I’m winding my way through a fascinating history called The Devil’s Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe by James Chambers. The most interesting parts thus far have been the passages describing Mongol horsemanship, as well as the accounts of military tactics and mobility that were unheard of at the time but are still practiced today.
That is, until last night, when I read this passage below. The Mongol army is preparing to invade Syria by first neutralizing the enemy’s neighbors on its eastern flank, the Caliph of Baghdad to the south, who at the time was the spiritual ruler of Islam, and the Ismaili Order of the Assassins to the north, described as “drug-crazed murderers” who were “unsupported by orthodox Moslems” and were hiding in impregnable mountain fortresses. (Al Qaeda- or Taliban-esque?) Here’s the description of Baghdad as the Mongols advanced:
“At last the caliph accepted his generals’ advice and ordered that citizens should be armed and trained and the walls of the city repaired, but his orders were delayed by his vizier and it was not until the day before the Mongols arrived that work on the walls began. In the sectarian quarrels that divided Islam, the caliph supported the Sunnites, but his vizier was a Shiite, and resenting the caliph’s persecution of some of his Shiite brethren, the vizier had been sending secret messages to the Mongols since the beginning of the negotiations, urging them to attack, describing the city’s vulnerability and offering his assistance in the hope that after the city had been taken he might be invited to govern it.”
The year was 1257. So the Sunni and the Shia have been fighting each other for control of Baghdad for at least 750 years. I haven’t finished the chapter to know whether the Khan’s army simply slaughtered the lot, or attempted to rule. The next chapter (the last of the book) is called “The End of an Era.” For Baghdad or the Mongols, I wonder …