The Era of Inter-Mongol Warfare I

The Toluid Civil War was a war of succession fought between Kublai Khan and his younger brother, Ariq Böke, from 1260 to 1264. Möngke Khan died in 1259 with no declared successor, precipitating infighting between members of the Tolui family line for the title of Great Khan that escalated to a civil war. The Toluid Civil War, and the wars that followed it (such as the Berke–Hulagu war and the Kaidu–Kublai war), weakened the authority of the Great Khan over the Mongol Empire and split the empire into autonomous khanates.

The ‘four uluses’: construct and reality

The conflict between Qubilai and Arigh Böke in the Far East in 1260–4, combined with the outbreak of war between Hülegü and Berke in the Caucasus in the winter of 1261–2, had momentous consequences. The Mongol empire fragmented into a number of virtually independent states, each a considerable power in its own right. They are usually listed as follows: (1) the dominions of the ‘Great Khan’ (qaghan) in China and Mongolia proper, known within China as the Yuan empire; (2) the Ilkhanate in Iran, Iraq and Anatolia; (3) the ulus of Chaghadai in Central Asia; and (4) the ulus of Jochi in the western steppes, sometimes called the ulus of Batu or of Berke (and still often termed by historians the ‘Golden Horde’). The conquered Muslims of the empire were now divided among these states. In the first, they represented only a small minority of the subject population; in the second and third, a majority; and in the fourth, at the very least a large and burgeoning minority.

To speak of four khanates, however, is to ignore the other polities termed ulus in our sources, notably the ‘left wing’ of the Jochid realm, the so-called Blue (or, in some sources, White) Horde in western Siberia, presided over by the line of Batu’s brother Orda (see p. 105); Rashīd al-Dīn tells us that although its khans headed their every command (yarligh) with the name of Batu’s successor, they nevertheless enjoyed complete autonomy and did not attend his court. The conventional taxonomy discounts also the extensive domain of Qaidu (d. 702/1303) and his son and successor Chapar, which for over forty years incorporated the Chaghadayid ulus (p. 150). We occasionally encounter the phrase ‘the ulus of Qaidu and Du’a’, as if they ruled jointly over a single state; and this usage is also reflected, anachronistically, in Western European writings. A further anomaly was the existence of the independent Negüderi Mongols or ‘Qara’unas’, former Jochid contingents who had escaped slaughter at Hülegü’s hands in c. 1261, had coalesced in present-day Afghanistan under the local Jochid commander Negüder, and dominated the borderlands between India, Transoxiana and Iran (see p. 148). Until the Negüderis’ subjection by the Central Asian Mongols in the 1290s, and even in some measure thereafter, this territory was no man’s land. Marco Polo describes Negüder as making war on ‘all the Tartars who dwell round about his kingdom’.

On occasions, moreover, one of the ‘four khanates’ splintered. For the last decade of the thirteenth century the western Jochid lands were effectively divided between the khan Toqto’a (690–712/1291–1312), who ruled east of the Dnieper, and his distant cousin and rival, Noghai, whose sway extended from the Dnieper to the Danube; their conflict ended only with Noghai’s defeat and death in 699/1299. In the 1340s the ulus of Chaghadai fractured permanently into a western half, centred on urban Transoxiana, and an eastern half, known as Mughalistān (‘Mongol territory’) and characterized by nomadic culture. Arguably, the Ilkhanate had likewise split into two rival states in 737/1336 with the election of Togha (or Taghai) Temür in Khurāsān.

Insofar as it corresponds to reality, the quadripartite division of the Chinggisid dominions belongs more comfortably in the fourteenth century. This was how Ibn Faḍl-Allāh al-‛Umarī, for instance, saw the Mongol world in c. 1338. The concept would have a long life, into and beyond the Timurid era. The history of the Chinggisids at one time attributed to Temür’s grandson Ulugh Beg (d. 853/1449), and utilized by Khwānd-Amīr in the sixteenth century, bore the title Ta’rīkh-i arba‛a ulūs-i chingīzī (‘History of the Four Chinggisid Uluses’). A hundred years after Ulugh Beg, Mīrzā Ḥaydar Dughlāt could write as if the four major khanates originated with Chinggis Khan’s own conferment of large appanages on his four sons by his chief wife. But the political map that emerged from the events of the early 1260s bore only a limited relation to the system that had evolved out of the conqueror’s distribution of lands. Any apparent parallel amounts to no more than coincidence.

