The Siege of Vienna, 1683

On September 12th, 1683 the armies of the Ottoman Empire were defeated in battle before the walls of Vienna. After 1529, this was the second and last time the Ottomans, the greatest Islamic empire in recent memory, would lay siege to Vienna and seriously threaten Europe.

Over the past few years, the Ottomans had already begun to experience a revival. Starting 1656 the leadership of the Ottoman state had fallen into the hands of the new grandee dynasty of Koprulu, an Albanian family of previously little importance. Beginning with the patriarch Koprulu Mehmed the family led a reversal of Ottoman fortunes across the board.

The Ottoman revival did not become a cause for concern until the next round of the Ottoman-Polish Wars. In this conflict, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth lost control of a substantial chunk of its territory in the south. The lost territory included the Right Bank Cossack Hetmanate in 1672 and all to the forces of Grand Vizier Fazil Ahmed Pasha. While the war eventually ended in 1676 on far less severe terms the sudden resurgence of the Ottoman military strength was worrisome.

The same year the war against the Commonwealth ended saw the ascension of the third Koprulu Grand Vizier, Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa. Ambitious and talented Kara Mustafa intended to build on his adopted family’s accomplishments. From the beginning, the new administration was plunged into war. This war, against the Tsardom of Russia, ended in 1681 in the Ottomans’ favor and allowed them to turn to Europe.

There the Ottomans were faced by their most enduring foe, the Catholic Habsburg dynasty, and the Holy Roman Empire. Internally, the empire was experiencing the Counter-Reformation. The emperor, Leopold I, seemed to have two great goals in life. First, the end of the Protestants, and second the containment of Louis XIV, the Sun King of France.

Thus, it was the Habsburgs found themselves fighting a losing war with the Calvinist Hungarian leader Imre Thokoly, Prince of Transylvania. The success of the anti-Catholic cause attracted Ottoman attention, especially when Thokoly wrestled a large part of Northern Hungary from the Habsburgs. In 1682, the Grand Vizier negotiated to make Thokoly an Ottoman vassal as King of Central Hungary. Louis XIV saw the inevitable result of Kara Mustafa’s policy and sent word to his embassy in Constantinople to let the Ottomans know he did not plan to interfere.

With the French King’s promise, the Grand Vizier felt confident enough to begin to convince the sultan, Mehmed IV, to declare war. However, the sultan needed more convincing, and Kara Mustafa went as far as to falsify documents and manipulate the Habsburg desire for peace at all costs, to his advantage. On August 26th, Mehmed IV finally agreed to war and sent a message to Vienna telling the emperor to stay where he was until the sultan could arrive to take his head personally. Mehmed also let Leopold know his intent to wipe the population out in its entirety unless they converted to Islam.

The Ottoman army converged on Edirne, but with the lateness of the season did not leave. They had gathered there to await the Sultan’s blessing as supreme leader of Islam, and the invasion was pushed back to the following year.

The Christians took this time to recover from the shock of the Ottoman declaration of war and prepare. Leopold called on the Pope, Innocent XI, to help out with the diplomatic offensive. The Pope responded wholeheartedly but found his efforts to unite Christendom blocked by Louis XIV, who believed that an Ottoman victory would ensure France’s supremacy over Europe. The main battleground of the diplomatic war was the Sejm (Parliament) of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

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King Jan III of the Poland-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Attributed to Jan Tricius [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The King of the Commonwealth, Jan III Sobieski, was more than willing personally to ride to war. But the law of the Commonwealth dictated the unanimous approval of the Sejm was needed first. As a result, France and Papacy competed for votes through 1682 and 1683. Frustration mounted as the situation continued over several sessions.

Meanwhile, the Ottoman war machine rumbled forward. On March 30th, 1683 the Ottoman Army left Edirne and marched north into Hungary. By May 3rd, they had reached Belgrade and were joined by the vassal armies of Imre Thokoly and the Chinggisid Khan of the Crimean Tatars. At a war council in Belgrade, the Grand Vizier decided on a change of plans. Rather then advance and besiege the Habsburg fortress at Gyor he opted to proceed directly to the capital at Vienna. The sultan had no objections and gave the go-ahead to the plan though he stayed behind in Belgrade. On July 7th, Ottoman plans became apparent to the Habsburg court and the emperor, with his nobles, most his army, and some 60,000 civilians abandoned Vienna. Only a skeleton garrison of 11,000 under Ernst Rudiger, Graf von Starhemberg, and 5,000 civilians remained when the Ottoman army finally arrived on July 14th. Their army totaled 120,000 men, with an extensive siege train.

On arrival, the Grand Vizier set up one of the most splendid siege camps in history and ordered his men to begin to set up siege trenches and bring up the artillery. Before the firing began Kara Mustafa sent forth an emissary to the walls, telling the garrison that if they laid down their arms and became Muslims they and the population would be spared. A resounding roar of defiance answered him, and the siege began.

The Ottoman siege would be the key element to sway the Sejm. With reports from Hungary and Austria coming in and one last massive bribe from Rome, the Sejm gave the unanimous decision to declare war on the Ottoman Empire. King Jan was already resolved to go to war regardless from the previous winter. Now with official sanction the King of the Commonwealth moved his forces ever closer to the western border.

On August 15th, he crossed into the Holy Roman Empire.  Toward the end of the month the Commonwealth army, composed of the finest forces he had to offer, met an Imperial army commanded by Leopold’s brother-in-law, Karl V of Lorraine. A combination of Austrian, Bavarian, Swabian, Franconian, and Protestant Saxon troops the ragtag forces had been steadily harassing the Ottomans for some time. With the arrival of the Commonwealth forces, the Christian leadership felt that they could now relieve Vienna. The allied troops numbered 87,000 in total. Of those 50,000 were Austrian and German, the remaining 37,000 being Commonwealth.

Meanwhile, the siege was not going well for the defenders. Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha was not an inpatient or hotheaded man and as far as he knew he had all the time in the world to conduct the siege. His actions were methodical and steady. When the Ottoman cannons, 300 in all, proved to be too light to breach Vienna’s walls he adopted tunneling instead. But Vienna’s walls were quite advanced, so undermining them was slow going. Ottoman tunnels were met by answering tunnels from Vienna, planting and defusing bombs back and forth steadily.

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Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha of the Ottoman Empire. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

But the Ottomans knew they were winning. On September 8th, the Ottoman sapper corps blew a massive chunk out of Vienna’s walls when they destroyed the Burg ravelin and the nearby Nieder wall. As the Ottoman infantry stormed the fortifications the defenders, now whittled down to 4,000 continued to hold grimly despite the damage. They were prepared to fight the Ottomans in the streets if needed.

However, help was coming. Two days earlier the allied forces had crossed the Danube at Tulln and were marching with all speed to Vienna, working out a solid command structure along the way. News of the breach caused them to move even faster. The King soon led the combined armies through the dense and mountainous forest region of the Wienerwald. On September 11th, Christian forces arrived on a small hill overlooking Vienna known as Kahlenberg and drove off an Ottoman observation force. They then lit up three large torches to let the Ottomans and the defenders know of their arrival.

The Ottoman response was lackluster. Kara Mustafa was convinced the natural terrain of the Wienerwald would prevent any force significant enough to threaten him from coming through. Fatally he had also underestimated the Christian resolve to defeat him. Even as his staff urged the Grand Vizier to break camp and wheel about to face the allied forces he refused. Instead, he moved a small force of 30,000 infantry and cavalry to his rear supported by cannons and the Crimean cavalry. At the same time he shifted most of his troops for one final attack on Vienna the next day on September 12th.

Meanwhile in the Christian camp the allied forces were preparing for battle. Jan III was careful in his deployment, putting the Austrians on the left flank, most of the German troops in the center, and the Commonwealth forces augmented by German infantry on the right.

In the early morning dawn of the next day, the Catholic forces held Mass while the Protestants held their service, both prayed for victory. At 5:30 AM, the Ottomans, moved to dislodge them, except for the Crimean cavalry. In a fit of anger at the prior treatment, the Tartars had chosen to peel off and raid the suburbs of Vienna, abandoning their positions.

Duke Karl reacted quickly and led his troops forward, joined by the Imperial infantry in the center. The resulting battle would soon dissolve into a steady concerted effort to push back the Ottoman line. However, it was slow going as the heavy woods made the fighting and advance difficult on both sides. The whirling battle soon began to drag more Ottoman troops into the fray.  But, Kara Mustafa kept his best troops, the crack Janissaries, and the heavy cavalry out of the fighting and in the trenches before Vienna.

Even as the Christians tried to break the siege the Ottomans were attempting to create a second large hole in the walls, making the relief effort and the defense futile. But the defenders, already suspicious of another mining attempt like that of September 8th, discovered a massive bomb under the Lobel bastion just in time. The last ditch chance for victory had effectively gone up in smoke in the early afternoon around 1:00.

At the same time, the bomb was diffused the Commonwealth forces had finally managed to make their way onto the battlefield proper and took a position on the ridge. King Jan then detached his infantry to aid the Imperial center in turning the Ottoman lines. The Commonwealth cavalry then returned to the woods with a unit of Imperial cavalry.

At 2:30 PM the Christian cavalry, led by Poland’s winged hussars, burst from their cover on the far right of the Ottoman lines. The impact of such a charge head-on nearly broke the stressed siege lines on contact. Within another 3 hours, the rest of the besiegers broke and fled as well under pressure from the Austrian left. The last force to resist was the 20,000 man Janissary corps, but even they were overrun under the press of the Christian advance and fled.

The Grand Vizier then ordered the withdrawal to Belgrade, which turned into a rout. Leaving their whole camp and its riches behind, which greatly benefited the victors. Jan III was the first to reach the Grand Vizier’s tent from which he received the delirious and joyful cheers of his army and the defenders of Vienna as the savior of Europe. The city was saved.

As the allied troops plundered the camps, Jan III took the time to dictate a letter to the Pope by which he would report his victory to all Europe. In this letter, he made his famous paraphrase of Julius Caesar’s dispatch from the battle of Zela in 47 BC:

“Venimus, Vidimus, Deus Vicit” We Came, We Saw, God Conquered.

The Mughal Succession War of 1657-1661

The Mughal Empire of India was the first empire to achieve actual supremacy on the subcontinent. Founded by the Timurid prince-adventurer Babur in 1526 the empire experienced its greatest period during the reign of his grandson, Akbar. In Akbar’s declining years, his son Salim (the later Emperor Jahangir) rose against him, the first such incident of what would become a Mughal tradition. Shah Jahan, the 5th of the “Great Mughals” experienced this for himself following an illness that unexpectedly struck him down in September 1657. It did not take long before the emperor’s sons began fighting to succeed him, regardless or whether he recovered or not. Even though there were four sons in dispute only two mattered: the eldest, Dara Shikoh and the third, Aurangzeb.

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Dara Shikoh, eldest son of Shah Jahan.  By NADEEM NAQVI (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.


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Aurangzeb as a cavalryman. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


The two brothers’ rivalry came to a head quickly. In 1652, Shah Jahan moved to deal with the issue of the Deccan Sultanates on the southern border by appointing Prince Aurangzeb as governor of the Deccan for the second time (his first being from 1636-1644). Mughal involvement in the south stretched back to the beginning of the century when Akbar annexed the Sultanate of Ahmadnagar. The newly conquered territories would prove troublesome under the pressure of a guerrilla war until Shah Jahan finally secured it. He then reduced the two remaining Deccan powers, the Sultanate of Bijapur and the Sultanate of Golkonda, to vassalage in 1636. Aurangzeb considered this state of affairs to be unacceptable. To a man of simple, fundamentalist, Sunni Muslim convictions like him the sultanates (which were heavily influenced by Hinduism and Shi’a Islam) represented a blemish it was his duty to destroy. To this end, he recruited the services of Mir Jumla, a Persian general, and merchant prince, and together they launched an assault on Golkonda in 1656. However, at the height of their success orders came down from Delhi to stop the war. The Sultan had appealed to Crown Prince Dara Shikoh, who in turn persuaded Shah Jahan to call off the campaign. Dara was not a man of warfare but more of a man of intellectual, religious, and artistic pursuits. In the crown prince, the peoples of the empire saw a champion, and the empire’s enemies saw a man they could manipulate. Nevertheless, Dara Shikoh was no simpleton, and he actively moved to check the growing ambitions of his younger brother. Aurangzeb was forced to content himself was a massive indemnity and move on. The following year Aurangzeb and Mir Jumla invaded Bijapur and again on the cusp of victory Shah Jahan called it off on pressure from Dara Shikoh. This time Aurangzeb wrung out even greater concessions than he had from Golkonda, forcing the Sultan to cede land as well pay the indemnity. Up to this point the rivalry between Dara and Aurangzeb, which extended back some years, had taken place within legal bounds, a game of political chess.  However, when Shah Jahan was announced to be ill with an acute case of constipation in September, the game changed. The emperor was confined to his bedchamber, and soon the news leaked he suffered from swelling of the limbs and high fever. Rumors flew Shah Jahan was dying or permanently incapacitated. It was all his sons needed to rise against him.


