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The Battle of Ain Jalut (or Ayn Jalut, in Arabic: , the "Spring of Goliath") took place on 3 September 1260 between the Egyptianmarker Mamluks and the Mongols in Palestine, in the Jezreel Valleymarker, not far from Ein Harod.

This battle is considered by many historians to be of great macro-historical importance, as it marked the highwater point of Mongol conquests, and the first time they had ever been decisively defeated. After previous defeats, the Mongols had always returned and avenged the loss, but after the Battle of Ain Jalut they were unable to do so. The Mongol Ilkhanate leader Hulagu Khan was not able to advance into Egyptmarker, and the Khanate he established in Persiamarker was only able to defeat the Mamluks once in subsequent expeditions, briefly reoccupying Syria and parts of Palestine for a few months in 1300.

Preceding events

When Möngke Khan became Great Khan in 1251, he immediately set out to implement his grandfather Genghis Khan's plan for world empire. To lead the task of subduing the nations of the West, he selected his brother, another of Genghis Khan's grandsons, Hulagu Khan.

Assembling the army took five years, and it was not until 1256 that Hulagu was prepared to begin the invasions. Operating from the Mongol base in Persiamarker, Hulagu proceeded south. Mongke Khan had ordered good treatment for those who yielded without resistance, and destruction for those who did not. In this way Hulagu and his army had conquered some of the most powerful and longstanding dynasties of the time. Other countries in the Mongols' path submitted to Mongol authority, and contributed forces to the Mongol army. By the time that the Mongols reached Baghdad, their army included Cilician Armenians, and even some Frankish forces from the submitted Principality of Antioch. The Hashshashin in Persia fell, the 500-year-old Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdadmarker was destroyed (see Battle of Baghdad), and so too fell the Ayyubid dynasty in Damascusmarker. Hulagu's plan was to then proceed southwards through Palestine towards Egyptmarker, to confront the last major Islamic power, the Mamluk Sultanate.

Mongol envoys to Egypt

In 1260, Hulagu sent envoys to Qutuz in Cairomarker, demanding his surrender:

Qutuz responded, however, by killing the envoys and displaying their heads on Bab Zuweilamarker, one of the gates of Cairomarker.

Troop movements leading up to the Battle of Ain Jalut

The campaign

The power dynamic then changed due to the death of the Great Khan Mongke (while on an expedition to Chinamarker), requiring Hulagu and other senior Mongols to return home to decide upon his successor. A potential Great Khan, Hulagu took the majority of his army with him, and left a much smaller force, only around one or two tumens (10,000–20,000 men) under his best general, the Nestorian Christian Turk Kitbuqa Noyan.

In late August, Kitbuqa's forces proceeded south from their base at Baalbekmarker, passing to the east of Lake Tiberias through Palestine.

The Mamluk Sultan Qutuz at that time allied with a fellow Mamluk, Baibars, who wanted to defend Islam after the Mongols captured Damascusmarker and most of Bilad al-Sham.

The Mongols, for their part, attempted to form a Franco-Mongol alliance with (or at least, demand the submission of) the remnant of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, now centered on Acremarker, but Pope Alexander IV had forbidden this. Tensions between Franks and Mongols had also increased when Julian of Sidon caused an incident which resulted in the death of one of Kitbuqa's grandsons. Angered, Kitbuqa had sacked Sidonmarker. The Barons of Acre, contacted by the Mongols, had also been approached by the Mamluks, seeking military assistance against the Mongols.

Though the Mamluks were the traditional enemies of the Franks, the Barons of Acre recognized the Mongols as the more immediate menace, and so the Crusaders opted for a position of cautious neutrality between the two forces. In an unusual move, they agreed that the Egyptian Mamluks could march north through the Crusader territories unmolested, and even camp to resupply near Acre. When news arrived that the Mongols had crossed the Jordan Rivermarker, Sultan Qutuz and his forces then proceeded southeast toward the spring at Ain Jalut in the Jezreel Valleymarker.Bartlett, p. 253

