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Arghun Khan ({Аргун}) (c. 1258 – March 7,"He died on March 7, 1291." Steppes, p. 376 1291) was the fourth ruler of the Mongol empire's Ilkhanate, from 1284 to 1291. He was the son of Abaqa Khan, and like his father, was a devout Buddhist (although pro-Christian). He was known for sending several embassies to Europe in an unsuccessful attempt to form a Franco-Mongol alliance against the Muslims in the Holy Land. It was also Arghun who requested a new bride from his great-uncle Kublai Khan. The mission to escort the young Kökötchin across Asia to Arghun was reportedly taken by Marco Polo. Arghun died before Kökötchin arrived, so she instead married Arghun's son, Ghazan.


was born to Abaqa Khan and his Christian princess wife, Haimash Khatun. Arghun himself had multiple wives, his favorite of which was Bulughan. Although, Bulughan was childless, She raised Arghun's two sons Ghazan and Öljeitü, both of whom later succeeded him and eventually converted to Islam. Arghun had Öljeitü baptized as a Christian at birth, and gave him the name "Nicholas" after Pope Nicholas IV. According to the Dominican missionary Ricoldo of Montecroce, he was "a man given to the worst of villainy, but for all that a friend of the Christians".

One of the sisters of Arghun, Oljalh, was married to the Georgian prince Wakhtang III.

Arghun was a Buddhist, but as did most Turco-Mongols, he showed great tolerance for all faiths, even allowing Muslims to be judged under Koranic law. His minister of finance, Sa'ad ad dawla, was a Jew. Sa'ad was effective in restoring order to the Ilkhanate's government, in part by aggressively denouncing the abuses of the Mongol military leaders.


Arghun's reign was relatively peaceful, and there were few conflicts with his fellow Mongols. He did fight a brief campaign against the Chagatai Khanate in Khorasan. In 1289-1290, he had to deal with an upheaval of the Oirat emir Nauruz, who had to flee to Transoxonia.

In 1288 and 1290, he repelled invasion forces of the Golden Horde under Tulabuga in the area of the Caucasus twice.

During Arghun's reign, the Egyptian Mamluks continuously reinforced their power in Syria, and the Mamluk Sultan Qalawun re-captured Crusader territories, some of which, such as Tripoli, had been vassal states of the Turco-Mongols. The Mamluks captured the northern fortress of Margatmarker in 1285, Lattakiamarker in 1287, and completed the Fall of Tripoli in 1289.

Relations with Christian powers

Arghun was one of a long line of Genghis-Khanite rulers who endeavoured to established a Franco-Mongol alliance with the Europeans, against their common enemies the Egyptian Mamluks. Arghun even promised that if Jerusalemmarker were conquered, he would have himself baptised. But by the late 13th century, Western Europe was no longer as interested in the waning crusades, and Arghun's missions were ultimately fruitless.

First mission to the Pope

In 1285, Arghun sent an embassy and a letter to Pope Honorius IV, a Latin translation of which is preserved in the Vatican.Runciman, p.398 Arghun's letter mentioned the links that Arghun's family had to Christianity, and proposed a combined military conquest of Muslim lands:

Second mission, to Kings Philip and Edward

Apparently left without an answer, Arghun sent another embassy to European rulers in 1287, headed by the Ongut Turk Nestorian monk from China Rabban Bar Sauma, with the objective of contracting a military alliance to fight the Muslims in the Middle East, and take the city of Jerusalemmarker. The responses were positive but vague. Sauma returned in 1288 with positive letters from Pope Nicholas IV, Edward I of England, and Philip IV the Fair of France.

Third mission

1289, Arghun sent a third mission to Europe, in the person of Buscarel of Gisolfe, a Genoese who had settled in Persia. The objective of the mission was to determine at what date concerted Christian and Mongol efforts could start. Arghun committed to march his troops as soon as the Crusaders had disembarked at Saint-Jean-d'Acremarker. Buscarel was in Rome between July 15 and September 30, 1289, and in Paris in November-December 1289. He remitted a letter from Arghun to Philippe le Bel, answering to Philippe's own letter and promises, offering the city of Jerusalem as a potential prize, and attempting to fix the date of the offensive from the winter of 1290 to spring of 1291:

Buscarello was also bearing a memorandum explaining that the Mongol ruler would prepare all necessary supplies for the Crusaders, as well as 30,000 horses. Buscarel then went to England to bring Arghun's message to King Edward I. He arrived in London January 5, 1290. Edward, whose answer has been preserved, answered enthusiastically to the project but remained evasive about its actual implementation, for which he deferred to the Pope.

