The Mamluk Faris

The following is a series of published articles highlighting the military training, tactics and strategies of the mamluks soldiers of Medieval Egypt.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Nomads on Ponies vs. Slaves on Horses

John Masson Smith, Jr

The Mongols conquered Inner Asia, China, Russia, and much of the Middle East, creating the largest empire of all time. But they failed to take Syria, despite efforts continuing for over half a century. They could not overcome the resistance of the Mamluks, slave-soldiers who dominated the government and army of Egypt. In Mongols and Mamluks: The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War, 1260-1281, a work of meticulous and masterful scholarship, Dr. Reuven Amitai-Preiss studies the first part of this long war in detail, and attributes the Mamluks' success to their morale and determination, the leadership of Baybars (the Mamluk ruler, 1260-77), the failure of Mongol-Crusader cooperation, enlargement of the Mamluk army, and the distraction of the Mongols by internecine wars. The reviewer, reasserting views questioned by Dr. Amitai-Preiss, opines that while these factors - except perhaps that involving the Crusaders - were essential, they were not sufficient. Although the Mamluks won all the battles during the period under study, 1260-81, they subsequently, in 1299, lost a major engagement and, in Dr. Amitai-Preiss' description, "fled the battlefield in complete disarray." Despite this victory, the Mongols had then to evacuate Syria, not because of Mamluk or other pressures, but because Syria lacked pasture and water sufficient to the strategic and logistical needs of the big, high-horsepower army essential to Mongol conquest.

In 1256, a large reinforcement increased the Mongol presence in the Middle East to 150,000 troops, at least, accompanied by women and children (perhaps another 600,000) and herds (at least 15 million animals) - a population about equal to that of Chinggis Khan's homeland. (Simultaneously, an even larger Mongol force attacked southern China; such were the military resources of the Mongol Empire.) Thereupon, the Mongols destroyed the strongholds and state of the Assassins, who had defied or imperiled all previous Middle Eastern powers since the eleventh century. Next, the Mongols seized Baghdad, killed the caliph and essentially terminated the caliphate, the sometime and still theoretically ruling institution of the Muslim world. Then, in 1259, the Mongols sent an army of (nominally) 60,000 cavalry - over one-third of their Middle Eastern strength - against Syria. Aleppo was taken by force; the other cities, Homs, Hama, and Damascus, surrendered; and the various rulers and armies of Syria fled, joined, or were taken by the Mongols. Mongol units moved into Palestine and as far as the frontier of Egypt. So far, ordinary episodes in the extraordinary record of Mongol warfare.

But then, in the spring of 1260, most of the Mongols withdrew from Syria, leaving an occupying force of one tumen (a unit nominally of 10,000 men). That summer, the Egyptian Mamluk army engaged this unit at Ayn Jalut in Palestine and, fighting on advantageous terms, as the Mamluks saw it (more on this later), defeated and drove them from the Levant. The victory, while immensely heartening for the Muslims, was by no means conclusive. The defeated Mongol commander, 'Ketbugha, stated the position to his Mamluk captors - according to the Mongols' Persian historian, Rashid al-Din - as follows (in my paraphrase): "You've got me, but there are 300,000 more like me." For the next six decades the Mamluks had to prepare and maintain a defense against the possibility - and on one occasion the actuality - of another gargantuan invasion.

Dr. Amitai-Preiss' fine study helps us understand the Mamluks' unlikely success in this daunting project, and in doing so, fills a significant gap in the scholarship on the Middle East of the thirteenth century. General histories of the Mamluks, Crusades, and Middle Eastern Mongols have not given close consideration to the wars of the Mongols and Mamluks, yet these determined the outcomes of Mamluk and Crusader history, and provide unique insight into Mongol society. Mongols and Mamluks also enlarges and improves on previous specialized discussions of the subject,(1) providing not only a detailed presentation of information from the sources, and reconstruction of a coherent story from their varied accounts, but analyses of the source materials to amplify his reconstruction. As the author puts it, this is "narrative history interspersed with chapters of a monographic nature."

An introduction discusses the scholarship and sources, two chapters then treat Mongol expansion and the rise of the Mamluks to power in Egypt, the Mongols' invasion of Syria, and their defeat by the Mamluks at Ayn Jalut. The third and fourth chapters describe the Mamluks' mobilization of internal and external resources: establishment of control over Syria, sponsorship of a renewed caliphate, enlistment of Beduin and Turkmen, enlargement and improvement of the Mamluk regular army, diplomatic and commercial engagement with the Mongol Golden Horde and Byzantium (the source and transit route, respectively, of slaves for the Mamluk army) - as well as the hostilities between the Mongols of the Middle East and the Golden Horde, and the attempts at cooperation between the Middle Eastern Mongols and the Crusaders. Narrative history resumes in the fifth chapter, on the border wars in Syria during 1262-77, and, after a special treatment of espionage in chapter 6, continues with Baybars' invasion of Mongol/Seljuq Anatolia (chapter 7), the death of Baybars and his "posthumous victory" at the 1281 battle of Homs (chapter 8), which is as far as Dr. Amitai-Preiss follows the story in this volume. The ninth chapter discusses frontier defense, commerce and other traffic in general terms, drawing on details from chapter 5. Finally, chapter 10 considers the military methods of the Mamluks and Mongols, logistics, and the "dynamics" of the war: the Mongols' dedication to world-conquest and the Mamluks' stubborn and ultimately successful resistance.