From left to right: Shah Shuja, Aurangzeb, and Murad Baksh as young adults. By Cordanrad [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The early stage of the resulting civil war seemed to be a four-way contest, but it was soon cut down. Dara Shikoh, who held direct Imperial support (thanks to Shah Jahan’s partial recovery and support on October 18) was strongest and had the armies in Delhi, Agra, and the Rajput rajas supporting him. Aurangzeb commanded the elite armies of the Deccan and the forces of Mir Jumla.  Finally was Shah Shuja (the second son), governor of Bengal, and Murad Baksh (the youngest), governor of Gujarat. Shah Shuja moved first, proclaiming himself emperor and crossing the Ganga River in force. Dara Shikoh moved quickly and sent an army under the Kacchwaha Rajput Mirza Raja Jai Singh and Prince Sulaiman (Dara’s eldest son). Near Varanasi/Benares, the Bengali army was defeated, and a pursuit ordered after Shuja in February 1658. By now Aurangzeb, who had carefully bided his time and brought Murad Baksh (Murad, like Shuja, had made himself Emperor) into his orbit, was moving north. With both of his greatest allies, Prince Aurangzeb tried to breach northward through Malwa. Dara Shikoh reacted by sending an army under the Rathore Rajput Maharaja Jaswant Singh and the loyalist commander Qasim Khan. On April 15, 1658, the forces of Aurangzeb won a great victory over the Imperial forces at Dharmat. Success was owed mainly to the European-manned artillery that Mir Jumla hired on his patron’s behalf. Until only a few decades previous, the Turks (both from Central Asia and the Ottoman Empire) were the premier artillery crews on the subcontinent. But the Europeans, especially the French, had proved superior for while possessing technically inferior pieces the European crews were better trained, able fire more accurately and faster than any in India. The rebel victory at Dharmat shifted the momentum of the war as well as the odds into Aurangzeb’s favor. Taking advantage of the change, the ulama (the Islamic scholars and jurists) condemned Dara Shikoh and charged him with heresy, playing right into Aurangzeb’s hands. He declared his object was to free their father from Dara’s heretical influences, and that the crown prince had illegitimately taken power. Shah Jahan could only protest ineffectively from Agra as defections from the Imperial army, previously a small trickle accelerated into a flood as the majority Muslim contingents went over to Aurangzeb and Murad. Those contingents that did not defect, such as the army of Qasim Khan, chose to stand on the sidelines and take no side in the civil war. Forced to rely more and more on his Rajput allies, Dara Shikoh assembled an army and marched south to block the road to Agra at Dholpur, where the road north crossed the Chambal River.

However, the rebel princes proved to be more cunning than anticipated. Aurangzeb quickly became aware of Dara’s fortifications at Dholpur and knew better than to try to cross there. He enlisted the aid of the local Rajput strongman, Champat Rai, who showed him a crossing further east of Dholpur where he could cross the Chambal and end behind the lines. As a precaution, he left his camp near Gwalior standing and crossed the river on May 23. Dara Shikoh only became aware of the deception well after Aurangzeb and Murad had crossed and hurried to find another river crossing at which to block the way to Agra. He finally found it at Samugarh, near the Jamuna River. On May 28, Dara and Aurangzeb faced off on the field for the first time but neither side fired a shot. The Crown Prince had lost his nerve, only highlighting his inexperience and making Aurangzeb look even better. The following morning the decisive battle was joined. Once again, Aurangzeb’s European-manned artillery played a crucial role. However, even more importantly was the differences between the two armies and their commanders. Dara Shikoh’s last military experience had been a military blunder in Qandahar fighting the Safavids decades previous; he was untried, and his Muslim soldiers viewed him with suspicion. His army was an ill-disciplined polyglot of inexperienced recruits and rash (though valorous) Rajputs. By comparison, Aurangzeb was a hard military man, possessed of restless energy, with experience under his belt who attracted the loyalty of his men. His army was all battle-tested veterans of the Deccan Wars or experienced mercenaries, many having been there long before Aurangzeb took command. Nevertheless, the tide of battle favored Dara Shikoh until he committed a series of tactical blunders. As a result, he lost his cavalry, including the Rajputs, and his center became spent without even engaging the enemy. Aurangzeb had only sat put, intending to fight a defensive battle. His patience was rewarded, even though Murad Baksh broke ranks and was nearly killed by Dara’s cavalry. The battle was lost when Dara Shikoh dismounted his elephant on the advice of Khalilullah Khan, a mole working with Aurangzeb, and rumors spread the Crown Prince was killed. Even though Dara quickly mounted a horse and tried to rally his men, he could not gain control of them. Their discipline broke under the weight of hard fighting, almost constant bombardment, and in the Imperial center, nearly continuous marching. Aurangzeb saw his chance and ordered the advance, meeting no resistance. The civil war was over for all practical purposes.

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The battle of Samugarh, May 29th, 1658. By Payag ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Dara Shikoh fled to Agra, collected his wealth and his family and fled to Lahore. Aurangzeb triumphantly entered Agra in his brother’s wake on June 8, 1658. Once there he dropped all pretense of rescuing the Emperor and besieged Agra Fort. The Emperor surrendered on the pleas of his son’s leading commanders and was declared mentally incapable. The Emperor’s sole comfort was Aurangzeb’s decision to allow Jahanara, his older sister (the eldest child over all), to care for Shah Jahan in his old age. After taking care of things in Agra, Aurangzeb marched towards to Delhi and at Mathura had Murad Baksh arrested during a drinking bout on June 25. The younger prince’s military forces went over to Aurangzeb without trouble as he had already taken care of their pay-off.   He soon Delhi to great fanfare and soon seated himself on the Peacock Throne. He then made himself Emperor under the reign name Alamgir (Conqueror of the Universe) on July 21 but dispensed with the full ceremonial until he was certain his throne was secure. He had good reason to fear. In the east Shah Shuja was still at large and the loyalists under Jai Singh and Prince Sulaiman were in close pursuit. Aurangzeb feared that they could link-up and pose a significant threat to him. In the west, Dara Shikoh evaded capture, but Aurangzeb always had his agents in pursuit. The possibility of Dara going into Persia and the seeking the aid of the Safavid Emperor Sulaiman I (much like their ancestor Humayun had sought the assistance of Emperor Tahmasp I) was a real danger.

Aware of these threats, Aurangzeb moved quickly to deal with them. As Dara could not be found yet, the new Emperor turned his attention to Jai Singh, Prince Sulaiman, and Shah Shuja. The former two were dealt with more easily. Jai Singh and his lieutenant, Dilir Khan, had already learned of the events at Samugarh, of Dara Shikoh’s flight, and Aurangzeb’s ascension to the throne. They judged the situation to not be in their favor and decided to recognize Aurangzeb as emperor. But Jai Singh’s Rajput honor would not allow him to turn over Prince Sulaiman to his uncle. Instead, he advised the prince to flee and try to find his father in the Panjab. Aurangzeb was enraged by this news but delighted at Jai Singh’s decision to swear fealty. After this, an exchange of letters started between the emperor and Shah Shuja. Despite flowery declarations of brotherly affection by Aurangzeb, the older prince was suspicious and made secret preparations to march on Delhi. In October, this became apparent and Shah Shuja issued a declaration of his intent to march on Agra and free Shah Jahan from confinement in the Fort. Support swelled for the Bengali forces as they marched out from Rajmahal and loyalists turned out in droves to join. Varanasi (the site of Shuja’s previous defeat) surrendered peacefully, which Shuja repaid by forcing the merchants to give him their gold to supply his treasury. He then marched on, and by the third week of December he was advancing to the city of Allahabad in modern Uttar Pradesh. Aurangzeb was not still during these events, and he also gathered his forces, now bolstered by the addition of the Rajputs who had sworn fealty (for this campaign principally Jaswant Singh). Mir Jumla, who had returned to the Deccan, was also recalled and given orders to join with the emperor.

After much maneuvering, the two forces faced each other and set camp on the flat plains of Kajwa. On January 4, 1659, Jaswant Singh sent messages to the camp of Shah Shuja asking him to attack the Imperial camp shortly after midnight. For Jaswant was intending to betray the emperor, loot the camp, and return to his fief. This way the Bengali army could attack and sweep the field, defeating Aurangzeb and end the war. The Rajput leader distrusted his new master and was chiefly concerned with the welfare of his kingdom, which he believed would not prosper under Aurangzeb. At midnight, January 4-5 the Maharaja kept his word and attacked. The Imperial army lost half its number to either death or defection, and the Emperor lost his previously overwhelming numerical superiority. The resulting battle of Kajwa on January 5 was the most closely fought battle of the war.  Due in no small part to Prince Shah Shuja’s use of war elephants. War elephants in the real sense of the word had become rare in Indian warfare and had seen only limited action since the advent of the Delhi Sultanate centuries previous. However the tide of military change went more slowly in Bengal, so elephants still featured prominently there, which influenced Shah Shuja. The elephants came into play against the Imperial left wing and proved impervious to gunfire, arrow fire, and lance wounds. Once they turned towards the center Aurangzeb ordered his matchlock men to shoot the riders off their mounts, which finally defeated the elephants. In the end the Emperor was victorious by the two elements that had served him so well at Dharmat and Samugarh: his superior European artillery and the veteran status of his core army. Also, while both wings were routed, the center, always led by Aurangzeb personally, held on. Shah Shuja caused his army to rout by dismounting his elephant and fleeing on horseback, like Dara Shikoh had done at Samugarh,. Shah Shuja, however, was able to recover in better order and still posed a threat. Aurangzeb, however, was still more concerned with Dara Shikoh then anyone else and left the matter of Shuja in the capable hands of Mir Jumla, and left for Delhi.

Mir Jumla and Shah Shuja would fight many battles in the first three months of 1659, but affairs finally came to a close that April. On April 5 the Imperial forces dealt the decisive blow at the battle of Maksudabad, reducing Shuja to a fugitive. The prince flittered around Bengal, evading capture until he accepted an offer of asylum from King Sandathudamma of the Burmese kingdom of Arakan. Shah Shuja left India on May 12, 1660, and never returned. He was eventually murdered, with his entire family, by Sandathudamma, but for what reasons remain unknown. Meanwhile, Aurangzeb had little time to rejoice over Mir Jumla’s victory, for Dara Shikoh was moving in force.

The former Crown Prince had led an eventful life underground. He had run in every direction across the Panjab, through Sind, and eventually into Gujarat. All along the way Dara tried to gather support and a new army. But the situation had changed from a year previous. The events at Samugarh, Aurangzeb’s coronation, and the defeat of Shuja had made any attempt to dislodge the Emperor seem fool hardly at best. While Dara Shikoh still commanded the affection and loyalty of many non-Muslims in the empire his power base had mostly abandoned him. Aiding Dara in his recruitment efforts was his youngest son, Prince Sipihr. Eventually, father and son found the support they sought in Gujarat from Shah Nawaz Khan, the governor. From Gujarat, Prince Sipihr was sent ahead into Rajasthan to bring the Rajputs into the fold. Up to this point, Dara had been altering his plan on the run and on reaching Gujarat his first idea had been to flee into the Deccan and link with the forces of Bijapur and Golkonda against Aurangzeb. But the safety of Gujarat and Aurangzeb’s campaign of disinformation had caused the former Crown Prince to think he could dash to Agra and free Shah Jahan. For that reason, he had sent Siphir to prepare the way through Rajput territory, and the kingdom of Jaswant Singh. Jaswant was initially agreeable to the plan and agreed to supply forces in February 1659. But Jai Singh intervened and persuaded Jaswant that it would smarter to back Aurangzeb. He, therefore, changed his mind and left the army of Dara Shikoh in a dangerous situation. The emperor was delighted and was already in Rajasthan by March. Dara could neither go forward to Ajmer as the Rathore Rajputs of Jaswant Singh had changed sides or backward to Gujarat as Aurangzeb would catch him quickly. Instead, he opted to take position at the defile of Deorai, hoping to defeat his brother’s far larger army in detail. The battle of Deorai lasted from April 12 to April 14 with the final victory of Aurangzeb. In this fight, the Imperial victory was owed to the hard fighting spirit of the Rajput cavalry and Dara Shikoh’s well demonstrated military incompetence. Dara and his family would flee again and make for Persia. But they were betrayed by Malik Jiwan Khan at Dadar near Bolan Pass on June 9. Aurangzeb, who had finally ascended to the throne in full pageantry and ceremony on June 5, immediately ordered his older brother brought to Delhi.

