The Siege of Baghdad 1258

The Mongol army’s invasion of the Middle East saw an early clash when Chingiz Khan entered the lands in 1219CE. This was but a precursor and led to Hülegü Khans siege of Baghdad in 1258CE. As the mounted riders descended upon new areas, one thing was always paramount in their mind, the acquisition of new lands. New land meant food and water for their forces. As an army on the move, their consumption was a balancing act, requiring 120,000 to 180,000lbs of fodder and 480,000 to 720,000 gallons of water per day.[1] The location of Baghdad led to it typically hosting a bounty of foods, watered in part by the Tigris river. It is no surprise that Hülegü Khan set his eyes upon the cultural center of the Abbasid caliphate. The fall of Baghdad would mark the end of the Abbasid caliphate. The results of this conquest is depicted in artwork provided by the Bridgeman Art Library.[2]

Our primary source comes from the Al-Ḥawādiṯ Al-Ǧāmiʿwhich has been classically associated with Ibn al-Fuwatī, but lately the claim has been called into question and the work might belong to two different Iraqi historians, Ibn al-Kāzarūnī, or Ibn al-Sāʿī.[3] Additionally, only parts of the manuscript have been translated which locks away many of the works secrets. However, it still gives us a glimps into the first hand account of life under the Abbasid caliphate. This life included rising food prices, frequent heavy thunderstorms that have led to flooding, and the significant religious isolation of Baghdad due to the calling of jihad instead of the focus on the pilgrimage to Mecca. The control that the Abbasid caliphate had exercised over the area since 750CE was crumbling.

The Islamic forces stood little chance against the Mongol forces because they were already struggling under the loss of pay from the caliph and in cases, forced to beg on the streets. They faced down the vanguard of Hülegü Khan and scored a seeming victory. As night fell the soldiers remained outside the walls of Baghdad. This would prove a fatal move as the sun rose and the Mongol forces decended upon their Islamic foes enmass and slaughtered them. One technique of the Mongol forces was to destroy dikes and dams and flood the battlefield and in this case, the canal system already taxed by heavy thunderstorms. They will enact a siege upon Baghdad with forces that could not be counted and a supply line that had no end in sight.[4] The previously mentioned artwork depicts the walls of Baghdad facing Mongol siege weaponry. The Mongols were already known for their stone throwing artillery and this impact must have been devastating to the moral of those trapped within the walls of the city.[5]

The siege lasted weeks and would see the death of the caliph, who would come to regret abandoning his soldiers financially, when he found himself being entombed in a sack and crushed under the hooves of Mongol horses. History has been unable to determine the exact means of death as some attribute the caliph being sewn into a rug instead of placed in a sack. Next Hülegü targeted the caliphs family and began executing them from the top. Once control was lost the city would see 40 days of pillage and murder.[6] Only the Christians in the city would be spared. Some were able to seek refuge in the Christian quarters and others at the bottom of wells and canals. The death toll is estimated to exceed 800,000 and the city found itself drowning in chaos. These numbers have been debated as is typical when the size of people killed is so staggering. An additional challenge faced by researchers is the lack of available material of this incident that has been translated and is widely available. With so few survivors and the Mongols remaining in control until the empire collapsed under the weight of the death of Khubilai Khan in 1294, first hand accounts are few.[7]

            The Al-Ḥawādiṯ Al-Ǧāmiʿis a challenging document. On one hand we have the problem that it has multiple attributable authors. Next only fragments have been translated and are available. We see what is generally held as a first hand account of the lives and poetry of the inhabitants of Baghdad during and after the Mongol forces swept across the land and crushed the reign of the Abbasid caliphate and the dismantling of the calphi and his family. This would mark the end of 500 years of power. The Mongols spared few in the city as they had been apt to do throughout their reign of terror across Asia and expanding to the far reaches of the Levant. The death toll and devestation leaves us with few other resources to experience the events. Mongol rule of the area would be short lived as the empire crumbled and left power vacuums to be filled with in fighting.


1. McDaniel, R. J. (2005). The mongol invasions of the near east (Order No. 1432454). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (305352607). Retrieved from

2. “The Mongols lay siege to Bagdad, Persian manuscript 1113 folio 180 e 181, 1258.” In Bridgeman Images: DeAgostini Library, edited by Bridgeman Images. Bridgeman, 2014.

3. Hend Gilli-Elewy. “Al-Ḥawādiṯ Al-Ǧāmiʿ a: A Contemporary Account of the Mongol Conquest of Baghdad, 656/1258.” Arabica 58, no. 5 (2011): 353–371.

4. IBED, 364

5. Maiorov, Alexander V. “The Mongol Invasion of South Rus’ in 1239-1240s: Controversial and Unresolved Questions.” The Journal of Slavic military studies 29, no. 3 (2016): 473–499.

6. Hend Gilli-Elewy, 368

7. Rossabi, Morris. Khubilai Khan : His Life and Times, 20th Anniversary Edition, With a New Preface  2nd ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press,, 2009.

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