The qaghan and Mongol unity

Had the break-up of the empire occurred by design, historians would no doubt have viewed it as a rational development. By 1260 Mongol expansion had virtually reached the limits of the steppe. The distances between the constituent parts of the empire, moreover, were enormous; it was hardly practicable to dominate them from the old centre at Qaraqorum, still less from Qubilai’s summer capital in the Mongolian-Chinese borderlands, Kaiping (renamed Shangdu and better known as ‘Xanadu’), or his winter residence in Khanbaligh (Dadu, founded between 1266 and 1275 close to the former Jin capital of Zhongdu). But from 1259 until 1304 there was no longer a qaghan who commanded universal recognition throughout the Mongol dominions, and Hülegü’s successors were the only Chinggisids consistently to acknowledge Qubilai and his line. The qaghans continued to despatch to Iran a patent of authority on the accession of each Ilkhan, with the possible exceptions of Tegüder Aḥmad (r. 681–3/1282–4), of whose election Qubilai may have disapproved, and of Baidu, whose reign (694/1295) was too brief. It has been suggested that the reigns of Gaikhatu and Baidu witnessed a loosening of the ties of overlordship, since although both monarchs struck coins in the qaghan’s name (apart from certain of Gaikhatu’s issues) they ceased to employ the title Il-khan. The removal of the qaghan’s name and title from the coinage soon after Ghazan’s conversion to Islam and his enthronement (and a matter of months after Qubilai’s death) did not imply any formal breach with the Yuan. On the contrary: regular diplomatic contacts and cultural exchanges bespeak a relationship between trusted allies, and the qaghans were still conferring exalted titles on certain of the Ilkhan’s chief ministers as late as Abū Sa‛īd’s reign. This allows us to speak of a ‘Toluid axis’ spanning the Asian continent throughout the period down to the 1330s.

Two other expressions of dynastic unity had disappeared soon after 1260. One was the presence within a region of troops owing allegiance to different branches of the imperial family. The other was the possession by the khan and princes of one ulus of rights, property and personnel within the territory of another, as such enclaves inevitably became a target for rulers determined to deprive their rivals of valuable assets and appropriate them for their own purposes. We saw earlier how Hülegü’s assault on the Jochid forces in Iran, followed a few years later by the absorption of Tegüder’s Chaghadayid contingent, terminated the existence of such discrete military forces in the Ilkhanate; how Jochid pasturelands and revenues in Iran passed into Ilkhanid possession; and how Alughu massacred Berke’s dependants in Bukhārā. According to al-‛Umarī, Abagha destroyed workshops in Tabrīz that belonged to Berke. When he turned against the qaghan, Baraq in turn seized the dependants of Qubilai and Abagha in his territory and appropriated their possessions. Late in 666/in the spring or summer of 1268, prior to his invasion of Khurāsān, Baraq despatched Mas‛ūd Beg to the Ilkhan’s court for the purpose of espionage, but with the ostensible mission of conducting an audit of the personal property (inchü) of Baraq and Qaidu in Iran; what became of this property following Baraq’s attack and defeat, we never learn.

The overall result of these changes was the transition from the ulus to the more self-contained khanate, through a consolidation and concentration of resources in the hands of regional khans. On balance, the shift favoured those who ruled over a great many wealthy towns and cities, at the expense of those whose territories for the most part comprised steppe. Princes in Central or Western Asia were still technically entitled to the revenues of certain districts in China, and the Ilkhans, as dutiful subordinates, continued to receive their share, at intervals, down into the fourteenth century. In relation to other, ‘rebel’ Mongol rulers, Qubilai tried to use the rights that they held within his dominions as leverage, to secure their acquiescence in his sovereignty. Marco Polo could perhaps be forgiven for blaming the conflict between Qubilai and Qaidu on the Qaghan’s refusal to send Qaidu what was his due from China; but it has to be said that here the policy was completely ineffective.