The final act of the succession conflict now opened. The prisoner train bearing Dara Shikoh and his family arrived in Delhi on August 23 under the authority of Prince Mu’azzam. Aurangzeb wanted a public display of his triumph and so paraded a chained and destitute Dara through the streets of Delhi with his son Sipihr on August 29. The next day a trial was held, as the Emperor sought to end all threats to his rule by legal means. The ulama condemned Dara Shikoh has an apostate from Islam, not just a heretic as they had before and delivered a verdict of death by beheading. The former Crown Prince’s body was buried unceremoniously in the Tomb of Humayun in an unmarked plot. The head was sent to Agra as a “gift” to Shah Jahan and Princess Jahanara in the Fort. Prince Sipihr, because of his youth, was spared his father’s fate and became a ward of the Imperial Court. The fate of Shah Shuja has already been covered. However, Mir Jumla did use Shuja’s activities in Bengal as an excuse to war with the Ahom dynasty of Assam (a venture that ended in failure and the Persian adventurer’s death). Murad Baksh, languishing in Gwaliar, or Gwalior, was executed on December 4, 1661, as punishment for his murder of the Chancellor of Gujarat, Ali Naqi, in 1657. His son, Izid, was spared like his cousin Sipihr and made a ward of the Imperial Court. The last challenger to Aurangzeb then was the eldest son of Dara Shikoh, Prince Sulaiman. After being allowed to escape by Jai Singh in 1658 the Prince had tried to join his father in the Panjab through the Himalayas via Haridwar but Aurangzeb had foreseen such a possibility and had the road blocked. He thus eventually came into the protection of Raja Prithvi Singh of Garhwal, a Hindu kingdom in the same region. Prince Sulaiman found protection in the Garhwal capital of Srinagar for a year and half before he was betrayed by the royal heir, Medni Singh, and handed over to Imperial authorities on December 27, 1660.

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Modern Srinagar City. By Sauood07 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

The prisoner train arrived in Delhi on January 2, 1661. Aurangzeb initially made promises to treat his eldest nephew lightly (comparatively), his fate being to be confined for life in Gwaliar. But the Emperor instead had Prince Sulaiman killed by slow poisoning, and the Prince died in May 1662. Alternatively it said that Sulaiman was dying of poisoning, but death itself was delivered by the executioner’s ax.

With the death of Prince Sulaiman, Aurangzeb now sat unchallenged on the Peacock Throne and would continue to do so for the next 49 years. Except for Prince Akbar, none of Aurangzeb’s sons rose against their father. Aurangzeb did attempt to preempt any conflicts after his death by dividing the empire among his heirs, but this only drove the conflict harder. In this way, the Mughal tradition of fratricidal conflict continued until well into the era of regional fragmentation, ending only after the events of the reign of Emperor Alam II, the great-great-grandson of Aurangzeb.




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Stephen Meredyth Edwardes, Herbert Leonard Offley Garrett, Mughal Rule in India (New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distrubutors, 1995),

S.B. Bhattacherje, Encyclopaedia of Indian Events & Dates (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2008)

The Battle of Samugarh. Jan. 2006. Military History of India.

7 Feb. 2010 <>.

Samugarh, 28th May 1658. Jan. 2006. Aditya Mittal’s Indian Military History Page.

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The Rise of Massed Tactics in Japanese Warfare

It has been all too commonly assumed that guns triggered a tactical revolution in Japanese warfare, giving rise to “massed tactics”. That is, fighting in close quarters formation as a coherent group. But massed tactics were already being used in Japan well before the introduction of guns. In fact, it seems the transformation was triggered by pikes in the 15th century around the time of the Onin War.

So first, let us look at the prior history of the pike. Long polearms had been imported into Japan from the continent for the armies of the Ritsuryo state (the Chinese influenced centralized imperial system) in the 7th century. Once those armies began to break down as military force became privatized those polearms declined, though the shorter spear fared somewhat better. In the 14th century a weapon called the Kikuchi pike appears, an innovation of the Nambokucho Wars (a civil war on its face about the imperial succession, but somewhat more complicated than that). A Kikichi pike was a short blade attached to a long bamboo pole, and may have been related to a polearm used during Mongol Invasions. That weapon had been a knife mounted on a pole 5 feet in length, and can be found in the Scrolls of the Mongol Invasions commissioned by Takezaki Suenaga. In both cases the pike was the weapon of the lesser warrior, and may have functioned as the poor man’s replacement for the naginata, the Japanese curved halberd or glaive. They do not appear to have been effective weapons, as they account for only fifteen casualties known from battle reports made during the 14th century. By contrast swords of all types caused 92 percent of all documented nonprojectile casualties.

Once the samurai realized just how useful pikes could be when massed together in close formation and large numbers this changed. Doing so would require both cash and supplies, also leading to the creation of standing armies. The logistics were provided by a new tax created during the early years of the Ashikaga Shogunate. In 1352, the founding shogun, Takauji, introduced a new tax, the hanzei (half-tax) on eight provinces most affected by the Nambokucho Wars, and gradually expanded nationwide. The half tax allowed the Ashikaga’s military constables, the shugo, to use half of the revenue of their provinces for provisions and upkeep of their armed forces. Increased income and other powers exercised by the Shogunate and its officers made it more profitable for warriors to work with the system rather than against it. Most importantly for our purposes, the half tax allowed the shugo to amass the kind of logistical support base needed to train and maintain organized troops indefinitely.

We can already see this beginning long before the Onin War. In 1417-18 men from the province of Musashi organized into a Northern White Flag Corps (or possibly a Southern Corps). These two groups reveal that geographic origins had begun to mean more than kinship ties in warrior organization (demonstrating that organization had become more cohesive). The former corps also reveals that its men were identifying themselves with common insignia, in this case, a white cloth representing the Minamoto lineage. In the following decades, geographic organization became more frequent. In 1423 men from Musashi, Kozuke, and Shinano fought together as a cohesive group from central Japan. In the 1440s, generals were commanding troops out of a single region. Tactical changes were still not coming into force quite yet, as evidenced by battle reports.

For that, we turn to the succession struggle within the House of Hatakeyama. The Hatakeyama was one of the three leading cadet families of the Ashikaga, alongside the Hosokawa and Shiba and the theoretically shared the position of Deputy Shogun or Kanrei. They were also shugo in Kawachi, Kii, Noto, and Etchu and gained prominence from that. In 1450, Hatakeyama Mochikuni retired as family head but left the matter of his successor unclear. He had a son, Yoshinari but had given the boy up for holy orders while he was young. In the 1440s, he adopted a nephew, Masanaga and made him the heir. When Mochikuni retired, he attempted to pass the headship to Yoshinari, pulling him out of the monastery in contravention to the previous arrangement. Masanaga’s camp was enraged, but the Ashikaga ruled in favor of Yoshinari in 1454. Political bickering ran for months and the shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, reversed his ruling. Open fighting broke out in the streets of Kyoto. By the next year, Masanaga was deposed a second time, and he fled to Kawachi.

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Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the 8th Muromachi Shogun. By 日本語: 伝土佐光信 English: Attributed to Tosa Mitsunobu [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Here enters the figure of Hatakeyama Yasaburo. Widely unknown, Hatakeyama Yasaburo was the older brother by blood of Masanaga and commanded his brother’s troops at this stage of the war. At one point, Yasaburo and Yoshinari engaged in a clash described as an “exchange of pikes”, a phrase never before encountered. The phrase suggests a tactical innovation, with the battles in Kawachi and Kii being fought nearly exclusively with pikes. Later events would suggest Yasaburo had taken his pikemen and transformed them into a formation with the discipline to defeat cavalry on the open field. Hatakeyama Yasaburo died in 1459 after gaining pardons for the faction of Masanaga at court, leaving much about him and his battlefield accomplishments unknown.

The peace did not last long. In 1460, Shogun Yoshimasa revoked Yoshinari’s right of attendance and ordered him to vacate the Hatakeyama mansion. Supposedly angered by the gift of a withered tree, the Shogun changed sides in the succession dispute, again. Masanaga was placed back in power and given a commission to take down Yoshinari. By this time, the latter had fled back into the Hatakeyama lands of Kawachi and Kii. The fighting centered on the siege of Mt. Take, lasted until early 1463 when Yoshinari finally surrendered the mountain. He went into hiding, slinking between Kii and Yamato while Masanaga took up posts at shogunal court in 1464. All throughout the fighting the Hatakeyama used pike formations (exposing the provincial corps of 28 provinces to it in the process), and this would spill into the Onin War.

With the beginning of the Onin War, Japan descended into the longest period of civil war in its history. On the surface, the fighting was over a series of succession issues for family headship for several great families, such as the Hatakeyama and Shiba. But after 1465 an even more significant dispute arose: the succession of the Ashikaga House itself. The two greatest statesmen in the land, Hosokawa Katsumoto, and Yamana Sozen, already engaged in a fierce rivalry, supported the opposite sides. Previously Katsumoto and Sozen would on occasion join, such as in the Hatakeyama incident where both had backed Masanaga. Now they took all out positions against the other over the shogunal succession, Katsumoto for the Shogun’s dispossessed former heir and brother Yoshimi, Sozen for the infant Yoshihisa the Shogun’s son. Within this dispute, all others became polarized between Hosokawa and Yamana and no one could remain neutral.

We shall focus on the effects on this on the Hatakeyama dispute and how it directly leads to the outbreak of fighting. In the last days of 1466 Hatakeyama Yoshinari, long a wanderer, was allowed to return to Kyoto in triumph. Behind the scenes, Yamana Sozen had taken Yoshinari’s cause and pleaded his case with the Shogun’s wife, Tomiko. She procured pardon for Yoshinari, and fear of Yamana pushed her husband into dispossessing Hatakeyama Masanaga for the third time. Also, he was given a commission to take down Masanaga. Already bolstered by previous victories in the Shiba succession dispute, Sozen demanded Katsumoto abandon Masanaga.

Instead of complying, Katsumoto fortified his mansion and called up troops. Shogun Yoshimasa panicked and ordered both Hosokawa and Yamana to sit out the fighting between the Hatakeyama factions. The Hatakeyama were commanded to fight it out in the woods near the Goryo Shrine north of the city. In a sudden attack at dawn on the 18th day of the first month of 1467 (according to the Japanese lunar calendar), Yoshinari emerged victorious.

But this would not be the end of the matter. Hosokawa Katsumoto would not abandon Masanaga and eventually stopped attending at the shogunal court. Instead, he was fortifying his mansion, and those of the shugo aligned with him followed suit. Yamana Sozen and those shugo aligned with him did the same. By a quirk of geography, the mansions of Katsumoto’s faction was largely in the eastern wards of the capital and those of Sozen’s in the west. Thus, they became known as the Eastern and Western armies, respectively. Tensions ran high until the 26th day of the fifth month when Eastern troops set fire to the mansion of Isshiki Yoshinao, the only Western estate in the eastern wards of Kyoto. The Western army retaliated by setting fire to the few mansions of Eastern supporters in the western wards and the war was on.

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Hosokawa Katsumoto, the leader of the Eastern army. By 日本語: 不明 English: Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

It did not take long for the fighting to come to a stalemate. The opposing factions and the shugo who supported them fought in the capital as neither could afford to leave their fortified positions and both feared leaving Kyoto. As that would cause them to be labeled an enemy of the court, a loss of legitimacy they could not survive. Also, the shugo were already funneling men and supplies from their provinces into their respective camps. The Shogun Yoshimasa, not grasping what was happening, insulated himself in his cultural pursuits and remained above the fray. Meanwhile, the two factions had burned much of Kyoto to give themselves room to maneuver, especially the cavalry. Not just shugo mansions, but the temples and the dwellings of aristocracy and common alike were destroyed. As the fighting continued the East and the West both struggled for position, with the Western army forcing the East into cramped quarters in the northeast quadrant. The reason was the ongoing struggle for control of the supply lines into the capital, which the Western army seemed to be winning. For example, the Western victory in the battle near the temple of Nanzenji around mid-late summer in southwestern Kyoto. They were aided significantly by the arrival in the eighth month of Ouchi Masahiro and Kono Michiyasu with some 20,000 troops, leading to the first documented use of pikes in the Onin War.

