Hulagu Khan: Conqueror Of The Islamic World

Hulagu Khan, a key figure in Mongol Empire history, had an everlasting effect on the world via his military conquests and political influence. His exploits throughout the 13th century, notably in the Middle East, permanently transformed the region’s geopolitical environment.

Hulagu Khan was a notable Mongol leader who lived from 1217 until February 8, 1265. He came from a noble family, being the son of Tolui and the Kerait princess Sorghaghtani Beki. He was Genghis Khan’s grandson, as well as the brother of Arik Boke, Mongke, and Kublai Khan.

The Mongol army had amazing success under Hulagu’s guidance, particularly in the southern regions. They founded the Ilkhanate of Persia, the forerunner of the Safavid Dynasty and, eventually, the current nation of Iran. Hulagu’s leadership resulted in the devastation of Baghdad, long the heart of Islamic authority, as well as a huge blow to Damascus, resulting in a dramatic shift in Islamic dominance towards the Mamluks in Cairo.

Also Read: Famous Mongolian Leaders: Century-Long Dynasty

Hulagu’s Family Background and Religious Affiliation

Hulagu’s ancestors were Tolui, a descendant of Genghis Khan, and Sorghaghtani Beki, a notable Kerait princess famed for her deft maneuvering in Mongol affairs. Sorghaghtani engineered the emergence of all her sons in Mongol leadership posts. Hulagu, in particular, had a positive attitude toward Christianity, which he owed to his mother’s Nestorian faith.

Hulagu’s beloved wife, Dokuz Khatun, converted to Christianity, as did his close friend and commander, Kitbuqa. Hulagu claimed to have identified as a Christian since his infancy in a chat with the Armenian historian Vardan Arewelc’i in 1264. However, historical sources indicate that as he neared the end of his life, he converted to Buddhism, which went against the desires of his Christian wife, Dokuz Khatun.

Hulagu’s three offspring, Abaqa, Taraqai’s son Baydu, and Teguder Ahmad, all played important roles in history. Abaqa, the second Ilkhan of Persia from 1265 to 1282; Taraqai, whose son Baydu subsequently succeeded him as Ilkhan in 1295; and Teguder Ahmad, the third Ilkhan from 1282 to 1284.

Hulagu’s Family

Hulagu Khan had a big family of wives and concubines, from whom he produced at least 21 children:

Principal Wives

1. Guyuk Khatun (died in Mongolia prior to arriving in Iran) — daughter of the Oirat tribe, Toralchi Guregen, and Checheikhen Khatun.

2. Jumghur (died on the trip to Iran in the 1270s).

3. Bulughan agha — married Jorma Guregen, son of Jochi (Tatar tribe, Nukdan Khatun’s brother), and Chechagan Khatun, daughter of Temuge (Otchi Noyon).

4. Qutui Khatun — daughter of the Khongirad tribe’s Chigu Noyan and Tumelun behi (daughter of Genghis Khan and Borte).

5. Takshin (died on September 12, 1270, due to urine incontinence).

6.  Tekuder (c. 1246-1284).

7.  Todogaj Khatun — initially married to Tengiz Guregen, then to his son Sulamish, and ultimately to Chichak, Sulamish’s son.

8. Yesunchin Khatun (died in January/February 1272) – a Suldus tribal lady.  Abaqa (1234-1282).

9. Dokuz Khatun, widow of Tolui and daughter of Uyku (son of Toghrul).

10. Oljei Khatun – Guyuk’s half-sister, the daughter of Toralchi Guregen of the Oirat clan.

11. Mongke Temur (born October 23, 1256; died April 26, 1282).

12. Jamai Khatun—following the death of her sister Bulughan, she married Jorma Guregen.

13. Manggugan Khatun — first married to her cousin Chakar Guregen (son of Buqa Timur and nephew of Oljei Khatun), then to Taraghai, his son.

