Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Khüchüleg | Ili Basin | Kashgar

The Gür Khan, whatever his personal failings, had enjoyed during most of his reign the popular acclaim of many the people in his realm. Not until his army under Tayangu was defeated in the autumn of 1210 and many of his disheartened troops went on a looting spree did the Gür Khan’s subjects turn on him. Khüchüleg was cut from different cloth. Although he entertained pretensions of ruling the old Khara Khitai Empire he was basically a freebooter who was more interested in loot and plunder than the day-to-day administration of a functioning society. A nomad from the steppes of Mongolia, he was particularly insensitive to the needs of the sedentary peoples which he now at least nominally ruled. And not of all the local chieftains who were loyal to the Gür were ready to bow down to the Naiman marauder. 

Trouble started first at Almaliq, near the current-day city of Ili in the Valley Of The Ili River, the source of which is deep in the Tian Shan to the east. The Ili River was the easternmost of the rivers in the Seven Rivers Region, an area where, as on geographer points out, “sedentaries and nomads have met at various points in history—coexisting, overlapping, or competing—because it lends itself to both ways of life . . .” Thus it is of “special interest as the historical divide between the eastern and western halves of Inner Asia.” Separated by formidable mountains from the mountain-rimmed basins and depressions to the east, it was more oriented westward, towards the vast steppes and deserts that stretch off to the shores of Caspian Sea. Until 1211 much of the Seven River Region, including, the upper Ili Basin has been ruled by Arslan Khan, nominally a subject of the Gür Khan. 

After the defeat of Tayangu’s army, the Arslan Khan had held his finger to the wind and decided that it was time to align himself with Chingis Khan, who was already the suzerain of the Uighurs across the mountains to the east, and he went personally to the court of Chingis Khan to declare his loyalty. While he was gone an adventurer by the name of Ozar seized control of the upper Ili Basin and the steppes which slope down to the the western edge of the Zungarian Basin, including the Boro Steppe and the area around Lake Sayram. According to Juvaini, he: 
used to steal peoples’ horses from the herds and commit other criminal actions, such as highway robbery, etc. He was joined by all the ruffians of that region and so became very powerful. Then he used to enter villages, and if the people refused to yield to him obedience he would seize that place by war and violence.
Khüchüleg marched against Ozar Khan, as he now styled himself, several times but to the Naiman’s fury was unable to bring the highwayman to heel. Then Ozar Khan, like Arslan Khan, decided to declare his loyalty to Chingis. Khan. He also traveled to the Mongol court, where he was royally received. Chingis, eager to gain his services and cement his loyalty, offered him one of his granddaughters, the daughter of his oldest son Jochi, in marriage. But before Ozar left to go back to the Ili Basin Chingis had some advice for him. Ozar was an avid huntsmen, but Chingis warned him not to go on hunting parties lest he himself fall prey to other hunters. Chingis was so adamant on this subject that he gave Ozar a thousand sheep so he would not have to hunt game for food. Perhaps Chingis had a premonition about Ozar’s death. In any case, when Ozar returned to the Ili Basin he failed to heed Chingis’s advice. While out hunting he was ambushed by troops loyal to Khüchüleg and captured alive. He was taken in chains to Almaliq, where his captors apparently hoped to ransom him. Instead the residents of Almaliq closed the gates of the city and took up arms against Khüchüleg’s men. At this point rumors arrived that a Mongol army under the command of Chingis’s famous general Jebe was on the way to Almaliq. Khüchüleg’s men retreated south with their prisoner and since he was now worthless they slew him somewhere along the road. At least this is the story told by Juvaini. Other sources suggest that Arslan Khan, eager to recover his hereditary fiefdom, had Ozar Khan killed. 

Although Juvaini paints him as a highwayman and ruffian he adds that Ozar,“although rash and foolhardy, was a pious, God-fearing man and gazed with the glance of reverence upon ascetics.” One day a Sufi approached Ozar and announced:“‘I am on an embassy to thee from the Court of Power and Glory; and message is thus, that our treasures are become somewhat depleted. Now therefore let Ozar give aid by means of a loan and not hold it lawful to refuse.’” Ozar bowed to the Sufi and “while tears rained down from his eyes” offered him a balish of gold (about seventy-five dinars). Mission accomplished, the Sufi departed. 

Having lost the IIi Basin Khüchüleg turned his attention south to the Tarim Basin. Back in 1204 the people of Kashgar had revolted. In retaliation the Gür Khan had seized the son of one the local rulers as a hostage and kept him under house arrest in Balagasun. Khüchüleg now sent this princeling back to Kashgar in hopes that he would smooth the way for his own arrival. The local nobles, who loyalties in the meantime had wavered, had him killed at the city gates before he even set foot in town. Outraged, Khüchüleg descended on Kashgar. He made the local people quarter his troops and for three or four years running ravished the countryside at harvest time. “And oppression, and injustice, and depravity were made manifest; and the pagan idolators accomplished whatever was their will and in their power, and none was able to prevent them,”Juvaini laments. 

Religion quickly became an issue. Khüchüleg, who under the influence of his wife was now professing Buddhism, now declared that people of the western Tarim Basin must accept “the Christian or idolatrous creed [Buddhism],” according to Juvaini, or “don the garb of Khitayans.” The details of Khitan haberdashery are not known, so it is not clear exactly what this entailed. In any case, the locals, according to Juvaini were having none of it: “And since it was impossible to go over to another religion, by reason of hard necessity they clad themselves in the dress of Khitayans.” Khüchüleg also prohibited the call-to-prayer from the minarets of Kashgar and Khotan and closed all Islamic schools and colleges. In Khotan, the legendary Silk Road city famous for Carpets, luxurious Silk, and Jade, Khüchüleg called all the local imams out into the countryside and engaged them in debate about the merits of their respective religions. Not liking what he heard from an imam named Ala-al-Din Muhammad, he had the Muslim scholar crucified on the door of his own college. Juvaini:
Thus was the Moslem [sic] cause brought to a sorry pass, nay rather it was wiped out, and endless oppression and wickedness were extended over the slaves of Divinity, who set up prayers that were blessed with fulfilment . . .
The answer to their prayers soon arrived in the person of Jebe, one of Chingis Khan’s ablest generals.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Kazakhstan | Possible Sarmatian Ruins

