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The deaths of two Khaghans: a comparison of events in 1242 and 1260

  • Stephen G. Haw


The sudden Mongol withdrawal from Hungary in 1242 has been explained by historians in several ways and no consensus about the reason has ever been reached. Contrary to some previously expressed opinions, it was not an unparalleled event: a similar withdrawal from a successful invasion of the Song empire in southern China occurred in 1260. The parallels between the events of 1242 and 1260 are instructive, and strongly suggest that the deaths of the Khaghans Ögödei, in 1241, and Möngke, in 1259, were the basic reasons for breaking off the campaigns. The full explanation is more complex, however. The Mongol invasions of Dali and Annam in the 1250s are also briefly examined, and it is pointed out that a Mongol army led by Uriyangkhadai successfully invaded Song from Annam in 1259, a fact that has often been overlooked.


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1 Dlugosz, J., Historia Polonica (Leipzig: Gleditsch & Weidmann, 1711), 677–81; Długosz, J., The Annals of Jan Długosz: Annales seu Cronicae incliti regni Poloniae, an English abridgement by Michael, M. (Chichester: IM Publications, 1997), 178–80; Jackson, P., The Mongols and the West, 1221–1410 (Harlow: Pearson Education, 2005), 123.

2 Sweeney, J.R., “Thomas of Spalato and the Mongols: a thirteenth-century Dalmatian view of Mongol customs”, Florilegium IV, 1982, 181–3; Thomas of Spalato, Historia Salonitanorum Pontificum, atque Spalatensium”, in Scriptores rerum Hungaricarum, Dalmaticarum, Croaticarum, et Sclavonicarum veteres ac genuini, vol. 3, ed. Schwandtner, J.G. (Vienna: Kraus, 1748), 601–8, 610–15; Spalatensis, Thomas, Historia Salonitanorum atque Spalatinorum pontificum = History of the Bishops of Salona and Split, ed. Karbic, D., Sokol, M.M. and Sweeney, J.R. [Latin text with English translation] (Budapest and New York: Central European University Press, 2006), 290303.

3 Rogers, G.S., “An examination of historians' explanations for the Mongol withdrawal from East Central Europe”, East European Quarterly XXX, 1996, 35.

4 John of Plano Carpini, History of the Mongols”, in The Mongol Mission (ed. Dawson, C.) (London and New York: Sheed and Ward, 1955), 45, 65; original Latin text in Recueil de voyages et de mémoires, iv, Société de Géographie (Paris: Arthus-Bertrand, 1839), 719, 761.

5 This acceptance can be traced back at least to Grousset, R., L'Empire des Steppes (Paris: Payot, 1939), 333; see Fletcher, J., “The Mongols: ecological and social perspectives”, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies XLVI, 1986, 45.

6 Sinor, D., “Horse and pasture in Inner Asian history”, Oriens Extremus XIX/i–ii, 1972, 181. Sinor does not discuss John's statements, saying only that he is unreliable and that: “the Mongols suddenly evacuated Hungary in the spring of 1242, an operation for which no satisfactory explanation exists”.

7 Thomas of Spalato, Historia, 601; Thomas Spalatensis, Historia = History, 252–3.

8 Rogers, “Mongol withdrawal”, 7–12.

9 Morgan, David, The Mongols, second edition (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007), 124–5.

10 Rogers, “Mongol withdrawal”, 9–10.

11 Dunnell, R., “The Hsi Hsia”, in Franke, H., and Twitchett, D. (eds), The Cambridge History of China, vol. 6, Alien Regimes and Border States, 907–1368 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 207–13.

12 Sinor, “Horse and pasture”, 182; Sinor does not explain how he arrived at this figure.

13 D.W. Freeman and D.D. Redfearn, Managing Grazing of Horses (Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet ANSI-3981, n.d.), 2; see also Hall, M.H. and Comerford, P.M., Pasture and Hay for Horses (Agronomy Facts 32, Pennsylvania State University, 1992).

14 Michell, R. and Forbes, N. (trans.), The Chronicle of Novgorod, 1016–1471 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1914), 82–3.

15 al-Din, Rashid, The Successors of Genghis Khan, trans. Boyle, J.A. (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1971), 69; al-Dīn, Rashīd, Jāmi' al-tavārīkh (ed. Roushan, Mohammad and Mūsavī, Mustafa) (Tehran: Nashr Elborz, 1373/1994), i, 678.

16 Lian, Song 宋濂 et al. (eds), Yuan Shi 元史 [hereafter YS] (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju 中華書局, 1976), x, 2978; Rashid al-Din, Successors, 70; Rashīd al-Dīn, Jāmiʿ al-tavārīkh, i, 678.

