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More Genghis Khan / Mongol History ArticlesVictorious Campaigns
Pastoral Life In Asia
Rupture With Vang Khan
The Story Of Hujaku
Adventures Of Prince Kushluk
The Death Of Yemuka
Battles And Sieges
Death Of The Sultan
Establishment Of The Empire
The War With The Sultan
Progress Of The Quarrel
The Fall Of Bokhara
The Death Of Vang Khan
Conquests In China
The Sultan Mohammed
Temujin In Exile
The Fall Of Bokhara
Description of the town Bokhara.--Zarnuk.--An immediate
surrender.--Nur.--Fate of Nur.--The siege of Bokhara commenced.--The
sultan's anxiety.--Intercepted letters.--The deserter.--The outer
wall taken.--Grand sortie made by the garrison.--Evacuation of the
town.--Pursuit.--The fugitives overtaken.--Surrender.--Conditions
made.--The governor of the citadel.--Genghis Khan enters the
city.--Valuables surrendered.--The emperor in the mosque.--Desecration
of the mosque.--Genghis Khan makes a speech.--The inhabitants give up
every thing.--Conflagration.--Surrender of the citadel.--The town
utterly destroyed.--News of the fall of Otrar.--Plans for the defense
of Otrar.--Sorties.--The proposal made to Genghis Khan.--The siege
renewed.--The outer walls taken.--Desperate conflicts.--Kariakas and
the governor.--Treason.--Punishment of treason.--The Monguls enter
the town.--Citadel stormed.--Desperation of the governor.--Courage
and devotion of his wife.--The governor's fate.
Bokhara was a great and beautiful city. It was situated in the midst
of a very fine and fertile country, in a position very favorable for
the trade and commerce of those days. It was also a great seat of
learning and of the arts and sciences. It contained many institutions
in which were taught such arts and sciences as were then cultivated,
and students resorted to it from all the portions of Western Asia.
The city proper was inclosed with a strong wall. Besides this there
was an outer wall, thirty miles in circumference, which inclosed the
suburbs of the town, and also a beautiful region of parks and gardens,
which contained the public places of amusement and the villas of the
wealthy inhabitants. It was this peaceful seat of industry and wealth
that Genghis Khan, with his hordes of ruthless barbarians, was coming
now to sack and plunder.
The first city which the Monguls reached on their march toward
Bokhara was one named Zarnuk. In approaching it a large troop rode up
toward the walls, uttering terrific shouts and outcries. The people
shut the gates in great terror. Genghis Khan, however, sent an officer
to them to say that it was useless for them to attempt to resist him,
and to advise them to surrender at once. They must demolish their
citadel, he said, and send out all the young and able-bodied men to
Genghis Khan. The officer advised them, too, to send out presents to
Genghis Khan as an additional means of propitiating him and inducing
him to spare the town.
The inhabitants yielded to this advice. The gates were thrown open.
All the young men who were capable of bearing arms were marshaled and
marched out to the Mongul camp. They were accompanied by the older men
among the inhabitants, who took with them the best that the town
contained, for presents. Genghis Khan accepted the presents, ordered
the young men to be enrolled in his army, and then, dismissing the
older ones in peace, he resumed his march and went on his way.
He next came to a town named Nur. One of the men from Zarnuk served as
a guide to show the detachment which was sent to summon the city a
near way to reach it. Nur was a sort of sacred town, having many holy
places in it which were resorted to by many pilgrims and other
The people of Nur shut the gates and for some time refused to
surrender. But at last, finding that it was useless to attempt to
resist, they opened the gates and allowed the Monguls to come in.
Genghis Khan, to punish the inhabitants, as he said, for even thinking
of resisting him, set aside a supply of cattle and other provisions to
keep them from starving, and then gave up all the rest of the property
found in the town to be divided among his soldiers as plunder.
At length the army reached the great plain in which Bokhara was
situated, and encamped before the town. Bokhara was very large and
very populous, as may well be supposed from its outer wall of thirty
miles in circuit, and Genghis Khan did not expect to make himself
master of it without considerable difficulty and delay. He was,
however, very intent on besieging and taking it, not only on account
of the general wealth and importance of the place, but also because he
supposed that the sultan himself was at this time within the walls. He
had heard that the sultan had retreated there with his flying
squadron, taking with him all his treasure.
This was, however, a mistake. The sultan was not there. He had gone
there, it is true, at first, and had taken with him the most valuable
of his treasures, but before Genghis Khan arrived he had secretly
withdrawn to Samarcand, thinking that he might be safer there.