The old explanation of the Mamluks' success gave them far superior numbers: 120,000 against 10,000 Mongols in the battle at Ayn Jalut, for instance. But these long odds derived from mistranslation; the source claimed only 12,000 Mamluks. The Mongol army in the Middle East, with some 150,000 regulars and at least an equal number of auxiliaries from the Mongols' subject peoples (making up Ketbugha's 300,000), in fact greatly outnumbered the Mamluks. In Mongols and Mamluks, after a thorough and skillful exploitation of the Mamluk sources and an able if less exhaustive use of those favoring the Mongols, Dr. Amitai-Preiss attributes the effectiveness of Mamluk resistance to their morale and determination, the leadership of Baybars, the failure of Mongol-Crusader cooperation, enlargement of the Mamluk army, and the distraction of the Mongols by internecine wars.

The Mamluks' morale, their disciplined desperation, certainly helped them win at Ayn Jalut and in the other hard-fought struggles covered in Dr. Amitai-Preiss' book. From 1259, when Qutuz, the Mamluk ruler, expressed his defiance by executing Mongol envoys, the Mamluks knew that they had their backs to the wall, that they were fighting for their "home territory, for their [Muslim] religion, their kingdom and their lives." In the battles of 1260, 1277 and 1281, therefore, the Mamluks persevered as the Mongols defeated elements of their army in the initial fighting; they rejected the conventional expedient of rapid flight, and finally prevailed.

Baybars' leadership had many aspects. He gained power by murdering his commanding officer and sovereign, Qutuz, the hero of Ayn Jalut. He then improved his public image and provided the Mamluks with a mission by reestablishing the caliphate in the person of a fugitive Abbasid from Baghdad, and accepting from him the title "Associate of the Commander of the Faithful" and the duty of carrying on jihad against the infidel Mongols and Crusaders. This accomplished, Baybars sent the caliph, or let him go, to his death invading Mongol Iraq - with an army of only four hundred men! Both the caliph and Baybars may have thought that the Mongols had withdrawn from Iraq as they had previously from Syria (more on this below), but Baybars had political and military motives for murder: a caliph, and a brave and active one at that, might not make a comfortable colleague in government - Baybars kept his next caliph mostly out of the way. And even a pin-prick attack on Iraq could win time for Baybars to build up Mamluk defenses.

As general, Baybars led his army out of Egypt into Syria almost every year of his reign, ostensibly, sometimes actually, to defend it against a Mongol incursion; usually, however, to seize Crusader fortresses or lay waste to Cilician Armenia, ally of the Crusaders and Mongols. These campaigns forestalled cooperation between the Mongols and the Crusaders, a factor that seems of less importance than Dr. Amitai-Preiss attributes to it, considering that before the Mongols' overtures to the west finally brought a Mongol advance from Anatolia in (inconsequential) coordination with a Crusader landing at Acre in 1271, Baybars had already reduced the Crusaders to a toe-hold on the Levant coast. He had taken Caesarea, Haifa, and Arsuf (1264-65), Safad (1266), Jaffa and Beaufort (1268), and the major strongholds of the Crusading Orders, Chastel Blanc, Crac des Chevaliers, Gibelacar (1270); besides devastating Cilician Armenia (1266) and overwhelming the county of Antioch (1268). In his fifties and the last year of his life, 1277, Baybars even took the offensive against the Mongols, leading an invasion of Anatolia, destroying a Mongol army and occupying - briefly - the chief city of the Mongols' vassal Seljuq dynasty. The force he had recruited, trained, and exercised then went on to inflict on the Mongols the major defeat of 1281, with which Dr. Amitai-Preiss' story ends.

Baybars also created communications systems (a pony express, fire and smoke signals, and a pigeon-post), an espionage apparatus, and a program of fortification. This last involved demolishing strongholds and cities on the Levant coast to deny the Crusaders defensible places they might seize from the sea. In the zones adjacent to the Mongols, Cilician Armenia, Antioch, and even Aleppo, the Mamluks reduced populations by devastation or neglect, and urged or forced those remaining in northern Syria to flee whenever Mongols approached. (The Mamluks probably wanted no one, by inclination or compulsion, to provide invading Mongols with allies or "arrow-fodder.") Baybars also strengthened castles in the interior and built up two powerful fortresses, al-Bira and al-Rahba, on the Mongol frontier of Syria. These fortresses served as lookouts against Mongol attack, as bases for Mamluk or Mamluk-sponsored raids into Mongol territory, and as intelligence-gathering centers; they also attracted several Mongol sieges, which failed - probably for lack of "arrow-fodder," since the Mongols defended their side of the frontier by depopulation too. It should be noted that these fortresses could not block the Mongols, who simply bypassed them when invading Syria (more discussion below).

Baybars' military achievements were the work of a much improved Mamluk army, enhanced qualitatively by increased recruitment of slave-soldiers, who could be trained intensively to remarkable levels of skill at arms. Paradoxically, these slaves, mostly Qipchaq Turks from what. is now Ukraine, were supplied to Egypt by the Mongols of the Golden Horde, rivals of the Middle Eastern (Ilkhanid) Mongols. Besides mamluks, the army also included free professional soldiers, the halqa, as well as fugitives (Mongols, Turks, Kurds, and others) from Mongol territory, and Beduin and Turkmen forces (Arab and Turkish nomads). In numbers, the army grew from a force of some 10,000 cavalry in ca. 1250 (and not many more by 1260) to perhaps 30,000 or (less likely, unless including Egyptian infantry) 40,000 during Baybars' reign. In sheer size, this enlarged Mamluk army still did not match the Mongols', but it could approximate the numbers that the Mongols could usually spare to attack Syria.

