Modern-Day Celebrations of Ponies and Bactrian Camels, the animals that helped to create the Mongol Empire

The crown of the caliphate and the house whereby the rites of the Faith were exalted is laid waste by desolation.

There appear in the morning light traces of the assault of decay in its habitation, and tears have left their marks upon its ruins.

O, fire of my heart, for a fire of clamorous war that blazed out upon it, when a whirlwind smote the habitation!

High stands the Cross over the tops of its minbars, and he whom a girdle used to confine has become master …

Ibn Abul-Yusr, a contemporary poet of Damascus, writing of the massacre and destruction of Baghdad by Hulegu Khan in 1258, and Muslim fears that the Mongols would bring with them Christian rule.

Prester John’s armies were finally coming, and thanks to their ponies and camels and the sheep that provided meat-on-the-hoof, they were coming quickly and en masse. In 1206 Chinggis Khan was proclaimed universal khan of the Mongolian tribes, and in the 1220s they thrust through Russia and into eastern Persia. By 1227 a Mongol offensive reached western Islam. In 1238 caliphal embassies were sent from Baghdad to France and England to seek alliances against the invaders, but these were rebuffed as there was confidence in Europe that the Mongols either were, or would become, Christians. Those ‘in the field’ attempting these conversions knew better. The Franciscan William of Rubruck wrote:

The monk told me that the Khan believes only the Christians, but that he wants everybody to pray for him. The monk lied, for the Khan believes in no one, as you shall soon learn …


A ramshackle but large state, the Khwarazmian Shahnate, had emerged from the ruins of the eastern Saljuq Empire but by 1237 it was in its death throes as the Mongols smashed through it on their way to Anatolia, where at the Battle of Kose Dagh they extinguished the western Saljuq states. Khwarazmian troopers rapidly became soldiers of fortune and headed west, seeking employment with the petty Ayyubid rulers, who were building armies to resist the Mongols and to attack each other.

Khwarazmian freebooters stopped off at Jerusalem on their way to join Sultan al-Salih in Cairo. They breached the city’s walls, massacred monks and nuns and killed the city governor. The citadel’s garrison appealed to Acre, but after receiving no reply they sent to al-Nasir, the Emir of Nablus, who negotiated safe passage from the city for the populace in exchange for the citadel’s surrender. Two thousand Christians later returned to the city after seeing Crusader pennants flying from the citadel, but it was a Khwarazmian ruse and they were massacred under the city walls. The Khwarazmians then desecrated the tombs of the Latin kings and set fire to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The devastation of Jerusalem’s holy places brought Crusaders from every part of the kingdom to form the last great army that Outremer would ever put into the field. Muslim Syria allied with the Crusaders in the hope of ridding themselves of al-Salih, and battle was joined at Harbiyya in northern Gaza on 17 October 1244.

The allied army attacked immediately upon sighting the Egyptians. They had the advantage of numbers. The Franks formed the right flank of the army, Damascus, Homs and Nablus made up the centre and left wing. The Bahriyya Mamluks broke the Franks’ charge and then the Khwarazmians, who had been mustered out to the extreme right of the Mamluks, swung down upon the Ayyubids and the allies’ entire left disintegrated. The troops of Damascus panicked and fled, the Crusaders then turned in disgust on their Ayyubid allies, and a battle within the battle ensued. A Khwarazmian charge then pushed the Crusaders and the men of Homs into the Mamluks, who massacred them with mace and axe. The Crusaders lost 6,000 men, a loss which would soon be grievously felt.


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