In truth, the sultan was beginning to be very much disheartened and
discouraged. Among other things which occurred to disturb his mind,
certain letters were found and brought to him, as if they had been
intercepted, which letters gave accounts of a conspiracy among his
officers to desert him and go over to the side of Genghis Khan. These
letters were not signed, and the sultan could not discover who had
written them, but the pretended conspiracy which they revealed filled
his soul with anxiety and distress.
It was only a pretended conspiracy after all, for the letters were
written by a man in Genghis Khan's camp, and with Genghis Khan's
permission or connivance. This man was a Mohammedan, and had been in
the sultan's service; but the sultan had put to death his father and
his brothers on account of some alleged offense, and he had become so
incensed at the act that he had deserted to Genghis Khan, and now he
was determined to do his former sovereign all the mischief in his
power. His intimate knowledge of persons and things connected with the
sultan's court and army enabled him to write these letters in such a
way as to deceive the sultan completely.
It was past midsummer when the army of Genghis Khan laid siege to
Bokhara, and it was not until the spring of the following year that
they succeeded in carrying the outer wall, so strongly was the city
fortified and so well was it defended. After having forced the outer
wall, the Monguls destroyed the suburbs of the town, devastated the
cultivated gardens and grounds, and pillaged the villas. They then
took up their position around the inner wall, and commenced the siege
of the city itself in due form.
The sultan had left three of his greatest generals in command of the
town. These men determined not to wait the operations of Genghis Khan
in attacking the walls, but to make a sudden sally from the gates,
with the whole force that could be spared, and attack the besiegers in
their intrenchments. They made this sally in the night, at a time when
the Monguls were least expecting it. They were, however, wholly
unsuccessful. They were driven back into the city with great loss.
The generals, it seems, had determined to risk all on this desperate
attempt, and, in case it failed, at once to abandon the city to its
fate. Accordingly, when driven into the city through the gates on one
side, they marched directly through it and passed out through the
gates on the other side, hoping to save themselves and the garrison by
this retreat, with a view of ultimately rejoining the sultan. They,
however, went first in a southerly direction from the city toward the
River Amoor. The generals took their families and those of the
principal officers of the garrison with them.
The night was dark, and they succeeded in leaving the city without
being observed. In the morning, however, all was discovered, and
Genghis Khan sent off a strong detachment of well-mounted troops in
pursuit. These troops, after about a day's chase, overtook the flying
garrison near the river. There was no escape for the poor fugitives,
and the merciless Monguls destroyed them almost every one by riding
over them, trampling them down with their horses' hoofs, and cutting
them to pieces with their sabres.
In the mean time, while this detachment had been pursuing the
garrison, Genghis Khan, knowing that there were no longer any troops
within the city to defend it, and that every thing there was in utter
confusion, determined on a grand final assault; but, while his men
were getting the engines ready to batter down the walls, a procession,
consisting of all the magistrates and clergy, and a great mass of the
principal citizens, came forth from one of the gates, bearing with
them the keys of the city. These keys they offered to Genghis Khan in
token of surrender, and begged him to spare their lives.
The emperor received the keys, and said to the citizens that he would
spare their lives on condition that, if there were any of the sultan's
soldiers concealed in the city, they would give them up, and that they
would also seize and deliver to him any of the citizens that were
suspected of being in the sultan's interest. This they took a solemn
oath that they would do.
The soldiers, however--that is, those that remained in the town--were
not delivered up. Most of them retired to the castle, which was a sort
of citadel, and put themselves under the command of the governor of
the castle, who, being a very energetic and resolute man, declared
that he never would surrender.
There were a great many of the young men of the town, sons of the
leading citizens, who also retired to the castle, determined not to
yield to the conqueror.
Genghis Khan, having thus obtained the keys of the city itself, caused
the gates to be opened, and his troops marched in and took possession.
He had promised the citizens that his soldiers should spare the lives
of the people and should not pillage the houses on condition that the
magistrates delivered up peaceably the public magazines of grain and
other food to supply his army; also that all the people who had buried
or otherwise concealed gold and silver, or other treasures, should
bring them forth again and give them up, or else make known where they
were concealed. This the people promised that they would do.
After having entered the town, Genghis Khan was riding about the
streets on horseback at the head of his troop of guards when he came
to a large and very beautiful edifice. The doors were wide, and he
drove his horse directly in. His troops, and the other soldiers who
were there, followed him in. There were also with him some of the
magistrates of the town, who were accompanying him in his progress
about the city.