Units of the Mongol army needed for any invasion of Syria were also central to the defense of the Ilkhanid Mongols' northern frontier. The (Jochid) Mongol khans of the Golden Horde, who ruled the Qipchaq Steppe (Ukraine and northern Caucasia), Russia, and northern Central Asia, believed - almost surely correctly - that Chinggis Khan had bequeathed them much of the Middle East, especially Azerbaijan (the best part, by nomad standards); they therefore viewed continued rule of these territories by Hulegu, commander of the task force sent to complete the conquest of the Middle East, as usurpation. (The Central Asian [Chaghadaid] Mongols had similar views about regions along the Oxus/Amu Darya River and in Afghanistan, but the Ilkhanid units in those parts did not usually participate in the Syrian campaigns.) The Huleguids countered this accusation by claiming - plausibly - that the Great Khan, Mongke (1251-59), had secretly awarded rule in the Middle East to Hulegu. Mongke might well have concealed this grant during the lifetime of Batu (ruler of the Golden Horde) out of friendship, respect, and obligation: Mongke had served under Batu during the conquest of Russia and Qipchaq, and had received decisive support from him as candidate for Great Khan. The grant itself makes sense, given the concern that the Great Khans, starting with Guyuk (1246-48), must have felt as censuses revealed the great disproportion of assets in pastoral acreage and nomad manpower of the Golden Horde vis-a-vis the other regions of the Mongol empire. Conjoined to the Golden Horde, the Middle Eastern Mongols would now constitute an army equivalent (as mentioned above) to that of the Mongolian homeland; reassigned to Hulegu, Mongke's younger brother, these troops would help restore the military balance in favor of imperial authority and the family of Mongke, Hulegu, and Qubilai.(2) The dispute generated a chronic state of hostility between the Ilkhanids and their Mongol neighbor which inhibited Ilkhanid efforts against the Mamluks - and perhaps distracted the Golden Horde from renewing the invasion of Europe.

I used to discount the problems of the Ilkhans with the Golden Horde, since the latter used only small forces - 30,000 or so cavalry - against the fifteen or more tumens in the Middle East. Further consideration suggests that even this apparently insubstantial threat could impede the Ilkhanids' plans for Syria. The five or six Ilkhanid tumens based in Azerbaijan were essential for operations against Syria. The Ilkhanid units in Anatolia were too few and probably too busy watching the shifty Seljuqs and unruly Turkmen, while those in northeastern Iran and Afghanistan were very far away - the nearest about fifteen hundred miles and one hundred days from Aleppo - and already occupied with the watch on the Oxus. But the Azerbaijan tumens could not all be used because at least four of them had also to be prepared for a Golden Horde attack, such as that of 1262-63 which opened the war. These constraints usually prevented the muster of the six tumens that the Mongols thought necessary to overwhelm the Mamluk army.

Dr. Amitai-Preiss considers these factors - Mamluk morale, Baybars' leadership, etc. - decisive: "The desire for Mongol expansion carried on through inertia, even if in reality it was no longer viable..." (p. 233). He argues against interpretations by David Morgan and myself that adduce other causes. We have asserted especially the Mongols' logistical difficulties, and, in my case, also the Mongols' inferiority in military skills, weaponry and mounts.(3) Amitai-Preiss presents these views fairly (as he does those of other scholars), generously acknowledges other ideas of ours that he has drawn upon, and helpfully contributes evidence supportive of them where available. His argument against these views, taking up the greater part of chapter ten, is likewise fair and careful, but since it seems to me that he goes too far in minimizing their importance, I shall attempt a detailed - and, in intention, entirely friendly - rejoinder. Amitai-Preiss believes the Mongol and Mamluk soldiers to have been a near match in quality: that not all the troops of the Mamluks had expert training, that there was more to Mongol weaponry than bows, arrows, and clubs, thanks to the Iranian arms industry, and that the sizes and numbers of Mongol and Mamluk horses had been evened out by Mongol acquisitions of Middle Eastern breeds and Mamluk use of at least some remounts. And he considers that problems with water supplies and insufficiencies of grazing "not as overwhelming as have been proposed."

His underappreciation of Mamluk training and tactics stems, I think, from the view of David Ayalon,(4) that the Mongols and Mamluks, because of their common steppenomad origin, used the same methods of mounted archery, and from his omission or dismissal of the information of the Mamluk archery instructor, Taybugha, which enables us to discern the considerable differences between the galloping archery that the Mongols (and other Inner Asian nomads) relied on, and the fast shooting with which the Mamluks countered it.(5) The galloping archer had to travel at least forty-four yards, and therefore took about four seconds, between shots; the Mamluks were trained to shoot, while standing, three arrows in one and a half seconds! The Mongols had to approach to within fifty yards' range to endanger the armored Mamluks (if not their horses), and to about thirty yards to shoot straight from their galloping ponies. The Mamluks, however, on standing mounts, could shoot accurately to seventy-five yards, and fast enough to hit the approaching Mongols (and their ponies) with several volleys before they could come close enough to shoot back.