On September 13th Western forces, still operating in the southwest, attacked and burned the temple of Sanboin. Battle reports state that six members of the Kikkawa family sustained pike wounds. An additional four were wounded by pikes on the 2nd and 3rd days of the tenth month. While not all Kikkawa casualties were caused by pikes (arrows caused eight casualties, rocks five, swords one) the increase in pike related injuries is still significant. The battle at Sanboin witnessed as many pike wounds as the previous century. The Western commanders were oblivious to this and only saw a chance to break Eastern resistance. The following month the Western commanders made a mass offensive inside Kyoto proper, demolishing the temple complex of Shokokuji to make room for their cavalry.


The modern Shokokuji, Kyoto. By Chris Gladis [CC BY-ND 2.0 (] via Flickr.

Opposing them was 2,000 pikemen under Hatakeyama Masanaga. According to the Chronicle of Onin the Hatakeyama leader had decided to take the initiative and led his pike squads in close formation behind shields to charge the Western cavalry where Shokokuji had once stood. The attack was a success, with the cavalry (despite numbering some 6,000 men) unable to break the infantry line. They suffered 67 casualties before withdrawing. Hatakeyama Yoshinari was also active in the area, allowing the cavalry to retreat behind his pikemen and forcing Masanaga to himself withdraw.

Never before had Japanese infantry successfully withstood cavalry out in the open. The battle marked the end of the mobile warfare phase of the struggle for the capital, and from this point on what mattered was the ability to hold ground. The Eastern army took the lead in this regard, building a trench system along their front lines at the beginning of 1468. The Western army followed, suit and was not long before Kyoto resembled a WWI battlefield. Some trenches were over 9ft deep and 19ft wide with watchtowers ranging from 69-99ft in height dotting the landscape. Night raids by small squads of light infantry became the favored tactic.

Despite this, army size and the demand for weapons only increased. The provincial support bases of the shugo proved unable to keep up with the needs of the soldiers. Leading to the ironic situation in Kyoto in which the manufacturing centers of the south were spared the worst fighting to make more weapons and armor. Cavalry shifted to supply line attacks, village raids, and reconnoitering. The fight for control of the supply lines, which continued nearly the whole eleven years, was never decided decisively. One line for Katsumoto or Sozen always remained open, and always had enough to keep the East and West in the field.

At this point let us examine the battle reports again. In contrast to the battle reports noted earlier in this article after 1467, the sword declined in use in favor of the pike. Swords account for 20 percent of all nonprojectile casualties across the Sengoku while pikes start off at 74 percent nonprojectile casualties during the Onin War to 98 percent nonprojectile casualties by the battle of Sekigahara in 1600. As a testament to the changes in Japanese warfare the practice of submitting battle reports began to change as well. Troops stopped sending reports of where they had marched, arrival at camp, and so on. Casualty lists replaced reports of warrior movements. Advances in army organization had made such practices unnecessary as commanders now knew more about the location of their troops and armies increased in size.

The Onin War would continue until 1477 (at least the stage of fighting in the capital) when Ouchi Masahiro pulled out of Kyoto. During that time, Hosokawa Katsumoto and Yamana Sozen had both died without achieving a decisive victory in 1473. The dispute over the shogunal succession ceased to matter relatively quickly, and Yoshimasa stepped down to place Yoshihisa in power to little notice or fanfare the same year Katsumoto and Sozen died. Yoshimi, the other “contender” lived a life in semi-nomadic exile, having already been bounced between sides so many times he no longer cared. Fighting in Kyoto spilled out into the provinces after 1473, marking the beginning of the Sengoku.

An interesting postscript to our topic is the triumphs of Miyoshi Nagayoshi in the 16th century. This man, originally a deputy shugo under the Hosokawa, used massed tactics to accomplish one of the better-known examples of gekokujo (the low overcoming the high). This practice was born out of the Onin War, as the Ashikaga political and social order broke down, and subordinates overthrew those over them. Using 900 pikemen, Miyoshi Nagayoshi was able to defeat Hosokawa Harumoto, who was not only the shugo he served but the real power within the Ashikaga Shogunate, in 1549. That same year he expelled the Ashikaga shogun, Yoshiteru, and would not allow him to return until 1552. The Miyoshi later killed Yoshiteru shortly after Nagayoshi’s death. During his lifetime Miyoshi Nagayoshi had based his power solely on military might, stemming from the efficient use of massed infantry acting in cohesion.


Weapons & Fighting Techniques of the Samurai Warrior 1200-1877 AD by Thomas D. Conlan

The Onin War: History of Its Origins and Background With a Selective Translation of The Chronicle of Onin by H. Paul Varley

Warrior Rule in Japan edited by Marius B. Jansen

Samurai, Warfare, and the State in Early Medieval Japan by Karl F. Friday

The Seljuqs of Rum

The Seljuqs of Rum, or Anatolian Seljuqs (Turkish: Anadolu Selcuklulari), were the first major Turkish state in what was to become Turkey. An offshoot of the greater Seljuq Empire, the Rum Seljuqs would eventually outlast their kin, and their legacy would be an inspiration for all future Turkish realms in Anatolia.

All branches of the Seljuqs had a common origin. Among historians, it is widely accepted the Seljuqs were a ruling clan of a significant section of a vast Turkish tribal confederacy known as the Ghuzz or Oghuz. In the 11th Century two Seljuq leaders, brothers, Tughrul Beg and Chagri Beg, defeated the Ghaznavids in northern Iran. With the floodgates open the Ghuzz poured into Iran and within less than a decade they had captured Baghdad, the center of Sunni Islamic legitimacy and invested with vast authority by the Abbasid caliph. In 1063, the architect of the newfound Seljuq Empire, Tughrul, died. For a time it seemed war would break out between the successors of Tughrul, endangering all they had gained. Eventually, the conflict boiled down between Qutlumish and Alp Arslan, Tughrul’s cousin and nephew respectively. Alp Arslan won the contest, but he mourned the death of a member of his family and vowed to treat Qutlumish’s heirs well. Alp Arslan would go on to expand Seljuq power, bringing it into conflict with the premier superpower in the Middle East, the Roman Empire (incorrectly known as the Byzantine Empire). In 1071 Alp Arslan won a decisive victory over the Romans at the battle of Manzikert, changing the region forever. The Seljuqs would divide the spoils of victory between the commanders who contributed the most to victory. Among these was the son of Qutlumish, and the founder of the Sultanate of Rum, Suleiman.

Within a year of Manzikert the great Alp Arslan was dead and was succeeded by his son Malik Shah. The new sultan was wary of Suleiman, and with good reason, he was ambitious and had the talent to back it up. To keep his cousin away from Baghdad, Malik Shah made Suleiman and his sons the leaders of all Turkmen in Anatolia. The decision was met with much grumbling from the other leaders, but Suleiman was able to quiet them. Taking advantage of the civil wars in Roman territory Suleiman played the differing candidates to the purple off each other and used the distraction to conquer vast swaths of Anatolia. Asia Minor was now lost to the empire and to drive this point home Suleiman made the city of Nicaea, a scant sixty miles from Constantinople itself, his capital. In 1081, the Roman Empire stabilized with the ascension of Alexios Komnenos to the purple. Suleiman and Alexios reached an agreement to stay clear of the other, allowing the Seljuq leader to turn his attention east. In 1084, he captured Antioch, which had been thought unconquerable (every attempt by Muslims to conquer the city since 969 had failed). Within two years, Suleiman believed his power, which encompassed nearly the entirety of Anatolia, plenty enough to warrant independence from Isfahan, the capital of the greater Seljuq empire. To make this clear to Malik Shah, Suleiman laid siege to the city of Aleppo, an important stepping-stone to Damascus, the key to the Holy Land. As it turned out Tutush, the Sultan of Syria, would march to Aleppo’s relief. During a battle with Tutush Suleiman was slain (in some accounts he took his own life). His family was captured and sent to Malik Shah. With the death of Suleiman the first period of the Sultanate of Rum ended.

Several years would pass before the recreation of the sultanate. In 1092 Malik Shah died and civil war between his brothers and sons broke out, splitting the Greater Seljuqs. Taking advantage of the chaos the son of Suleiman, Kilij Arslan, escaped to Anatolia. Even though he was just thirteen Kilij Arslan regained the city of Nicaea, and from there he rebuilt his father’s sultanate. In just four years, he had recovered nearly all the territory his father once held, and Kilij Arslan would triumphantly declare himself Sultan of Rum. But his triumph was short-lived, the Danishmendids, who had been among those given land by Alp Arslan following Manzikert, posed a threat that Kilij Arslan could not ignore. But this too was short lived. For unknown to the Seljuqs and the Danishmendids alike the Roman Emperor Alexios had called for aid from the West.

The Pope, the spiritual leader of Western Christianity, had responded to this plea with an appeal for a crusade, a holy war, to reclaim the holy city of Jerusalem from the Muslims. In 1096, the first wave of this crusade, the Peasant’s Crusade of Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless, arrived in Anatolia. Suddenly a threat bigger than anything he could have imagined was here. The Seljuq army abruptly changed directions, and the young sultan destroyed the Peasant’s Crusade masterfully. With that taken care of Kilij Arslan turned his attention to the Danishmendids. Unbeknownst to the Seljuqs a much larger and well-organized crusade was coming. But when Kilij Arslan was told of the arrival of this new body of Crusaders he dismissed them, after all he had crushed the first Crusaders that arrived, what had he to fear of these new men? But that was perhaps the biggest mistake he would ever make. In 1097, Kilij Arslan received word that a combined force of Crusaders and Romans were besieging his capital at Nicaea. The sultan rushed to his capital but arrived too late to do anything, the Crusaders defeated him handily, and the city fell. Alexios took possession of the city to the chagrin of the Crusaders and custody of Kilij Arslan’s family. In a much-criticized decision the Emperor later returned the sultan’s family unharmed, because of their mutual respect for each other. Realizing by now that these new Crusaders were different than anything he had known before Kilij Arslan formed an alliance with the Danishmendids to stand united against this foe. At the battle of Dorylaeum, the united Turkish army was destroyed. To those that survived it seemed like a reverse Manzikert had been inflicted on the Turks. The Crusaders pressed on, and the Sultanate of Rum was reduced to little more than the plains of eastern Anatolia.

The First Crusade was perhaps the Sultanate of Rum’s darkest hour. To Kilij Arslan, it seemed like the end was near as the Crusaders reduced his territory bit by bit, but once it became apparent the destruction of the Seljuqs was not their goal he rebuilt his power. When the Crusade of 1101 began, the Seljuqs had already adapted to the Western style of warfare. In several months, Kilij Arslan broke the myth of Crusader invincibility that had settled over the Muslim world, by wiping out three crusader armies one after the other. With these victories, Seljuq power spread once more and central Anatolia was regained from the Romans. Even the Danishmendids began to falter, and the Seljuqs made gains against them. In 1107, the great conqueror turned his attention to Baghdad, and he marched towards that city. However at Mosul the Great Seljuqs were able to halt his advance and Kilij Arslan died shortly after that by drowning.

The Seljuqs were on the rise once more. The successor of Kilij Arslan was named, ironically, Malik Shah. But this Malik Shah was weak and none too bright. His reign was dominated by an ill-advised war with the Romans. Taking advantage of his brother’s unpopularity another son, named Mas’ud, dethroned Malik Shah in a coup in 1116. In contrast to Malik Shah, Mas’ud was more interested in rebuilding domestically and making friends with the Romans. But he was also a warrior. In 1134, Mas’ud made significant gains against the Danishmendids (who had backed his rise to power). When the Second Crusade was launched in reaction to the fall of the County of Edessa to Zengi of Mosul, Mas’ud, and his Anatolian Seljuqs played a major role in their defeat. The destruction of the German and French Crusaders was their doing. In the years that followed Mas’ud would oversee a gradual expansion of his domain, with the Sultanate of Rum absorbing both the remnants of the Greater Seljuqs and the Danishmendids. In 1153, the Alaeddin Mosque in Konya was completed and remains Mas’ud’s greatest legacy, as well as the best-preserved example of Seljuq architecture still in existence. The Sultan Mas’ud died in 1156, the first Seljuq sultan to die peacefully.