The battle

The opposing forces met at Ain Jalut on September 3, 1260, both sides numbering about 20,000 men. The first to advance were the Mongols, whose force also included troops from the Kingdom of Georgia and the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, both of which had submitted to Mongol authority. The Mamluks had the advantage of knowledge of the terrain, and Qutuz capitalized on this by hiding the bulk of his force in the highlands, hoping to bait the Mongols with a smaller force under Baibars. The two armies fought restlessly for many hours, with Mamluk leader Baibars most of the time implementing hit-and-run tactics, in order to provoke the Mongol troops and at the same time preserve the bulk of his troops intact. When the Mongols carried out another heavy assault, Baibars – who it is said had laid down the overall strategy of the battle since he had spent much time in that region, earlier in his life, as a fugitive – and his men feigned a final retreat, drawing the Mongols into the highlands to be ambushed by the rest of the Mamluk forces who were concealed among the trees in the highlands. The Mongol leader Kitbuqa, already provoked by the constant fleeing of Baibars and his troops, committed a grave mistake; instead of suspecting a trick, Kitbuqa decided to march forwards with all his troops on the trail of the fleeing Mamluks. When the Mongols reached the highlands, Mamluk forces appeared from hiding and began to fire arrows and attack with their cavalry. The Mongols then found themselves surrounded on all sides by the Mamluk forces. The Mongols fought very fiercely and very aggressively to break out. Some distance away, Qutuz watched with his private legion. When Qutuz saw the left wing of the Mamluk army almost destroyed by the desperate Mongols seeking an escape route, Qutuz threw away his combat helmet, so that his warriors could recognize him. He was seen the next moment rushing fiercely towards the battle terrain, yelling "Wa Islamah! Wa Islamah!" (Oh my Islam! Oh my Islam!) urging his army to keep firm and fight the Mongol enemies. Soon, the battle shifted in favor of the Mamluks, who now had both the geographic and the psychological advantage, and eventually some of the Mongols were forced to retreat. However, Mongol leader Kitbuqa did not retreat, choosing instead to continue to fight, until he was eventually killed by veteran Mamluk warrior Jamal al-Din Akoush al-Shamsy. When the battle ended, the Mamluk heavy cavalrymen had accomplished what had never been done before, beating the Mongols in close combat.

The Battle of Ain Jalut is also notable for being the earliest known battle where explosive hand cannons (midfa in Arabic) were used. These explosives were employed by the Mamluk Egyptians in order to frighten the Mongol horses and cavalry and cause disorder in their ranks. The explosive gunpowder compositions of these cannons were later described in Arabic chemical and military manuals in the early 14th century. ( Part 4 and Part 5)


On the way back to Cairo after the victory at Ain Jalut, Qutuz was assassinated by several emirs in a conspiracy led by Baibars. Baibars became the new Sultan. His successors would go on to capture the last of the Crusader states in Palestine by 1291. The Mongols were again beaten at the First Battle of Homs less than a year later, and completely expelled from Syria.

Internecine conflict prevented Hulagu Khan from being able to bring his full power against the Mamluks to avenge the pivotal defeat at Ain Jalut. Berke Khan, the Khan of the Kipchak Khanate in Russia, had converted to Islam, and watched with horror as his cousin destroyed the Abbasid Caliph, the spiritual head of Islam. Muslim historian Rashid al-Din quoted Berke as sending the following message to Mongke Khan, protesting the attack on Baghdad (not knowing Mongke had died in China): "he has sacked all the cities of the Muslims, and has brought about the death of the Caliph. With the help of God I will call him to account for so much innocent blood." The Mamluks, learning through spies that Berke was both a Muslim and not fond of his cousin, were careful to nourish their ties to him and his Khanate.

After the Mongol succession was finally settled, with Kublai as the last Great Khan, Hulagu returned to his lands by 1262, and massed his armies to attack the Mamluks and avenge Ain Jalut. However, Berke Khan initiated a series of raids in force which lured Hulagu north away from the Levant to meet him. Hulagu suffered severe defeat in an attempted invasion north of the Caucasus in 1263. This was the first open war between Mongols, and signaled the end of the unified empire.

Hulagu was only able to send a small army of two tumens in his only attempt to attack the Mamluks after Ain Jalut, and it was repulsed. Hulagu Khan died in 1265 and was succeeded by his son Abaqa.


  1. Encyclopædia Britannica Online – Battle of 'Ayn Jalut
  2. Histoire des Croisades II, Rene Grousset, p593
  3. Morgan, p. 137.
  4. Ahmad Y Hassan, Gunpowder Composition for Rockets and Cannon in Arabic Military Treatises In Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries
  5. Although medieval historians give conflicting accounts, modern historians assign responsibility for Qutuz's assassination to Baibars, as Baibars had been promised Syria as a reward for his efforts in Ain Jalut but when it was time to claim his prize, Qutuz commanded him to be patient. See Perry (p. 150), Amitai-Preiss (p. 47, "a conspiracy of amirs, which included Baybars and was probably under his leadership"), Holt et al. (Baibars "came to power with [the] regicide [of Qutuz] on his conscience"), and Tschanz. For further discussion, see article on "Qutuz."
  6. The Mongol Warlords quotes Rashid al Din's record of Berke Khan's pronouncement; this quote is also found in Amitai-Preiss's The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War.


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