After the whole party had entered the edifice, Genghis Khan looked
around, and then asked them, in a jeering manner, if that was the
"No," said they, "it is the house of God."
The building was a mosque.
On hearing this, Genghis Khan alighted from his horse, and, giving the
bridle to one of the principal magistrates to hold, he went up, in a
very irreverent manner, to a sacred place where the priests were
accustomed to sit. He seized the copy of the Koran which he found
there, and threw it down under the feet of the horses. After amusing
himself for a time in desecrating the temple by these and other
similar performances, he caused his soldiers to bring in their
provisions, and allowed them to eat and drink in the temple, in a
riotous manner, without any regard to the sacredness of the place, or
to the feelings of the people of the town which he outraged by this
A few days after this Genghis Khan assembled all the magistrates and
principal citizens of the town, and made a speech to them from an
elevated stand or pulpit which was erected for the purpose. He began
his speech by praising God, and claiming to be an object of his
special favor, in proof of which he recounted the victories which he
had obtained, as he said, through the Divine aid. He then went on to
denounce the perfidious conduct of the sultan toward him in making a
solemn treaty of peace with him and then treacherously murdering his
merchants and embassadors. He said that the sultan was a detestable
tyrant, and that God had commissioned him to rid the earth of all such
monsters. He said, in conclusion, that he would protect their lives,
and would not allow his soldiers to take away their household goods,
provided they surrendered to him fairly and honestly all their money
and other treasures; and if any of them refused to do this, or to tell
where their treasures were hid, he would put them to the torture, and
compel them to tell.
The wretched inhabitants of the town, feeling that they were entirely
at the mercy of the terrible hordes that were in possession of the
city, did not attempt to conceal any thing. They brought forward their
hidden treasures, and even offered their household goods to the
conqueror if he was disposed to take them. They were only anxious to
save, if possible, their dwellings and their lives. Genghis Khan
appeared at first to be pleased with the submissive spirit which they
manifested, but at last, under pretense that he heard of some soldiers
being concealed somewhere, and perhaps irritated at the citadel's
holding out so long against him, he ordered the town to be set on
fire. The buildings were almost all of wood, and the fire raged among
them with great fury. Multitudes of the inhabitants perished in the
flames, and great numbers died miserably afterward from want and
exposure. The citadel immediately afterward surrendered, and it would
seem that Genghis Khan began to feel satisfied with the amount of
misery which he had caused, for it is said that he spared the lives of
the governor and of the soldiers, although we might have expected that
he would have massacred them all.
The citadel was, however, demolished, and thus the town itself, and
all that pertained to it, became a mass of smoking ruins. The property
pillaged from the inhabitants was divided among the Mongul troops,
while the people themselves went away, to roam as vagabonds and
beggars over the surrounding country, and to die of want and despair.
What difference is there between such a conqueror as this and the
captain of a band of pirates or of robbers, except in the immense
magnitude of the scale on which he perpetrates his crimes?
The satisfaction which Genghis Khan felt at the capture of Bokhara was
greatly increased by the intelligence which he received soon afterward
from the two princes whom he had sent to lay siege to Otrar, informing
him that that city had fallen into their hands, and that the governor
of it, the officer who had so treacherously put to death the
embassadors and the merchants, had been taken and slain. The name of
this governor was Gayer Khan. The sultan, knowing that Genghis Khan
would doubtless make this city one of his first objects of attack,
left the governor a force of fifty thousand men to defend it. He
afterward sent him an additional force of ten thousand men, under the
command of a general named Kariakas.
With these soldiers the governor shut himself up in the city. He knew
very well that if he surrendered or was taken he could expect no
mercy, and he went to work accordingly strengthening the
fortifications, and laying in stores of provisions, determined to
fight to the last extremity. The captain of the guard who came to
assist him had not the same reason for being so very obstinate in the
defense of the town, and this difference in the situation of the two
commanders led to difficulty in the end, as we shall presently see.
The Mongul princes began the siege of Otrar by filling up the ditches
that encircled the outer wall of the town in the places where they
wished to plant their battering-rams to make breaches in the walls.
They were hindered a great deal in their work, as is usual in such
cases, by the sallies of the besieged, who rushed upon them in the
night in great numbers, and with such desperate fury that they often
succeeded in destroying some of the engines, or setting them on fire
before they could be driven back into the town. This continued for
some time, until at last the Mongul princes began to be discouraged,
and they sent word to their father, who was then engaged in the siege
of Bokhara, informing him of the desperate defense which was made by
the garrison of Otrar, and asking his permission to turn the siege
into a blockade--that is, to withdraw from the immediate vicinity of
the walls, and to content themselves with investing the city closely
on every side, so as to prevent any one from going out or coming in,
until the provisions of the town should be exhausted, and the garrison
be starved into a surrender. In this way, they said, the lives of vast
numbers of the troops would be saved.
