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More Genghis Khan / Mongol History ArticlesThe Death Of Yemuka
Pastoral Life In Asia
The War With The Sultan
The Death Of Vang Khan
The First Battle
Battles And Sieges
The Fall Of Bokhara
The Story Of Hujaku
Death Of The Sultan
Dominions Of Genghis Khan
Establishment Of The Empire
Temujin In Exile
The Sultan Mohammed
Rupture With Vang Khan
The Sultan Mohammed
Mohammedan countries on the west.--Sultan Mohammed.--Karazm.--Proposed
embassy.--Makinut and his suite.--Speech of the embassador.--Father
and son.--The sultan not pleased.--Private interview.--Anger of the
sultan.--Conversation.--Makinut returns a soft answer.--The sultan
is appeased.--Treaty made.--Genghis Khan is pleased.--Opening of
the trade.--The exorbitant merchants.--Their punishment.--The next
company.--Their artful management.--Genghis Khan fits out a
company.--Embassadors.--Mohammedans.--Messengers from the court.--Large
party.--Roads doubly guarded.--The Calif of Bagdad.--Mohammed's demand
and the calif's reply.--The sultan calls a council.--Mohammed's
plan for revenge.--March of the army.--Failure.--The calif's
plans.--Objections to them.--Arguments of the calif.--Message to
Genghis Khan.--Artful device.--The answer of Genghis Khan.--The
caravan arrives at Otrar.--The governor's treachery.--The party
massacred.--Genghis Khan hears the tidings.--He declares
The portion of China which Genghis Khan had added to his dominions by
the conquests described in the last chapter was called Katay, and the
possession of it, added to the extensive territories which were
previously under his sway, made his empire very vast. The country
which he now held, either under his direct government, or as tributary
provinces and kingdoms, extended north and south through the whole
interior of Asia, and from the shores of the Japan and China Seas on
the east, nearly to the Caspian Sea on the west, a distance of nearly
three thousand miles.
Beyond his western limits lay Turkestan and other countries governed
by the Mohammedans. Among the other Mohammedan princes there was a
certain Sultan Mohammed, a great and very powerful sovereign, who
reigned over an extensive region in the neighborhood of the Caspian
Sea, though the principal seat of his power was a country called
Karazm. He was, in consequence, sometimes styled Mohammed Karazm.
It might perhaps have been expected that Genghis Khan, having subdued
all the rivals within his reach in the eastern part of Asia, and being
strong and secure in the possession of his power, would have found
some pretext for making war upon the sultan, with a view of conquering
his territories too, and adding the countries bordering on the Caspian
to his dominions. But, for some reason or other, he concluded, in this
instance, to adopt a different policy. Whether it was that he was
tired of war and wished for repose, or whether the sultan's dominions
were too remote, or his power too great to make it prudent to attack
him, he determined on sending an embassy instead of an army, with a
view of proposing to the sultan a treaty of friendship and alliance.
The time when this embassy was sent was in the year 1217, and the name
of the principal embassador was Makinut.
Makinut set out on his mission accompanied by a large retinue of
attendants and guards. The journey occupied several weeks, but at
length he arrived in the sultan's dominions. Soon after his arrival he
was admitted to an audience of the sultan, and there, accompanied by
his own secretaries, and in the presence of all the chief officers of
the sultan's court, he delivered his message.
He gave an account in his speech of the recent victories which his
sovereign, Genghis Khan, had won, and of the great extension which his
empire had in consequence attained. He was now become master, he said,
of all the countries of Central Asia, from the eastern extremity of
the continent up to the frontiers of the sultan's dominions, and
having thus become the sultan's neighbor, he was desirous of entering
into a treaty of amity and alliance with him, which would be obviously
for the mutual interest of both. He had accordingly been sent an
embassador to the sultan's court to propose such an alliance. In
offering it, the emperor, he said, was actuated by a feeling of the
sincerest good-will. He wished the sultan to consider him as a father,
and he would look upon the sultan as a son.