The attitude of the khans of the Golden Horde towards the Qaghan shifted. Having backed Arigh Böke in the civil war of 1260–4, Berke withheld recognition from Qubilai following the latter’s victory. His successor Mengü Temür (r. 665–79/1267–80) aligned himself with Qaidu. In 1275, when Qubilai’s son Nomoghan was arrested in Central Asia by a group of mutinous princes in his army, he was packed off as a prisoner to Mengü Temür. Qonichi, the ruler of Orda’s ulus, likewise supported Qaidu. The unwillingness of the Jochids for some decades to collaborate with the Qaghan as they had done in Möngke’s reign may have been as crucial in undermining Qubilai’s efforts to extend his control over Central Asia as were his preoccupations in the Far East. But in 1283 Mengü Temür’s brother and successor Töde Mengü (r. 680–6/1281–7), in consultation with Qonichi, released Nomoghan, sending him back to the Qaghan and acknowledging Qubilai’s supremacy; the prince rejoined his father in Khanbaligh in March 1284. Any rapprochement at this juncture may have been merely temporary, since the Yuan shi indicates that friendship was not restored until the reign of Qubilai’s grandson, the Qaghan Temür (1294–1307). According to Rashīd al-Dīn, a niece of Qubilai named Kelmish Aqa, who was married to a leading Jochid noyan and was the grandmother or mother-in-law (or both?) of Mengü Temür’s son, the khan Toqto’a (r. 690–712/1291–1312), was influential in restoring good relations with the Toluids. Toqto’a may also have been drawn into closer relations with Khanbaligh by the predicament of his ally Bayan, Qonichi’s son and successor, whose rival for the throne of Orda’s ulus was supported by Qaidu and Du’a. In 702/1303 Bayan sent envoys both to the Qaghan Temür and to the Ilkhan Ghazan to propose a grand coalition against the Central Asian Mongols, who in turn strove to prevent a junction between the forces of the Jochids and the Qaghan.

In 1304 Du’a persuaded Chapar to propose a general reconciliation within the Mongol world and to acknowledge the authority of the Qaghan Temür. Chapar’s approach met with a prompt and positive response, and the Ilkhan Öljeitü received an embassy from Temür, accompanied by envoys from Chapar, Du’a, Toqto’a, Orda’s ulus and other princes, and announcing the establishment of peace. But the new-found harmony rapidly dissolved, as we shall see, and no general peace was ever achieved again; even regional peace agreements tended to be short-lived. In 709/1309, following a succession struggle, the Chaghadayids renewed their submission to the qaghan. Yet an exchange in 713/1313 between representatives of the Chaghadayid khan Esen Buqa and one of the qaghan’s frontier commanders illustrates the self-confidence bred in the Chaghadayids’ officers by decades of resistance to the Yuan and by their dynasty’s role in destroying Chapar’s realm. The qaghan’s general reacted violently to the use of the term yarligh by Esen Buqa’s envoys to denote their master’s orders; it could apply, he shouted, to no order but the qaghan’s own; the princes’ orders were styled linkajī (Ch. lingzhi). ‘For us,’ the envoys retorted, ‘Esen Buqa stands in the qaghan’s place.’ Clearly the relationship between the qaghan and regional khans could not be expected to revert to where it had stood in 1259. This altercation heralded a decade-long war between the Chaghadayids and the Yuan, and on occasion also with their Ilkhanid allies. It was not until 723/1323 that Esen Buqa’s successor Köpek (c. 720–6/c. 1320–6) finally made peace with the qaghan and recognized his nominal authority.

Professor Kim has argued that the empire continued to be viewed as a unity even after 1260 and that the constituent khanates were not regarded, and did not see themselves, as independent. The Chinggisids indeed retained – or affected to retain – an undiminished sense of their common ancestry and political heritage. But whereas the two Toluid regimes observed consistently amicable relations, the attitude of the other regional khans ranged from outright opposition to the qaghan to a merely nominal recognition of his seniority. In the late 1330s al-‛Umarī, embarking on his account of the qaghan’s territories, felt obliged to emphasize that the dominions of his kinsmen lay outside his authority. He likened the qaghan’s position to that of a caliph, and commented that if confronted by any important matter they informed him but did not require his sanction.

The ‘Middle Empire’

It is worth pausing to reflect in particular on the situation and distinctive role of the Central Asian Mongol polity. Lying at the heart of the Mongol world, Chaghadai’s ulus came to be known as Dumdadu mongghol ulus, ‘the Middle Mongolian people/state’, a designation that Western European observers had perhaps picked up when they christened it the Medium Imperium (sometimes corrupted to the incongruous Imperium Medorum, ‘the Empire of the Medes’). Following the emergence of the Ilkhanate after 1260, the Chaghadayid state was potentially the greatest source of disruption, since it was now almost totally deprived of access to outside frontiers with non-Mongol powers. In his account of the quriltai convened by Qaidu in 1269, Rashīd al-Dīn makes the khan Baraq refer bitterly to ‘this shrunken ulus (hamīn mukhtaṣar ūlūs)’ and complain that it was both hemmed in by the more extensive lands of his kinsmen and under Qaidu’s thumb; by these means he secured Qaidu’s support for his bid to expand into Ilkhanid territory. Over forty years later, we find Baraq’s grandson, the khan Esen Buqa, apprehensive of being crushed between the Yuan and Ilkhanid forces and considering a pre-emptive attack on Ilkhanid Khurāsān as his only recourse.