Earlier I posted about the Old Silk Road City of Otrār,  located on the north bank of the middle stretches of the Syr Darya River (the Jaxartes of Classical Antiquity) near its confluence with the Arys River, about 105 miles northwest of the current-day city of Shymkent in Kazakhstan. Now it appears that archaeologists in Kazakhstan Have Unearthed An Ancient City near Shymkent:
The skulls of the people here are distinctly and artificially deformed; they are elongated, Seitkaliyev said. “These ‘distinctive markings’ are most famous with the Aztecs, but this was also a very common way for Sarmatian nobles to distinguish themselves from the commoners.” This evidence raises the possibility that the find could be a Sarmatian settlement. The Sarmatians were an Iron Age nomadic people of Caucasian appearance. In ancient times, the Sarmatians from Western Kazakhstan migrated in large numbers to Europe, but the majority of them went in an unknown direction,” Seitkaliyev said. “Our findings suggest that they settled in the territory of modern-day South Kazakhstan Oblast.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Khüchüleg | Gog and Magog

Khüchüleg, born the Son Of A Khan in Mongolia, had no intention of playing second fiddle to the Gür Khan. He quickly set about assembling an army that was loyal to him alone. According to Juvaini: 
. . . from all sides his tribesmen assembled around him. And he assaulted divers places and plundered them, striking one after another; and so he obtained a numerous army and his retinue and army was multiplied and reinforced. 
One reason so quickly gained adherents was that he allowed his men to loot and plunder at will; the Gür Khan had kept a tight reign on his own troops and paid them a salary in lieu of the right to indiscriminate plunder, a policy almost unheard of at the time. Not only the exiled tribesmen from the Mongolian Plateau were attracted to Khüchüleg’s free-booting ways; soon soldiers were deserting the Gür Khan’s own army and joining up the Naiman adventurer’s marauders. He was still fighting under the banner of the Khara Khitai, however, and in the autumn of 1209 the Gür Khan sent Khüchüleg east to deal with the rebellious Uighurs In Uighurstan, formerly clients of the Khara-Khitai who had thrown in their lot with Chingis Khan earlier that year. The sortie east no doubt provided plentifully opportunities for looting the countryside, but the Uighurs were not to be budged from Chingis’s camp. The Gür Khan, meanwhile, had ridden west to confront the Khwarezmshah. In 1210, personally leading an army of 30,000 men, he seized the Samarkand from the Sultan, but in line with his polices did not allow his men to plunder the city. Hearing that the Gür Khan was engaged in Transoxiania, Khüchüleg now showed his true colors. “ . . . Turning on the gür-khan, he ravaged and plundered his territory, now attacking and now retreating,” according to Juvaini. First he sacked the Khara Khitai imperial treasury at Özkend, on the Syr Darya River, then occupied the Khara Khitai capital of Balasagun. 

Hearing of this treachery, the Gür Khan abandoned Samarkand and rode back east to confront the now overtly rebellious Naiman adventurer. Sensing the disarray among the Khara-Khitai, the Khwarezmshah quickly sent an army eastward. In the early autumn 1210 this army collided with a Khara Khitai army led by Tayangu, the military commander of Taras (or Talas), a city on the Talas River in the Seven Rivers Region between the Syr Darya and Lake Balkash. Where this clash, which would proof to be the defining battle between the Khwarezmshah and the Gür Khan, took place is not exactly clear. At one point Juvaini says it occurred at “steppe of Ilamish”' (apparently in the lower Ferghana Valley); elsewhere he implies it took place near Taras. On the morning of battle the Khwarezmshah ordered his men to say their prayers, then according to Juvaini: 
. . . the whole army raised a shout and charged down upon those wretches [the Khara Khitai] . . . The greater part of that sect of sedition were destroyed beneath the sword, and Tayangu himself was wounded in the battle and had fallen on his face like the subjects of the Khara Khitai. A girl was standing over him and when someone tried to cut off his head she cried out: ‘It is Tayangu!’ and the man at once bound him and carried him off to the Sultan.
From this time on, Juvaini tells us, “dread of the Sultan was increased a thousandfold in the hearts of men.” 

One of the paid poets in the Khwarezmshah’s court composed a lengthy paean to his recent exploits in which he termed the Sultan “the Second Alexander,” referring of course to Alexander the Great. This epithet so pleased the Sultan that he had it added to his list of official titles. Tayangu, the Khara Khitai general who had recently been taken prisoner, fared less well. The Sultan had him beheaded and his body disposed of in a river. 

The Khwarezmshah’s forces moved on to the City Of Ötrar, in the Syr Darya basin, whose governor “refused to dislodge from his brain the arrogance of pride and vanity of riches” and had “turned aside from ‘the straight path’ by leaguing himself with the the Khitai,” according to Juvaini. The traders of Ötrar, pointing out to the governor that he had “ignominiously cast thyself and us into the jaws of a leviathan,” urged him to surrender the city to the Khwarezmshah, which he did. The Sultan give him and his family safe passage out of town on condition that he not return, then, as we have seen, appointed his mother’s nephew Inalchuq as governor and give him the title of Gāyer Khan. 

The Khwarezmshah’s armies proceed up the Ferghana Valley and soon took the city of Özkend.The Gür Khan was now trapped between the ever-advancing Khwarezmshah in the west and Khüchüleg in the east. Khüchüleg was by now in clandestine contact with the Khwarezmshah and the two soon hatched a plot defeat the Gür Khan and divide his empire among themselves. 

But the Khara Khitai emperor was not yet ready to throw in the towel. In 1211 he confronted his rebellious son-in-law near Balagasun and in the ensuing battle took many of his men prisoner and even managed to recover some of the imperial treasury which Khüchüleg had looted earlier. Khüchüleg escaped, fleeing eastward, and began gathering in his scattered troops and reorganizing his army. Meanwhile the citizens of Balagasun, by now fed up with the Gür Khan and hearing that the Khwarezmshah’s army was approaching, decided to take their chances with the Sultan, whose star it seemed was on the rise. They barricaded themselves within the city walls and for sixteen days held off the Khara Khitai. Finally, with the aid of war elephants they had earlier captured from the Khwarezmshah (who had apparently obtained them on one of his forays into India) they broke down the gates and entered the city. The Khara Khitai army, now an unruly mob no longer obeying the Gür Khan’s strictures against plundering, allegedly killed 47,000 townspeople and thoroughly looted the city. 

By then the Khara Khitai Empire was in shreds. The Khwarezmshah was advancing from the west and somewhere in the east Khüchüleg was biding his time, waiting for the right moment to spring once again upon the Gür Khan. The time would soon come. In the autumn of 2011 the Gür Khan retired to the western end of the Tarim, near Kashgar, for a spot of hunting. Given the predicament he was in it seemed a peculiar way to spend his time, but maybe he needed to rest his shattering nerves by indulging in one of his favorite pastimes. Maybe he was enjoying himself so much that his guard was down. In any event, Khüchüleg and 8,000 men swooped down on the unsuspecting Gür Khan and captured him. He choose not to kill the emperor of the Khara Khitai. Instead, he assumed the Gür Khan’s titles and married one of his daughters to a Khitan princess in an attempt to link himself with the Khitan nobility. He tried to ingratiate himself further by adopting Khitan customs, clothes, and religion. 

