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From Ogedei to Mongke the Reformer

Ogedei's succession was another case of a son being less than the father who had risen on his own talents. Ogedei burdened his conquered subjects with increases in taxes to cover was a profligate spending. He was torn between his duties as Great Khan and his tiring of it. He drank so heavily that a functionary had been assigned to count the number of wine goblets that he had emptied daily. He died after binge drinking during a hunting trip, at the age of fifty-six, 12 years after his succession, in 1241.

However burdensome the position, there was no shortage of young men from Genghis Khan's extended family eager to succeed Ogedei. Ogedei's widow began administering his estate and acting as regent for her eldest son, Guyuk, in his late thirties. In competition with other young men in the family, Guyuk showered gifts on people whose support he continued to seek, from princes to lowly scribes.

An envoy from Pope Innocent IV arrived, and in a letter carried by the envoy the pope described himself as having been delegated by God as having all earthly power and as the only person authorized by God to speak for Him. Guyuk sent back to Innocent IV the message that God had given the Mongols, not the pope, control of the world, from the rising sun to the setting sun. God, claimed Guyuk, intended the Mongols to spread His commandments in the form of Genghis Khan’s Great Laws. And he demanded that the pope submit.

Guyuk's power was not yet secure. His reign from 1246 to 1247 ended when he died mysteriously amid royal family squabbling, and the squabbles continued.

In 1251, the selection of the new great khan went to another of Genghis Khan's grandsons: Mongke. A plot by rivals to assassinate Mongke at his coronation was uncovered, and this was followed by torture, purges, trials, confessions and bloodletting within the royal family as well as among government officials.

Britannica tells us that Mongke was,

the last great khan who held this title to base his capital at Karakorum, in central Mongolia. Under his rule the city achieved an unprecedented splendour, and the Mongol Empire continued to expand at a rapid rate. Its territory became so large and diverse that Möngke was the last great khan capable of exerting real authority over all the Mongol conquests.

Mongke attempted reforms. Under Mongke Khan, women could own property and pursue litigation. They served as auxiliaries in the military, remaining hidden in the encampment during combat but joining the fight if an emergency made that necessary. The postal relay system was freed of being jammed by elites using it for their personal benefit. Mongke established predictable taxation that permitted planning by the empire's farmers. He demanded that local rulers not interfere with productive work. The death penalty was to apply to officers who seized vegetables from the gardens of Chinese peasants. Officials, civil and military, were forbidden to enter areas where they had no jurisdiction. Military campaigning was to be done without devastating agricultural land or devastating cities. Theft and brigandage were to be punished, and the importance of law was emphasized by death as the punishment even for minor offenses.

Mongke's foreign policy included rejection of an alliance against Islam requested by France's king, Louis IX. But to extend his control in the Middle East he sent an army led by one of his brothers, Hulegu, from Persia toward Baghdad — the largest and richest city in the Muslim world. As Hulegu and his army were passing through Persia, they destroyed the Muslim sect known in Europe as the Assassins (Hashshashin).

Some Christians in Baghdad used the coming of Hulegu and the Mongols as an opportunity to free themselves from Muslim rule and to avenge past wrongs., and Mongol military leaders, as was their habit, used such conflicts to their advantage. Among Hulegu combatants were Shi’a Muslims, and they are said to have been the most fervent participants in attacking Baghdad’s Sunni Muslim inhabitants. In 1258, Baghdad was destroyed and many Sunni inhabitants butchered, while Baghdad's Christians and Shi’a Muslims were spared. The Abbasid caliphate, which had been centered in Baghdad, ended.

In 1259, Hulegu's army entered the great Syrian city of Damascus, Christians there greeting the Mongol army with joy. The Mongol army then headed southward toward Egypt, and they learned that even their empire under God had limits: In 1260, their advance was stopped near Nazareth by Muslim slave soldiers, the Mamluks, who had taken power in Egypt.

CONTINUE READING: The Great Mongol Empire divides

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