On this day in 1258, Mongol hordes entered Baghdad after 13 days of brutal siege warfare. Led by Hulagu Khan, the invaders sought to punish the city for its failure to pay taxes and submit to the khagan. Al-Musta’sim, the caliph (leader) of the defenders, made little to no efforts to secure the walled city, confident in its ability to repel the “unsophisticated” Mongol hordes. The caliph refused Hulagu’s demands and insulted the Mongol leader, a grave mistake. In response, Hulagu’s men began digging ditches to undermine the integrity of Baghdad’s walls, and advanced siege engines began ferrying Mongol troops up to the defenses. 3,000 Baghdad elites emerged to negotiate, but it was too late, and Hulagu killed them all. On the 13th day of battle, the Mongols entered Baghdad.
In true Mongol form, Hulagu’s men destroyed any building of religious or cultural significance; soon after, the caliph was forced to watch as roughly 1 million of his subjects were murdered. When the carnage was finished, and the caliph was the only one left, the Mongols rolled him in an elegant Persian rug and trampled him to death with their horses. This was, of course, an effort to prevent royal blood from falling on the earth – an occurrence that would have offended the earth.
The sacking of Baghdad signalled a decisive end to the Islamic Golden Age, a period of unmatched cultural, scientific and technological productivity. During the age, Muslim scholars made advancements in algebra, trigonometry and calculus, as well as innovations in medicine, astronomy and education. Although some historians point to a decline of the Islamic Golden Age that began somewhat earlier – as some rulers started embracing mysticism over science – Hulagu’s ransacking of Baghdad, capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, put the final nail in its coffin. If we can learn anything from the Mongol sacking of Baghdad, perhaps it’s that one should never overestimate the permanence of “advanced” societies – and never disrespect the Mongol hordes.