14. Baba Khatun is the wife of Lagzi Guregen, the son of Arghun Aqa.


1. Nogachin Aghchi, a Cathay lady from the Qutui Khatun camp.

2. Yoshmut is the Viceroy of Arran and Shirvan.

3. Tubshin — During Abaqa’s reign, he was the Viceroy of Khorasan.

4. Tuqtani (or Toqiyatai) Egechi (died on February 20, 1292)—Irinjin’s sister and Dokuz Khatun’s niece.

5. Boraqchin Agachi, from the Qutui Khatun camp.

6. Taraghai (died in the 1260s owing to a lightning strike on the way to Iran).

7. Baydu.

8. Eshil—first married to Tuq Temur, then to his brother (son of Abdullah Aqa, an Abaqa commander).

9. Arighan Agachi (died on February 8, 1265)—daughter of Tengiz Guregen; from the Qutui Khatun camp.

10. Ajai (died in February 1265) – Viceroy of Anatolia during the reign of Abaqa and of Georgia under the reign of Arghun.

11. Ghazan executed Ildar in 1296.

12. Ajuja Agachi, a Chinese or Khitan lady from Dokuz Khatun’s camp.

13. Qonqurtai (executed by Tekuder on January 18, 1284).

14. Yeshichin Agachi, a Kur’luut ethnic lady from the camp of Qutui Khatun.

15. Yesuder was the Viceroy of Khorasan during the reign of Abaqa.

16. A daughter (married to Noqai Yarghuchi’s son, Esen Buqa Guregen).

17. Khabash is a posthumous son.

18. El Agachi — a Khongirad tribal lady from Dokuz Khatun’s camp.

19. Hulachu (killed by Arghun in October 1289).

20. Suleiman (killed alongside his father).

21. Kuchuk (died in childhood after a protracted illness).

22. Khoja (died as an infant).

23. Qutluq Buqa (died as an infant).

24. There are three girls.

25. Shiba’uchi (died in the winter of 1282).

26. Irqan Agachi (unknown tribe).

27. Taraghai Khatun was 27 years old when he married Taghai Timur (renamed Musa) of Khongirad (son of Shigu Guregen) and Temulun Khatun (daughter of Genghis Khan).

28. Mangligach Agachi (unknown tribe).

29. Qutluqqan Khatun—married twice, first to Yesu Buqa Guregen, son of Urughtu Noyan of the Dorben tribe, and later to Tukel, son of Yesu Buqa.

30. A concubine from Qutui Khatun’s camp:

  • Toqai Timur (deceased in 1289).
  • Qurumushi.
  • Hajji.

Early Life and Rise to Power of Hulagu Khan

Hulagu Khan was born in 1217 to Tolui, Genghis Khan’s fourth son. Hulagu was exposed to the military power and strategic acumen that distinguished his family’s reputation as a child growing up under the strong Mongol Empire. After his brother Mongke died in 1255, Hulagu was given a huge mission: to push Mongol authority westward.

The Conquest of the Islamic World

Hulagu’s most significant campaign was his unwavering march into Islamic territory. His armies besieged Baghdad in 1258, a city venerated as the cultural and intellectual core of the Islamic Caliphate. The sacking of Baghdad that followed had disastrous effects on the Islamic culture, resulting in enormous loss of life and cultural value.

This conquest was a watershed moment in history, as it brought an end to the Abbasid Caliphate, which had ruled for over five centuries. The triumph of Hulagu in Baghdad marked the end of the Islamic Golden Age and the beginning of Mongol domination in the Middle East.

Military Campaigns

Hulagu’s brother Mongke came to the throne of Great Khan in 1251. Four years later, in 1255, Mongke tasked Hulagu with heading a powerful Mongol force to capture or demolish the surviving Muslim nations in southwestern Asia.

Hulagu’s campaign aimed to bring the Lurs, a southern Iranian people, under Mongol authority to eradicate the Hashshashin sect, to force the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad to submit or face destruction, to achieve the same with the Ayyubid states in Syria centred in Damascus, and to eventually subjugate or obliterate the Bahri Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt.

Hulagu was ordered by Mongke to show mercy to those who surrendered while mercilessly annihilating those who resisted. Hulagu carried out the second portion of these orders with zeal. Hulagu dealt with the Lurs quickly, commanding an army that might have been the largest army to be collected in Mongol history (as commanded by Mongke).

