The Ilkhanid Rise and Fall
After Shayban’s horde proved insufficient to defeat the Seljuks, the sons of Tolui decided to attack it themselves; Mongke and Hulegu, allied with Shaiban and Batu, attacked the Sultanate in 1241. Great Khan Guyuk initially opposed the plan - or more precisely, his mother, and then his wife, who really made the decisions for the perennially sodden Guyuk, were against Mongke’s strength increasing as a result of conquest. However, in the end Mongke outmanoeuvered both and got Guyuk to give his permission. The 1241 campaign was a great success. Attacking with perhaps the largest Mongol army assembled to date - over 110,000 horsemen - under the leadership of Mongke and Hulegu, but most often commanded by Kitbogha, a Khitan Christian and close friend of Hulegu Khan, the Mongols drove the Seljuks hard, defeating them heavily at Mari (which they sacked brutally), Gurgan, Dayr i-Azam and finally Mosul. In 1244, as they were about to besiege Baghdad, Guyuk died and all princes of the blood rushed back to Karakorum for the kuriltai. Kitbogha, with barely thirty thousand men left, tried advancing into southern Syria but was stopped. The Seljuks used the breathing space to expand south into a weakened Jerusalem, taking the capital itself and restricting the Greeks to a thin coastal strip; then they pushed into Egypt, where, after Muslim victory over the Burgundian Crusaders, the victors fell to vicious infighting and were easily conquered or swayed to join the Sultan. The Ilkhan campaign did not resume until 1253, when Kitbogha was sent to pacify the Lurs, and then push towards Shiraz and the rich port of Ormuz. The Seljuk armies folded before him time and time again and victory looked assured, but Kitbogha’s stridently anti-Muslim attitude provoked a religious uprising lead by a nobleman turned cleric called al-Adib. The scope of the rebellion was unprecedented, and Kitbogha’s relatively small force was unable to deal with all of them at once. The proud general however would not admit defeat and sought a final confrontation - which eventually came, and ended in Kitbogha’s death. Peace with the Seljuks was signed, to Seljuks’ immense relief.
With Kitbogha’s death the pro-Christian influence over Hulegu waned, and, after finishing with the Azeri emirs, he decided to attack the weak Byzantine Empire on his western border. His first target was Knỳtling Syria; seeing how Emperor Andrew’s involvement in the Alan invasion was minimal, Hulegu no doubt expected an easy conquest. This time however, the Imperial army at once sailed to Tripoli, and the war stretched into its fourth year when Hulegu died. Andrew and his commanders were a different breed of men than the conquering Emperors of the 12th century; they conserved their forces, attacking only that which they could defeat very seriously, and there are several battles where smaller Mongol taskforces were surprised, outnumbered, and severely beaten. Coastal cities also proved impossible to siege to the Mongols, because the navy could supply them from sea indefinitely, and there were simply not enough men in the Ilkhanate to surround all major Syrian cities at once. However, the Seljuks, seeing the Byzantines weakened, also declared war on them at the same time. The fighting with the Seljuks was mostly done at sea, where the Greeks held strong, but most available land forces were tied up by the Mongols and the Turks made slow progress. In the end, peace with both the Mongols and the Seljuks was still very costly - Damascus was ceded to the Sultan, and the Mongols were ceded Sinope, North Syria and Malatiya; on the other hand, the losses were a lot smaller than feared, and no major defeats were suffered, preserving the army. The peace on the behalf of the Ilkhans was largely a result of Abaqa Khan, Hulegu’s successor, thinking that Baghdad, held by the weakened Seljuks and ringed by crumbling walls, was a better target than impregnable Baalbek or newly-rebuilt Tripoli with its large and busy harbour. In any case, Abaqa was pro-Christian in his policies as well, and even married the third daughter of the Ionian Emperor Stephanos Petzikopoulos. Abaqa’s own daughter would later marry Leon, Tsar of Armenian Cilicia, and his line would continue in the Georgian Khagans.