The language of our sources suggests that internally, moreover, Chaghadai’s ulus was the least stable and the most volatile. Significantly, both Alughu, in the early 1260s, and Du’a, two decades later, are described as ‘gathering together’ the armies of Chaghadai. We should imagine Central Asia as a veritable reservoir of footloose princes and their followers, alert for new confederates and richer spoils: they included the numerous posterity of both Chaghadai and Ögödei, together with some descendants of both Möngke and Arigh Böke and others belonging to the line of Chinggis Khan’s brother Jochi Qasar. In the wake of Baraq’s failed invasion of Khurāsān and his death in 670/1271, the ulus of Chaghadai went through a period of crisis, and several princes abandoned it to enter the service of Qubilai or the Ilkhan Abagha. Notable among the former group were Alughu’s sons Chübei and Qaban, who spent the rest of their lives fighting for the Yuan; those who joined Abagha included the former khan Mubārak Shāh, a prince named Böjei and certain of Jochi Qasar’s descendants. It must be significant that apart from Baba no princes from the far less constricted Jochid territories are known to have taken refuge in the Ilkhanate (had they done so, Ilkhanid sources would assuredly have told us).

The activities of Qaidu, who according to Waṣṣāf fought as many as forty-one battles, whether with the qaghan’s forces or with others, and his sponsorship of the Chaghadayid Du’a (c. 681–706/1282 or 3–1307), Baraq’s son, who cooperated closely with him, introduced a more forward policy and the recovery of lost territory. But the state he had forged survived him by only a few years. His death and the succession of the weaker Chapar put an end to the alliance. In 705/1305, Du’a treacherously turned against Chapar in the name of his new overlord, the Qaghan Temür, inaugurating a war in Central Asia in which Du’a was supported by several Ögödeyid princes as well as by other members of Chaghadai’s line. The result was the dismemberment of Qaidu’s ulus to the advantage of both the Chaghadayid khan and the Qaghan. A number of princes, headed by Qaidu’s son Sarban, migrated into Ilkhanid Khurāsān and sought refuge under the Ilkhan Öljeitü.

Du’a has a claim to be regarded as the second founder of the Chaghadayid state. From his death until c. 1340 the succession was monopolized by his sons and grandsons, apart from a distant kinsman, Naliqo’a (c. 707–8/c. 1308–9), possibly a grandson of Chaghadai himself, who was regarded as a usurper by the adherents of Du’a’s line and was soon overthrown by Du’a’s son Köpek. When Köpek’s eldest surviving brother Esen Buqa was enthroned as khan (709–c. 720/1309–c. 1320), he united under his rule, in Waṣṣāf’s words, ‘the greater part of the empires of Qaidu and Du’a’; Talas, at one time Qaidu’s chief residence, was now Esen Buqa’s summer quarters. Yet although Waṣṣāf hails Esen Buqa’s accession as introducing a period of peace and repose in the ulus of Chaghadai, fresh tensions arose. Already Chapar, seeking to retrieve his position, had been worsted by Du’a’s sons (708/1309) and had taken refuge in China, where Temür’s successor Qaishan (reigned as Wuzong, 1307–11) granted him and his descendants land and an honorific title. Esen Buqa entrusted Köpek with an enormous territory in the west, namely Farghāna and Transoxiana, possibly in order to concentrate his own energies on the conflict with the qaghan’s forces. But a distant cousin and ally, Naliqo’a’s great-nephew Yasa’ur, whose encampment (yurt) lay near Samarqand and who no doubt resented Köpek’s new-found authority in Transoxiana, quarrelled violently with him, and an armed struggle ensued before Yasa’ur abandoned Transoxiana for Khurāsān in 716/1316 to throw himself on Öljeitü’s mercy.