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The Alaeddin Mosque in modern Konya, Turkey. The Rum dynastic mausoleum, Mas’ud was the first of eight sultans buried here. By Christian Mathis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Mas’ud left behind a growing, prosperous, realm. Mas’ud was succeeded to the throne by his son Kilij Arslan II. Like his grandfather, this Kilij was a full-blown warrior and a fighter, and it was in his reign the Third Crusade was faced. At the start of his reign, Kilij Arslan II was threatened by his brother, who was supported by the Danishmendids. There was also the matter of the Romans. Eventually, Kilij Arslan II decided to focus on the Romans first. In 1159, he attacked Manouel I as he was returning home from a conference with Nur ad-Din, the successor of Zengi. The attack resulted in a war that ended in Roman victory in 1161. Or so it seemed. In reality, Kilij Arslan II was setting the stage for what he hoped to be a great victory over the Romans. In 1175, the Sultanate of Rum destroyed the hated Danishmendids, annexing their territory. By the terms of their treaty, Manouel demanded land he believed Roman by right. But Kilij Arslan II refused, and, as a result, the whole Roman army marched against him. In the resulting battle of Myriokephalon even though the Roman army had avoided being wiped out the psychological impact was enormous.

After this battle no more attempts were made to conquer Anatolia, the tide of time had turned in favor of the Seljuqs. Following the battle Kilij Arslan II took a page from his father’s book and focused on the internal affairs. The famous ‘hans’ or trading centers that marked the beginning of the first great Turkish economic flourishing appeared at this time. In 1180 following the death of his old enemy Manouel Kilij Arslan II launched an offensive against Roman territory, capturing the southern Anatolian coastline. During this conquest, the Seljuqs negotiated an alliance with the rising power of Salah ad-Din, whom we know as Saladin. In 1186, Kilij Arslan II made the most controversial decision of his life. He decided to abdicate his throne to his ten sons, he would nominally remain sultan for the rest of his life, but the day-to-day ruling would be their domain. It was in this political climate that Frederick Barbarossa and his soldiers captured Konya, the capital of the Seljuq realm. Kilij Arslan II died two years later, watching as his sons tore the sultanate apart in their petty squabbles.

The first son to claim the Seljuq throne was Kai Khusrau, who took it in 1192. In 1194, the last remnants of the Great Seljuqs collapsed, bringing the Seljuq period of Persia to an end. But Kai Khusrau had not been on the throne for long before he was sentenced to exile with his family to Constantinople in 1196. He was replaced by Suleiman II, who conquered the Artukid and Saltukid begliks in his reign. In 1204, he died and was succeeded by his three-year-old son Kilij Arslan III. But the infant sultan was replaced by his returning uncle and cousins later that year, after the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade.

Kai Khusrau had inherited a real mess. In 1204, with the aid of his Roman father-in-law, Kai Khusrau was at last able to conquer the Seljuq throne for good. Under this new sultan, the Seljuqs began to recover from the civil war and rebuild their shattered realm. Kai Khusrau even called on his sister Nesibi Hatun, to help out by overseeing a building spree on his behalf. In 1207, Kai Khusrau captured Antalya, an important Mediterranean port. With the taking of Antalya the great economic boom that characterized the reigns of Kai Khusrau and his sons Kai Qavus and Kai Qubad began. He then embarked on a campaign against the Roman successor states in Anatolia and died in battle with the Emperor of Nicaea, Theodoros Laskaris, in 1211.

The next sultan improved on his father’s legacy. Kai Qavus was much like his father in how he ruled the Sultanate of Rum, in that he balanced the economy with military conquests. One of the first actions he took was to imprison his younger brother Kai Qubad. Much as Malik Shah had feared Kilij Arslan, Kai Qavus feared for his throne. In 1214, the Black Sea port city of Sinope was captured by Seljuq armies, which opened new trade opportunities with the Far East. When the city of Antalya was captured by a Crusader invasion Kai Qavus was able to recapture it quickly. Holding these two trade cities put the sultanate right on the middle of the trade routes, which strengthened the coffers of Rum. He also forced the Roman successor state of Trebizond to bow to him. However, that would not have been possible if not for Kai Qavus’ army reforms. He enlarged the Seljuq armies and instilled a new sense of discipline. Kai Qavus was also a builder, and his buildings inspired his brother later. In the last years of his reign, Kai Qavus became a poet, and he encouraged the study of the Persian classics. He died of a disease in 1219.

Kai Qubad was perhaps the greatest of the Sultans of Rum. When Kai Qavus died in 1219, his brother Kai Qubad was released from prison in Ankara, and as his brother had no sons, he was allowed to succeed. Kai Qubad soon proved himself full of such unbridled energy, self-confidence, and ambition that he was unlike any Seljuq ruler since the early days of the sultanate. He was also obsessed with military matters. Even if the Sultanate of Rum was wealthy it was still small, not yet to the size it had been under his grandfather. Starting in 1221 he embarked on a series of campaigns that would when they ended brought all Anatolia save for Diyarbakir and the Christian kingdoms, as well as the Crimea under Seljuq dominion. For fifteen years, the Sultanate of Rum was never defeated on the field of battle.


Statue of Kai Qubad in modern Alanya, Turkey. By user:ozgurmulazimoglu (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

But it was in the domestic arena that Kai Qubad received his greatest glory. No other man in the entire Seljuq dynasty was as great a builder as he. No other man was as great a trader then he also. It is said that Kai Qubad transformed all Anatolia into a market garden during his reign, backed by vast sugar refineries and farms. Nearly all the cities under his command received a makeover: Konya was rebuilt, surpassing all of her old glory. Sivas was transformed into one of the greatest trading centers in the Middle East. The walls of Kayseri were rebuilt. Kai Qubad built more hans in his reign than any other sultan. And every major crossing had a bridge. More palaces were built; two examples (Keykubadiyye and Kubadabad) remain today. It was in this era of unsurpassed glory the first envoys of the Mongols arrived, but what they felt on seeing this splendor we do not know. This glorious reign was ended in blood when Kai Qubad was assassinated in 1237 with all of his sons save one.

The reign of the surviving son would mark the beginning of the end. Following the assassination of his father and brothers Kai Khusrau II ascended to the Seljuq throne. In 1237 when he began his reign he was master of nearly all of Anatolia when he died it was divided. Kai Khusrau II was not suited to rule, he was interested only in wine and poetry. Nevertheless he started his reign off with conquest, bringing Diyarbakir to the fold. With this conquest, all that stood between the Seljuqs and domination was the Christian kingdoms of Lesser Armenia and the Roman successor state of Trebizond. But just as he was about to go to war a massive revolt broke out. In 1239 the Turkmen (that is those people that did not want to settle down into a sedentary lifestyle) rose in revolt under a Sufi mystic (Dervish) named Baba Ishaq. This uprising was massive, and grew and changed purpose. Soon what had started as just the revolt of the discontented turned into a religious revolution, and people from all walks of life joined in. It took three years to put down the uprising, and the damage would be irreparable. All levels of Turkish society had been affected by the rebellion, throwing it into an uproar. Also the army Kai Qavus and Kai Qubad had built up so proudly no longer existed. And finally the Crimea, the sultanate’s first possession outside the Middle East, had been lost in the chaos.

Still Kai Khusrau II was optimistic, but not for long. In 1242, the Mongol general and the representative of the Great Khan in the Middle East, Baiju, attacked the Sultanate of Rum. The Sultanate was well aware of the Mongols; Kai Qubad had even invited them to parley with him at Konya. But no one had taken their threat seriously, even as they continued their conquests undefeated from Mongolia all the way to Persia. Now the great scourge from the east descended on Anatolia like a plague. When Erzurum suddenly fell to Baiju, the Seljuqs finally realized what they faced. A panicking Kai Khusrau II hastily put together an army; later to be joined by Georgian refugees fleeing westwards from the Mongols, and a Roman force from Trebizond. This army met the Mongol army of Baiju at a place known as Kose Dag, in the mountains of eastern Anatolia. In this battle, the Seljuq-Allied army was destroyed by the Mongols, and the broken sultan fled to Antalya and never left. With the destruction of their army, there was nothing to protect the Seljuqs as the Mongols surged forth. Sivas and Kayseri were captured, large swaths of land were burned, and all Anatolia was thrown into chaos. But Baiju did not conquer the whole sultanate. Instead, he merely forced Kai Khusrau II to bend his knee to the Great Khan and pay a hefty tribute. Kai Khusrau II died a broken man, with a broken sultanate, in 1246, possibly strangled by his nobles.

The death of Kai Khusrau II was a great blow. Following the death of Kai Khusrau II there was a crisis in Seljuq territory. The old sultan had never named a successor, and he had three sons: Kai Qavus II, Kilij Arslan IV, and Kai Qubad II. Under the wise guidance of the brilliant Vizier Celaddin Karatay, the remaining lands of the Sultanate of Rum were divided between the three heirs in 1249. When Hulagu Khan, brother of Mongke, the Great Khan, arrived in the area a few years later he reaffirmed the arrangement between the brothers and appointed Baiju to watch Anatolia carefully. But despite this the three co-rulers conspired and schemed between one another for control of the entire sultanate, as well as a solution to the Mongol problem. In 1257, Kai Qubad II was ready to surrender his third of the sultanate to Mongke, preferring to live under Mongol rule. The nobility was shocked by this news and prevented his surrender by assassinating him. With the death of Kai Qubad II, the balance of power between the brothers was broken. The remaining brothers did not have much time to think though as Hulagu demanded their aid in his campaign against Baghdad, which resulted in the destruction of that city a year later (1258). Following this Hulagu intervened in Anatolia and divided the sultanate in two between Kai Qavus II and Kilij Arslan IV.

The division marks the entrance of one of the most prominent figures of later Seljuq history, the Pervane. Technically Pervane is a title (Turkish: Butterfly), but it is one the man is best known. The Pervane was an arch schemer and manipulator, as we will see. In 1261, the Romans regained Constantinople from the Latin usurpers, and Kai Qavus II soon visited the city to seek the aid of Michael Palaiologos against the Mongols. His mother was a Roman princess, so Kai Qavus II felt kinship with the new Emperor. But the Pervane leaked the plan to the Mongols, leading to exile in Crimea where Kai Qavus II died in 1279. Kilij Arslan IV died soon afterward in 1264 (because of the intrigues of the Pervane), leaving behind a six-year-old boy to inherit. This child was set up by the Mongols as the new sole ruler of Anatolia for them, but in reality the Pervane called the shots.

The Sultanate of Rum was unified but would never grow strong. When the six-year-old Kai Khusrau III came to the throne following the death of his father he was the sultan of all that was left of the Seljuq lands. But even then his control spread little outside Konya. The nobility no longer owed their loyalty to the Rum Sultans any longer, ruling on their own. All actual power was held by the Pervane, who after marrying Kai Khusrau’s III mother became his stepfather. The Pervane, through his political power, was able to hold the Sultanate of Rum together and kept the peace in Anatolia, but he was also by nature an ambitious man. As a result, he was unable to pass up any opportunity for more power. In 1276, he entered into a secret deal with Baibars, the mighty Mamluk Sultan of Egypt (the Mamluks displaced the Ayyubids in 1250). When Baibars entered Anatolia, the Pervane saw to it the Seljuqs aided him in defeating the Mongol presence. But for reasons unknown to this day Baibars did not complete his conquest, instead he turned back and died in Syria soon after (1277). Baibars’ death left the Pervane high and dry, and he was executed later that same year for treason by the Mongols, freeing the Seljuqs from his intrigues. The power vacuum set off a civil war that did not end until the final fall of the Seljuqs. When Kai Khusrau III matured, he chose to focus on a building program, rather than concentrate on the problems plaguing the Sultanate of Rum. Nevertheless, the young sultan was given the epithet Fahreddin, the Pride of Islam, by his people following his execution in 1283.

The end of the Rum Seljuqs was near. When Kai Khusrau III died the Sultanate of Rum no longer existed as a practical entity. All of what is now Turkey had been divided among many squabbling begs, provincial lords, who were loyal only to themselves. Few of these lords owed their support to the Seljuq Sultan, whose existence depended on the begs’ good will. Not long after the death of Kai Khusrau III he was succeeded by his nephew Mas’ud II. He tried to in vain to preserve the sultanate. Mas’ud II was removed from office in 1297 and was succeeded by his brother and rival Kai Qubad III, who was assassinated in 1302. Mas’ud returned to the throne the following year and established himself at Kayseri, lasting until 1308 when he was assassinated. With Mas’ud’s death the Sultanate of Rum ended, bringing to close one of the most momentous periods in Turkey’s history.