According to the patriarchal ideas of government which prevailed in
those days, the relation of father to son involved not merely the idea
of a tie of affection connecting an older with a younger person, but
it implied something of pre-eminence and authority on the one part,
and dependence and subjection on the other. Perhaps Genghis Khan did
not mean his proposition to be understood in this sense, but made it
solely in reference to the disparity between his own and the sultan's
years, for he was himself now becoming considerably advanced in life.
However this may be, the sultan was at first not at all pleased with
the proposition in the form in which the embassador made it.
He, however, listened quietly to Makinut's words, and said nothing
until the public audience was ended. He then took Makinut alone into
another apartment in order to have some quiet conversation with him.
He first asked him to tell him the exact state of the case in respect
to all the pretended victories which Genghis Khan had gained, and, in
order to propitiate him and induce him to reveal the honest truth, he
made him a present of a rich scarf, splendidly adorned with jewels.
"How is it?" said he; "has the emperor really made all those
conquests, and is his empire as extensive and powerful as he pretends?
Tell me the honest truth about it."
"What I have told your majesty is the honest truth about it," replied
Makinut. "My master the emperor is as powerful as I have represented
him, and this your majesty will soon find out in case you come to
have any difficulty with him."
This bold and defiant language on the part of the embassador greatly
increased the irritation which the sultan felt before. He seemed much
incensed, and replied in a very angry manner.
"I know not what your master means," said he, "by sending such
messages to me, telling me of the provinces that he has conquered, and
boasting of his power, or upon what ground he pretends to be greater
than I, and expects that I shall honor him as my father, and be
content to be treated by him only as his son. Is he so very great a
personage as this?"
Makinut now found that perhaps he had spoken a little too plainly, and
he began immediately to soften and modify what he had said, and to
compliment the sultan himself, who, as he was well aware, was really
superior in power and glory to Genghis Khan, notwithstanding the great
extension to which the empire of the latter had recently attained. He
also begged that the sultan would not be angry with him for delivering
the message with which he had been intrusted. He was only a servant,
he said, and he was bound to obey the orders of his master. He assured
the sultan, moreover, that if any unfavorable construction could by
possibility be put upon the language which the emperor had used, no
such meaning was designed on his part, but that in sending the
embassage, and in every thing connected with it, the emperor had acted
with the most friendly and honorable intentions.
By means of conciliating language like this the sultan was at length
appeased, and he finally was induced to agree to every thing which the
embassador proposed. A treaty of peace and commerce was drawn up and
signed, and, after every thing was concluded, Makinut returned to the
Mongul country loaded with presents, some of which were for himself
and his attendants, and others were for Genghis Khan.
He was accompanied, too, by a caravan of merchants, who, in
consequence of the new treaty, were going into the country of Genghis
Khan with their goods, to see what they could do in the new market
thus opened to them. This caravan traveled in company with Makinut on
his return, in order to avail themselves of the protection which the
guard that attended him could afford in passing through the
intervening countries. These countries being filled with hordes of
Tartars, who were very little under the dominion of law, it would have
been unsafe for a caravan of rich merchandise to pass through them
without an escort.
Genghis Khan was greatly pleased with the result of his embassy. He
was also much gratified with the presents that the sultan had sent
him, which consisted of costly stuffs for garments, beautiful and
highly-wrought arms, precious stones, and other similar articles. He
welcomed the merchants too, and opened facilities for them to travel
freely throughout his dominions and dispose of their goods.
In order that future caravans might go and come at all times in
safety, he established guards along the roads between his country and
that of the sultan. These guards occupied fortresses built at
convenient places along the way, and especially at the crossing-places
on the rivers, and in the passes of the mountains; and there orders
were given to these guards to scour the country in every direction
around their respective posts, in order to keep it clear of robbers.
Whenever a band of robbers was formed, the soldiers hunted them from
one lurking-place to another until they were exterminated. In this
way, after a short time, the country became perfectly safe, and the
caravans of merchants could go and come with the richest goods, and
even with treasures of gold and silver, without any fear.
At first, it would seem, some of the merchants from the countries of
Mohammed asked too much for their goods. At least a story is told of a
company who came very soon after the opening of the treaty, and who
offered their goods first to Genghis Khan himself, but they asked such
high prices for them that he was astonished.
