's army set out to conquer Syria. The Mongols were allied with the Franks of the Principality of Antioch and the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, and conquered together with them the cities of Aleppo and Damascus. They besieged Aleppo in January 1260 and the city fell soon after after after a heroic resistance, on the 25th of the month. It was razed to the ground by the victors - the Armenians burned the great mosque and the city walls were demolished - who continued their advance towards Damascus, without the Ayyubid kings of the area being able to prevent it; some even joined the invading army. An-Nasir Yusuf, lord of Damascus and Aleppo, fled south without resisting. On March 1 or 2, the Mongols conquered the city. Shortly after, they sent detachments that took Nablus and Gaza, already in Palestine and near the Sinai. The Ayyubid lord of Kerak accepted the imposition of a Mongol governor and two of his relatives, al-Ashraf - lord of Homs - and al-Said - of Subayba - joined the Mongol hordes.

In reaction to the Mongol advance, in December 1259, in Egypt, Qutuz, a mature and energetic Mamluk chief, overthrew the young Sultan al-Mansur Nur al-Din Ali and set out to fight the imminent Mongol invasion. Baibars, chief of the Bahri Mamluks who were at odds with the new sultan and had participated in the assassination of their former chief and until then in the service of the Ayyubid an-Nasir, left the service of the latter and marched to the south. Disgusted by the lack of Ayyubid opposition to the Mongol advance, he reached a temporary reconciliation with Qutuz and joined his forces. The Egyptian Mamluks became the champions of Islam, a role that reinforced the legitimacy of their power in the region and marked the decline of the Ayyubids.

Conflict between the Mongols and the Mamluks

After these victories, the Mongols prepared to conquer Egypt. In the summer of 1260, Hulagu sent ambassadors to the sultan demanding his surrender. Qutuz responded by killing the messengers and hanging their heads on the Bab Zuwayla gate in Cairo. While Qutuz prepared to face the impending invasion, Hulagu had to return north to Azerbaijan to participate in the succession dispute that arose from the death of his brother, the great khan Möngke. The Mongol chief took most of his army with him and left only one or two tumen (between ten and twenty thousand soldiers) under the command of his best general, the Nestorian Christian Kitbuqa Noyan. The reduction of available forces did not deter the Mongols from continuing their advance southward, and they set out to conquer Palestine and Egypt.

The Mongols sought to ally themselves with what was left of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, then with its capital at Acre, but Pope Alexander IV would not allow it. The Christians remained neutral in the conflict, but were sure that it was only a matter of time before the Mongols would try to subjugate them as well, so they authorized the Mamluk army to roam freely through their territory, but at the same time reported their movements to the Mongols. The Franks of the south, disillusioned by the Mongol brutality - they had even sacked Sidon - not only allowed the passage of the Egyptian hosts towards Damascus, but supplied them and by their passivity secured the rear of Qutuz. They thus broke the word given to Kitbuqa, to whom they had promised to remain neutral in the contest.

Convinced that he could not wait for Hulagu to return to the Near East with all his troops, Qutuz decided to march with his men to the north to confront Kitbuqa. He was confident that, if he succeeded in winning, he would not only save the holy places of Islam (Jerusalem, Mecca and Medina) but would also deal a heavy blow to the Mongols, who were considered invincible. He would then win more followers to his cause.

The Egyptian army penetrated into Palestine on July 26, 1260 and disrupted the weak enemy garrison in Gaza. It continued to advance towards Acre and then inland Palestine towards Damascus. As it advanced, Syrian Bedouin warriors joined the large army - perhaps a hundred thousand strong. The outbreak of a popular insurrection of the Damascene Muslim population hindered the preparations of Kitbuqa, who was preparing his forces to march south to halt the enemy advance. This setback allowed the Egyptians to choose the battlefield and prepare their forces in Galilee and await the arrival of the enemy. In August Qutuz, after marching parallel to the coast on a northerly course, reached Acre and encamped at its gates. On September 2, when he learned that Kitbuqa had crossed the Jordan River and entered Galilee, Qutuz marched southeast through Nazareth and disposed his forces at the place known as the "pools of Goliath".

The enemy armies encamped in Palestine in July 1260 and met at Ain Jalut (the Well of Goliath) on September 3, with about 20,000 soldiers on each side. According to Kirakos, a 13th century Armenian historian, there were many Armenians and Georgians in the ranks of Kitbuqa. According to another Armenian historian named Smpad, about five hundred Armenian soldiers accompanied the Mongols. In any case, they were accompanied by contingents of both nationalities. The two armies had similar compositions: the most elite of both consisted of mounted archer units, accompanied by lesser quality infantry and less disciplined and reliable cavalry units of the allies. In the Egyptian case, the Mamluk cavalry core was accompanied by the numerous but poorly armed Egyptian peons, Bedouin and Turkmen cavalry and forces of some Ayyubid and other Kurdish allies.

