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Hulagu with his Kerait queen Doquz Khatun
Reign 1217 - 1265
Died 8 February 1265
Buried Lake Urmia
Consort Dokuz Khatun
Father Tolui
Mother Sorghaghtani Beki
This article is about the founder of the Ilkhanate. For the head of the Chagatai khanate, please see Qara Hülëgü

Hulagu Khan, also known as Hulagu, Hülegü or Hulegu (Mongolian: Хүлэгү, Khülegü; Chagatai/Persian: ہلاکو - Hulaku; Arabic: هولاكو‎; c. 1217 – 8 February 1265), was a Mongol ruler who conquered much of Southwest Asia. Son of Tolui and the Kerait princess Sorghaghtani Beki, he was a grandson of Genghis Khan, and the brother of Arik Boke, Möngke Khan and Kublai Khan. Hulagu's army greatly expanded the southwestern portion of the Mongol Empire, founding the Ilkhanate of Persia, a precursor to the eventual Safavid dynasty, and then the modern state of Iran. Under Hulagu's leadership, the Mongols destroyed the greatest center of Islamic power, Baghdad, and also weakened Damascus, causing a shift of Islamic influence to the Mamluks in Cairo. It was also in Hulagu's reign that historians switched from writing in Arabic to writing in Persian.



Hulagu was born to Tolui, one of Genghis Khan's sons, and Sorghaghtani Beki, an influential Kerait princess. Sorghaghtani successfully navigated Mongol politics, arranging for all of her sons to become Mongol leaders. Hulagu was friendly to Christianity, as his mother was a Nestorian Christian. Hulagu's favorite wife, Dokuz Khatun, was also a Christian, as was Hulagu's closest friend and general, Kitbuqa. Hulagu told the Armenian historian Vardan Arewelc'i in 1264 that he had been a Christian since birth. It is recorded however that he was a Buddhist.[1] as he neared his death, against the will of his Christian wife Dokuz Khatun.[2]

Hulagu had at least three children: Abaqa, second Ilkhan of Persia from 1265-1282, Taraqai, whose son Baydu became Ilkhan in 1295, and Teguder Ahmad, third Ilkhan from 1282-1284.[3]

Military campaigns

Hulegu's siege of Alamut

Hulagu's brother Mongke had been installed as Great Khan in 1251. In 1255, Mongke charged his brother Hulagu with leading a massive Mongol army to conquer or destroy the remaining Muslim states in southwestern Asia. Hulagu's campaign sought the subjugation of the Lurs, a people of southern Iran; the destruction of the Hashshashin sect; the submission or destruction of the Abbasid caliphate based in Baghdad; the submission or destruction of the Ayyubid states in Syria, based in Damascus; and finally, the submission or destruction of the Bahri Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt.[4] Mongke ordered Hulagu to treat kindly those who submitted, and utterly destroy those who did not. Hulagu vigorously carried out the latter part of these instructions.

Hulagu marched out with perhaps the largest Mongol army ever assembled – by order of Mongke, two in ten fighting men in the entire empire were gathered for Hulagu's army.[5] He easily destroyed the Lurs, and his reputation so frightened the Assassins (also known as the Hashshashin) that they surrendered their impregnable fortress of Alamut to him without a fight.

Conquest of Syria (1260)

After Baghdad, in 1260, Mongol forces combined with those of their Christian vassals in the region, such as the army of Cilician Armenia under Hetoum I, and the Franks of Bohemond VI of Antioch. This force then conquered Muslim Syria, domain of the Ayyubid dynasty. They took together the city of Aleppo, and on March 1, 1260, under the Christian general Kitbuqa, they also took Damascus.[6][7][8] A Christian Mass was celebrated in the Grand Mosque of the Umayyads (the former cathedral of Saint John the Baptist),[9] and numerous mosques were profaned. Many historical accounts describe the three Christian rulers (Hetoum, Bohemond, and Kitbuqa) entering the city of Damascus together in triumph,[8][10] though some modern historians such as David Morgan have questioned this story as apocryphal.[11]

The invasion effectively destroyed the Ayyubid Dynasty, theretofore powerful ruler of large parts of the Levant, Egypt, and Arabia. The last Ayyubid king An-Nasir Yusuf was killed by Hulagu in 1260.[12] With the Islamic power center of Baghdad gone and Damascus weakened, the center of Islamic power transferred to the Egyptian Mamluks in Cairo.