"I suppose," said he, "by your asking such prices as these, you
imagine that I have never bought any goods before."
He then took them to see his treasures, and showed them over a
thousand large chests filled with valuables of every description; gold
and silver utensils, rich silks, arms and accoutrements splendidly
adorned with precious stones, and other such commodities. He told them
that he showed them these things in order that they might see that he
had had some experience in respect to dealings in merchandise of that
sort before, and knew something of its just value. And that, since
they had been so exorbitant in their demands, presuming probably upon
the ignorance of those whom they came to deal with, he should send
them back with all their goods, and not allow them to sell them any
where in his dominions, at any price.
This threat he put in execution. The merchants were obliged to go
back without selling any of their goods at all.
The next company of merchants that came, having heard of the adventure
of the others, determined to act on a different principle.
Accordingly, when they came into the presence of the khan with their
goods, and he asked them the prices of some of them, they replied that
his majesty might himself fix the price of the articles, as he was a
far better judge of the value of such things than they were. Indeed,
they added that if his majesty chose to take them without paying any
thing at all he was welcome to do so.
This answer pleased the emperor very much. He paid them double price
for the articles which he selected from their stores, and he granted
them peculiar privileges in respect to trading with his subjects while
they remained in his dominions.
The trade which was thus opened between the dominions of the sultan
and those of Genghis Khan was not, however, wholly in the hands of
merchants coming from the former country. Soon after the coming of the
caravan last mentioned, Genghis Khan fitted out a company of merchants
from his own country, who were to go into the country of the sultan,
taking with them such articles, the products of the country of the
Monguls, as they might hope to find a market for there. There were
four principal merchants, but they were attended by a great number of
assistants, servants, camel-drivers, etc., so that the whole company
formed quite a large caravan. Genghis Khan sent with them three
embassadors, who were to present to the sultan renewed assurances of
the friendly feelings which he entertained for him, and of his desire
to encourage and promote as much as possible the commercial
intercourse between the two countries which had been so happily begun.
The three embassadors whom Genghis Khan selected for this service were
themselves Mohammedans. He had several persons of this faith among the
officers of his court, although the Monguls had a national religion of
their own, which was very different from that of the Mohammedans;
still, all forms of worship were tolerated in Genghis Khan's
dominions, and the emperor was accustomed to take good officers into
his service wherever he could find them, without paying any regard to
the nature of their religious belief so far as their general duties
were concerned. But now, in sending this deputation to the sultan, he
selected the embassadors from among the Mohammedans at his court,
thinking that it would please the sultan better to receive his message
through persons of his own religious faith. Besides, the three persons
whom he appointed were natives of Turkestan, and they were, of course,
well acquainted with the language of the country and with the country
Besides the merchants and the embassadors, Genghis Khan gave
permission to each of his wives, and also to each of the great lords
of his court, to send a servant or messenger with the caravan, to
select and purchase for their masters and mistresses whatever they
might find most curious or useful in the Mohammedan cities which the
caravan might visit. The lords and ladies were all very glad to avail
themselves of the opportunity thus afforded them.
All these persons, the embassadors and their suite, the merchants and
their servants, and the special messengers sent by the lords and
ladies of the court, formed, as may well be supposed, a very numerous
company. It is said that the caravan, when ready to commence its
march, contained no less than four hundred and fifty persons.
Every thing being at last made ready, the caravan set out on its long
journey. It was accompanied by a suitable escort, and, in order to
provide still more effectually for the safety of the rich merchandise
and the valuable lives committed to it, Genghis Khan sent on orders
beforehand to all the military stations on the way, directing the
captains to double the guard on their respective sections of the road
while the caravan was passing.
By means of these and other similar precautions the expedition
accomplished the journey in safety, and arrived without any misfortune
in the Mohammedan country. Very serious misfortunes, however, awaited
them there immediately after their arrival, arising out of a train of
events which had been for some time in progress, and which I must now
go back a little to describe.