Qutuz planned the encirclement of the enemy forces: he hid the bulk of his troops and left as bait a few units under the command of the Mamluk Bahri Baibars, who commanded the vanguard of the army. He had stationed his forces on high ground and with the sun at his back, which gave him a certain advantage. The plain of Esdrelon, where the battle was fought, slopes in that area to the east, where the Mongols came from, which forced them to charge uphill, while their enemies advanced with the slope in their favor. The Mongols, arriving in haste and ill-informed of the disposition of the enemy forces, made a bold attack on Baibars' forces, who made a false retreat. The fierce Mongol onslaught disrupted the Mamluk left, but Qutuz rallied his troops and launched a successful counterattack with cavalry reserves that he had hidden in the nearby valleys. The Mamluks managed to encircle the outnumbered Mongol forces. The Mamluk trickery had lured the Mongols into the marshes. The Mongol army was forced to retreat, and Kitbuqa was captured and his corpse dismembered. With their leader dead, the Mongols tried to leave the battlefield and concentrate on Beit She'an, but were again defeated by the forces led by Baibars, who then pursued them. The Mamluk horsemen managed to defeat the Mongols in hand-to-hand combat, a feat never before accomplished. The survivors and the soldiers of the garrisons of the conquered cities tried to withdraw immediately from the region, but many were pursued both by the Mamluk forces and by bands of Arabs and Turkmen, who harassed them.

It is important to mention that the Mamluk army that fought in this battle was created specifically to face the Mongol invasion. The vast majority of the soldiers were indigenous Turkic or Circassian slaves who had been sold in Constantinople to the Sultan of Egypt and who had been trained near the Nile River. Not only were they great horsemen, but they were familiar with steppe warfare and with the tactics and weapons of the Mongols. After a time, Egypt became a country whose purpose was essentially to maintain an army to defend the Holy Land.

The Battle of Ain Jalut, along with the Mongol invasions of Japan, probably marked the beginning of the fall of the Mongol Empire. The battle is also famous for being the first, as far as is known, in which explosive cannons (midfa in Arabic) were employed. Such cannons were used by the Mamluks to frighten the Mongol horses and cause disorder in the enemy ranks. The composition of the gunpowder used was later described in Arab military manuals of the 14th century.

The significance of the Mamluk victory was more political and psychological than military: it temporarily halted the Mongol invasion, but did not prevent the hordes from making several offensives in the following years; it did, on the contrary, give great prestige to the Mamluks as champions of Islam and victors over the almost unbeatable Mongols. The immediate consequence of the battle, however, was that the Mamluks took over Syria: on September 8 they entered Damascus, where they were greeted with jubilation, and in early October they seized Aleppo. Baibars was put in charge of pursuing the retreating Mongol forces and driving them out of Syria.

After the victory, on his way back to Cairo, Baibars killed Qutuz in October to avenge the murder of his friend Aktai - or because the sultan had not granted him the Syrian lordships he had requested - and became the new sultan. His successors would succeed in keeping the remaining Crusader states in Palestine in subjection until 1291. For their part, the Mongols were defeated again in the first battle of Homs in less than a year and ended up being expelled from Syria.

Internal conflicts in the Mongol Empire prevented Hulagu from assembling an army capable of defeating the Mamluks to avenge the defeat of Ain Jalut. Berke, khan of the Russian Blue Horde, had converted to Islam and watched in horror as his cousin executed the Abbasid caliph, who, in his opinion, was the spiritual head of Islam. According to the Muslim historian Rashid al-Din, Berke sent a message to Möngke kan, claiming him for the attack on Baghdad (although he did not know that Möngke had just died in China). He told him, "You have plundered all the cities of the Muslims and caused the death of the caliph. With the help of Allah I am going to call him to account for so much innocent blood." The Mamluks, who learned through spies that Berke was a Muslim convert and an enemy of his cousin, tried to strengthen their ties with him and his kingdom.

The vast majority of the Mamluk soldiers were Turkic or Circassian and Berke's Blue Horde consisted almost exclusively of Turkic soldiers. Thus, Berke's soldiers had more in common with the Mamluks than with the shamanistic Mongols who followed Hulagu. The Mamluks benefited greatly from their alliance with Berke, as Berke always knew how to provide them with Turkic slaves to swell their ranks. Moreover, Berke always raided inside the Ilkhanate territory, thus preventing Hulagu from gathering an army powerful enough to defeat the Mamluks.


  1. Battle of Ain Jalut
  2. Batalla de Ain Yalut
  3. ^ "Battle of Ayn Jalut | Summary | Britannica". 27 August 2023.
  4. ^ a b John, Simon (2014). Crusading and warfare in the Middle Ages : realities and representations. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Limited. ISBN 9781472407412.
  5. ^ D. Nicolle, The Mongol Warlords: Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, Hülägü, Tamerlane. Plates by R. Hook, Firebird books: Pole 1990, p. 116.
  6. a b c Cowley, p. 44, establece que ambos ejércitos tenían unos 20 000 hombres. Cline dice que "en resumen, los [...] ejércitos que iban a encontrarse en 'Ayn Jalut eran, probablemente, del mismo tamaño (tenían entre 10 000 y 20 000 efectivos cada uno) (p. 145). Fage y Oliver, sin embargo, afirman que "las fuerzas mongolas que lucharon en Ayn Jalut no eran más que un destacamento superado ampliamente en número por el ejército mameluco". (p. 43).
  7. a b c En la Línea de Fuego - Genghis Khan. Parte 6
  8. Madden, 2008, pp. 160
  9. ^ a b John, Simon (2014). Crusading and warfare in the Middle Ages : realities and representations. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Limited. ISBN 9781472407412.
  10. Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World.
  11. (Occasional papers, 2002)
  12. Ain Jalut

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