Post-classical history

'Ayn Jālūt, Battle of (1260)

A major military engagement in which a Mongol army commanded by Kitbuga Noyon was decisively defeated by a Mamlūk army from Egypt near ‘Ayn Jālūt (the Spring of Goliath), a village situated between the towns of Bethsan and Nablus (in mod. West Bank), on 3 September 1260.

The Mongols under Chinggis (Genghis) Khan, his sons, and his senior commanders had invaded the northeastern regions of the Islamic world in 1220. During the next forty years they swept all before them, overthrowing or reducing to submission virtually every Muslim ruling dynasty in central Asia, Persia, Afghanistan, and Anatolia, culminating in Hülegu’s conquest and virtual destruction of Baghdad in 1258. In January 1260 a Mongol army seized Aleppo in northern Syria and on 1 March that year entered Damascus, the governing center of Mamlūk Syria. In response a substantial Mamlūk army was sent from Egypt to halt the Mongol advance. It was commanded by Sultan Qutuz, while its vanguard was led by Baybars al-Bunduqdāri, who himself became sultan later that year.

Most sources agree that the Mongol army was outnumbered by that of the Mamlūks, although the widely accepted figures of 120,000 Mamlūks fighting a mere 10,000 Mongols are probably a great exaggeration. The Mongols were also supported by numerous Christian allies or auxiliaries. Kitbuga Noyon attacked and drove back the Mamlûks’ left wing, perhaps relying on the Mongols’ reputation for invincibility. The Mamlûks were, however, a disciplined foe who knew that they were the last Islamic power capable of halting the Mongol advance. Most of the Mamlûk army then swept around to attack the advancing Mongols in the flank or rear, perhaps having lured them into a preplanned trap. As a result the Mongol army in Syria was crushed, its commander Kitbuga Noyon being captured and executed by the Mamlûks.

Hülegü, the Mongol khan of Persia and other conquered Islamic territories in the Middle East, was infuriated by this unprecedented reverse and prepared a major punitive expedition. However, political problems at the heart of the Mongol Empire, following the death of the Great Khan Mongke almost exactly a year earlier, prevented this plan from being carried through.

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