The Assassins (also known as the Hashshashin) were so terrified of him that they surrendered their allegedly impenetrable castle of Alamut to him without a struggle.

Siege of Baghdad

Hulagu’s Mongol army began its attack on Baghdad in November 1257. Hulagu skillfully positioned his men on both the east and west banks of the Tigris River as they approached the city. He sought the city’s surrender, but Al-Musta’sim, the caliph, refused.

Treason in the Baghdad army, sponsored by the adviser Abu Alquma, triggered a rebellion and the start of the Siege of Baghdad. The Mongol soldiers burst dikes, flooding the land behind the caliph’s army and trapping them. This resulted in a tragic loss of life, as many people were either killed or drowned.

The Mongols launched their siege of the city on January 29, 1258, under the command of the Chinese commander Guo Kan. They built barricades, excavated a defensive trench, and brought in siege weapons like catapults. The siege, albeit brief by modern standards, was extremely effective. The Mongols had taken possession of a part of the city’s wall by February 5.

Despite the caliph’s best efforts, his prayers were ignored. Baghdad surrendered on the 10th of February. On February 13, the Mongols stormed the city, launching a week-long destructive rampage. The famed Grand Library of Baghdad, which held many priceless historical writings on various subjects, was destroyed. Mongol warriors apprehended and dealt with those who attempted to flee.

Estimated death tolls vary greatly and are difficult to verify. Conservative estimates place the death toll at roughly 90,000, while higher estimates vary from 200,000 to one million. The Mongols’ plundering and purposeful devastation were rampant. Mosques, palaces, libraries, and hospitals, all meticulously constructed over centuries, were turned to ashes.

The caliph was kidnapped while witnessing the killing of his citizens and pillaging of his treasure. While some tales, such as Marco Polo’s “Il Milione,” allege that Hulagu starved the caliph to death, there is little evidence to back up this assertion.

Most historians agree with the Mongol and Muslim tales that the caliph was brutally killed, wrapped up in a rug, and stomped by Mongol horses because they felt the touch of royal blood would offend the soil. All except one of his boys died in the same way. Baghdad, once a thriving metropolis, lay forlorn and in ruins for ages.

Smaller nations in the vicinity rushed to ally with Hulagu, causing the Mongols to shift their focus to Syria in 1259, eventually capturing the Ayyubid Empire and establishing advance patrols as far as Gaza. It’s worth mentioning that Hulagu was accompanied by a thousand squads of northern Chinese sappers during his Middle Eastern invasion.

Conquest of Syria

In 1260, Mongol soldiers joined forces with Christian allies in the region, notably Hethum I, King of Armenia, and his army from the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, as well as the Franks headed by Bohemond VI of Antioch. They successfully seized Muslim-held Syria from the Ayyubid monarchy. They besieged and took possession of Aleppo, and on March 1, 1260, they stormed Damascus under the command of the Christian leader Kitbuqa.

There are reports of a Christian Mass being celebrated in the Umayyad Mosque and several mosques being desecrated. While some historians, including David Morgan, have questioned this tale, many historical texts recount the Christian leaders Hethum, Bohemond, and Kitbuqa’s triumphal arrival in Damascus.

This invasion brought an end to the mighty Ayyubid dynasty, which had previously ruled over significant areas of the Levant, Egypt, and the Arabian Peninsula. Hulagu assassinated the final Ayyubid emperor, An-Nasir Yusuf, in the same year. With Baghdad in ruins and Damascus weakened, the center of Islamic power shifted to Cairo, the seat of the Mamluk sultanate.

Hulagu had intended to move armies south via Palestine and into Cairo. He sent a frightening letter to Cairo’s Mamluk Sultan Qutuz, asking that the city be ceded or meet the same fate as Baghdad.

Hulagu, however, moved his main army to Iran near Azerbaijan due to depleting supplies of food and fodder in Syria and the typical Mongol habit of transferring troops to cooler highlands for the summer. He left a troop of roughly 10,000 soldiers under Kitbuqa, as well as Armenian, Georgian, and Frankish volunteers, which he considered adequate.

