Monday, August 1, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Bukhara | Fall of the Citadel

A few days after his Appearance In The Friday Mosque, Chingis visited another mosque outside the city walls. From the pulpit of this mosque he ordered that all the city’s wealthiest people be brought before him. Two hundred and eighty people were produced, 190 from the city itself and ninety merchants from other cities who happened to be in Bukhara at the time. He then harangued these assembled worthies: 
O People know that you have committed great sins, and the great ones among you have committed these sins. If you ask me what proof I have for these words, I say it is because I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you. 
This is probably the source of the “I am the Scourge of God” declaration attributed to Chingis Khan which pops up in so many later accounts of the Mongol invasion of Mawarannahr. But did Chingis actually make this speech? Other contemporary sources, al-Athir for example, make no mention of it, although such a dramatic reproof of the citizens of Bukhara could hardly have escaped their notice. This leads later commentators to conclude that Juvaini inserted this speech simply to spice up his narrative. Barthold, after examining all the available sources, concludes that Juvaini’s account of the speech “is quite beyond belief.” 

Juvaini and al-Athir do agree, however, that Chingis ordered the assembled notables to cough up much of their wealth. “There is no need to declare your property that is on the face of the earth; tell me of that which is in the belly of the earth,” he told them, apparently meaning he wanted them to reveal whatever possessions they hidden—perhaps buried—from him. To the most important of the merchants he assigned a Mongol or Turk overseer whose job it was to pry their wealth out of them. Juvaini claims, however, that as long as the merchants willingly handed over their possessions these heavies did not “did not torment them by excessive punishment or demanding what was beyond their power to pay.” 

Then each morning more merchants were herded into an audience hall where Chingis harangued them, demanding that they turn over their riches to him. Of special interest to Chingis were the merchants who had dealt in the silver and goods plundered from the Mongol trade caravan at Otrār. As we have been the Khwarezmshah had deposed of his share of the loot to Bukharan merchants, and they were now brought to account and made to produce their ill-gotten gains. The arm of Chingis Khan was long indeed. 

Not everyone in Bukhara acquiesced to the Mongols’ roughshod treatment of their city. The afore-mentioned Jalal-al-Din Ali b. al-Hasan Zaidi, one of the leading imams of the city, and his son objected to the treatment meted out to prisoners and the rape of women by Mongol soldiers. A brawl ensued and both the imam and his son were killed. Others who protested, included the judge Sadr al-Din Khan and Majd al-Din Masud, brother of the Khwarezmshah’s vizier Nizam al-Mulk, were also slain. But these were exceptions. Most inhabitants of the occupied city had no choice but to submit to the Mongols. Except, of course, for Khökh Khan and his 400 men who remained holed up in the Citadel. 

Twelve days after the Mongols had arrived in the city Chingis decided to deal with the diehards in the Citadel. Juvaini would have us believe that in order to flush these remaining men Chingis ordered the surrounding quarters be put to the torch. Within days much of the city, with the exception of places and mosques constructed of baked bricks, had burned to the ground. It is not clear why the entire assembled Mongol army could not deal with 400 men, making such a drastic expedient necessary. Later commentators would suggest that the fire which consumed the city started accidentally while the city was being plundered and quickly spread through the districts made up mostly of wooden buildings. In any case, the fire did not phase the defenders of the Citadel. The Mongols set up mangonels and began heaving huge stones into the Citadel; the defenders responding by flinging out pots of burning naphtha. The Citadel was soon “like a red-hot furnace fed from without by hard sticks thrust into the recesses, while from the belly of the furnace sparks shoot into the air,” claimed Juvaini. Using the local citizenry as human shields the Mongols stormed the walls. The fight went on for days. The Khökh Khan “who in bravery would have born the palm from lions, engaged in many battles: in each attack he overthrew several persons and alone expelled a great army.” All to no avail. Finally the last defenders of the Citadel were “drowned in the sea of annihilation.” 

For reasons which commentators, including Juvaini, do not make entirely clear, Chingis now decided upon a wholesale purge of the already defeated and burned city. Of the Qangli Turks within the city “no male was spared who stood higher than the butt of a whip” and their womenfolk (“slender as the cypress”) and children were sent into slavery. The remaining men and women (of the latter, both “ugly and beautiful,” Juvaini dutifully notes) were driven out onto the surrounding plains and what remained of the city and its walls were leveled. The healthy males, both adults and youths, were dragooned as levies for the upcoming siege of Samarkand. The remaining citizenry retired to surrounding villages, as nothing remained of their city. 

One man who escaped from the carnage in Bukhara eventually ended up in Khorasan. Here he was questioned about the Mongols and the fate of Bukhara. His words, as recorded by Juvaini, have often been repeated: “They came, they sapped, they burnt, they slew, they plundered and they departed.” Juvaini, who knew his way around words, agreed that “in the Persian language there could be nothing more concise than this speech.”