It seems that some difference had arisen some time before this between
the Sultan Mohammed and the Calif of Bagdad, who was the great head of
the Mohammedan power. Mohammed applied to the calif to grant him
certain privileges and powers which had occasionally been bestowed on
other sultans who had rendered great services to the Mohammedan
empire. He claimed that he had merited these rewards by the services
which he had rendered. He had conquered, he said, more than one
hundred princes and chieftains, and had cut off their heads and
annexed their territories to his dominions, thus greatly enlarging and
extending the Mohammedan power.
Mohammed made this demand of the calif through the medium of an
embassador whom he sent to Bagdad. The calif, after hearing what the
embassador had to say, refused to comply. He said that the services
which Mohammed had rendered were not of sufficient importance and
value to merit the honors and privileges which Mohammed demanded. But,
although he thus declined complying with Mohammed's request, he showed
a disposition to treat the sultan himself with all proper deference by
sending an embassador of his own to accompany Mohammed's embassador on
his return, with instructions to communicate the reply which the calif
felt bound to make in a respectful and courteous manner.
Mohammed received the calif's embassador very honorably, and in his
presence concealed the anger which the answer of the calif excited in
his mind. As soon as the embassador was gone, however, he convened a
grand council of all the great chieftains, and generals, and ministers
of state in his dominions, and announced to them his determination to
raise an army and march to Bagdad, with a view of deposing the calif
and reigning in his stead. The great personages assembled at the
council were very ready to enter into this scheme, for they knew that
if it was successful there would be a great many honors and a great
deal of booty that would fall to their share in the final distribution
of the spoil. So they all engaged with great zeal in aiding the sultan
to form and equip his army. In due time the expedition was ready, and
the sultan commenced his march. But, as often happens in such cases,
the preparations had been hindered by various causes of delay, and it
was too late in the season when the army began to move. The forces
moved slowly, too, after they commenced their march, so that the
winter came on while they were among the passes of the mountains. The
winter was unusually severe, and the troops suffered so much from the
frosts and the rains, and from the various hardships to which they
were in consequence exposed, that the sultan found it impossible to go
on. He was consequently obliged to return, and begin his work over
again. And the worst of it was, that the calif was now aware of his
designs, and would be able, he knew, before the next season, to take
effectual measures to defend himself.
When the calif heard of the misfortunes which had befallen the
sultan's army, and his narrow escape from the dangers of a formidable
invasion, he was at first overjoyed, and he resolved at once on making
war upon the rebellious sultan. In forming his plans for the campaign,
the idea occurred to him of endeavoring to incite Genghis Khan to
invade the sultan's dominions from the east while he himself attacked
him from the west; for Bagdad, the capital of the calif, was to the
westward of the sultan's country, as the empire of the Monguls was to
the eastward of it.
But when the calif proposed his plan to his counselors, some of them
objected to it very strenuously. The sultan and the people of his
country were, like the calif himself, Mohammedans, while the Monguls
were of another religion altogether, or, as the Mohammedans called
them, unbelievers or infidels; and the counselors who objected to the
calif's proposal said that it would be very wrong to bring the enemies
of God into the country of the faithful to guard against a present and
temporary danger, and thereby, perhaps, in the end occasion the ruin
both of their religion and their empire. It would be an impious deed,
they thought, thus to bring in a horde of barbarian infidels to wage
war with them against their brethren.
To this the calif replied that the emergency was so critical that they
were justified in availing themselves of any means that offered to
save themselves from the ruin with which they were threatened. And as
to the possibility that Genghis Khan, if admitted to the country as
their ally, would in the end turn his arms against them, he said that
they must watch, and take measures to guard against such a danger.
Besides, he would rather have an open unbeliever like Genghis Khan for
a foe, than a Mohammedan traitor and rebel like the sultan. He added,
moreover, that he did not believe that the Mongul emperor felt any
animosity or ill will against the Mohammedans or against their faith.
It was evident, indeed, that he did not, for he had a great many
Mohammedans in his dominions, and he allowed them to live there
without molestation. He even had Mohammedan officers of very high rank
in his court.
So it was finally decided to send a message and invite him to join the
calif in making war on the sultan.