Hulagu then traveled to Mongolia to take part in the imperial succession war following the death of Great Khan Mongke. When he learned of the diminished Mongol presence in the area, Qutuz quickly recruited a 20,000-strong force in Cairo and launched an attack on Palestine. In Syria, he established an alliance with fellow Mamluk commander Baybars, both motivated by a desire to safeguard his own future from the Mongols and seek vengeance for the seizure of Damascus, the destruction of Baghdad, and the conquest of Syria.

The Mongols attempted to form an alliance (or, at the very least, demand surrender) from the ruins of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, now headquartered in Acre. Pope Alexander IV, however, had condemned such a union. Tensions between the Franks and Mongols rose when Julian of Sidon was responsible for the murder of one of Kitbuqa’s grandchildren.

Kitbuqa fired Sidon in retaliation. When both the Mongols and the Mamluks sought the Barons of Acre for military assistance, they identified the Mongols as the more urgent danger. Instead of taking sides, the Crusaders preferred a careful neutrality between the two troops. They enabled the Egyptian Mamluks to march freely across Crusader territory, even allowing them to camp near Acre for replenishment.

Battle of Ain Jalut

When Sultan Qutuz and his men learned of the Mongols’ Jordan River crossing in 1260, they proceeded southeastward to the ‘Spring of Goliath’ (known in Arabic as ‘Ain Jalut’) in the Jezreel Valley. In the Battle of Ain Jalut, they faced an approximately 12,000-strong Mongol force engaged in hours of brutal warfare.

Baybars, the Mamluk leader, mostly used hit-and-run tactics to tempt the Mongol soldiers to pursue. Baybars and Qutuz had tactically positioned the majority of their men in the highlands, waiting for the Mongols to approach. Frustrated by Baybars and his men’s repeated avoidance, Mongol leader Kitbuqa resolved to pursue the retreating Egyptians with his entire army.

When the Egyptians reached the hills, they emerged from hiding, surrounding the Mongols, and attacked from the flanks, while Qutuz launched an attack on the Mongol rear. Estimates of the Egyptian army’s strength range from 24,000 to 120,000 men.

The Mongols managed to break away from the encirclement and even launched a brief counteroffensive, but their ranks were so weak that defeat was certain. The whole Mongol army left in the region, including Kitbuqa, died that day because they refused to submit. The Battle of Ain Jalut was a watershed moment in the Mongol conquest, setting a high point for their progress.

Civil War

Hulagu returned to his own territory in 1262, when the succession was determined and his brother Kublai Khan took over as Great Khan. Hulagu, intent on mounting an onslaught against Mamluks to revenge his defeat at Ain Jalut, became entangled in a civil war with Berke, Batu Khan’s brother.

Berke Khan, a convert to Islam and Genghis Khan’s grandson, desired vengeance for Hulagu’s assault on Baghdad and formed an alliance with the Mamluks. Nogai Khan undertook a series of major attacks on Hulagu’s lands as a result of this agreement. Hulagu suffered a major loss in a failed assault north of the Caucasus in 1263. This was the beginning of the first open battle between Mongol groups, heralding the disintegration of the once-unified empire.

Hulagu responded to his setback by killing Berke’s ortogh, causing Berke to do the same in return. Although Berke, a Muslim, was first hesitant to participate in conflict with Hulagu out of kinship with the Mongols, he eventually swore jihad owing to the economic hardship imposed on the Golden Horde by the Ilkhanate’s acts.

The Ilkhanids were accused of monopolizing North Iranian riches and demanding that the Golden Horde stop selling slaves to the Mamluks. “Mongols should not be slain by the swords of fellow Mongols,” Berke lamented. We could have conquered the entire planet if we had worked together.”

Also Read: Why Mongols Were So Successful: Decoding The Secrets

Communications with Europe

Hulagu’s mother, Sorghaghtani, expertly handled the Mongol Empire’s complex political terrain, engineering her sons’ elevation to positions of power. As a Christian of the Church of the East, also known as “Nestorianism,” Sorghaghtani’s influence extended to Hulagu, who was open to Christianity.