As Dr. Amitai-Preiss says, not all the soldiers in the Mamluk army were royal mamluks, nor trained to the highest standards - although his view on pp. 71 ff. is more optimistic than on p. 217. But I imagine that the amirs' mamluks and the free professionals of the halqa who used the training facilities in Egypt were (at this period of Mamluk history) very good; the provincial troops, the fugitives, and the nomads much less so. But all of them, excepting the beduin auxiliaries, who did not learn mounted archery (but see p. 198, n. 70), were capable of carrying out the simple Mamluk battlefield tactics: "When they are within range of you, shoot at them with arrows and do not draw your swords till they come upon you" (Ibn al-Furat). With their horses at a standstill, their shooting would have been still faster, and straighter at longer range, than that of galloping archers. As for the archery of the royal mamluks, its effect may be imagined from al-Jahiz's appraisal of earlier (Abbasid) mamluks' practice: "if a thousand [Turkish] horsemen are hard-pressed they will loose all their arrows in a single volley [burst] and bring down a thousand enemy horsemen. No body of men can stand up against such a test." The royal mamluks thus provided Mamluk armies with a hard core that the Mongols could attack directly only at great cost. It was not only high morale that enabled the Mamluks to withstand the Mongols.

Dr. Amitai-Preiss' suggestion that Iranian weapons manufacturers would have brought the Mongols up to the Mamluks' level of armaments is contradicted by the statement of Rashid al-Din, the Persian historian and chief minister of Ghazan Khan (1295-1304), that the Mongol government's arms-procurement program, until reformed by Ghazan early in the fourteenth century, was inadequate to the army's needs. Most of the Mongols, therefore, if they came to blows with the Mamluks at all, had only clubs and axes - no swords or lances and, especially important, no armor - with which to resist the Mamluks, who had all of these arms.

The Mongols could not have made good use of better weaponry even had it been available. For the Mongols' Syrian campaign of 1299-1300 (which Amitai-'Preiss mentions but does not fully treat), each soldier was to bring five mounts. This clearly indicates that the Mongols still rode ponies. Horses raised only on pasture do not grow large. Modern Mongolian ponies, raised like their thirteenth-century forebears, weigh around 600 pounds; since the burden appropriate to a horse is some seventeen percent of body-weight, the average rider is too heavy for such ponies. Mongol soldiers kept several ponies and rode them in turn to compensate for overwork: "The horses the [Mongols] ride on one day they do not mount again for the next three or four days" (Plano Carpini). Amitai-Preiss thinks that the Mongols' seizures of beduin and Armenian horses may have provided them with larger mounts. Remembering that the Ilkhanid army had 150,000 men needing horses, it seems quite implausible that the Armenians and beduin, neither noted for large cavalry forces, could have provided replacements for the Mongols' ponies. Nor could suitable mounts have been bred from captured stock and raised by traditional Mongol methods. Larger animals need more grazing time, and may take too long to graze their fill to be of substantial use. For the pregnant and especially lactating mares among them, even a day's grazing might not suffice, preventing their offspring from attaining full size. Only ponies, with modest nutritional requirements, can both sustain themselves on the steppe and provide useful service, as for instance in military campaigning. The Mongols probably used the horses they plundered not as mounts, but as rations, such as they offered to their prisoner, Kirakos of Ganja.

Mongolian ponies, then, are overloaded by their riders, who weigh perhaps half again as much as the ponies should carry. A rider further weighted with extra weaponry and especially with armor would burden his pony with twice the appropriate load. Consequently, the Mongols for the most part could not use armor (cost was also a problem), although armored - and doubtless rather immobile-contingents seem to have backed up the light cavalry and provided it with shelter from pursuing enemies at the end of the "running" phase of standard nomad "hit-and-run" tactics. This lack of armor and reliance on ponies left the Mongols quite vulnerable to the Mamluks, exacerbating the impact both of the already-superior Mamluk archery, and of the charging Mamluk with his sword, lance, and mace, his armor, and most important, his large horse. The Mamluks raised their horses on fodder, since Egypt had too little pasture to support them, and this meant that, while they could not afford to keep as many horses as the Mongols, their horses could grow larger. The fine performance of these horses in equestrian exercises, carrying heavily armed and armored Mamluks, suggests that they had to have been full-sized, probably around 1000 pounds. The Mongols could not therefore hope successfully to engage the Mamluks in hand-to-hand combat: they and their ponies would be overthrown by the Mamluks' horses. (Consider the analogous problem and likely tactics of a putative American football team of 150-pound players facing 250-pounders.)

The Mongols' ponies were not useless against the Mamluks. With far more ponies than the Mamluks had horses, the Mongols could hope to outrun a Mamluk charge and wear down - or shoot down, using the "Parthian" shot - the Mamluks' horses. This forced the Mamluks to exercise restraint in galloping and charging, thus giving the Mongols the tactical initiative at the outset of most battles.(6) Dr. Amitai-Preiss notes that-many Mamluks had remounts, but since many did not (and few if any would have had as many as the Mongols), their tactics had to accommodate the least well mounted - just as the fact that some Mongols had swords and armor, as Amitai-Preiss also mentions, did not mean that they could adopt shock tactics unsuited to the less well armed majority. As the battles went on, however, and the Mamluks withstood the Mongol attacks that invariably opened them, the Mongols would have suffered losses of men and ponies, used up their (home-made) arrows, and tired out their surviving ponies, while the Mamluks, shooting from their standing horses, retained the capacity for the effective counter-attack that usually concluded their battles with the Mongols.