According to Rashid al-Din, his Khitan wife Qunqu at this point managed to convert him from Christianity to Buddhism, the prominent religion among the nobility (Juvaini claims he married one of the Gür Khan’s wives that had caught his eye and implies that it was she who converted him to Buddhism). Clearly the upstart adventurer from the Mongolian Plateau wanted to be seen as the new Gür Khan, ruler of the Khara Khitai Empire. But the real Gür Khan finally died in 1213 and most commentators, including Juvaini, concluded that the Khara Khitai Empire died with him. 

The fall of the Khara Khitai, even though they not were Muslims themselves, was not viewed with universal favor by all Muslims in Inner Asia. After the huge defeat suffered by the Tayangu-led Khara Khitai army in 1210 there was much rejoicing among among some elements in the Khwarezmshah’s realm. According to Juvaini, “‘The order of ascetics offered thanks to God; the great men and notables feasted and revelled [sic] at the sound of timbal and flute; the common people rejoiced and made merry; the young men frolicked noisily in gardens; and old men engaged in talk one with another.’” But the more reflective graybeards had reservations. Some held the belief that the Khara Khitai had served as a useful wall or dam between themselves and the Mongols. They remembered that according to the Quran (Sura Al-Kahf, "The Cave", 18:83–9), a mysterious individual called Zul Qairain ("The Two-horned One") had journeyed to a distant northern land where he found a people who were suffering from the mischief of mysterious entities known as Gog and Magog. Zul Qairain then erected an iron wall to keep out Gog and Magog, but he warned that the wall would be removed as the Day of Judgement drew near. By the thirteenth century the Mongols had become identified with Gog and Magog. Juvaini goes on to tell of a Muslim scholar named Sayyid Murtaza who did not join in the general rejoicing after the Khwarezmshah had decisively defeated the Khara Khitai in 1210. When asked by Juvaini’s cousin, from whom Juvaini heard this story, why he sat brooding in a corner with a sad look on this face, the scholar replied: 
‘Beyond these [the Qara Khitai] are a people [Mongols] stubborn in their vengeance and fury and exceeding Gog and Magog. And the people of Khitai were in truth the wall of Zul Qairain between us and them. And it is unlikely, when that wall is gone, that there will be any peace within the realm or that any man will recline in comfort and enjoyment. Today I am mourning for Islam.’ 
For the moment Khüchüleg held the broken remnants of the Khara Khita Empire in his hands. But in far-off Mongolia Chingis Khan had never forgotten about the Naiman prince who had somehow slipped out of his grasp back in 1204. Khüchüleg’s days were numbered, and once he was gone nothing would stand between the Islamic Khwarezm Empire and the spawn of Gog and Magog.

Mongolia | Töv Aimag | Mandshir Khiid | Telo Tulku Rinpoche

Telo Tulku Rinpoche, the Shadjin Lama of Kalmykia and the President of the Buddhist Union of the Republic of Kalmykia (see Elista, capital of Kalmykia), is in town for a conference at the Open Society Forum (apparently only A-List people were invited to this conference and I could not get tickets to his talk; you would have thought it was a Lady Gaga concert) and to visit Narobanchin Khiid, the monastery of his former incarnation, the Diluv Khutagt. On Sunday we wandered out to Mandshir Khiid on the south side of Bogd Khan Mountain.

19th Century view of Ikh Khuree (current-day Ulaanbaatar) with Mandshir Khiid just visible in the lower right-hand corner (See Enlargement)
 Telo Tulku Rinpoche at the entrance to Mandshir Khiid
 Sign at the entrance to Mandshir Khiid indicating that you are entering holy precincts. 
 Andzha, Telo Tulku Rinpoche’s assistant
 Telo Tulku Rinpoche with two Mongolian pilgrims
Telo Tulku Rinpoche examined the ruins of Mandshir Khiid. Most of the temples were destroyed in the 1930s
Telo Tulku Rinpoche with more pilgrims from Chita, in Russia
 Telo Tulku Rinpoche and Batjargal, one of his Mongolian followers
Image of Milarepa (c. 1052—c. 1135 AD), thought to be one of the Telo Tulku Rinpoche’s earlier incarnations. A famous ascetic, Milarepa supposedly ate only nettles for long periods of his life. Curiously, there are nettle all over this hillside. 
 
Image of Milarepa. Also see The One Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa.
It was the last week of June and wildflowers were in magnificent form. Batjargal says that in Mongolia this yellow lily grows only here at Mandshir Khiid. I certainly have not seen it anywhere else and I always have my eyes open for wildflowers.
 Forget-Me-Nots
Telo Tulku Rinpoche’s Russian friends, Andzha, and Batjargal at what is reportedly the largest pot in all of Mongolia. The monks at Mandshir used this pot to cook and make tea. 
Andzha, Telo Tulku Rinpoche, and Batjargal

Friday, June 24, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Khüchüleg and the Gür Khan

His father dead and the Naiman Army Defeated, Khüchüleg and a band of his most devoted followers fled south across the Altai Mountain into the Zungarian Depression in what now northern Xinjiang Province, China. As mentioned, Togtoga Beki and the Merkits had earlier aligned themselves with Naiman, but they too, like Jamukha, had apparently fled on the eve of the final battle. Chingis’s soldiers pursued them and in the autumn of 1204 the Merkit army was almost totally annihilated. Only Togtoga Beki, his sons, and a handful of his most devoted followers were able to escape the slaughter. His youngest son Khutukhan eventually would be tracked down by Jochi, Chingis’s oldest son, who as rumored may have been the biological son of a Merkit. Khutukhan was renowned for his skills as an archer, and supposedly for this reason Jochi begged Chingis to spare his life (whether Jochi harbored some sympathy for Merkits, since he was rumored to be half-Merkit himself, is unknown). Chingis was having none of it. He felt no sympathy whatsoever for the tribe that had kidnapped his wife: 
There is not tribe more wicked than the Merkit. How often have we fought them? They have caused us much vexation and sorrow. How can we spare his life? He will only instigate another rebellion. I have conquered these land for you, my sons. Of what use is he? There is no better place for an enemy of our nation than in the grave! 
Khüchüleg and Togtoga Beki and their followers eventually joined up with Khüchüleg’s uncle Buyirug, who had split with the main tribe of Naiman earlier and had not taken part on the battle at Tuleet Uul. Now, refugees from Mongolia, they nomadized in the upper valley of the Irtysh RIver, on the northern edge of the Zungarian Basin. But even here they were not safe from the long arm of Chingis. In 1208 (the date differs in some accounts) his army crossed the Altais into the valley of the Irtysh and flushed out the escapees from Mongolia. Togtoga Beki was killed, but Khüchüleg once again managed to slip out of the Mongol noose, as did Togtoga Beki’s remaining sons (in a act of peculiar familial devotion they reportedly cut off their father’s head and took it with them). 