Hulagu’s favorite wife, Dokuz Khatun, and his closest friend and general, Kitbuqa, were both Christians. Hulagu sent multiple missives to Europe in an attempt to form a Franco-Mongol coalition against the Muslim army. In 1262, he entrusted his secretary, Rychaldus, and an emissary with communicating his word to “all kings and princes overseas.” Unfortunately, the mission appears to have been caught in Sicily by King Manfred, who was linked with the Mamluk Sultanate and opposed Pope Urban IV. As a result, Rychaldus was forced to return via ship.

On April 10, 1262, Hulagu sent a letter to Louis IX of France, which was brought by John the Hungarian, offering an alliance. The only surviving manuscript is in Vienna, Austria; hence, it is unknown whether this communication reached Louis IX in Paris. The letter expressed Hulagu’s desire to conquer Jerusalem for the benefit of the Pope and encouraged Louis to deploy a navy to attack Egypt.

Despite repeated attempts, Hulagu and his successors were only able to cement an alliance with Europe. Nonetheless, during the 13th century, Mongol culture acquired favor in the West. Names like Can Grande (“Great Khan”), Alaone (Hulagu), Argone (Arghun), and Cassano (Ghazan) were prevalent for births in Italy.

The Polos

Niccolo and Maffeo Polo are supposed to have travelled to the dominion of Hulagu, settling in and trading in the city of Bukhara, which is now located in modern-day Uzbekistan.

Their lifetimes covered the years 1261–1264. Following that, Niccolo and Maffeo joined forces with an embassy sent by Hulagu to his sibling, the famed Great Khan Kublai. By 1266, the Polos had landed in Khanbaliq, China, the centre of the Mongol Empire. It is thought that they stayed in the capital for a long time.

Then, in 1291, Kublai assigned them a unique mission: to accompany a 17-year-old princess called Kokachin to her planned groom, Hulagu’s grandson, Arghun Khan.

Tolerance and Administration

Surprisingly, despite his image as a fierce conqueror, Hulagu Khan exhibited a level of religious tolerance that was unusual for his period. He accepted other faiths and enabled the various communities under his reign to freely practice their own beliefs. This attitude stood in sharp contrast to the religious zealotry that sometimes accompanied victories at the time.

Hulagu also built a governance structure that mixed Mongol traditions with the administrative methods of the conquered countries. He depended on local officials to keep order and guarantee effective tax collection, allowing them some autonomy within the framework of the Mongol Empire.

Hulagu Khan and the Muslim World: A Complex Encounter of Empires

Hulagu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan and a great Mongol commander made an indelible imprint on history with his conquests and the foundation of the Ilkhanate. His relations with the Muslim world, on the other hand, reveal a complicated story that ranges from initial struggle to final absorption. This article dives into Hulagu’s essential role in influencing the Muslim world throughout the 13th century.

Hulagu Khan’s interactions with the Muslim world demonstrate the intricate interplay of empires, civilizations, and faiths. His conquests, albeit initially violent, eventually gave rise to a vibrant synthesis of Mongol and Islamic cultures. Hulagu Khan’s legacy lives on in the annals of history, having an indelible effect on the Muslim world.

Sacking of Baghdad

The sacking of Baghdad in 1258 is one of the key episodes in Hulagu Khan’s career. The Mongol attack decimated the Abbasid Caliphate, an intellectual and cultural powerhouse in the Islamic world. The destruction of the city, with its unrivaled libraries and study facilities, was a devastating blow to Islamic scholarship.

Theological and Cultural Encounters

The Mongols came into contact with numerous Islamic civilizations as a result of Hulagu’s conquests, resulting in a dynamic flow of ideas, technology, and customs. Initially seen as foreigners, the Mongols gradually assimilated parts of Islamic civilization, such as architecture, governance, and even Islam itself.

