Posted 15 August 2009 - 11:05 PM
The Battle of Ayn Jalut, in which the Mamluks of Egypt defeated Hulagu Khan's Mongols, is a fascinating battle. Hulagu Khan had already destroyed the Hashshashin (the famous Assassin cult of Persia), sacked Baghdad, and crushed Syria. He intended to march forward into Egypt to take Cairo. But in 1259, Mongke Khan, Hulagu's brother and the Great Khan, died and Hulagu had to return to Karakorum to await the decision on who the next Great Khan would be. He left his forces under the command of his general, Kitbuqa.
The Mamluks were a very odd group -- slaves who ran the government. Qutuz, who was the Mamluk sultan of Egypt at the time, decided to proactively combat the Mongols. He knew without a doubt that Egypt was Kitbuqa's next target, and that his people would suffer the same fate as those of Baghdad and Damascus and Aleppo. He sent another Mamluk, Baibars, to Gaza to destroy the small Mongol garrison there. Then he set about negotiating with the Mamluk's traditional enemies: the Crusader kingdom of Acre (Akko). Acre preferred to remain neutral, but allowed the Mamluk army to travel through their lands. Thusly they slipped up the coast and met the Mongol army at Ayn Jalut, near the Jordan river.
Now it's important to remember now that the Mamluks themselves were overwhelmingly of Turkic or Circassian birth. They were people of the steppes just as the Mongols were, and familiar with their tactics and weapons. They were also fighting on familiar territory. Baibars baited the Mongols with a fake attack-retreat, drawing them into the hills where Qutuz's forces were waiting to ambush them with arrows and hand cannons and cavalry. The fighting was fierce. Qutuz personally beheaded Kitbuqa and the Mamluks were the victors.
Shortly after the battle, Qutuz was assassinated by a conspiracy led by Baibars, who became the new sultan. Hulagu Khan was never able to avenge his army's defeat, as he became mired in conflict with his Muslim cousin, Berke Khan, and was killed.