Assembly of a raiding naval force

In 1290, Arghun launched a shipbuilding program in Baghdad, with the intent of having war galleys which would harass the Mamluk commerce in the Red Seamarker. The Genoes sent a contingent of 800 carpenters and sailors, to help with the shipbuilding. A force of arbaletiers was also sent, but the enterprise apparently foundered when the Genoese government ultimately disowned the project, and an internal fight erupted at the Persian Gulfmarker port of Basramarker among the Genoese (between the Guelfe and the Gibelin families).

Fourth mission

Arghun sent a fourth mission to European courts in 1290, led by Andrew Zagan (or Chagan), who was accompanied by Buscarel of Gisolfe and a Christian named Sahadin.

In 1291, Pope Nicolas IV proclaimed a new Crusade and negotiated agreements with Arghun, Hetoum II of Armenia, the Jacobites, the Ethiopians and the Georgians. On January 5, 1291, Nicolas addressed a vibrant prayer to all the Christians to save the Holy Land, and predicators started to rally Christians to follow Edward I in a Crusade.

However, the efforts were too little and too late. On May 18 1291, Saint-Jean-d'Acremarker was conquered by the Mamluks in the Siege of Acre.

In August 1291, Pope Nicolas wrote a letter to Arghun informing him of the plans of Edward I to go on a Crusade to recapture the Holy Land, stating that the Crusade could only be successful with the help of the "powerful arm" of the Mongols. Nicolas repeated an oft-told theme of the Crusader communications to the Mongols, asking Arghun to receive baptism and to march against the Mamluks. However Arghun himself had died on March 10, 1291, and Pope Nicholas IV would die in March 1292, putting an end to their attempts at combined action.

Edward I sent an ambassador to Arghun's successor Gaikhatu in 1292 in the person of Geoffrey de Langley, but extensive contacts would only resume under Arghun's son Ghazan.

According to the 20th century historian Runciman, "Had the Mongol alliance been achieved and honestly implemented by the West, the existence of Outremer would almost certainly have been prolonged. The Mameluks would have been crippled if not destroyed; and the Ilkhanate of Persia would have survived as a power friendly to the Christians and the West"Runciman, p.402


Arghun died on March 7, 1291, and was succeeded by his brother Gaykhatu.

The 13th century saw such a vogue of Mongol things in the West that many new-born children in Italy were named after Genghis-Khanite rulers, including Arghun: names such as Can Grande ("Great Khan"), Alaone (Hulagu), Argone (Arghun) or Cassano (Ghazan) are recorded with a high frequency.

Marco Polo

Arghun was the stated reason why Marco Polo was able to return to Venicemarker after 23 years of absence. Arghun, having lost his favourite wife Bolgana, asked his granduncle and ally Kublai Khan to send him one of Bolgana's relatives as a new bride. The choice fell to the 17-year-old Kökötchin ("Blue, or Celestial, Dame"). Marco Polo was given the task of accompanying the princess through land and sea routes, navigating on a Mongolian ship through the Indian Oceanmarker to Persia. The journey took two years and Arghun died in the meantime, so Kökötchin instead married Arghun's son Ghazan.

See also



  • Le Templier de Tyr (circa 1300), Online (Original French).
  • "The Monks of Kublai Khan Emperor of China", Sir E. A. Wallis Budge. Online
  • Foltz, Richard (2000). "Religions of the Silk Road : overland trade and cultural exchange from antiquity to the fifteenth century". New York: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0-312-23338-8.
  • Grousset, Rene, The Empire of the Steppes: a History of Central Asia, Naomi Walford, (tr.), New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1970.

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