Religious Adaptation

Despite their original commitment to Shamanism, the Mongols demonstrated extraordinary religious adaptability. Hulagu’s conversion to Islam, while most likely a political decision to legitimize his power, indicated a dramatic shift in Mongol attitudes about religion. This conversion prepared the stage for a cosmopolitan civilization that combined parts of the Mongol and Islamic religious systems.

Political Fragmentation and Unity

Hulagu’s founding of the Ilkhanate restored a sense of political unity to a territory that had long been fractured. The Ilkhanate extended from Anatolia to Central Asia, solidifying Mongol territory. However, the eventual acceptance of Islam as the official religion, together with the incorporation of Persian administrative traditions, promoted a sense of belonging among the indigenous populace.

Sunni-Shi’a Dynamics

The religious identity of the Ilkhanate alternated between Sunni and Shi’a Islam. While initially Sunni, Hulagu’s successors, notably Ghazan Khan, turned to Shi’a Islam, which had a huge influence on the region’s religious environment. This move provided the framework for Twelver Shi’ism’s dominance in Iran, which continues to this day.

While the Ilkhanate finally fell apart, the legacy of Hulagu Khan’s authority remained. His dynasty’s contributions to Iran’s cultural and religious environment left an everlasting mark on the region’s Islamic history for generations to come.

Unification, Renaissance, and Cultural Shifts in Iran as Hulagu’s Legacy

Hulagu’s reign united a fractured Iran, bringing an end to centuries of political turmoil. It ruled over an era known as the Iranian Renaissance. Sunni and Shi’a Islam coexisted in the religious landscape, with the latter eventually becoming the state religion with the rise of the Safavid dynasty. Despite the Khanate’s final downfall, it offered a century of stability in the region from 1256 to 1353.

Iran had a renaissance during the Ilkhanate, which included a revival of the Persian language and culture. Persian supplanted Arabic as the predominant vehicle of communication and governance. This cultural resurgence, together with a renewed sense of pride in Iran’s historic past, played an important part in establishing the distinctive Iranian expression of Islam.

During Hulagu’s reign, one major movement was the shift of Iranian historians from writing in Arabic to writing in Persian. This revival of pride in Iran’s cultural past may have helped to distinguish Iranian Islam from that of the Arab world and later from that of the Ottoman Empire.

After three years in Hulagu’s dominion, Marco Polo and his uncle set out on a voyage via the Silk Road to the Court of the Great Khan in 1264. In this way, Hulagu contributed to the strengthening of linkages between European and Eastern civilizations.

The Death of Hulagu Khan

Hulagu Khan’s health deteriorated in January 1265, eventually leading to his death the following month on the placid banks of the Zarrineh River, known as Jaghatu at the time. Shahi Island, located amid the tranquil waters of Lake Urmia, was chosen as his ultimate resting place. This solemn event was notable in Ilkhanate history since it was the only burial to include the solemn ceremony of human sacrifice.

Despite efforts to find it, Hulagu Khan’s tomb remains cloaked in mystery, avoiding detection to this day. The mystery surrounding his final resting site continues to fascinate historians and archaeologists alike.


Hulagu Khan left an everlasting impression on history with his military skills and strategic ability. His victories changed the Middle East’s geopolitical landscape, creating a legacy that is still felt today. While his battles featured terrible fighting, Hulagu’s remarkable tolerance and organizational pragmatism demonstrated a sophisticated approach to administration.

His services to the Pax Mongolica and subsequent cultural interactions between East and West attest to this great conqueror’s continuing effect.


For what is Hulagu Khan Well-Known?

Hulagu (1217–Feb. 8, 1265) was a Mongol monarch in Iran who established the Il-Khanid dynasty and conquered and devastated Baghdad, the theological and cultural center of Islam, as part of a Mongol scheme of subduing the Islamic world.

Which Khan Conquered Baghdad?

Hulagu Khan, one of Genghis Khan’s grandchildren, commanded a nomadic army from Asia. The Mongols pummeled Baghdad, as they are famous for. Baghdad and its residents were completely and utterly defeated in 10 days of unrelenting murder and destruction in 1258.

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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