Khüchüleg and his ever-dwindled band hightailed it south across the Zungarian Basin to the Uighur Northern Capital of Beshbaliq. 
Ruins of ancient city of Beshbaliq, surrounded by cultivated fields. The Buddhist Temple, which was not within the city itself, is the small white square far left, center. (See Enlargement)
 Ruins of Beshbaliq
Ruins of Beshbaliq
Ruins of Beshbaliq 
Buddhist Temple near ruins of Beshbaliq
 Modern-day descendant of the Uighurs who once lived at Beshbaliq (Listen to Uighur Music)
He was unwelcome among the Uighurs, who by that time may have already been aligned with Chingis Khan, and continued on across the daunting Tian Shan to the Silk Road city of Kucha, at the foot of the mountains on the northern side of the Tarim Basin. Apparently the welcome here was no warmer, since according to Juvaini he then “wandered in the mountains without food or sustenance, while those of his tribe that had accompanied him were scattered far and wide.” This was clearly the low ebb in Khüchüleg’s life. Yet he was nothing if not resourceful, and he would soon catapult from being a destitute wanderer in the Tian Shan to the nominal ruler of an Inner Asian empire who would vie with the Khwarezmshah himself for power. 

Obviously at loose ends, Khüchüleg’s and his few remaining followers fell in with the Gür Khan, ruler of the Khara Khitai Empire which then controlled much of Inner Asia between the Khwarezmshah’s own domains and the Uighuristan to the east. The Khara-Khitai were shards of the old Liao, or Khitan, Dynasty, which had come into power in 916 and ruled northern China until 1125 when they were unseated by the Jurchen, who founded the Jin Dynasty. Originally they were a nomadic people from the mixed forest and steppe east of the Khingan Moutains, in what is now the province of Inner Mongolia in China. At its height the Khitan Dynasty controlled, in addition to northern China, much of modern-day Mongolia, where the ruins of their formidable fortresses can still be seen. 
 Ruins of Khitan Fortress in current-day Arkhangai Aimag, Mongolia

 Ruins of Khitan Fortress

 Ruins of Khitan Fortress
 Ruins of Khitan Fortress 
 Buddhist Stupa near the ruins of Khitan Fortress. This must rank as one of the oldest existing Buddhist monuments in Mongolia. 
After their defeat by the Jurchens, the charismatic leader of the Khitans, Yelü Dashi, fled west with segments of the Khitan nobility and at least 100,000 followers. By 1234 he had established a capital at Balasagun, near Tolmak in modern-day central Kyrgyzstan, and by 1137 had overran the fertile Fergana Valley in western Kyrgyzstan. 
 Minaret at Balasagun, near Tokmak in modern-day central Kyrgyzstan
Pottery recovered from the ruins of Balasagun
On September 9, 1141, the defeated the Seljuk Turks at the Battle of Qatwan, thus gaining control of much of Transoxiana, the Land Between the Two Rivers. From this point on the Khara-Khitai could legitimately be called an empire. By the start of the thirteen-century, however, the Khwarezmshah and his Khwarezm Empire had already seized portions of Transoxiana, and the Sultan was locked in a fierce conflict with Gür Khan on the western edge of the latter’s empire. In the east, tribes who had once submitted to him were now gravitating toward the Chingis Khan and his Mongols, who were clearly on the ascendancy. 

It was at this point in time, when the Gür Khan was fighting for the survival of his empire, that Khüchüleg providentially arrived in Balasagun. It is not clear if Khüchüleg had been captured the Khara Khitai patrols while wandering around in the Tian Shan or if he had turned up the Khara Khitai capital of Balasagun of his own volition. In any case, he soon finagled a meeting with the Gür Khan. It will be remembered that the Naiman had once accepted the suzerainty of the Khara-Khitai, and Khüchüleg may have played on this connection. Now the ever-resourceful Naiman made a bold proposal which conveniently addressed the Gür Khan’s own needs at the moment. Scattered throughout Inner Asia, Khüchüleg pointed out, from the domains of the Uighurs north of the Tian Shan around Beshbaliq to the Seven Rivers region south of Lake Balkash, the broken shards of the tribes who had escaped from the domination of Chingis Khan on the Mongolian Plateau were now roaming leaderless. Khüchüleg, the son of a former khan in Mongolia and thus still a man of some standing among the peoples of the Mongolian Plateau, now offered to rally these diverse tribesmen, exiles in foreign and unfriendly lands, under his own command and then place them in the service of the Gür Khan. According to Juvaini: 
If I receive permission, I will collect them altogether, and with the help of these people will assist and support the gür-khan. I shall not deviate from the path he prescribes and . . . I shall not twist my neck from the fulfillment of whatever he commands. 
The Khara Khitai leader readily acceded to this scheme and was apparently overjoyed with this seemingly powerful ally he had gained, showering him with robes of honor and other gifts and awarding him with a new title of Khan. And if we are to believe Rashid al-Din, the Gür Khan’s daughter Qunqu was smitten with Khüchüleg almost at first sight, and three days after the initial meeting they were married. In the thrall of his initial enthusiasm the Gür Khan was unaware that he let a viper into his nest and that Khüchüleg’s promises meant nothing. As Juvaini ruefully notes, “By such deceitful blandishments he cast the gür-khan into the well of vainglory.”

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Tatatunga | Mongolian Script

The Final Battle With The Naiman did have one unexpected consequence. Found wandering around the field of battle was a well-dressed man who appeared to be armed only with wooden pens. He also had in his possession the official seals of Tayang Khan. Taken before Chingis himself, he explained that he had been the Naiman ruler’s personal scribe and seal bearer. His name was Tatatunga and he was a Uighur originally from Uighuristan. He had been hired by the Naiman as a scribe and court intellectual. He apparently spoke the Naiman language, whatever that might have been, and presumably he knew at least some Mongolian. Chingis was always quick to utilize the talents of those caught up in his dragnets. Soon realizing how Tatatunga’s particular skills might be used, he set him the task of developing a script for the Mongol language, which up until then did not have a writing system. This Tatatunga proceeded to do, adapting his own vertical Uighur script to the peculiarities of Mongolian. The Uighur script itself was based on that of the Sogdians, the merchants who for almost a thousand years had dominated trade on the Silk Road. The resulting Uighuro-Mongolian Script would remain the standard writing system among Mongols up until the twentieth century, when it was finally replaced with the Cyrillic script, and as the twenty-first century dawns it is experiencing somewhat of a revival. 

