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Hulagu (left) imprisons Caliph Al-Musta'sim among his treasures to starve him to death. Medieval depiction from "Le livre des merveilles", 15th century.

Al-Musta'sim Billah (full name: al-Musta'sim-Billah Abu-Ahmad Abdullah bin al-Mustansir-Billah; Arabic: المستعصم بالله أبو أحمد عبد الله بن المستنصر بالله‎; 1213 – February 20, 1258) was the last Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad; he ruled from 1242 until his death.

Mongol invasion

In 1258 the Abbasid domain, comprising of a little more than what is now Iraq and Syria, was invaded by the Mongols under Hulagu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan. In an advance on Baghdad, Hulagu Khan had several columns advance simultaneously on the city, and laid siege to it. The Caliph had been deluded by promises from his Vizier that the Mongols could be driven off literally by the women of the city throwing stones at them, and did the worst of all things: nothing. He neither raised an army to defend Baghdad from the largest Mongol army ever assembled – two Mongols in ten had been conscripted into the forces advancing on the Caliphate – nor did he attempt to negotiate with Hulagu. Instead he sent weak threats to the Mongol warlord.

Baghdad was sacked on February 10, and the caliph was massacred by Hulagu Khan soon afterwards. It is reckoned that the Mongols did not want to shed "royal blood," so they wrapped him in a rug and trampled him to death with their horses. Some of his sons were massacred as well; one of the surviving sons sent as a prisoner to Mongolia, where Mongolian historians report he married and fathered children, but played no role in Islam thereafter.

The Travels of Marco Polo[1] reports that upon finding the caliph's great stores of treasure which could have been spent on the defense of his realm, Hulagu Khan locked him in his treasure room without food or water, telling him "eat of thy treasure as much as thou wilt, since thou art so fond of it."

The Mamluk sultans and Syria later appointed an Abbasid Caliph in Cairo, but they were even more symbolic than by now marginalized Abbasid Caliphs in Baghdad. They were ignored by the rest of the Muslim world. Even though they kept the title for about 250 years more, other than installing the Sultan in ceremonies, these Caliphs had little importance.

After the Ottomans conquered Egypt in 1517, the Abbasid Caliph of Egypt, Al-Mutawakkil III was transported to Constantinople, and Sultan Selim I announced himself to be a Caliph.


  1. ^ Yule-Cordier Edition
Born: 1213 Died: 1258
Sunni Islam titles
Preceded by
Caliph of Islam
1242 – 1258
Succeeded by
Al-Mustansir II

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