Dr. Amitai-Preiss suggests that these counter-attacks deserve more study, although his summary description (p. 221) is quite convincing: "they were trained to launch a frontal attack at the right time, letting off arrows (whether or not in concert is another question) at their enemy. Then, relying on their heavier horses, armor and weapons, they would bear down on the enemy line, hoping to drive them back." We may imagine that such a charge by the Mamluks would force the nearest Mongols, engaged in hit-and-run archery attacks, into an extended "run" to evade the Mamluks, thus wearing down their horses. But the larger the Mongol force, the more difficult it would be to modulate the "running": the front-line Mongols might need more space to outrun their pursuers than was available before coming up against their own rear elements and throwing their whole unit, wing or army, into reverse flight, or crowded, defenseless confusion. (The Mongols themselves very successfully exploited such difficulties on the part of Hsi Hsia and Chin armies, and of the Russo-Qipchaq force at the Kalka River battle.) On some occasions, perhaps to avoid the difficulties of evasion, the Mongols attempted a stand,(7) using dismounted archery against the charging Mamluks. This failed in 1277, but worked very well in 1299 when, although surprised at Wadi al-Khaznadar while at pasture by the Mamluks (attacking sword-in-hand according to al-Maqrizi), the Mongols dismounted, sheltered behind their ponies, shot down the Mamluks' (unarmored) horses, broke the attack - and eventually won the battle.

Consideration of the battle of 1299 raises other questions. Dr. Amitai-Preiss has sensibly decided to follow the Mongol-Mamluk wars only to 1281, when the important battle of Homs and the recent death of Baybars provide a good point at which to break a story that requires two volumes for a treatment of such care and detail. However, understanding the first part of the story sometimes requires information from the second; Amitai-Preiss acknowledges (p. 223, n. 53) that "a full discussion on Mongol tactics should take into consideration [the battle of Wadi al-Khaznadar in 1299] and [the battle of] Marj al-Suffar (702/1303)," but decides that "this is beyond the scope of the present study." From the vantage point of 1281 and the defeat in that year by the Mamluks of a major Mongol onslaught, following several earlier Mamluk victories over lesser Mongol forces, it appears to Amitai-Preiss (as also to David Ayalon) that Mamluk supremacy, deriving from the factors that he has so thoroughly described, had been firmly established: "It was to take the Mongols some sixty years after Ayn Jalut to realize that they could not defeat the Mamluks. . ." (p. 233). But this interpretation is, I believe, premature. Further expansion had not been made less viable by the defeats of 1260 or 1281: the second overwhelming attack (allegedly) threatened by Ketbugha had not yet been delivered, and when it was, in 1299, the Mongols did defeat the Mamluks, as they had always, and with reason, believed they could.

In 1259, the first Mongol invasion of Syria had employed six tumens of the fifteen-odd making up the main Mongol force in the Middle East; this meant a nominal 60,000 men and actually (in accordance with the Mongols' rule of thumb of seven in ten for troop-readiness) perhaps only 40,000. The Mamluks did not challenge these invaders until most of them had withdrawn and the remainder could be engaged - successfully - on more even, perhaps more advantageous, terms at Ayn Jalut in 1260.(8) The Mongols' second major attack, in 1281, seems to have been on the same scale as that of 1259, but by this time, thanks to the efforts of Baybars, the Mamluk army was almost as large as the Mongols'. Amitai-Preiss (p. 194) plausibly estimates the Mongols and their auxiliaries at 40,000-50,000, and the Mamluk troops as numbering "several tens of thousands," apparently intending more than 30,000, since he also says that estimates of 25,000-30,000 Mongols would give them fewer men than the Mamluks. With this near-parity in numbers, the Mamluks were able to confront and overcome the whole invading force. The Mongols had put over half of their force in their right wing, enabling it to drive the insufficiently reinforced Mamluk left so far from the field as to take the Mongol wing out of contact with the rest of their army, and leaving their center and left without an adequate superiority in numbers over the Mamluk center and right. This inadequacy was turned into defeat by confusion in the Mongol command, which was divided between the inexperienced prince Mongke Timur (standing in for the alcoholic Ilkhan Abaqa, who died of drink the following year) and two Mongol generals, and by the misfortune that the prince was wounded or injured in the battle, which led to the Mongols' retreat and disaster.

From these and the other smaller-scale defeats that they had suffered at the hands of the Mamluks, the Mongols concluded that they needed to bring a still larger force to bear. They believed that they had the resources to do so, as we see from Rashid al-Din's story (mentioned above) of Ketbugha taunting the Mamluks. Since Ketbugha was in fact killed in the battle, not captured, the story, made up by Rashid al-Din, reflected the optimistic strategic understanding of the Mongol leadership at the end of the century, rather than of Ketbugha in 1260.