The Battle of Poyang Lake

In late August 1363 AD the two main contenders for control of China, Zhu Yuanzhang and Chen Youliang, faced off on Poyang (also called Boyang) Lake, the largest freshwater body of water in China. In the end Zhu Yuanzhang would win the battle and go on to found one of China’s greatest dynasties: the Ming.

The circumstances that would lead to Poyang Lake are tied to the fall of the Yuan Dynasty. When Kublai Khan founded his Yuan Dynasty in 1271 many of the Chinese resented it. In fact they never regarded the Yuan as a legitimate dynasty, but as a foreign occupation army. As time would show very few Yuan Emperors were capable and they became more decedent and sinicized over time. In the 1320s a massive famine swept China and 7 to 8 million people died of starvation. The inability of the Yuan to handle the crises was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Many secret societies devoted to the destruction of the Yuan popped up all over the land.

In 1325 the first rebellion broke out. The central Yuan government in Dadu (modern Beijing) was paralyzed and unable to act. Further the Yuan Army had denigrated into an ineffectual force. The wealthy landowning class realized the uprising, which was made of peasants, threatened them just as much as the Yuan. So they armed their own private armies and saved the Yuan from collapse. But the next time they would not be so lucky. In 1344 a flood broke the dams along the Huang He. The Yuan called up 170,000 peasants to fix the dams. But instead the peasants rose in revolt in 1352, and from there snowballed out of control. More rebellions broke out all over the country, and this time the landowners could not save the Yuan. By 1355 the dynasty was for all intents and purposes dead, although the Yuan Emperor remained in power until 1368.

Among the various rebel groups, many of which were religious in nature, the most powerful was the Song regime. The Song regime was originally a combined Buddhist-Manichean sect called the White Lotus, and became the Song regime in 1355. The titular leader was Han Lin’er, the Young King of Brilliance, and the son of Han Shantong, the sect’s founding father. But true power lay in the hands of the so called Red Turban (the military arm of the White Lotus) generals and in particular with a former beggar named Zhu Yuanzhang.

Zhu had been a Buddhist monk, but left his monastery to join the Song. Despite being so ugly that he was compared to a pig in looks Zhu was a strong and charismatic leader. People came to him in droves and Zhu rose quickly among the Song. In 1356 Zhu Yuanzhang conquered Yingtian (modern Nanjing) and from there abandoned the last vestiges of his Buddhist past, proclaiming himself the defender of Confucianism and the people. The Confucian scholars in return began to invent for him a claim to The Mandate of Heaven, the principle by which the Chinese considered no one could not rule. Zhu could now effectively make his own claim to power, but Zhu Shen, a scholar, persuaded him to hold off. Saying:

“Build high walls, stock up rations, and don’t be too quick to call yourself a king”

Attacks from former Red Turban leaders Zhang Shicheng and Xu Shouhui would keep Zhu Yuanzhang busy in the south for several years. Zhu’s ultimate aim was to build up his power base by destroying the southern rebels, while supporting Liu Futong’s (the nominal commander-in-chief of the regime) northern adventures. A major upset occurred in 1360 when Xu Shouhui was killed by his general Chen Youliang, who founded the Da Han regime. This would mark the start of a three-year war between Chen and Zhu.

In 1363 Zhang Shicheng dispatched his general Lu Zhen to attack Anfeng, as Han Lin’er was in the city. The city was quickly besieged and reduced to starvation. At this point Han Lin’er sent out calls for aid. At the time Zhu Yuanzhang was at Yingtian. He knew that if Anfeng fell his flank would be exposed, so Zhu left to save his lord. Chen Youliang saw this as a major opportunity for him to regain the lands in Jiangxi he had lost in 1361. So while Zhu battled Lu for Anfeng, Chen led a massive force to attack Hongdu (modern Nanchang) in June 1363.

The attack force’s exact size is unknown, many accounts number it around 600,000, but this is a popular myth, regardless it was a large force. The naval force was the most impressive piece of the attack. The ships Chen Youliang used here were said to be bright red, several zhang (units of ten feet) high, triple decked, with the decks wide enough for a horse to walk on, with armored hulls and sculling oars. This has lead modern scholars to deduce that Chen Youliang was using Lou Chuans (tower ships) in this battle. However big his army and navy Chen would find Hongdu impossible to crack, the city was well defended by its commander, Zhu Wenzheng. Despite fierce fighting and high casualties among the defenders Hongdu held out. In August Zhu Wenzheng was finally able to get word out of the city to Zhu Yuanzhang.

Zhu Yuanzhang had returned to Yingtian by now from saving Han Lin’er. With the majority his forces fighting Zhang Shicheng at Luzhou (modern Hefei) the news that Chen had attacked Hongdu was an unwelcome surprise. Zhu knew he had to act quickly, even with his small force. But Zhu also knew that in the middle of summer the water in the lake went down. Given the size of the Da Han ships this would mean Zhu and his Red Turban forces would have the advantage with their much smaller boats. Zhu Yuanzhang knew this would be the perfect chance to wipe out the Da Han and Chen Youliang with them. He immediately sent letters to Xu Da and Chang Yuchun, his commanders at Luzhou to wrap it up and come home quickly. Zhu realized that he could not wait for Xu and Chang and on August 6th set out from Yingtian with Feng Guosheng, Liao Yongzhong, and Yu Tonghai to the rescue of Hongdu.

On August 25th Red Turban forces reached Hukou. There Zhu Yuanzhang divided his forces; he sent his land army to Jingjiangkou, Nanhuzui, and Wuyangdu to spring a trap for the Da Han forces. Zhu personally led the naval force to Poyang Lake. On August 27th Chen Youliang realized that after 85 days of siege that Hongdu was not going to surrender, at the same time he learned that a relief fleet was sailing on to the lake. Chen knew his heavy ships could not fight well against the Red Turbans’ lighter vessels, plus the water level continued to fall daily. He knew he needed a quick victory. So the Da Han fleet abandoned the siege of Hongdu and sailed out onto Poyang Lake, dropping anchor around Mt. Kanglang on August 30th. Zhu saw this and did the same. Thus began the decisive battle of Poyang Lake.

File:Satelites image of Lake Poyang.png

Modern satellite image of Lake Poyang. By NASA (NASA Landsat Image) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Red Turban forces under Zhu Yuanzhang were smaller, but had an advantage against the Da Han forces they faced. Numbers for the Song forces at Poyang Lake are usually said to be around 200,000 men.  To exploit the higher mobility of his ships Zhu had his navy divided into eleven squadrons of ships. The lightest vessels were placed out in front and rear, while the heavier vessels were placed in the center. Zhu Yuanzhang mandated before the start of the battle that every ship carry large and small cannon, handguns, rocket arrows, grenades, fire lances, multiple bolt launchers, and crossbows.

The Da Han forces were larger then the Red Turbans, but with their bigger boats they had a disadvantage. The total number of ships that was with Chen Youliang at Poyang Lake is unknown; however among historians it is believed that Chen Youliang outnumbered Zhu three-to-one at Poyang. Knowing this a reasonable estimate for the size of the Da Han navy at Poyang would be 600,000. Chen believed that all he had to do to defeat Zhu would be to stand fast against him. Therefore Chen had his vast navy chained together, not only did this allow his fleet to remain still but the chains would prevent any penetrations into the Da Han battle line.

With both forces ready the battle of Poyang Lake would be joined. That same day after taking up positions Zhu Yuanzhang opened the battle by sending in the three squadrons of Xu Da, Chang Yuchun (both men had since been able to hook-up with the main body), and Liao Yongzhong. The large numbers of missiles, gunpowder, and other weaponry made the battle visible for over fifty miles. The ferocity of the attack almost broke the Da Han line and when Yu Tonghai showed up in support with a fourth squadron of ships twenty Da Han vessels went down in flames. Besides this Xu Da was able to board and take over one of Chen’s prize Lou Chuans. However the Da Han were able to launch a counterattack. The Da Han vessels, using their height superiority, began to rain down flaming arrows on Xu Da’s ship, which was the vanguard ship of Zhu’s forces. Immediately the other Song vessels came to the rescue to try to drive off the Da Han ships. Even Zhu Yuanzhang himself joined in with his squadron. Due to the concentrated efforts of all involved the fire on Xu Da’s ship was put out and the Song ships scattered to avoid being targeted by Da Han trebuchets.

As the Red Turbans attempted to regroup Chen Youliang’s best commander, Zhang Dingbian, spotted Zhu’s command ship and took off after it. In the attempt to escape from his pursuer Zhu’s ship ran aground on a shoal. Zhang seized the moment and poured everything he had at Zhu Yuanzhang’s command vessel. The other ships, noticing their commander under attack, began to pile toward him. The resulting waves caused by so many ships converging on one place knocked Zhu’s ship free from the sandbar. Zhang Dingbian kept on however until the combined efforts of Chang Yuchun, Yu Tonghai, and Liao Yongzhong forced his retreat. Liao would continue to chase Zhang, nearly turning the latter into a living pincushion, until Zhang got back behind his own lines.

The battle would continue until nightfall and in the review would prove to be a disappointment to both sides. Zhu Yuanzhang had believed that his nimbler ships would be able to run rings around the massive Da Han ships and attack them with impunity. However Chen had realized that possibility and maneuvered his ships so when the Red Turbans tried to flank him, the ships would run aground, as Zhu himself learned. In addition Zhu lost many men in the fight, more then anticipated, as well as many good commanders (especially in the fracas surrounding the command ship beaching). For Chen’s part he had not expected Zhu to make a full frontal attack. The loss of twenty ships at the start of the battle was an unwelcome surprise. Not to mention his fury over that Zhang was not able to kill Zhu. At nightfall Xu Da withdrew from the battle back to Yingtian on Zhu’s orders. He feared an attack from Zhang Shicheng in his rear and knew he could depend on Xu Da to keep Yingtian safe.

On the following morning, August 31st, Zhu Yuanzhang ordered a second full frontal assault on the Da Han lines, hoping for a repeat of the previous day’s success and this time around Zhu would be in personal command. But Chen Youliang had anticipated such a move and had the massive Lou Chuans moved to the front of the formation tightly packed. As a result despite three full frontal assaults by Red Turban forces the Da Han were able to keep throwing them back. Then the squadrons on the right wing began to turn and sail away. In a fury Zhu ordered them to return to battle, when they refused Zhu ordered his ships to disengage.

Back at camp Zhu Yuanzhang let out the full weight of his infamous temper, he ordered the executions of the ten commanders who fled the battle as an example to the rest. Zhu seemed prepared to execute many more, but his staff officer Guo Xing intervened. Guo pointed out to his commander that it was not cowardice or lack of effort that was the reason that he was losing the battle. Instead and correctly, Guo pointed out that it was the disparity in the sizes of their vessels to Chen’s.

To correct this he proposed a fire attack. Realizing his mistakes Zhu Yuanzhang took to the plan wholeheartedly and had seven fire ships constructed. These ships were built to look like any regular vessel and had straw dummies dressed in armor and holding weapons to fool the Da Han crews. All that was needed now was a wind to blow the ships toward the enemy. That evening a northeastern wind blew and the fire ships were sent away. Before the Da Han fleet even realized what was happening their fleet had been set ablaze. When night fell Poyang Lake had become a lake of fire. Zhu Yuanzhang seized the initiative and attacked.

By morning half of the Da Han forces had been either burned alive or killed by Zhu’s attack. Among the dead was Chen Youliang’s brothers Youren and Yougui. After this both sides withdrew to their camps for a while. On September 2nd the fighting resumed when Chen Youliang launched a mass attack on Zhu’s flagship. The ferocity became so great that Zhu realized he had to abandon his ship, but could not because of his distinct armor. So he was forced to exchange his armor with one of his generals, which allowed Zhu to escape just as his ship exploded. After pulling back Zhu Yuanzhang realized that Chen was identifying his ship by its white boom. So when the Red Turban forces returned later in the day all the ships had white booms. Noticing the Da Han ships were having difficulty maneuvering Zhu sent his commanders Yu Tonghai, Liao Yongzhong, Zhang Xingzu, and Zhao Yong to a quick strike between the behemoth vessels with some small fast ships. This act of daring raised Red Turban morale significantly. After the commanders returned a general assault was launched that was able to smash the Da Han forces.

The tide had turned. Chen Youliang realized the battle had turned against him and tried to escape via Xieshan at Hukou. But Zhu was already waiting for him. For a while Chen Youliang had begun to disengage his navy, and Zhu Yuanzhang had received word that his ground forces had broken the land siege of Hongdu and had entered the city in triumph. This meant that for all intents and purposes he had won the battle for he had rescued Hongdu, his original goal. But Zhu realized that this battle presented him with the golden opportunity to remove the thorn of Chen Youliang, and Zhu was not going to let this chance slip. So he moved his navy back off the lake and onto the mouths of the Gan and Yangzi rivers. This made it appear he was going home, but also allowed him to block the route of retreat for the Da Han forces as well.

