Even before the arrival of the last Mongolian embassy led by Ibn Kafaraj Bughra the Khwarezmshah had sought the advice of his military and political advisors about what to do in the case of war with Chingis. Thus he himself had probably concluded that the massacre of the merchants in Otrār had made war inevitable. One of his military advisers, Shihab ad-Din Khiwaqi, counseled that the Khwarezmshah should concentrate his entire army on the banks of Syr Darya and confront the Mongol army in one huge battle before the Mongols had time to recover from their long march. The downside of this idea was the all of the Khwarezmshah’s generals, many of whom belonged to the Turkmen aristocracy loyal to his mother, would be gathered together in one place along with all of their soldiers. Their loyalty to the Sultan himself was by no means certain, and there was a very real possibility of a coup d’état by generals who would overthrow their command-in-chief. This proposal was dismissed.
Another proposal was to allow the Mongols to enter Transoxiania uncontested and then, taking advantage of the defenders’ knowledge of the local countryside, ambush the invaders on numerous fronts. Still others advised abandoning Transoxiania to its fate and retreating south to Khorasan. The Khwarezmshah’s armies would then have to defend only the fords on the Amu Darya to keep the Mongols bottled up in Transoxiania north of the river. Others, the most pusillanimous of his counselors, argued that both Transoxiana and Khorasan were indefensible and that the Sultan and his armies should cross the Hindu Kush Mountains and seek refuge in India.
Having rejected the first option of confronting the Mongols with one massive army, the Khwarezmshah decided instead to place garrisons of troops in most of the major towns of Transoxiana. According to Nasawi, twenty thousand horseman were sent to Otrār, where it might be expected that Chinggis Khan would strike first; 10,000 horsemen were stationed in the city of Shahrkent, 30,000 in Bukhara; 40,000 in Sarmarkand, and smaller detachments in other important cities.
Since the last revolts had been put down in 1212 Samarkand had been the de-facto capital of Khwarezm and according to Juvaini it was the greatest city “in the Sultan’s empire . . . the most pleasant of his lands in fertility and soil and, by common consent, the most delectable of the paradises of this world among the four Edens.” Nasawi added that by defending Sarmarkand, the Khwarezmshah “would close before the enemy the path to other parts of his kingdom.” Thus he at first appeared determined to defend Samarkand at all costs. First he ordered the construction of a huge wall measuring twelve farsakhs (thirty-six miles) in circumference encompassing both the center of the city and its environs. In order to pay for this grandiose edifice he ordered his tax collectors to demand from the entire populace triple the amount of taxes for the entire year.
Oddly enough, Juvaini makes no mention of this planned twelve-farsakhs-long outer wall and says only that the walls of the Citadel within the city “were raised to the Pleaides” and a moat was dug around this inner fortress. He claims that while the Khwarezmshah was overseeing the excavation of the moat he gloomily remarked that the Mongols would only have to throw in their whip handles to fill up the moat and ride over it. This supposedly demoralized the bystanders who overheard the remark. Barthold suggests the Juvaini make up this incident, since the Shah would surely not wanted to present such a depressing picture to the residents of the city. Then again, perhaps the Sultan was by this point already demoralized and may have not been able to resist spouting out the truth.
Even if the remark was apocryphal it would appear that he had gotten cold feet, since at this crucial juncture he himself decided to repair across the Amu Darya to the city of Balkh in Khorasan (now in Afghanistan). He claimed that he went to rally those of his troops who were stationed in Khorasan but to many in the cities of Transoxiania it must have seemed that their Sultan had abandoned them. Juvaini remarks that,
When the Sultan withdrew from the conflict, the control of firmness having slipped from his hands and the attraction of constancy having been replaced by flight; while perplexity and doubt had taken abode in his nature; he deputized the protection of most of his lands and territories to his generals and allies.
In his absent the twelve-farsakhs-long outer wall around Samarkand was never built, and there no record of what happened to the money that had been collected for its construction.
Armchair generals would have field day judging the Khwarezmshah’s response to the Mongol threat. Nasawi, for one, believed that he should have exercised the first option presented to him and confronted the Mongols en masse:
Had he stayed his position . . . the sultan would have been at the head of the most numerous army any one had ever heard of, but nothing can resist the will of God, who, alone, can accomplish what he has decided and has the power to overturn or transform all things, and to move empires from the hands of one leader to another
The Khwarezmshah, it appeared, no longer had God on his side.