Hulagu's intent at that point was to continue south through Palestine towards Cairo to engage the Mamluks. However, Great Khan Mongke had died in late 1259, requiring Hulagu to return Karakorum to engage in the decision on who the next Great Khan would be. Hulagu departed with the bulk of his forces, leaving only about 10,000 Mongol horsemen in Syria under Kitbuqa to occupy the conquered territory.[13] Kitbuqa's forces engaged in raids southward towards Egypt, reaching as far as Ascalon and Jerusalem, and a Mongol garrison of about 1,000 was placed in Gaza,[14][15][16] with another garrison located in Naplouse.[17]


Battle of Ayn Jalut (1260)

The Turkish Mamluks took advantage of the weakened state of Kitbuqa's forces. The Crusaders, though traditional enemies of the Turkish Mamluks, also regarded the Mongols as the greater threat. Discussions took place between the Muslims and the Christians, with debate about whether or not to join forces against the Mongols, but the Muslims were not in agreement with this action. So instead, the Crusaders allowed the Egyptian forces to come north through Crusader territory, and resupply near the Crusaders' powerbase of Acre.[18] The Turkish Mamluks then engaged the remnants of the Mongol army in Galilee, at the Battle of Ayn Jalut. The Turkish Mamluks achieved a decisive victory, Kitbuqa was executed, and the location established a highwater mark for the Mongol conquest. In previous defeats, the Mongols had always returned later to re-take the territory, but they were never able to avenge the loss at Ayn Jalut. For the rest of the century, the Mongols would attempt other invasions of Syria, but never be able to hold territory for more than a few months. The border of the Mongol Ilkhanate remained at the Tigris River for the duration of Hulagu's dynasty.

Later campaigns

Hulagu returned to his lands by 1262, after the succession was finally settled with his brother Kublai Khan established as Great Khan. But when Hulagu massed his armies to attack the Mamluks and avenge the defeat at Ain Jalut, he was instead drawn into civil war with Batu Khan's brother Berke. Berke Khan, a Muslim convert, had promised retribution in his rage after Hulagu's sack of Baghdad, and allied himself with the Mamluks. He initiated a series of raids on Hulagu's territories, led by Nogai Khan. Hulagu suffered a severe defeat in an attempted invasion north of the Caucasus in 1263. This was the first open war between Mongols, and signaled the end of the unified empire.

Communications with Europe

Statue of Hulegu in Mongolia

Hulagu sent multiple communications to Europe, in an attempt to establish a Franco-Mongol alliance against the Muslims. In 1262, he sent an embassy to "all kings and princes overseas", along with his secretary Rychaldus. However the embassy was apparently intercepted in Sicily by King Manfred, who was allied with the Mamluks and in conflict with Pope Urban IV, and Rychaldus was returned by ship.[19]

On April 10 1262, Hulagu sent through John the Hungarian a letter to the French king Louis IX, offering an alliance.[20] It is unclear whether the letter ever reached Louis IX in Paris, as the only known manuscript survived in Vienna, Austria.[21] However, the letter stated Hulagu's intention to capture Jerusalem for the benefit of the Pope, and asked for Louis to send a fleet against Egypt:

"From the head of the Mongol army, avid to devastate the perfid nation of the Sarasins, goodwilling support of the Christian faith (...) so that you, who are the rulers of the coasts on the other side of the sea, endeavour to deny a refuge for the Infidels, your enemies and ours, by having your subjects diligently patrol the seas."
Letter from Hulagu to Saint Louis.[22]

Despite many attempts, neither Hulagu nor his successors were ever able to form an alliance with Europe. However, the 13th century did see a vogue of Mongol things in the West. Many new-born children in Italy were named after Mongol rulers, including Hulagu: names such as Can Grande ("Great Khan"), Alaone (Hulagu), Argone (Arghun) or Cassano (Ghazan) are recorded.[23]

The Polos

Nicolò and Maffeo in Bukhara, where they stayed for three years. They were invited by a envoy of Hulagu (right) to travel east to visit the Great Khan Kubilai.