The Ilkhans brought with them the largest number of Mongols of any of the invading hordes; they’ve left significant prints, linguistically, genetically, and culturally, wherever they settled in numbers. However, far more than they influenced their conquered territories during their brief supremacy, they were themselves influenced by all Western cultures. Conversions to orthodox Christianity were common, and commoner still conversions to Islam. One curious case is that of Tegus, grandson of Hulegu; he is the first Mongol saint of the Syrian Catholic rite, going by the name of St.Yakub. The prince converted while still a youth, and decided to give his life to God, or so the hagiography says, avoiding all temptations of wealth or of the flesh, despite his princely birth and his great beauty. He is known to have traveled to Salzburg to seek audience with the Pope, and then widely around Christian Europe and Africa, all the while avoiding the attempts of his relatives to recapture him. He is also said to have traveled as far East as Karakorum, where he pleaded the case of Catholicism before Kublai Khan, who, although unconvinced, wanted to keep the young man as a sage in his court. However, when prince Arghun of the Ilkhans requested a bride from among the Merkits, Yakub Tegus was sent back to accompany her and is said to have converted her along the way; finally arriving back to Syria, he came to his younger brother Baidu, who was a Buddhist at the time. Baidu, although somewhat of a figurehead himself, offered protection to Yakub Tegus as he preached across the Syrian Ilkhanate. In the end, one of the splinters of the Hashishin sect took the two into their sights, and carried out several assassination attempts, the first few of which failed; protected by an angel, so says the hagiography. The final attempt was successful, but St.Yakub, warned by the Lord, nobly accepted martyrdom while making sure his brother could flee to friendly Alexandria and thence to the Burgundian court; however, the assassins infiltrated a man into the crew of the ship that was to sail for Ancona, and Baidu, said to have converted shortly before he died, was killed in 1270. His cousin Nestor Tekuder then became the Syrian Ilkhan. Yakub Tegus was canonized in 1451, and is the patron saint of Mongol Syrian Catholics.
Abaqa was planning to have the war with the Seljuks and al-Adib’s rebels resume in early 1261. However, just at this time Berke had come to rule the Blue Horde. In summer of 1261, Berke destroyed Tmutarakan. After the Khan summoned Prince Daniel to his capital in Sarai, and there had him killed, Tmutarakan rebelled and begged the Emperor for protection. Berke besieged it, captured it after a very bloody struggle and it is said that anyone that did not escape by ship was murdered in the streets. Upon hearing this Abaqa Khan (perhaps during a drunk festivity, as at least one of our sources suggests, or perhaps courting Christian alliance against the Seljuks) announced that his actions would be the same should he capture Baghdad. Now much alarmed - for it was still home of the Caliph and a holy centre of Islam - Berke declared war on Abaqa and marched into the Caucasus. The Seljuks quickly offered an alliance to Berke, while Abaqa reached out to the Byzantine Emperor, promising him back the lost territories if the Seljuks and Berke were to be defeated. So the Empire, together with Cilicia and Volhynia, entered the war on the Ilkhan side. Berke, however, had a trump: he asked for help from the Chaghatai Horde, still eager to gain their western territories back. The Ilkhans found themselves at war on three sides, and suffered massive losses. The Great Khan Kubilai was unable to help his nephew, because he was fighting his brother Arigh Boke for the throne in Mongolia and China. By 1263 Abaqa was dead in battle, and by 1265 the Ilkhanate held on only to Eastern Syria and southern Persia, with Berke’s warriors besieging what was left of Byzantine Crimea. The Russian Cities’ united army suffered heavy defeats at the crossing of the Kalka (1261), outside Belaya Vezha (1263), where the fifteen Kipchak Princes were captured and strangled with bowstrings, and at the crossing of the Oskol (1263). The Russians held their own at the Irpen’ in 1264 in the lone victory of the war, but were soon forced to retreat behind the tall walls of their great cities, which the Mongols decided not to attack, perhaps remembering how costly Tmutarakan had been. The Imperial army skirmished ineffectually in Trebizond, and Andrew’s attacks on Mongol Georgia failed twice. Doubtless the war would have continued downhill for the Romans, if not for Berke’s death; the conventional view is that the agents of Kaisar Boris (the future Emperor Nikephoros) had finally succeeded; and that was a stroke of luck. The young new Khan, Gunqan, didn’t have the support that his grand-uncle had, and the war was halted. The Empire lost considerable Black Sea territories. A Mongol wedge was driven deep in the weak links between Kiev and Constantinople; dependent on Mongol whim and Mongol goodwill to stay connected, the two centres rapidly drifted apart. The Ilkhans in Damascus would survive as a Christian state for three generations, locked in an alliance of necessity with Cilicia and Tripoli. The descendants of Boke Timur would soon become vassals of the Seljuks and adopt Islam; of Abaqa’s children, one line would hold on precariously to Azerbaijan, and one branch would rule as Seljuk vassals over Western Egypt, until the great Ahmed Bahadur would rise in rebellion that would consume and destroy the hitherto-unshakeable Turk Sultanate.