Tatatunga was also tasked with teaching selected members of the Mongolian upper crust to read and write; Shigikhutag, whose name has been mentioned several times already, was reportedly one of his first students. After the Uighurs recognized the suzerainty of the Mongols still more Uighur intellectuals, teachers, and tutors came to Mongolia, creating the basis of a Mongol literate class that grew up amidst the court of Chingis Khan. Some member of this group (as mentioned, Shigikhutag has been cited, rightly or wrongly, as a candidate) went on to write the Secret History of the Mongols in 1228, just twenty-four years after Tatatunga had been captured, although some portions may have been written later. Thus this Uighur scribe who fell into Chingis’s hands after the defeat of the Naiman would have an incalculable effect on Mongolian history. 
Mongol Script by Calligraphy Artist Sarantuya. The text reads  "First Bogd Gegeen - Zanabazar". Also see Mongolian Calligraphy

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mongolia | Bogd Khan Winter Palace Museum

Rain had been falling on and off most of the night. When I arose at 4:30 there was a brief lull, but by the time I had finished my orisons at 5:30 a steady pounding of precipitation could be heard on the hard ground outside my hovel. Bogd Khan Mountain to the south was lost in banks of fog. About mid-morning the rain began to taper off. By noon it was a slow drizzle and the fog had broken into streamers which twisted and curled over the ridges of Bogd Khan Mountain. Usually on rainy afternoons like this I like to Drink Shan Ling Xi Ooolong Tea and daydream about Kuchean Dancing Girls

Today I had to meet a friend of mine at the Bogd Khan Winter Palace Museum. I had not been there for several years, in fact not since the ceremonial gateway to the main temple complex had undergone a major facelift. There were several tourist buses outside in the parking lot and the lady at the door tried to make me buy a ticket, but I explained that I had some important business to discuss with my friend, who works for the museum as an historical consultant, and she let me in for free. I was early and my friend was a bit late, so I spent an enjoyable half-hour wandering around the grounds in the slight drizzle. 
 The Eighth Bogd Gegeen’s Winter Palace, now a museum
The recently restored front gate to the temple complex
Doors of the Front Gate
Detail of door panel 
 Detail of door panel 
 Dragons and Deer on the roof
Deer and the Wheel of Dharma
 Dragon
 One of the Guardian in the entrance way to the temples
Main Temple
My friend finally came and we retired to the office of the museum’s director, O. Mendsaikhan, located in the back of the temple complex, behind the main Laviran Temple. We were sitting there when Batsaikhan, the author of The Bodgo Jebtsundamba Khutukutu: The Last King of Mongolia, came strolling in, accompanied by a woman and a young man. Batsaikhan is a professional historian I have met on various occasions and we all chatted for a bit. Then he said, “Oh, I would like you to meet someone. This woman’s name is Shurentsetseg. She is the granddaughter of the Eighth Bogd Gegeen, and this young man is her son.” I must admit I was taken back. The Eighth Bogd Gegeen had official consorts I knew but I had never before heard that he had children. Upon further questioning it turned out she was the daughter of one the Bogd Gegeen’s adopted children. Apparently he had adopted three children. Thus he was not her biological grandfather, but her grandfather by law nevertheless. In any case, Batsaikhan was here at the museum to prepare a documentary about Shurentsetseg which is going to be shown on Mongolian TV.
Shurentsetseg (Coral Flower), daughter of the 8th Bogd Gegeen’s adopted child.
Shurentsetseg
Shurentsetseg’s grandfather, the 8th Bogd Gegeen

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Khüchüleg and the Naiman

While Events Played Out In Otrār yet other drama were unfolding high up in the hidden recesses of the Pamir Mountains on the southern edge of Inner Asia. Situated at the convergence of five other great mountains ranges—the Tian Shan, Kun Lun, Himalaya, Hindu Kush, and Karakoram—the range is often referred to as the Pamir Knot, the nexus which ties all the other ranges together. 
The Pamir Knot from south of Kashgar. This is right where the Kun Lun and the Pamir ranges come together. 
Although much of the range consists high, grassy plateaus, it also lays claim to some of the world’s highest summits, including 24,590-foot Ismoili Somoni Peak, 23,310-foot Evgenia Korjenevskaya Peak, and 23,406-foot Peak Lenin. Some geographers also include 24,757-foot Muztagh-Ata in the Pamirs, although most consider it part of the Kun Luns. 
24,757-foot Muztagh-Ata 
Indeed, the exact boundaries of the range are unclear, but much of it would appear to be in current-day Tajikistan, and smaller portions in China (Xinjiang Province), Afghanistan, and Pakistan. An ancient southern extension of the Silk Road ran from Kashgar, at the western end of the Tarim Basin, over the Pamirs to India (now Pakistan). The modern Karakoram Highway, one of the highest roads in the world, now follows much the same route. Here, on what Tajiks call Bom-i-Dunyo, the Roof of the World, a confrontation that began in far-off north-central Mongolia fourteen years earlier finally reached its denouement. The main players in this drama were Jebe, one of Chingis Khan’s most famous generals, and a Naiman chieftain by the name of Khüchüleg. 

The Naiman was one of the most powerful tribes in Mongolia in the latter half of the twelfth century when Chingis Khan and his own tribe were on the ascendency, and they would prove to be one of his most formidable opponents. Their territories extended from the valley of the Orkhon River in central Mongolia south and west to the Altais and included much of central and and western modern-day Mongolia. Their name naiman means “eight” in Mongolian, perhaps indicating the number of sub-tribes or clans which made up the tribe as a whole. Whether they were a Turkic or a Mongolic people is uncertain. Up until 1175 they were vassals of the Khara Khitai off to the west, but later recognized the suzerainty of the Jin Emperor, who awarded their leader with the title of Tayang (taiwang = Great King) Khan. They aspired to some level of cultural and no doubt considered themselves superior to the Mongols of Chingis Khan. In a famous passage in the Secret History, the Tayang Khan’s wife, Gürbesü, (she had started out as his stepmother but after the death of her husband married her stepson) spoke of the Mongols thus: 
They stink and their clothes are filthy. They live at a great distance from us. Let them stay where they are. But perhaps we can bring their neat daughters-in-law and girls here. We will make them wash their hands and feet. Then they can milk our cows and sheep.
These were words which she would live to regret. 