Niccolò and Maffeo Polo reportedly travelled to the realm of Hulagu and stayed in the city of Bukhara, in modern day Uzbekistan, where the family lived and traded for three years from 1261 to 1264. Nicolò and Maffeo then joined up with an embassy sent by Hulagu to his brother, the Great Khan Kublai. In 1266, the Polos reached the seat of the Great Khan in the Mongol capital Khanbaliq, present day Beijing, China. They reportedly remained there many years, until in 1291 sent on a mission by Kublai to escort a 17-year-old princess bride, Kököchin, to Arghun Khan, Hulagu's grandson.


Hulagu Khan died in 1265 and was buried in the Kaboudi Island in Lake Urmia. His funeral was the only Ilkhanid funeral to feature human sacrifice.[24] He was succeeded by his son Abaqa, thus establishing his line.


Hulagu Khan laid the foundations of the Ilkhanate State, and by doing so paved the way for the later Safavid dynastic state, and ultimately the modern country of Iran. Hulagu's conquests also opened Iran to both European influence from the west and Chinese influence from the east. This, combined with patronage from his successors, would develop Iran's distinctive excellence in architecture. Under Hulagu's dynasty, Iranian historians also moved from writing in Arabic, to writing in Persian.[25]


  1. ^ Hildinger, Erik. Warriors of the Steppe: a military history of Central Asia, p. 148
  2. ^ Jackson, p. 176
  3. ^ David Morgan, The Mongols, p. 225
  4. ^ Amitai-Preiss, Reuven. The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War
  5. ^ Saunders 1971
  6. ^ Saudi Aramco World "The Battle of Ain Jalut"
  7. ^ Grousset, p.581
  8. ^ a b "On 1 March Kitbuqa entered Damascus at the head of a Mongol army. With him were the King of Armenia and the Prince of Antioch. The citizens of the ancient capital of the Caliphate saw for the first time for six centuries three Christian potentates ride in triumph through their streets", Runciman, p.307
  9. ^ Jean Richard, p.423
  10. ^ Grousset, p.588
  11. ^ David Morgan, The Mongols (2nd ed.); Peter Jackson, Mongols and the West
  12. ^ Atlas des Croisades, p.108
  13. ^ Runciman, p.310
  14. ^ Jean Richard, p.428
  15. ^ Amin Maalouf, p.264
  16. ^ Tyerman, p.806
  17. ^ Amin Maalouf, p.262
  18. ^ Morgan, p. 137
  19. ^ Jackson, p.173
  20. ^ Jackson, p.178
  21. ^ Jackson, p.166
  22. ^ Letter from Hulagu to Saint Louis, quoted in Les Croisades, Thierry Delcourt, p.151
  23. ^ Peter Jackson, The Mongols and the West, p.315
  24. ^ Morgan, p. 139
  25. ^ Francis Robinson, The Mughal Emperors And The Islamic Dynasties of India,Iran and Central Asia, Pages 19 and 36


  • Boyle, J.A., (Editor). The Cambridge History of Iran: Volume 5, The Saljuq and Mongol Periods . Cambridge University Press; Reissue edition (January 1, 1968). ISBN 0-521-06936-X. Perhaps the best overview of the history of the il-khanate. Covers politics, economics, religion, culture and the arts and sciences. Also has a section on the Isma'ilis, Hulagu's nemesis.
  • Encyclopedia Iranica has scholar-reviewed articles on a wide range of Persian subjects, including Hulagu.
  • Morgan, David. The Mongols. Blackwell Publishers; Reprint edition, April 1990. ISBN 0-631-17563-6. Best for an overview of the wider context of medieval Mongol history and culture.
  • Atwood, Christopher P. (2004). The Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. Facts on File, Inc. ISBN 0-8160-4671-9.
  • Robinson, Francis. The Mughal Emperors And the Islamic Dynasties of India,Iran and Central Asia. Thames and Hudson Limited; 2007. ISBN 0-500-25134-7

External links

Preceded by
Ilkhan Emperors
Succeeded by


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