Deployment of the Mongols' superior power became possible from 1299 to 1303, when civil war immobilized the Golden Horde, and the oftentimes hostile Mongols of Central Asia came under attack from the east. In 1299 Ghazan Khan was able to call up 65,000 men: five thousand each from thirteen tumens (a similar partial mobilization was perhaps used also for the 1281 campaign, to the confusion of the sources as to the size of the Mongol force), insuring that each contingent would be at full (rather than seventy percent) strength, and that some troops would remain to protect each tumen's home territory. This army, probably outnumbering the Mamluks by two-to-one, reached Syria, and despite suffering the surprise attack mentioned above, defeated the Mamluks, who "fled the battlefield in complete disarray" (but thereby salvaged a good part of their strength, although their cautious tactics in 1303, even against a smallish, three-tumen, Mongol force, suggest reduced strength and morale damaged from the 1299 defeat). But then the Mongols again, as in 1260, withdrew most of their forces from Syria.

This brings us to the matter of logistics, which, in light of the Mongols' seasonal migrations in the Middle East,(9) the general pattern of their Syrian operations, and the details of their 1299 campaign, may be seen as the crucial obstacle to Mongol success. Marco Polo described the migrations: "In summer all the armies of the [Mongols] of the Levant are stationed in [Greater Armenia], because it has the best summer pasturage for beasts. . . . The [Mongols] depart with the onset of winter and withdraw to a warmer region, where they find plenty of grass and good pasturage for their beasts." Het um, the Mongols' Armenian ally, confirms this pattern, assuring potential Crusaders that the Mongols would be trustworthy allies because they wanted only winter pastures in the Levant and would leave the rest to the Franks. The importance of such migrations may also be deduced from Dr. Amitai-Preiss' discussion of the Mamluks' Turkmen auxiliaries on pp. 69-71: the Mongols drove large numbers of these nomads - one source has 40,000 households, implying more warrior manpower than the whole Mamluk army - from Anatolia into Syria, where the Mamluks welcomed and enlisted them; but they subsequently played little part in Mamluk military affairs. This was probably because, unlike the Arab nomads, their Inner Asian-style horse-keeping methods (similar to the Mongols') were unsuited to the Syrian climate and geography, and could not provide them with enough mounts to make them militarily effective.

Consideration of Mongol nomadism helps to clarify several episodes of Mongol and Mamluk history. Baybars probably encouraged his caliph's doomed invasion of Iraq in 1261 not to get rid of him, but because his spies reported that no Mongols could be found in Iraq; because of unfamiliarity with the Mongols' migratory ways, their information was mistakenly taken to mean that the Mongols were gone for good, continuing the withdrawal begun in 1260, rather than merely away for the summer. The caliphal campaign in October and November, therefore, probably coincided with the migratory return to winter pastures around Baghdad of a Mongol tumen, which sent the five thousand troops who destroyed the caliph and his four hundred men. Once the Mamluks did understand this nomadic cycle, however, they took advantage of it. The Mamluks concentrated forces against the Crusaders and Cilician Armenians while the Mongols were far away in, and essentially confined to, highland pastures in spring and summer. They prevented convenient concentration of Mongol forces on the Euphrates frontier - and indeed kept the Mongols from developing Anatolia's full nomadic potential - by building fortresses at al-Bira and al-Rahba, strongholds that could not block Mongol invasions, but that could deny the Mongols, by threatening their slow-moving sheep, goats and families, use of this plains steppe region as winter pastures. "Burners" sent by the Mamluks to fire the grasslands in northern Iraq and even south-eastern Anatolia were probably intended similarly to discourage nomadic occupation by threatening to delay migrations, which would normally have taken place in fall, until winter, when new grass appeared - along with the first snows that might jeopardize herds still up in the hills. It is not clear whether tactical burning, intended to impede invasion (as in 1262 and 1272), ever succeeded in delaying (and thereby abbreviating) Mongol campaigns.
The conformation of Mongol campaigning to a similar pattern, uphill and downhill, season by season, may be discerned in Juvaini's account of the war against the Khwarezmshah (1219-23). Then, in Syria, we have the spring withdrawals of victorious Mongol troops in both 1260 and 1300, leaving armies of occupation inadequate to withstand the Mamluks' counterattack. The retirement in 1260 is sometimes explained as a precaution against attack by the Golden Horde, although hostilities did not break out until later. Claims that Hulegu was preparing to lead his army east to participate either in the choice of a successor to Mongke or in the war of succession that actually ensued seem unlikely, since this would have entailed, along with other political, strategic, and logistical difficulties, abandonment of his newly conquered Middle Eastern domain. Hulegu himself attributed his withdrawal to shortages of pasture and fodder. The pull-out in 1300 is a clearer case. There was no threat to counter, as the Golden Horde and the Central Asian Mongols were distracted or exhausted, and Ghazan's forces were able to return to Syria in both 1300-1 and 1302-3. The allegation of such a threat by Het um must have been a disinformational excuse (like his more obvious one blaming the failure of the 1302-3 campaign on an attack from the east by Qaidu, then actually dead for over a year). The Mongols withdrew from Syria in 1300, as Rashid al-Din tells us, because of the approach of summer, a perfectly plausible explanation, given the geography and climate of the Middle East.

The Mongols had achieved victory in 1299, as we have seen, in very large force - 65,000 men - and with a very much larger number of ponies - 325,000. Such numbers could not be supported for long in Syria under campaign conditions. David Morgan has suggested the inadequacy of Syrian pastures, on Hulegu's authority.(10) Amitai-Preiss rightly comments that the pastures of Syria, supplemented by grazing on croplands and plundering fodder, were more than adequate to the needs of the Mongols' ponies. Syria in 1949 had a domestic animal population, most of it undoubtedly at pasture, equivalent to eight million sheep; 325,000 Mongolian ponies amount to only 1.6 million sheep-equivalents. But the Mongols could not make use of all of Syria's pastures while keeping their forces concentrated against a Mamluk counterattack.