At least some among the Naiman practiced Nestorian Christianity. This branch of the Christian faith, deemed heretical by the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD, gravitated eastward to escape persecution and eventually become known as the Church of the East. Although little remembered now, it was once widespread throughout Inner and East Asia and exerted considerable influence. Following the great trade routes east Nestorian Christianity reaching Xian, the main eastern terminus of Silk Road, no later than the 780s (see the Nestorian Stele in Xian). It eventually seeped northward across the Gobi Desert and onto the Mongolian Plateau, where it found adherents among the Keraits, whose leader Tooril was Chingis’s early patron, and their bitter enemies the Naiman. Khüchüleg, son the Tayang Khan, would himself profess to Christianity, although there was little if anything in his tumultuously violent life to indicate that he ever practiced any of its tenets. 

The events leading up to the showdown between the Naiman and Chingis Khan are beyond the scope of this narrative. Suffice it to say that by 1204 the long festering conflict had come to a head. Jamukha, the chieftain of the Jadirat and Chingis’s bosum buddy from his younger days (according to the Secret History they had “swore their brotherhood and love for one another” and at night “slept under the same quilt.”) and now his bitter enemy threw in his lot with the Naiman, as did Togtoga Beki of the Merkits. Chingis held a special animus for the Merkits, since they had once kidnapped his wife Börte, and when Chingis finally managed to retrieve her she was pregnant. It was widely rumored that Chingis’s oldest son Jochi had been actually been sired by a Merkit. Thus there was bad blood between Chingis and Merkits. 

The Mongols were highly outnumbered by the Naiman and their allies, but while camped on the Saar Steppe Chingis had each of his men build five campgrounds at some distance to each other. Naiman watchmen from the top of Azgart Khairkhan Mountain, overlooking the Saar Steppe, said to each other, “Did we say the Mongols are few? . . . Daily they appear to grew in numbers. There are now more fires than stars.” Hearing this, Tayang Khan concluded that he was facing an immense army. A weak and indecisive man totally in the sway of his domineering ex-stepmother-now-wife Gürbesü, Tayang Khan quickly lost all heart for confronting the Mongols directly. Instead he proposed a retreat south to the Altai Mountains where the Naiman army could then turn on the Mongols and engage them after they had exhausted themselves in the chase. He presented this as the tried and true tactic of the “feigned retreat”, but his own son Khüchüleg and other army commanders interpreted it as cowardice. Upon hearing of his father’s plans Khüchüleg exclaimed: 
Old Woman Tayang again! He must have lost his courage to utter such words . . . Tayang, who has never dared venture further afield that a pregnant woman would go to urinate, nor even a calf to graze.
A Naiman military commander chimed in: “Had we expected that you were such a coward, we would have done better to send for Mother Gürbesü and, although she is only a woman, given her command of the army . . . You are stupid, Tayang. It is all over, you have failed.” 
The Saar Steppe, with Azgart Khairkhan Mountain in the distance
The summit of Azgart Khairkhan Mountain
Overruled and held in contempt by his son and army commanders, Tayang Khan had no choice but to stand and confront the Mongols. “A dying life, a suffering body—they are common to all men. Given it is so, let us fight,” he fatalistically concluded. The ever-vacillating Jamukha, perhaps still in his heart enamored of Chingis, the companion of his youth, deserted the Tayang Khan at the last moment, compounding the Naiman ruler’s predicament. The by-then thoroughly demoralized Naiman sought the high ground of a mountain know as Tuleet Uul in current-day Arkhangai Aimag, where they were quickly surrounded by the Mongol army. They tried a nighttime breakout, but according to the Secret History:
They rolled down from the summit, piling on top of another. Their bones were smashed and fell to pieces, like rotten logs; thus they died. 
Tuleet Uul, where the Naiman rolled down like rotten logs

The Naiman were thoroughly routed. Tayang was caught and executed without further ado. His wife Gürbesü was taken prisoner and brought before Chingis. “Did you not say that we Mongols have a bad smell? So why have you come now?” he chided her. He then made her one of his wives. History is silent about what they said to each other on their wedding night. His son Khüchüleg and a band of his close followers did manage to break out of the Mongol cordon and escape. It would be another fourteen years before the Chingis’s general Jebi would finally track him down in the high Pamirs.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mongolia | Zaisan Tolgoi | Summer Solstice

As most of you know, the Summer Solstice is rapidly approaching. Here in Mongolia it occurs on Wednesday, June 22 at 1:17 in the morning. The sun will rise at 4:53 and set at 8:55, making for a day of  16 hours, 2 minutes, and 3 seconds. 

The Solstice is of course a big day for Pagans and we can expect a replay of the usual Lalapolooza at Stonehenge. The ancient Romans too made a big deal of the Solstice and the Roman Emperor Hadrian even lined up the buildings of his villa in accordance with the Solstice:
Hadrian's villa 30 kilometres east of Rome was a place where the Roman Emperor could relax in marble baths and forget about the burdens of power. But he could never completely lose track of time, says Marina De Franceschini, an Italian archaeologist who believes that some of the villa's buildings are aligned so as to produce sunlight effects for the seasons. For centuries, scholars have thought that the more than 30 buildings at Hadrian's palatial country estate were oriented more or less randomly. But De Franceschini says that during the summer solstice, blades of light pierce two of the villa's buildings. In one, the Roccabruna, light from the summer solstice enters through a wedge-shaped slot above the door and illuminates a niche on the opposite side of the interior (see image). And in a temple of the Accademia building, De Franceschini has found that sunlight passes through a series of doors during both the winter and summer solstices.
I must thank the Mesopotamian, who it appears will be celebrating the Solstice, for pointing this out (also see the Mesopotamian’s Take on the recent Syrian Gay Girl blogger fiasco).

