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Khwarezmian Empire

Khwarezmid Empire around 1200
Capital Urgench
Language(s) Persian
Religion Sunni Islam
Government Oligarchy
 - 1077-1096/7 Anushtigin Gharchai
 - 1220-1231 Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu (Sultan)
Historical era Medieval
 - Established 1077
 - Disestablished 1231
 - 1218 est. 3,600,000 km2 (1,389,968 sq mi)
Faravahar background

History of Iran
see also Kings of Persia · Timeline of Iran


The Khwarezmian dynasty, also known as Khwarezmids, Khwarezm Shahs or Khwarezm-Shah dynasty (and spelling variants, from Persian خوارزمشاهیان Khwārezmšhāḥīān, "Kings of Khwarezmia") was a Persianate Sunni Muslim dynasty of Turkic mamluk origin.[1][2][3]

They ruled Greater Iran in the High Middle Ages, in the period of about 1077 to 1231, first as vassals of the Seljuqs and later as independent rulers, up until the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. The dynasty was founded by Anush Tigin Gharchai, a former slave of the Seljuq sultans, who was appointed the governor of Khwarezm. His son, Qutb ud-Dīn Muhammad I, became the first hereditary Shah of Khwarezm.[4]



The date of the founding of the empire is uncertain. Khwarezm was a province of the Ghaznavid Empire from 992 to 1041. In 1077 the governorship of the province, which now belonged to the Seljuqs, fell into the hands of Anūsh Tigin Gharchāī, a former Turkic slave of the Seljuq sultan. In 1141, the Seljuq Sultan Ahmed Sanjar was defeated by the Kara Khitay (Kara-Khitan Khanate) and Anūsh Tigin's grandson Ala ad-Din Aziz was forced to submit as a vassal to the Kara Khitay.

Sultan Ahmed Sanjar was killed in 1156. As the Seljuk state fell into chaos, the Khwarezms expanded their territories southward. In 1194, the last Sultan of the Great Seljuq Empire, Toğrül III, was defeated and killed by the Khwarezm ruler Ala ad-Din Tekish, who also freed himself of the Kara Khitay. In 1200, Takash died and was succeeded by his son, Ala ad-Din Muhammad, who by 1205 conquered the remaining parts of the Great Seljuq Empire, proclaiming himself Shah (Persian for king). He eventually became known as the Khwarezmshah. In 1212 he defeated the Gur-Khan Kutluk and conquered the lands of the Kara Khitay, now ruling a territory from the Syr Darya almost all the way to Baghdad, and from the Indus River to the Caspian Sea.

War and collapse

In 1218, Genghis Khan sent a trade mission to the state, but at the town of Otrar the governor, suspecting the Khan's ambassadors to be spies, confiscated their goods and executed them. Genghis Khan demanded reparations, which the Shah refused to pay. Genghis retaliated with a force of 200,000 men, launching a multi-pronged invasion. In February 1220 the Mongolian army crossed the Syr Darya, beginning the Mongol invasion of Central Asia. The Mongols stormed Bukhara, Samarkand, and the Khwarezmid capital Urgench. The Shah fled and died some weeks later on an island in the Caspian Sea.

Eurasia c. 1200 on the eve of the Mongol invasions.

In Great Captains Unveiled of 1927, B.H. Liddell Hart gave details of the Mongol campaign against Khwarezm, underscoring his own philosophy of "the indirect approach," and highlighting many of the tactics used by Genghis which were to be subsequently included in the German Blitzkrieg tactics, inspired in part by Liddell Hart's writings.[citation needed]

The son of Ala ad-Din Muhammad, Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu became the new Sultan (he rejected the title Shah). He attempted to flee to India, but the Mongols caught up with him before he got there, and he was defeated at the Battle of Indus. He escaped and sought asylum in the Sultanate of Delhi. Iltumish however denied this to him in deference to the relationship with the Abbasid caliphs. Returning to Persia, he gathered an army and re-established a kingdom. He never consolidated his power, however, spending the rest of his days struggling against the Mongols, the Seljuk Turks of Rum, and pretenders to his own throne. He lost his power over Persia in a battle against the Mongols in the Alborz Mountains. Escaping to the Caucasus, he captured Azerbaijan in 1225, setting up his capital at Tabriz. In 1226 he attacked Georgia and sacked Tbilisi. Following on through the Armenian highlands he clashed with the Ayyubids, capturing the town Ahlat along the western shores of the Lake Van, who sought the aid of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm. Sultan Kayqubad I defeated him at Arzinjan on the Upper Euphrates at the Battle of Yassi Chemen in 1230. He escaped to Diyarbakir, while the Mongols conquered Azerbaijan in the ensuing confusion. He was murdered in 1231 by an assassin hired by the Seljuks or possibly by Kurdish highwaymen.[5]


Though the Mongols had destroyed the Khwarezmian Empire in 1220, many Khwarezmians survived by working as mercenaries in northern Iraq. Their wages were particularly low, so they attempted to create work unions. These attempts were generally not successful, however, historian disagree on this point. Manguberdi's followers remained loyal to him even after his death in 1231, and raided the Seljuk lands of Jazira and Syria for the next several years, calling themselves the Khwarezmiyyas. Ayyubid Sultan Salih Ayyub, in Egypt, later hired their services against his uncle Salih Ismail. The Khwarezmiyyas, heading south from Iraq towards Egypt, invaded Christian-held Jerusalem along the way, on July 11, 1244. The city's citadel, the Tower of David, surrendered on August 23. This triggered a call from Europe for the Seventh Crusade, but the Crusaders would never again be successful in retaking Jerusalem. After being conquered by the Khwarezmian forces, the city stayed under Muslim control until 1917, when it was taken from the Ottomans by the British.

After taking Jerusalem, the Khwarezmian forces continued south, and on October 17 fought on the side of the Ayyubids at the Battle of Harbiyah, northeast of Gaza, killing the remains of the Christian army there, some 1,200 knights. It was the largest battle involving the crusaders since the Battle of the Horns of Hattin in 1187.[6]

The remains of the Muslim Khwarezmians served in Egypt as Mamluk mercenaries until they were finally beaten by Mansur Ibrahim some years later.

Khwarizmi war captives assimilated into the Mongols, forming modern Mongolian clan Sartuul.

Rulers of Khwarezm








See also


  • M. Ismail Marcinkowski, Persian Historiography and Geography: Bertold Spuler on Major Works Produced in Iran, the Caucasus, Central Asia, India and Early Ottoman Turkey, with a foreword by Professor Clifford Edmund Bosworth, member of the British Academy, Singapore: Pustaka Nasional, 2003, ISBN 9971-77-488-7.

Notes and references

  1. ^ Bosworth in Camb. Hist. of Iran, Vol. V, pp. 66 & 93; B.G. Gafurov & D. Kaushik, "Central Asia: Pre-Historic to Pre-Modern Times"; Delhi, 2005; ISBN 8175412461
  2. ^ M.A. Amir-Moezzi, "Shahrbanu", Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, (LINK): "... here one might bear in mind that non-Persian dynasties such as the Ghaznavids, Saljuqs and Ilkhanids were rapidly to accept the Persian language and have their origins traced back to the ancient kings of Persia rather than to Turkish heroes or Muslim saints ..."
  3. ^ C.E. Bosworth "Anuštigin Ĝarčāī", Encyclopaedia Iranica (reference to Turkish scholar Kafesoğlu), v, p. 140, Online Edition, (LINK)
  4. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Khwarezm-Shah-Dynasty", (LINK)
  5. ^
  6. ^ Riley-Smith The Crusades, p. 191


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