17 Rashid al-Din, Successors, 69; Rashīd al-Dīn, Jāmiʿ al-tavārīkh, i, 678; YS, i, 37 records the recall only of Güyük.

18 Thomas of Spalato, Historia, 611–4; Thomas Spalatensis, Historia = History, 288–301.

19 Rogers, “Mongol withdrawal”, 17.

20 Rashid al-Din, Successors, 185; Rashīd al-Dīn, Jāmiʿ al-tavārīkh, ii, 809.

21 YS, x, 2984; Yingqi, Xue 薛應旂, Song Yuan Tong Jian 宋元通鑑, facsimile of 1566 edition, Si Ku Quan Shu Cun Mu Cong Shu 四庫全書存目叢書, Shi Bu 史部, (Ji'nan 濟南: Qi Lu Shu She 齊鲁書社, 1996), x, 782.

22 YS, x, 2979–81.

23 Ibid., xii, 3521.

24 Herman, J.E., “The Mongol conquest of Dali: the failed second front”, in Di Cosmo, N. (ed.), Warfare in Inner Asian History (500–1800) (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2002), 295.

25 Rossabi, M., Khubilai Khan: His Life and Times (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 43. Rossabi notes that Khubilai “led one of Möngke's four armies” in this campaign.

26 Herman, “Mongol conquest of Dali”, 300–1.

27 Bin Yang, “Military campaigns against Yunnan: a global analysis” (ARI Working Paper no. 30) Sep. 2004, 44–5. Available online: (accessed 15 June 2012).

28 Herman, J.E., Amid the Clouds and Mist: China's Colonization of Guizhou, 1200–1700 (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Asia Center, 2007), 49, states that: “Uriyangqadai was inexplicably ordered to lead a military expedition south down the Red River Valley to attack the Tran dynasty in Annam”, but he says nothing of the outcome of the expedition, or of the subsequent invasion of the Song empire. There was nothing inexplicable about this expedition: it was part of a planned campaign against Song.

29 P.D. Buell, “Mongols in Vietnam: end of one era, beginning of another”, paper given at the First Congress of the Asian Association of World Historians, 29–31 May 2009, Osaka University Nakanoshima-Center, [7]. Available online: (accessed 13 June 2012).

30 YS, xv, 4634.

31 Ibid., x, 2981; Ze, Li 黎崱, Annan Zhi Lue 安南志略 (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju 中華書局, 2000), 85.

32 YS, i, 51, 53.

33 Ibid., i, 61–2.

34 Ibid., x, 2982.

35 YS, x, 2981, indicates that it included 3,000 Mongol cavalry and 10,000 soldiers from the peoples of the Dali region.

36 YS, i, 62–3; Rossabi, Khubilai Khan, 51.

37 Rossabi, Khubilai Khan, 53; YS, i, 65.

38 Rossabi, Khubilai Khan, 55–61.

39 Ibid., 56.

40 Amitai-Preiss, R., Mongols and Mamluks: The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War, 1260–1281 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 26–7; Smith, J.M. Jr., “Ayn Jalut: Mamluk success or Mongol failure?”, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies XLIV, 1984, 310.

41 Amitai-Preiss, Mongols and Mamluks, 27–8.

42 For discussions of all these reasons, see Amitai-Preiss, Mongols and Mamluks, 28–9; Smith, “Ayn Jalut”, 307, 328.

43 Amitai-Preiss, Mongols and Mamluks, 29; Smith, “Ayn Jalut”, 308–9, says that the Mongol army at Ayn Jalut was not outnumbered by the Mamluks.

44 Tuotuo, 脱脱 et al. (eds), Song Shi 宋史 (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju 中華書局, 1977), iii, 866.

45 de Rachewiltz, I. (trans.), The Secret History of the Mongols, 2 vols (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006), i, 206–9; ii, 1014; Yuan Chao Mi Shi 元朝密史, facsimile of Si Bu Congkan Sanbian 四部叢刊三編 edition, in Yuan Chao Mi Shi (Wai Si Zhong) 元朝密史 (外四種) (Shanghai: Guji Chubanshe 古籍出版社, 2008), 291–5. The story related here, which includes Ögödei berating Güyük, shows discrepancies with accounts in other sources: for example, Rashid al-Din, Successors, 176, 180 (Rashīd al-Dīn, Jāmiʿ al-tavārīkh, ii, 799, 804), says that Ögödei died before Güyük had returned. Perhaps the events of the story occurred earlier, in about 1239, but if so, there seems to be no trace of them in any other source.