A glance at the frontier with Orda’s ulus, to the north, brings home vividly how far the territory of these steppe polities shifted. The outcome of the early fourteenth-century civil war among Orda’s progeny, which was still raging in 712/1313, is uncertain.52 But in 705/1305 Chapar was able to make his headquarters in the vicinity of the Irtysh and the Altai; the former region, at least, had at one time been the kernel of Orda’s territory and may have been recently acquired. On the other hand, Rashīd al-Dīn had spoken of the territory of Talas and ‘Old Sayrām’ (formerly Isfījāb) as belonging to Qaidu but adjacent to the realm of Orda’s grandson Qonichi. By the middle decades of the fourteenth century the khans of Orda’s line had extended their authority over Jand, Barchinlighkent, Sighnāq and Sawrān; Bayan’s son, the khan Sasi Buqa, was buried in Sawrān in 720/1320–1 and his grandson, Īrazān, in 745/1344–5 at Sighnāq, where the rulers of this branch were striking coins by 768/1366–7. This marked shift in the centre of gravity of the Blue Horde may have begun in the era of Chaghadayid weakness in the 1270s and have accelerated during the struggle between Chapar and Du’a in the early fourteenth century.

Inter-Mongol conflicts and the imperial enterprise

The rivalries between Mongol powers effectively halted the growth of the empire in the west. Imperial expansion between 1229 and 1260 had focused the resources of the Chinggisids on the task of realizing the work begun by their revered ancestor – namely, bringing the known world into the yeke mongghol ulus. That period had not been free of tension, as is clear from the succession dispute of 1241–6 and, more conspicuously, that of 1250–1; but the more violent and more prolonged confrontations from 1260–1 onwards inaugurated a period of stasis. Berke’s invasion of Poland in 1259 and Hülegü’s invasion of Syria and Palestine in 1259–60 marked the last major attacks on independent powers by forces representing the entire Chinggisid dynasty. The growth of Hülegü’s fledgling Ilkhanate was effectively at an end following the defeats at Mamlūk hands late in 1260. Of the invasions of Syria launched by the Ilkhans, in 1281, 1299, 1300 and 1303, the second alone was successful, when Ghazan inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Mamlūk army and overran the country; but even then the Mongol forces withdrew after a matter of weeks.

The Ilkhanid pasturelands south of the Caucasus were vulnerable to the Jochid forces; those of Khurāsān (notably the meadows of Shabūrghān and the Bādghīs) and Māzandarān, to the Mongols of Central Asia. Not for nothing did Hülegü and his successors spend more time in both regions than in any other part of their dominions; and even when the Ilkhan in person was not in the east, his son or future successor tended to be stationed there as viceroy of Khurāsān and Māzandarān – Abagha on Hülegü’s behalf, Arghun for the latter part of Abagha’s reign and under his uncle Tegüder Aḥmad, Ghazan from 683/1284 under Arghun and Gaikhatu, Öljeitü throughout the reign of his brother Ghazan, and Öljeitü’s son, the young Abū Sa‛īd, for a few years prior to his accession.

Abagha’s envoys at the Second Council of Lyons (1274), seeking Western cooperation against the Mamlūks, blamed his previous failure to move against Egypt on the fact that his empire was surrounded by the mightiest enemies. Those enemies chose their moment with care. When Chaghadayid forces raided Fārs in 700/1301, they were exploiting Ghazan’s absence on campaign in Syria. In pursuit of their policy of containing the Ilkhanate, the Mamlūk Sultans were in frequent contact with the khans of the Golden Horde, and sometimes with Qaidu and the Chaghadayids also. On occasions the Ilkhans must have experienced the same sense of constriction as did the Chaghadayids. An informant from Transoxiana in 715/1315 told Öljeitü that Esen Buqa and Köpek, Özbeg of the Golden Horde and the Mamlūk Sultan al-Nāṣir Muḥammad b. Qalāwūn had formed a coalition against him, with a view to partitioning Iran among themselves; though in the event the man was denounced as a liar and a spy and imprisoned in Tabrīz gaol.

Only in the Far East, under Qubilai, was the momentum of expansion maintained for a time against external powers. But apart from those princes who had entered the Qaghan’s service or those who, like the Ilkhans, maintained cordial relations with him from a distance, the other Chinggisid lines had no share in these triumphs or the resulting access of fresh spoils. As the imperial dynasty turned in upon itself, conflict between the uluses over frontier territories threatened to absorb the energies that had hitherto been directed against unsubdued and defiant states. The external advances dried up that would have yielded new appanages for the next generation. Prior to 1259, admittedly, not every prince had received an appanage; but thereafter the pool of grazing-lands, revenues and human capital dwindled in relation to the number of aspiring Chinggisids. Princes and noyans, with their followers, might accordingly be readier to desert their khan for the prospect of greater rewards from one of his hostile neighbours, and in the act of doing so they sometimes perpetrated considerable damage as a parting shot. When relatively long-distance movements of this sort had occurred in the era of the unitary empire, it was in response to the decision of a quriltai and the qaghan’s fiat; now they were unpredictable and unregulated.