By September 4th Chen Youliang had thrown himself at the Red Turban forces blockading the rivers and made no headway. At this point his Right Golden General, name unknown, proposed abandoning the ships and advancing overland to Hunan to regroup and resupply, then return. The Left Golden General, name also unknown, disagreed; stating that if they went overland the Red Turban cavalry would make mincemeat of them. In the end and despite his generals’ bickering, Chen decided to take the Right General’s advice. This made the Left General surrender to Zhu Yuanzhang in despair. Shortly after the Right General did the same for unknown reasons. Following this Zhu sent many letters to Chen Youliang calling for his surrender. Chen’s reply was to execute all his prisoners. Remarkably Zhu did not retaliate by executing his prisoners, instead he let them go. Following this both commanders did nothing for the rest of the month, for fear of losing their respective fleets. However the remaining Da Han were beginning to starve.

As a month passed Zhu Yuanzhang recognized that Chen would attempt a break out or risk losing his remaining forces to starvation. With this in mind the Red Turban forces moved off the lake entirely and went back up the Yangzi to Hukou. Here the entire force went ashore from the ships. A majority dug in on both banks of the river and built wooden palisades. The rest built fire ships or were sent to occupy Qizhou and Xingguo. On October 4th Chen Youliang realized he had no choice and led a last-ditch attack of Zhu Yuanzhang’s forces at Nanhuzui in an attempt to break through to the safety of Wuchang. However the blockade at Hukou prevented the Da Han forces from even being able to reach Nanhuzui. Chen made a split decision to try a breakout at Jingjiangkou instead. However along the way a force of Red Turban ships ambushed him and amid the fighting an arrow hit Chen Youliang through the eye and into his skull causing instant death.

When the Da Han troops realized their king was dead Chen Rongyu, as ranking commander, surrendered the remaining 50,000 soldiers to the forces of Zhu Yuanzhang. To appease Zhu he planned to give up his former master’s two sons. The older boy, Shan’er, was given for execution, but the younger, Li, had disappeared. In fact Zhang Dingbian, the Da Han star commander, had whisked the boy away to Wuchang in the confusion of surrender. With Chen Rongyu’s surrender of the remaining Da Han forces the long battle of Poyang Lake had come to an end.

In the aftermath of Poyang much happened. With the death of Chen Youliang and the destruction of most of his forces the Da Han regime had received a wound from which it would not recover. Chen Li, the second son of Youliang and successor, surrendered just one year later in March 1364, to the new King of Wu. The previous month Zhu Yuanzhang had judged the time right to break out of the shell of the Song regime and establish his own, which he named Wu. Zhu continued to wage war against his southern rivals for many years, until 1367 when he unified the south. That same year Zhu Yuanzhang finally attacked the Yuan remnants in the north for the first time, sending Xu Da with the task of capturing Dadu. He also sent Liao Yongzhong to attack the Mongols in Guangdong and Guangxi.

In 1368 Zhu Yuanzhang proclaimed a new dynasty in Yingtian, the Ming (Brilliance), taking inspiration from the title of his former superior, Han Lin’er. Yingtian’s name was changed to Nanjing, meaning southern capital. Furthermore Zhu Yuanzhang proclaimed himself Emperor Ming Taizu (Great Ancestor), with the era name Hongwu (Immensely Martial). It is by his era name that he is best recorded in history. By 1369 the new emperor had chased the last vestige of Mongol rule out of China, marking the beginning of Ming rule over the entire country. The Ming dynasty would go on to rule for 300 years, ending at the hands of the Manchus of Qing in 1644. In conclusion the battle of Poyang Lake was the decisive battle in the wars between the various rebel groups and by wining the battle Zhu Yuanzhang ensured his supremacy, eventually paving the way for the foundation of Ming rule.



The court portrait of Ming Taizu in old age. By Palace Painter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.



Turnbull, Stephen (2002). ‘Fighting Ships of the Far East (1): China and Southeast Asia

202 BC – AD 1419.’ Oxford: Osprey Publishing.

Chen, Junyi. “Re: Battle of Poyang Lake.” In China History Forum

[online discussion board]. Cited 20 June 2006.

Available from:

The First Crusade

In AD 1071, the Battle of Manzikert shattered the fragile and tense peace that had settled over the Middle East. The arrival of the Sunni Seljuq Turks had reenergized Islam and led it on the greatest military offensive in centuries. The Roman (Byzantine) Empire was defeated so disastrously at Manzikert that while not the slaughter it is often made out to be the empire never recovered. Civil war broke out, and Asia Minor fell before the onslaught of a Seljuq migration. The Islamic world similarly suffered when the Seljuqs turned on the Shi’a Fatimid dynasty based in Egypt and the Levant was thrown into bloody turmoil. Most horrifying of all from the perspective of the Christian kingdoms was the total disregard the Seljuqs showed regarding the status of the Holy Land. Existing agreements, negotiated by the Roman Emperors, had secured the rights of Christian pilgrims to visit the holiest sites of the faith, especially Jerusalem. However, Muslim antagonism had been rising against the pilgrims for decades, even before the arrival of the Seljuqs. Their appearance on the scene added an unforeseen wild card that finally shattered the image of peace in the Middle East.

In 1081, the civil wars in the Roman Empire ended with the ascension of Alexios Komnenos. A strong soldier-politician Alexios I proved to be exactly the leader to fit the times. Soon he recognized that he could not hope to take the offensive against the Seljuqs with the empire in its current state. In early 1095, following the general pacification of the modern Balkans, he sent a request for aid to Pope Urban II at the Council of Piacenza. Urban responded with enthusiasm and at the Council of Clermont that November, he preached Crusade, a holy war waged for the defense of the Christian faith. Latin Christendom responded with the cry ‘Deus lo Vult!’ God wills it!


The Council of Clermont. By meh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Following the first, unplanned, People’s Crusade of Peter the Hermit and Walter of sans Avoir, the Crusade moved forward in August 1096. Motivated more by genuine piety than anything else the great lords of Europe moved to the aid of the Roman Empire, Urban’s official reason for his sermon at Clermont. The leaders of the First Crusade were Raymond IV of Toulouse, Bohemond of Taranto, and Godfrey of Boullion. Many other lords took part as well, many of them kinsmen of the leaders.

After reaching Constantinople, the Crusaders began to run into problems. Because of bad experiences with the People’s Crusade, the Emperor Alexios was leery of a large army, estimated 35,000, entering Constantinople. There was also the affair of Bohemond, who with his father, Robert Guiscard had fought Alexios over a decade earlier. Eventually, the diplomacy of Godfrey and Raymond prevailed in creating an arrangement suitable to both sides. Alexios promised full military and logistical support to the Crusade for Christian unity. In return, the Crusaders pledged to swear an oath of fealty to the Roman Emperor and restore any lands they captured to Constantinople’s control. The Crusaders agreed, and they gradually moved on to Asia Minor throughout the early part of 1097, finally finishing around late April.

The armies of the First Crusade, in fact, medieval armies, in general, were hardly the unorganized mob of popular imagination and were competently led. In the Crusades, the armies of Latin Christendom were also motivated. Pope Urban II had promised the full remission of sins for any man, regardless of his status in life that died on Crusade. Also, he had, a made a stirring call for Christian unity and the common defense of the faith regardless of denominational differences with the east. As expected, many that could take part did. Members of the knightly class, in particular, took to the idea so enthusiastically that many sold all of their possessions to take part. Entire families left to go on Crusade, both knightly and lower classes.

In siege weaponry, the Crusaders had many choices at their disposal. For our purposes, we will cover one such weapon. Because of the short duration of the siege, the Crusaders were unable to bring to bear many of their heavier weapons, including the siege tower. However, one weapon that did see use, more a defensive measure, was the use of armored mobile roofs. These roofs were large wooden shields armored with hides and interwoven willow rods, called osiers and often mounted onto wheeled frames. Their uses were many, and the armored roof saw use in nearly every major action during the siege.

On the Muslim side of affairs, they were in much worse shape. The Seljuq Turks that had won such a great victory at Manzikert and turned the existing order upside down had shattered. Malik Shah, the son of the victor of Manzikert, had died in 1092 and with his death the stability of the Seljuq state, the dominant power in the Middle East, collapsed. The Seljuq Empire had already been giving signs of internal unrest even while Malik Shah lived, but he managed to hold it together. Now it fell apart into many successor states. The successor state met by the Crusader-Roman alliance at Nicaea were the Rum Seljuqs. Under the leadership of the young Kilij Arslan, the Rum Seljuqs had set up a powerful state in western Anatolia that represented a direct threat to the Romans. It was with good reason that Alexios sought to cripple them

After the arrival of the last of the major Crusader contingents, the question of a target became apparent. Nicaea was a city of major importance both spiritually and strategically. It was at Nicaea the fundamental principles of the Christian faith were laid out in formula (the Nicene Creed). Nicaea was also a great fortress that had been the principal bulwark against attacks on Constantinople from the east. In the present case, the city laid direct in the Crusader line of advance, to leave it in Seljuq hands would be foolhardy.

On May 6th, the armies of Godfrey and Bohemond (under the command of his nephew Tancred) arrived at Nicaea and encircled the city on its northern and eastern sides. The southern side was left unattended to allow Raymond’s troops to take position there. The western wall sat in the water of the Ascanian Lake, making Nicaea impossible to surround conventionally. Nevertheless, the Crusader blockade would prove effective.

Nicaea would prove to be a challenge to the Crusaders. Circuit walls stretching four miles protected the city, and a double ditch in turn surrounded the walls. Along the circuit, some 240 towers ensured that no stretch of wall was left uncovered by arrow fire. However, there were problems. The Seljuqs had not been expecting an attack of this size. Kilij Arslan personally was dismissive of the Crusaders after his experience with the People’s Crusade. As a result when word initially reached him of their arrival in Asia Minor, he turned his attention east to internecine feuding with a neighboring amir. Once reports came in of the real Crusade, he hurried westwards, as the Seljuq garrison was not prepared to handle a siege.

On May 16th, Raymond and his troops arrived at Nicaea. With the arrival of the southern French contingent, the landward encirclement of the city was complete, leaving it cut off by land. Shortly after that the first elements of Kilij Arslan’s field army arrived but was driven off by Raymond’s men. By this time, the Crusaders received much-needed food supplies through camp markets opened by the Romans near Nicaea, according to one account through the efforts of Bohemond, who arrived now in person. Alexios also sent his general Manouel Boutoumites to serve as his principal liaison on the field and to provide technical support to the Crusaders.

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The siege of Nicaea, 1097. By unidentified 13th century ms.Killroyus at pl.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

On May 21st, the main Seljuq army arrived at Nicaea. The Christian generals met in council and decided to focus on keeping the siege lines intact. Raymond and Robert II of Flanders, who served under Godfrey, were tasked with repulsing the Rum Sultan. In the following battle the Seljuqs, unaccustomed to warfare as practiced in the Latin West, found they were unable to make any headway against the Crusader lines. That night Kilij Arslan decided to abandon Nicaea to whatever fate should occur.

Following the retreat of Kilij Arslan the Crusaders turned their attention to Nicaea again. The Crusaders had already tried breach the walls with tunneling before the arrival of the Sultan but were forced to call it off without making any significant progress. In the final days of May, a concerted effort was made to storm the northern wall but this failed. The most celebrated episode of the Siege of Nicaea occurred when Raymond attempted to breach the “Gonatas Tower” along the southern side with his personal troops. Under the cover of a massive armored roof, his men succeeded in breaching the wall. However, the assault had been poorly timed and night fell before the Crusaders could take advantage of the gap. The Crusader leadership then sent word to the Emperor Alexios asking him for military aid. The Romans responded by putting out a fleet on the Ascanian Lake commanded by Boutoumites. As well as sending a force of archers and infantry commanded by Tatikios, a well-known general.

Now the last phase of the siege took place. The exact circumstances and sequence of events that surround the fall of Nicaea is not apparent and is under dispute. Nevertheless, it seems the appearance of a Roman fleet on the Ascanian Lake was the turning point of the siege. Several chroniclers mention a general assault on Nicaea as causing the city’s surrender, making mention of a Lombard siege engineer who designed a sloping armored roof that allowed the Crusaders to reach the walls. However, they also say the city surrendered to Alexios, not the Crusade leaders. What may have happened was the Crusaders began to launch increasing determined assaults on the city after Boutoumites completed the blockade by sea. The Romans were already determined to make sure Nicaea became theirs again and started negotiations. A combination of these two events may have resulted in the city surrendering on June 19th, 1098 to Manouel Boutoumites. While the Crusaders were angry at being cheated out of sacking Nicaea, the charge of treachery on the part of Alexios would not be made until after the end of the Crusade.