Here the matter of water supplies comes in. The 325,000 ponies needed (at a minimal five U.S. gallons each) 1.6 million gallons a day. Such a quantity could be easily obtained in Syria during the rainy season, roughly November-March, from the major rivers: the Quwaiq, flowing past Aleppo at an average rate of 1.8 million gallons a day, and at 167 million gallons in rainy season spate; the Orontes, flowing on average at 7.1 million gallons at Homs, and 89 million in spate; and the Barada-A waj by Damascus with an average flow of 2.2 million gallons, and 8.9 million in spate. In the dry season, however, these flows drop drastically: the Barada-A waj to about half its average - hence to around 1.1 million gallons - and the others probably likewise (although I have not seen figures for these), say to 0.9 for the Quwaiq and 3.6 for the Orontes - and this at a time when the ponies would have needed more water because of very high temperatures. (As I write on May 23rd, the temperature in Damascus is at 99 [degrees] F.) (Dr. Amitai-Preiss' doubts [p. 226] about the importance of water shortages arise from his consideration only of average river-flows, not minimal.) During the dry season, therefore, the 325,000 ponies could only have been concentrated by the Orontes near Homs or Hama - which is probably why the Mamluks chose to fight for Homs in 1281 and 1299.

But thus concentrated, the ponies would not have had access to enough pasture to support them until the coming of the next rainy - and grassy - season, and the army would have been forced in mid-summer into a dangerous dispersal - some units to Aleppo and others to Damascus, say, separated by two hundred miles and two weeks march - or risky retreat to the Euphrates and beyond. The plains-steppe zone accessible from the Orontes is about forty miles wide, east to west, near Homs and Hama, and extends about forty riffles south from Hama, giving some sixteen hundred square miles of possible grazing land.(11) If this land yielded 534 lbs. of (dry) grass a year per acre (as good Inner Asian pastures do), it could have supported 325,000 ponies, each needing 9.33 lbs. (dry weight) of grass a day, for about six months. The Mongol army arrived in the Hama region on 20 December in 1299; it could not have remained there in full strength past June - and it did not plan to do so. As a final indication that climate shaped the Mongols' strategy, they brought only six months' rations on the 1299 campaign, only enough to last until April (the month when nomads still leave the Antioch region for central Anatolia in distant imitation of the Mongol withdrawal).

Dr. Amitai-Preiss (p. 228) makes two more arguments against the logistical-difficulties thesis: the adequacy of Syria's pastures is implied by the success of the Turkmen fugitives in reestablishing nomadism on them, and by the Mongols' persistence in disregarding allegedly insuperable logistical hazards in campaign after campaign. His own materials have in effect answered his Turkmen argument; as discussed above, the large numbers of Turkmen coming to Syria, and their small military significance, indicate their pastoral failure. Why the Mongols kept coming back, knowing that logistics prevented occupation, may be explained by their expectation that, under the proper circumstances, they could destroy the Mamluk army or damage it so badly that even a small Mongol force could hold Syria; that there was something to this may be seen from their victory in 1299, and the defensive tactics of the weakened Mamluks in 1300. In any case, if Syria could have supported the Mongol army, as Amitai-Preiss believes, it should not have needed to withdraw after winning in 1299. In sum, the Mongols could invade in great strength, they could defeat the Mamluks, but they could not stay in Syria long enough to exploit their success.

These differences in no way diminish my admiration of Dr. Amitai-Preiss' book, the best study of this subject that we have, nor my eagerness to see volume II.

1) I See especially the many contributions of D. Ayalon in Mamluk studies and related topics, and R. Amitai-Preiss, "Ayn Jalut Revisited," Tarih 2 (1992); P. Jackson, "The Dissolution of the Mongol Empire," Central Asiatic Journal 32 (1978); idem, "The Crisis in the Holy Land in 1260," English Historical Review 95 (1980); D. O. Morgan, "The Mongols in Syria, 12601300," in Crusade and Settlement, ed. P. W. Edbury (Cardiff, 1985); J. M. Smith, Jr., "Ayn Jalut: Mamluk Success or Mongol Failure?" Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 44 (1984); and P. Thorau, "The Battle of Ayn Jalut: a Re-examination," in Edbury, Crusade and Settlement.

2) These considerations lead me to believe the statement of Grigor of Akner that Hulegu possessed a document from Mongke in which was decreed Hulegu's Middle Eastern sovereignty; see Jackson, "Dissolution." Jackson believes that since Hulegu displayed the document just before the start of the war with the Golden Horde in 1262 (or, according to Jackson, 1261) it must have been issued by Qubilai, as Mongke had been dead for some time. If, however, Hulegu possessed a decree from Mongke yet unpublished at the time of Mongke's unexpected death, he would surely have produced it during the struggle for succession, to validate his authority.

3) Morgan, "The Mongols in Syria," and Smith, "Ayn Jalut" - the latter work will be complemented by his chapter 9, "Mongol Society and Military in the Middle East: Antecedents and Adaptations," in War and Society in the Eastern Mediterranean, 7th-15th Centuries, ed. Y. Lev (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1997), 24966. I draw largely on these works in my arguments below.