The difficulty was now to contrive some means by which this message
could be conveyed through the sultan's territories, which, of course,
lay between the dominions of the calif and those of Genghis Khan. To
accomplish this purpose the calif resorted to a very singular device.
Instead of writing his communication in a letter, he caused it to be
pricked with a needle and some indigo, by a sort of tattooing process,
upon the messenger's head, in such a manner that it was concealed by
his hair. The messenger was then disguised as a countryman and sent
forth. He succeeded in accomplishing the journey in safety, and when
he arrived Genghis Khan had only to cause his head to be shaved, when
the inscription containing the calif's proposal to him at once became
This method of making the communication was considered very safe, for
even if, from any accident, the man had been intercepted on the way,
on suspicion of his being a messenger, the sultan's men would have
found nothing, in searching him, to confirm their suspicions, for it
is not at all probable that they would have thought of looking for a
letter among his hair.
Genghis Khan was well pleased to receive the proposals of the calif,
but he sent back word in reply that he could not at present engage in
any hostile movement against the sultan on account of the treaty of
peace and commerce which he had recently established with him. So
long as the sultan observed the stipulations of the treaty, he felt
bound in honor, he said, not to break it. He knew, however, he added,
that the restless spirit of the sultan would not long allow things to
remain in the posture they were then in, and that on the first
occasion given he would not fail to declare war against him.
Things were in this state when the grand caravan of merchants and
embassadors which Genghis Khan had sent arrived at the frontiers of
the sultan's dominions.
After passing the frontier, the first important place which they
reached was a city called Otrar. They were received very courteously
by the governor of this place, and were much pleased with the
opportunity afforded them to rest from the fatigues of their long
journey. It seems, however, after all, that the governor's friendship
for his guests was only pretended, for he immediately wrote to the
sultan, informing him that a party of persons had arrived at his city
from the Mongul country who pretended to be merchants and embassadors,
but that he believed that they were spies, for they were extremely
inquisitive about the strength of the garrisons and the state of the
defenses of the country generally. He had no doubt, he added, that
they were emissaries sent by Genghis Khan to find out the best way of
invading his dominions.
One account states that the motive which induced the governor to make
these representations to the sultan was some offense which he took at
the familiar manner in which he was addressed by one of the
embassadors, who was a native of Otrar, and had known the governor in
former times when he was a private person. Another says that his
object was to have the expedition broken up, in order that he might
seize for himself the rich merchandise and the valuable presents which
the merchants and embassadors had in their possession.
At any rate, he wrote to the sultan denouncing the whole party as
foreign emissaries and spies, and in a short time he received a reply
from the sultan directing him to put them all to death, or otherwise
to deal with them as he thought proper. So he invited the whole party
to a grand entertainment in his palace, and then, at a given signal,
probably after most of them had become in some measure helpless from
the influence of the wine, a body of his guards rushed in and
massacred them all.
Or, rather, they attempted to massacre them all, but one of the
merchants' men contrived in the confusion to make his escape. He
succeeded in getting back into the Mongul country, where he reported
what had happened to Genghis Khan.
Genghis Khan was greatly exasperated when he heard these tidings. He
immediately called together his sons, and all the great lords and
chieftains of his court, and recited to them the story of the massacre
of the merchants in such a manner as to fill their hearts with
indignation and rage, and to inspire them all with a burning thirst
He also immediately sent word to the sultan that, since by so infamous
an action he had violated all the engagements which had subsisted
between them, he, from that instant, declared himself his mortal
enemy, and would take vengeance upon him for his treacherousness and
cruelty by ravaging his country with fire and sword.
This message was sent, it was said, by three embassadors, whose
persons ought to have been considered sacred, according to every
principle of international law. But the sultan, as soon as they had
delivered their message, ordered their heads to be cut off.
This new massacre excited the rage and fury of Genghis Khan to a
higher pitch than ever. For three days, it is said, he neither ate
nor slept, and seemed almost beside himself with mingled vexation,
grief, and anger. And afterward he busied himself night and day with
the arrangements for assembling his army and preparing to march, and
he allowed himself no rest until every thing was ready.
Next: The War With The Sultan
Previous: Conquests In China