This year I will not be celebrating the Solstice, as I often do, at the Summit of Bogd Khan Mountain. I may venture up to the top of Zaisan Tolgoi. I will not be engaging in any Bacchanalias, however. Zaisan Tolgoi is not the Rambles in Central Park and Ulaanbaatar is not Manhattan or Richmond, Virgina. Instead, I will limit myself to Orisons suitable for the somber times in which we live. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Afghanistan | Kabul Perspective

I have never been in Afghanistan and know little about what is going there. In an effort to fill in this lacuna I do read Kabul Perspective by Abbas Daiyar. Mr. Daiyar spends a lot of time in Mongolia and I happen to know him. He is currently in Afghanistan where he was born and grew up and where his family still lives. From the quality of his writing you might assume he is a well-seasoned, gray-bearded journalist. Actually, he is in his already well-seasoned early twenties and beardless.  He also writes for CNNWorld and numerous other outlets. If you want a view of what is going on in Afghanistan from someone who actually lives there he is an excellent source. He also has a Mongolian-Themed Blog.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Catastrophe at Otrār

The governor of Otrār was a man named Inalchuq, the nephew of the Khwarezmshah’s mother, Turkān-Khātün. Perhaps because of his close relations with the Shah’s family he had been granted the lofty title of Gāyer Khan. Although accounts maintain that all 450 of the traders sponsored by the Mongols were Muslims, a Hindu merchant from India had also managed to attach himself to the caravan. This man had met Inalchuq previously, before he had become the Gāyer Khan and the governor of Otrār, and apparently he had not been impressed. Now this Indian merchant, who was in Juvaini’s words, “rendered proud by reason of the power and might of his own Khan [Chingis]”, addressed his old acquaintance in a condescending manner, calling him by his common name of Inalchuq instead of by his title. The proud governor was infuriated by the Indian’s haughty, patronizing behaviour, and Juvaini insinuates that he used this incident as a pretext to put the entire trade mission under house arrest and confiscate their merchandize. Other sources say nothing about the Indian merchant and say simply that Gāyer Khan coveted their merchandize and soon concocted an excuse to seize it. He decided that the merchants were in fact spies and then fired off a letter to the Khwarezmshah in which he accused them of engaging in espionage. 

Of course it might be said that all traders at that time were engaged in intelligence gathering. This may not have been limited to strictly commercial matters such as the price and supply of goods in the marketplace. They would have also gathered information about political events, gossip about rulers and court factions, the morale of the populace and any discontent with local rule, and other social factors which might have had an effect on trade and the markets and thus be of legitimate concern to merchants. Whether any members of the trading mission in Otrār crossed the line between this kind of information gathering and hard-core espionage is hard to say. Also, as one historian points out, “Those sent by Genghis Khan [sic] would have spread stories about the power of the Mongol leader and the invincibility of this armies; they would have described the fearful fate which awaited those who resisted him; but also sung the praises of his generosity and his tolerance in religious matters.” Again, whether the merchants were actually engaging in this kind of propagandizing is unknown. In any case, Gāyer Khan forwarded his suspicions about the trade mission to the Khwarezmshah. 

The Sultan was predisposed to believe the accusations put forth by the governor of Otrār. He himself had dispatched an Embassy To Chingis Khan shortly after the fall of the Qin capital in 1215 which was an intelligence gathering effort to sound out the strengths and weaknesses of the Mongol conqueror. And he had just managed to suborn one of Chingis’s ambassadors, turning him into a double agent. Thus the ever-suspicious Sultan might well have assumed that the trade mission then in Otrār had been sent to spy on him and foment discontent in his domains. And even its stated purpose, the pursuit of trade between the Khwarazm Empire and the Mongol Realm, did not coincide with the interests the Sultan, who clearly viewed Chingis Khan as his rival for power in Central and East Asia. The Sultan decided to send a clear and unmistakable message about his views on peace and trade with the Mongols. 

There are several versions of who was accountable for what happening next. Juvaini and Rashid al-Din imply that the Khwarezmshah himself gave the order to execute all the merchants and seize their property. Juvaini: 
Without pausing to think the Sultan sanctioned the shedding of their blood and deemed the seizure of their goods to be lawful, not knowing that his own life would become unlawful, nay a crime, and that the bird of his prosperity would be lopped of feather and wing . . . 
Another source adds that he then claimed all the stolen goods for himself. Nasawi, on the other hand, states that the Sultan did not explicitly order the execution of the merchants but left the decision up to Gāyer Khan. In any case, the Sultan condoned the confiscation of their merchandize, which was then divided between Gāyer Khan and himself. According to yet another account the Khwarezmshah sold his share of the loot to merchants in Bukhara, who then offered it for sale to the general public. As Barthold points out, “It is very likely that the sale of the merchandize to the merchants (with a profit to them) was partly due to the desire to compensate them for the cessation of trade with the nomads,” which would be the inevitable result of the Sultan’s actions. 

One the merchants, according to Juvaini (another source said it was a camel driver and not a merchant) did manage to escape the slaughter. “He set his face to road” and managed to return to Mongolia where he informed Chingis Khan of the fate of the trade mission. According to the accepted norms of relations between states at the time Chingis would have been fully justified to declare war against the Khwarezmshah at this point. Instead, he decided to send a three-man embassy to the court of the Sultan to lodge a protest against the murder of the merchants and the confiscation of their goods and exact compensation. Upon his arrival in the Sultan’s capital the leader of the embassy, Ibn Kafraj Bugrā, like the murdered traders a Muslim himself, handed him an ultimatum from Chingis: 
You have, by signing our accord, pledged yourself to protect the merchants and not to harm them; but you have acted faithlessly and broken your word. Disloyalty is disgraceful, especially disgraceful in the case of a sultan of Islam. If, however, you maintain that Inal-khan’s [Gayar Khan] deed was not carried out at your behest, then hand Inal-khan over to me so that we may punish him for his crime, thus reassuring the masses and preventing the spilling a blood. Otherwise it is war . . . 
If indeed the Shah had ordered the massacre of the merchants he could not now claim that it was all Gāyer Khan’s fault, nor could he hand over Gāyer Khan, his mother’s nephew, without causing an uproar among his relatives, who commanded important segments of his army. And the accusation that his actions were disgraceful according to the tenets of Islam must have stung, coming as they did from someone he viewed as an idolator. As he had intimated earlier in his message to Jochi, the Sultan believed that Allah Himself had ordered him to fight the Mongols, who now were clearly vying with him for control of Islamic Inner Asia, and he was not about to accommodate the demands of an infidel like Chingis who he believed practiced shirk (polytheism). Instead, he ordered the execution of Ibn Kafraj Bugrā and had the beards shaved off of his two companions, a grievous insult according to the morés of the time and place. Perhaps Chingis knew along the terms of his ultimatum would be unacceptable to the Sultan and that the embassy to be rebuffed. But as Juvaini pointed out, ““he who warneth hath an excuse.’” Chingis had warned the Sultan, and war was now inevitable. 

When word got back to Mongolia about the fate of his envoys Chingis Khan was enraged. According to Juvaini: 
These tidings had such an effect upon the Khan's mind that the control of repose and tranquillity was removed, and the whirlwind of anger cast dust into the eyes of patience and clemency while the fire of wrath flared up with such a flame that it drove the water from his eyes and could be quenched only by the shedding of blood. In this fever Chingiz Khan went up alone to the summit of a hill, bared his head, turned his face towards the earth and for three days and nights offered up prayer, saying: 'I was not the author of this trouble, grant me strength to exact revenge. 
It will be remembered that he had also retreated to the summit of a mountain and prayed for success before he rode south to attack the Jin Dynasty. Having descended from the mountain again Chingis Khan was now determined to ride west. 