But their father sent back word to them that they must do no such
thing, but must go on and fight their way into the town, no matter
how many of the men were killed.
So the princes began again with fresh ardor, and they pushed forward
their operations with such desperate energy that in less than a month
the outer wall, and the works of the besieged to defend it, were all
in ruins. The towers were beaten down, the ramparts were broken, and
many breaches were made through which the besiegers might be expected
at any moment to force their way into the town. The besieged were
accordingly obliged to abandon the outer walls and retire within the
The Monguls now had possession of the suburbs, and, after pillaging
them of all that they could convert to their own use, and burning and
destroying every thing else, they advanced to attack the inner works;
and here the contest between the besiegers and the garrison was
renewed more fiercely than ever. The besieged continued their
resistance for five months, defending themselves by every possible
means from the walls, and making desperate sallies from time to time
in order to destroy the Monguls' engines and kill the men.
At length Kariakas, the captain of the guard, who had been sent to
assist the governor in the defense of the town, began to think it was
time that the carnage should cease and that the town should be
surrendered. But the governor, who knew that he would most assuredly
be beheaded if in any way he fell into the hands of the enemy, would
not listen to any proposal of the kind. He succeeded, also, in
exciting among the people of the town, and among the soldiers of the
garrison, such a hatred of the Monguls, whom he represented as
infidels of the very worst character, the enemies alike of God and
man, that they joined him in the determination not to surrender.
Kariakas now found himself an object of suspicion and distrust in the
town and in the garrison on account of his having made the proposal to
surrender, and feeling that he was not safe, he determined to make a
separate peace for himself and his ten thousand by going out secretly
in the night and giving himself up to the princes. He thought that by
doing this, and by putting the Monguls in possession of the gate
through which his troops were to march out, so as to enable them to
gain admission to the city, his life would be spared, and that he
might perhaps be admitted into the service of Genghis Khan.
But he was mistaken in this idea. The princes said that a man who
would betray his own countrymen would betray them if he ever had a
good opportunity. So they ordered him and all his officers to be
slain, and the men to be divided among the soldiers as slaves.
They nevertheless took possession of the gate by which the deserters
had come out, and by this means gained admission to the city. The
governor fled to the citadel with all the men whom he could assemble,
and shut himself up in it. Here he fought desperately for a month,
making continual sallies at the head of his men, and doing every thing
that the most resolute and reckless bravery could do to harass and
beat off the besiegers. But all was in vain. In the end the walls of
the citadel were so broken down by the engines brought to bear upon
them, that one day the Monguls, by a determined and desperate assault
made on all sides simultaneously, forced their way in, through the
most dreadful scenes of carnage and destruction, and began killing
without mercy every soldier that they could find.
The soldiers defended themselves to the last. Some took refuge in
narrow courts and lanes, and on the roofs of the houses--for the
citadel was so large that it formed of itself quite a little town--and
fought desperately till they were brought down by the arrows of the
Monguls. The governor took his position, in company with two men who
were with him, on a terrace of his palace, and refused to surrender,
but fought on furiously, determined to kill any one who attempted to
come near him. His wife was near, doing all in her power to encourage
and sustain him.
Genghis Khan had given orders to the princes not to kill the governor,
but to take him alive. He wished to have the satisfaction of disposing
of him himself. For this reason the soldiers who attempted to take him
on the terrace were very careful not to shoot their arrows at him, but
only at the men who were with him, and while they did so a great many
of them were killed by the arrows which the governor and his two
friends discharged at those who attempted to climb up to the place
where they were standing.
After a while the two men were killed, but the governor remained
alive. Yet nobody could come near him. Those that attempted it were
shot, and fell back again among their companions below. The governor's
wife supplied him with arrows as fast as he could use them. At length
all the arrows were spent, and then she brought him stones, which he
hurled down upon his assailants when they tried to climb up to him.
But at last so many ascended together that the governor could not beat
them all back, and he was at length surrounded and secured, and
immediately put in irons.
The princes wrote word at once to their father that the town was
taken, and that the governor was in their hands a prisoner. They
received orders in return to bring him with them to Bokhara. While on
the way, however, another order came requiring them to put the
prisoner to death, and this order was immediately executed.
What was the fate of his courageous and devoted wife has never been
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