4) "The European Asiatic Steppe: A Major Reservoir of Power for the Islamic World," in Proceedings of the 25th Congress of Orientalists, Moscow, 1960 (Moscow, 1963), 2: 49. Ayalon repeats his view in "Aspects of the Mamluk Phenomenon," Der Islam 53 (1976): 218, n. 43; this article contains a subsection on "The Turkish Volley of Arrows," in which examples (items 2 and

5) of high-volume shooting by Seljuq troops are provided. It should be noted that the "Turkish volley" would be better renamed the "mamluk burst" or perhaps "Sassanian shots." Taybugha and the anonymous author of Arab Archery (on whom see the following note) show that high-volume archery depended on a very fast succession of shots, a burst rather than volley; and this "shower shooting" (as Arab Archery calls it) was a mamluk, rather than general Turkish, specialty (Ayalon's examples date from the reigns of the Seljuq sultans Malikshah and Muhammad, by which time the principal Seljuq soldiers were mamluks) of Persian - Sassanian - invention, as I discuss in "Mongol Society and Military."

5) Taybugha's work has been translated and edited as Saracen Archery by J. Latham and W. Paterson (London: Holland, 1970); the material on galloping archery is in ch. 15, especially pp. 76-77 for the distance covered (and thus time spent) preparing to shoot; the treatment of fast shooting on pp. 138 and 142 should be read in conjunction with Arab Archery, ed. and tr. N. Fads and R. Elmer (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1945), 150-51. These works are the only omissions from Dr. Amitai-Preiss' bibliography that I have noticed.

6) As for instance at Ayn Jalut; see Amitai-Preiss' persuasive reconstruction of the battle in "Ayn Jalut Revisited."

7) Perhaps literally a "sit": Amitai-Preiss (p. 222, n. 47) notes Ibn Khaldun's description of "Turkish" archers shooting from a seated position. This apparently unlikely procedure makes sense considering the equipment that went with galloping archery (and thus with nomad "Turks," including Mongols, not Mamluks). The archer wore a quiver containing six or so arrows for use during "hit-and-run" maneuvers, and topped this up at intervals, while changing mounts, from a storage quiver or quivers holding the rest of his sixty or so arrows. For dismounted shooting, when quick shooting was essential, neither kind of quiver helped: the one he wore held too few arrows, and the storage quiver hampered access to its arrows. Consequently, the archer poured out the arrows from the quiver(s) onto the ground (as did the warrior-princess Saljan with her ninety arrows in Dede Korkut's story of Kanli Koja: The Book of Dede Korkut, tr. G. Lewis [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974], 131), and the archer sat handily next to them. Such seated archers - as targets - also make sense of the Mamluks' mounted archery practice called qighaj, "shooting at a slant," in which the archer shoots down parallel to his left thigh at a mark on the ground approximately below his left knee (described and discussed in Saracen Archery, 73, 78-79).

8) The numbers of Mamluks and Mongols at Ayn Jalut have been variously estimated, in recent scholarship, within the limits of 10,000-20,000 each. Peter Thorau, in "The Battle of Ayn Jalut: A Reexamination," suggests 10,000-20,000 Mongols and 15,000-20,000 Mamluks. Amitai-Preiss (pp. 36-37) thinks there were perhaps 10,000-12,000 Mongols and 10,000-12,000 Mamluks from Egypt plus an unknown number of auxiliary and Syrian troops. I opined, in "Ayn Jalut: Mamluk Success or Mongol Failure?" that 12,000 Mamluks faced 10,000-20,000 Mongols. Our unanimity on 10,000 as the minimum number of Mongols is based on several sources that implicitly (and Shafi - cited in Mongols and Mamluks, 27, n. 12 - explicitly) give Ketbugha's tumen its full nominal value. But since Mongol tumens were often understrength (as mentioned by Amitai-Preiss, p. 15, n. 43) or, as I would prefer to see it, could not always field all of their men - we should probably downsize Ketbugha's tumen, perhaps to 7000 men, possibly to fewer still; the 6000 Mongols at the battle of Homs in 1260 and the 5000 troops led by Qara Bugha against the Caliph in 1261 (Mongols and Mamluks, 51, 58) may have been tumens. This would explain why, as Amitai-Preiss notes (p. 37), some Mamluk sources say that the Mamluks had the larger force at Ayn Jalut: the battle may have featured 12,000 Mamluks against only 5000-7000 Mongols.


Blogger Dar said...

"In the case of Abulustayn at least, the Mongols realized that the battle was lost, and in effect declared their willingness to fight to the end by dismounting. ...There are no examples of the Mamluks dismounting during battle. At their one defeat at Wadi al-Khaznadar in 699/1299, the Mamluks, rather than fight to the death, for all their 'professionalism' fled the battlefield in complete disarray."

Interesting what evidence is there that the Mongols were "fighting to the death"?

Also, why should the Mamluks fight to the death? Unlike the Mongols who can be afford to lose an army, the Mamluks canot, as a lost army would leave Egypt defenseless.

This was my problem with prof.Amitai-Preiss: He seems too willing to under-mine the Mamluks. I think his Israeli background colors his perception of the people who expelled the Crusaders, with which Israel is often analogized.

5:14 AM  

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