Juvaini would live to see the sack of Baghdad and the destruction of the 508 year-old Abbasid Caliphate forty years later, in 1258, by Chingis’s grandson Khülügü, the ultimate outcome of Chingis’ decision to ride west and attack the Islamic world. Thus he had the advantage of hindsight when he made his pronouncement about the fatal consequences of the deaths of the traders at Otrār:
Ghayir-Khan in executing his [the Khwarezmshah’s] command deprived these men of their lives and possessions, nay rather he desolated and laid waste a whole world and rendered a whole creation without home, property or leaders. For every drop of their blood there flowed a whole Oxus; in retribution for every hair on their heads it seemed that a hundred thousand heads rolled in the dust at every crossroad; and in exchange for every dinar a thousand qintars were exacted.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mongolia | Chingis Rides West | Silk Road City of Otrār

Today there is no city known as Otrār, and very few people have even heard of the Otrār which flourished back at the beginning of the thirteen century. The scattered ruins of this once-sizable metropolis which still do exist turn up on the itineraries of only the most determined tourists who venture into what is now southern Kazakhstan. Yet when the Mongol-Sponsored Caravan of 450 Muslim Traders turned up at its gates in 1218 it was one of the most famous trade centers in Inner Asia and renowned for its arts and crafts and the intellectual accomplishments of its citizens. The caravan men were no doubt looking forward to resting in the city’s well-appointed caravanserais and refreshing themselves in its famous bathhouses. Little did they know that the events which soon overwhelmed them would, in the words of nineteenth-century Orientalist E. G. Browne, trigger: 
. . . a catastrophe which, though probably quite unforeseen, even on the very eve of its incidence, changed the face of the world, set in motion forces which are still effective, and inflicted more suffering on the human race than any other event in the world’s history which records are preserved to us; I mean the Mongol Invasion. 
Browne, who translated into English many of the thirteen-century documents which recorded the Mongol irruption, may from the vantage point of the twenty-first century sound overwrought here, but his appraisal did contain a kernel of truth. The events which followed in the wake of the calamity at Otrār did rock all of Inner Asia, led to the fall of at least two empires, and inflicted on the entire Islamic geosphere a blow from which some might argue it has never fully recovered. 

Otrār was located on the north bank of the middle stretches of the Syr Darya River (the Jaxartes of Classical Antiquity) near its confluence with the Arys River, about 105 miles northwest of the current-day city of Shymkent in Kazakhstan. It was situated just west of the so-called Zhetysu, or Seven Rivers, Region, an area which included the watersheds of the Talas, Ili, Chu, and other rivers in eastern current-day Kazakhstan and western China (Xinjiang Province) which flowed into either Lake Alakol or Lake Balkash or petered out into the barren desert-steppes to the west. Much later this area would become known as Semireche, Russian for “Seven Rivers”. As one geographer points out, “Semireche is an area where sedentaries and nomads have met at various points in history—coexisting, overlapping, or competing—because it lends itself to both ways of life . . .” 

Otrār’s location on the boundaries of vast Kazakh Steppe to the north and the fertile valleys of Transoxiana to the south made it natural entrepôt for trade between these two divergent cultures. It was also at the nexus of several east-west trending Silk Road trading. One branch of the Silk Road went east along the Arys to Taraz and Balasagun (current-day Tolmak in Kyrgystan). From here a southern branch went on over the Tian Shan Mountains to Aksu (in current-day Xinjiang Province, China), on the Silk Road route that ran along the northern side of the vast Tarim Basin and on through the Gansu Corridor into northern China. From Balasagun a northern branch proceeded up the valley of the Ili River and over the spurs of the Borohogo Shan Range to the Zungarian Basin on the north side of the Tian Shan. From here routes went to both Mongolia and China. Another route followed the Syr Darya to Shash (modern-day Tashkent) and then versed southwest to Merv (Mary) in current-day Turkmenistan and Nishapur in what was in the thirteen century known as Khorasan, now western Iran. From here various routes continued on the Mediterranean. The road west from Otrār followed the Syr Darya to the Aral Sea before continuing on to the Caspian Steppe Straddling The Volga River. From the old city of Xacitarxan on the Volga, just upstream from Modern-Day Astrakhan, branches led north up the Volga into Kievan Russia and east to the Black Sea, where land and water routes continued on to Istanbul, the main western terminus of the Silk Road. On this vast network of trade routes moved a wealth of various fabrics and textiles, leather, furs, porcelain, pottery, salt, spices, honey, jade and precious stones, musk, herbal medicines, weapons, slaves, and much else. By attempting to open trade with Otrār Chingis Khan hoped to gain access to the rest of the world. 

The Silk Road trade had made Otrār a rich and influential city. It had its own mint, the coins of which now grace museums, was famous for its locally produced pottery, including beautifully decorated bowls, and boasted of one of the biggest libraries of Inner Asia, with a collection of over 33,000 items, including such exotica as Babylonian clay tablets and Egyptian papyrus scrolls which had somehow found their way hither. The library also contained the works of the city’s most famous intellectual, Abu Naṣr Moḥammad Fārābi (died c. 950), a polymathic Philosopher, mathematician, linguist, poet, and composer who was called “the Second Teacher” by his students, meaning that he played second fiddle only to Aristotle. He is also credited with heavily influencing Abū Alī Sīnā, a.k.a. Avicenna (c. 980–1037) perhaps the greatest Medieval Islamic philosopher, who was born near Bukhara, also in the Khwarezmshah’s domains. 

By the early thirteen-century the city consisted of the triangular-shaped Ark, or citadel, located within the tightly packed Shahristan (walled inner city). The Shahristan itself was in the shape of a pentagon and covered about 200,000 square meters, or about fifty acres The city was famous for its baths and most homes were served by a city-wide sewage system. The big Friday mosque was also probably within the Shahristan. Surrounding the Shahristan was the Rabad, or trade quarter, which was also walled. Covering some 420 acres, it contained the extensive markets and caravanserais connected with Silk Road trade, local bazaars, craft shops, and low-class residential areas. The medieval Arabic historian Moqaddasi claimed the city had 70,000 inhabitants, but at least one modern historican has opined that this was a misprint and that he must have meant 7,000. In any case, numerous small towns and villages in the immediate environs of the city contributed to a sizable urban conurbation.