46 Rashid al-Din, Successors, 180; Rashīd al-Dīn, Jāmiʿ al-tavārīkh, ii, 805.

47 Rashid al-Din, Successors, 120, 176–9: Rashīd al-Dīn, Jāmiʿ al-tavārīkh, i, 734; ii, 799–803.

48 Rashid al-Din, Successors, 107, 120: Rashīd al-Dīn, Jāmiʿ al-tavārīkh, i, 720, 734; on the succession disputes after the deaths of Ögödei and Güyük, see also Allsen, T.T., Mongol Imperialism: The Policies of the Grand Qan Möngke in China, Russia, and the Islamic Lands, 1251–1259 (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1987), 1923.

49 Rashid al-Din, Successors, 121; Rashīd al-Dīn, Jāmiʿ al-tavārīkh, i, 735; YS, i, 44; ʿAla-ad-Din ʿAta-Malik Juvaini, The History of the World-Conqueror (trans. Boyle, J.A.), 2 vols (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958), ii, 559–61; ʿAlā al-Dīn ʿAā Malik Juwaynī, Tārīkh-i-Jahān Gushā (ed. Mohammad Qazvīnī), iii vols (Leyden: Brill/London: Luzac, 1912, 1916, 1937), iii, 18–21.

50 YS, i, 44–5.

51 D. Morgan, The Mongols, 104; William of Rubruck, The journey …”, in The Mongol Mission (ed. Dawson, C.) (London and New York: Sheed and Ward, 1955), 136, records that Batu's subordinates tended to be “rather proud” and somewhat negligent in showing respect to Möngke's envoys, which implies that Batu did not accept inferior status to Möngke (original Latin text in Recueil de Voyages et de Mémoires, iv, Société de Géographie (Paris: Arthus-Bertrand, 1839), 280).

52 Juvaini, World-Conqueror, i, 268; Juwaynī, Tārīkh-i-Jahān Gushā, i, p. 223.

53 Dlugosz, Historia Polonica, 757–9; Długosz, Annals, 203; Jackson, P., The Mongols and the West, 1221–1410 (Harlow: Pearson Education, 2005), 123.

54 Buell, P.D., Historical Dictionary of the Mongol World Empire (Lanham and Oxford: Scarecrow Press, 2003), 52.

55 Haw, S.G., “The Mongol Empire – the first ‘gunpowder empire’?”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 23/2, 2013 (forthcoming).

56 YS, i, 37–8.

57 YS, xi, 3472–4; there is a biography of Zhang Rou in de Rachewiltz, I. et al. (eds), In the Service of the Khan (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2003), 4659.

58 Peterson, C.A., “Old illusions and new realities: Sung foreign policy, 1217–1234”, in Rossabi, M. (ed.), China Among Equals (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1983), 223–4.

59 Rossabi, Khubilai Khan, 76–7.

60 Rossabi, Khubilai Khan, 82, 90–4.

61 See Rogers, “Mongol withdrawal”, 13; I have been unable to trace the passage that Rogers quotes here as being from Sinor's “Horse and pasture”. It seems likely that it is in fact from a different source.

62 Rashid al-Din, Successors, 178 (Rashīd al-Dīn, Jāmiʿ al-tavārīkh, ii, 802), notes that “no quriltai was held as the princes did not appear and meet together”.

63 Juvaini, World-Conqueror, ii, 573–89; Juwaynī, Tārīkh-i-Jahān Gushā, iii, 38–59; Rossabi, Khubilai Khan, 19–20.

64 Rossabi, Khubilai Khan, 53: Allsen, Mongol Imperialism, 218; Boyle, J.A., The Mongol World Empire, 1206–1370 (London: Variorum, 1977), article V, 341.

65 Biran, M., Qaidu and the Rise of the Independent Mongol State in Central Asia (Richmond: Curzon, 1997), 3754.

66 Ibid., 45–7; Rossabi, Khubilai Khan, 222–4.

67 Biran, Qaidu, 66, 69.

68 Ibid., 43–5.

69 Allsen, Mongol Imperialism, 219; Jackson, P., “The dissolution of the Mongol Empire”, Central Asiatic Journal 32, 1978, 187; Buell, Historical Dictionary, 116.

70 Buell, Historical Dictionary, 62–3.

71 Ibid., 92–5.

72 Ibid., 74–6.

* I am grateful to Dr George Lane of SOAS, University of London, for assistance with Persian texts.

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