Following the fall of Nicaea, the armies of the Crusade surged onwards. At the battle of Dorylaeum that July the Crusaders managed to inflict a significant defeat on a coalition of Seljuq lords led by Kilij Arslan. Because of the Christian victory, the Anatolian branch of the Seljuqs would no longer pose a threat to the Crusader advance. The following three months advance through Asia Minor in the heat of summer and dwindling supplies proved a far more serious enemy than the Seljuqs had ever been. Relations became tense with Tatikios and his Roman soldiers as the Crusaders became suspicious of their guides, and friction between the sides grew.

They found limited relief in the southeast and east. This region of Anatolia was still mainly Christian; of those Christians, the Armenians were most numerous. Not even a decade previous, the area had been ruled by an independent Armenian warlord state. A series of Crusader misadventures in these lands would result in two important events. First, Baldwin of Boulogne (the brother of Godfrey) would set up the first Crusader state in the east at Edessa, which would become the template for all further Crusader states. Second, the Crusaders’ sweep through Cilicia cleared that region of the Seljuqs, paving the way for the creation of the Kingdom of Cilician Armenia, a state heavily influenced by the Latin presence in the Levant. Finally, in mid-October 1097 the Crusader vanguard breached into the territory of Antioch, held by a Seljuq amir named Yaghi Siyan.

When they reached Antioch, the armies of the First Crusade were still motivated, but physical concerns had taken their toll. As mentioned above the alliance with Constantinople was breaking down and during the siege it would break entirely. Supplies were no longer as forthcoming as the Crusaders had moved beyond the range of Alexios’ ability to provide for them safely. Roman naval activity would soon adjust that problem. Foraging in Anatolia during the summer months had been largely unfruitful because of the retreating Seljuqs taking their supplies with them. The Crusade had come to depend on the goodwill of the local Armenian and Greek Christians. One hope the Crusaders had, supply wise, was that of a possible Crusader fleet.

During the siege of Antioch, the Crusaders had no siege weapons. Unlike at Nicaea, the Crusaders lacked the resources to build siege weapons for most of the siege. However, during the last phase of action at Antioch ladders were used. Instead of weapons, on several occasions the Crusaders built towers at critical locations. As we will see below, these proved to be of great use to the Christians.

On the Muslim side disunity once again wracked their cause. In Syria (a much larger geographic region than the modern nation-state), this was especially bad. Malik Shah’s quarrelsome brother Tutush had once ruled here but on his (Tutush’s) death it split between his sons Duqaq in Damascus and Ridwan in Aleppo. Other lords also dotted the land such as Janah ad-Daula, amir of Homs, Karbuqa, atabeg of Mosul, and the sons of Ortoq Beg, an ally of Tutush. Yaghi Siyan, the amir of Antioch, had been direct answerable to Malik Shah and after the Seljuq sultan’s death; he played a dangerous game of shifting alliances between Duqaq, Ridwan, and Karbuqa. As a result, when it became apparent the Crusade was marching to Antioch Yaghi Siyan was left scrambling for allies and found them scarce.

The main body of the Crusaders arrived on October 20th. To cross the Orontes River that divided the city proper from the rest of its territory, the Crusaders would have to cross a fortified bridge, known as the Iron Bridge. After a hard day of fighting, the bridge was crossed, and Bohemond moved on ahead to set up camp at the walls the following day.

Antioch awed the Crusaders. It was a massive city, with the civilian sections alone stretching three miles long and going as deep as a mile in depth. The walls, like at Nicaea, were circuit walls but on a greater scale. Some 450 towers were interspaced evenly to leave nothing uncovered by arrow fire. However, Yaghi Siyan’s garrison was too small to use the entire length of the defense leaving him to have to put strategic choices to where he put his men.

For the next several days, the Crusaders would set up camp. The Christian leadership soon discovered they could not blockade Antioch in its entirety due to not only its sheer size but also because of geographic constraints. The entire southern part of the city rested on a mountain; it would difficult to traverse such terrain. Nevertheless, a blockade was set up on the northeastern and western sides opposite the gates. Bohemond set up camp in the west, opposite the Gate of St. Paul. Raymond and Godfrey took position on the northeastern side opposite the Gates of the Dog and the Duke respectively. The remaining gates were left unintended, with the rest of the Christian army either waiting behind Bohemond or spread across the countryside. Godfrey took the initiative and built a bridge of boats across the Orontes behind his camp to give the Crusaders access to the village of Talenki. A camp built there would allow the Crusaders access the roads to the ports of St. Symeon and Alexandretta (which Tancred had captured).

Almost immediately, arguments broke out among the Crusaders. Raymond counseled a direct assault on the walls as soon as the camps were set up. He proclaimed that faith would grant them victory at Antioch. However, the other leaders, led by Bohemond, were not so sure. They wanted to wait. Bohemond had his reasons for urging patience. The success of Baldwin at Edessa had inspired him to set up a kingdom of his own, and Antioch was a prime choice. The arguments of Raymond were ignored; the Crusaders would wait. To keep up with news inside the city, Bohemond organized a network of informants made up of Christian men expelled from Antioch. Yaghi Siyan, who used those same Christians to spy on the Crusader camp, exploited this. By the following month, the Seljuqs became bold enough to raid the besiegers, usually as a form of cover for supply caravans coming into Antioch. In November, Bohemond successfully took the castle of Harenc, which supported Antioch and turned it into a Crusader outpost. About the same time, the much hoped for Crusader fleet arrived at St. Symeon, allowing them to secure the port. However, even though the fleet carried much-needed reinforcements and new weapons, it did not bring food. The Crusade leaders had failed to restrain their men early in the siege, and now food supplies were rapidly running out. Foraging expeditions were forced to go out further and further afield from the safety of the camps, making them choice targets for Seljuq raiders. A decision was reached to build a fortified tower on the hills near Bohemond’s camp, dubbed Malregard. The responsibility of maintaining and operating the tower was shared equally.

By Christmas Day, 1097, the supply situation had become critical. Food had nearly run out by this time and Godfrey fell ill. On December 28th, Bohemond and Robert of Flanders led a party of knights out of the camps to forage around the vicinity of the Muslim fortress-city of Hama. Raymond assumed over-all command in their absence and had already moved his camp up around Godfrey’s area, as his former camp had been rendered unusable by rain. This news cheered Yaghi Siyan. The amir of Antioch was already aware that Duqaq had finally answered his pleas for aid and his route of advance would intersect with the Crusader foragers. This left Raymond, who Yaghi Siyan was confident he could dislodge. The following day the garrison charged out, but Raymond repulsed them handily once the shock wore off and made his assault in turn. Only the fall of night prevented Raymond from taking the city. Meanwhile Bohemond and Robert had encountered Duqaq’s relief force and routed it at al-Bara on December 31st.

1098 opened badly on the Crusade. Even with recent battlefield success, spirits in the Crusader camp was still low. Starvation set in within days and at the lowest ebb of the siege about mid-January some of the besiegers even tried to desert, only to be brought back. Aid from the local Christians, especially the Armenians, brought some relief, but this aid was not enough to fix the Crusaders’ supply problems. Within Antioch, Yaghi Siyan managed to convince Ridwan to come to his aid after the failure of Duqaq, as well as the Ortoqid brothers. In early February, the Roman general Tatikios suddenly left the siege camps and the Crusade. The exact reason for Tatikios’ withdrawal is unclear, and later propaganda further obscures the issue. Bohemond exploited the moment for all it was worth, building up support for his planned seizure of the city. Not long afterward, Harenc fell to the arriving forces of Ridwan and his allies. The Christian leadership reacted swiftly, and on February 8th the battle was joined. The Latin knights defeated Ridwan, and the infantry repulsed Yaghi Siyan’s breakout. It would prove to be the beginning of the end. On March 4th, a second Crusader fleet arrived at St. Symeon with much-needed building material and engineers. On the 6th, a series of skirmishes resulted in the defeat of the Seljuq raiding parties, allowing the Crusaders to bring in the material and engineers. A fortified tower was then built to give the Crusaders control over the roads to St. Symeon and Alexandretta as well as the Gate of the Bridge in late March. Only the Gate of St. George remained in Seljuq hands. This was corrected the following month with the construction of the Tancred’s Tower, overseeing the gate. The tide had turned decisively. While the Iron Gate on the southern side remained open, the mountainous terrain made it impossible to get through supplies. All caravans meant to provide the garrison with food now supplied the besiegers and with the beginning of spring, the food problem was over.

However, problems arose on the horizon. By May, it was clear a third attempt to break the siege was mobilizing, led by Karbuqa. Of personal threat to Bohemond was the news of a new Roman offensive led by the emperor, which threatened his plans to claim Antioch. Clearly, Bohemond would have to hurry the fall of the city. As it was, he found a way to make it happen with the aid of an Armenian Muslim named Firuz. With his help, a plan was made allowing Bohemond to scale the walls and take the city. Karbuqa’s delay in Edessa through the majority of May allowed the project to be hammered out and refined. On June 2nd, Bohemond revealed his plan to the other Crusade leaders. They all agreed to take part. That evening the Crusaders moved into position, masking their movements as quitting the siege to confront Karbuqa and waited for the Gates of St. George and the Bridge to open. As promised Firuz allowed Bohemond’s men to scale his tower and the gates flew open. The garrison and Muslim population were surprised. Yaghi Siyan was killed in the confusion, and the Christians took the entire city save the fortified citadel on the southern side. However now the Crusade held Antioch it would have to defend it.

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Antioch falls to Godfrey and Robert II of Flanders. By Jacob van Maerlant [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By June 3rd, the Crusade had invested Antioch, but this was not the end of events there. The remnants of the garrison, now under the command of Shams ad-Daula (the son of Yaghi Siyan), were a problem from their position in the citadel. While too weak to contest the city with the Crusaders, Shams, and his men still posed a threat that had to be watched, taking away men who could be used for other purposes. The Crusade leaders soon realized that they could not cut off all contact between the citadel and the outside world. The Crusaders had problems of their own. The food was running low again, and the much hoped for supplies within the city had already been eaten during the sack. Bohemond and Raymond had begun to quarrel again over the ownership of Antioch. However, the threat of counter-siege by the Muslims forced all petty concerns off the table for the moment. The Crusade leadership agreed to concentrate on clearing the city of the dead and the manning of the walls by their separate contingents. On June 5th the army of Karbuqa, with the might of much of Muslim Syria (Seljuq and Arab) behind him, arrived at the Iron Bridge.

The Crusaders, despite their problems, were still in high, but declining, spirits. The capture of Antioch had been an impressive feat, and many took heart from simply being in the city in which their spiritual ancestors were first called ‘Christian.’ It had been for the defense of the faith that Raymond of Toulouse and Bohemond put aside their differences. However, the supply problem still loomed high in the minds of many, as did fear of the Muslim army attempting to dislodge them. Hope, while small, was found for many in the specter of possible military support from the Emperor Alexios, campaigning in Anatolia.

In terms of siege weaponry, the Muslims brought none. While it is probable that they brought the materials needed for construction, he opted for a strategy of blockade similar to what the Crusaders had used. Also like the Crusaders, Karbuqa made use of ladders to scale the walls.

While large, the Muslim army was not unified, and division continued to afflict their cause. Karbuqa’s leadership of the army was owed largely to his personal prestige and the support of such men as the Ortoqid brothers, but few accepted his leadership. Karbuqa acted like a sultan and attempted and behaved high-handedly with the other leaders. This they resented, as many of them were amirs while Karbuqa was but an atabeg. Previously existing friction between the leaders further hurt the Seljuq-Arab forces and only added to the commander’s problems.

Within two days of their arrival, the Muslim army encamped around Antioch. Using the same camps the Crusaders used, the relieving army arrayed themselves to assault the city. Karbuqa was confident that he possessed the numbers to carry the death easily. His plan was to attempt to breach into Antioch through the citadel. For this purpose, he removed Shams ad-Daula from command and placed his sub-commander, Ahmad ibn Marwan in charge. Raymond and Bohemond caught on to this plan and built a wall to cut off the citadel from the rest of Antioch. On June 9th, ibn Marwan launched an attack on the wall, only to be repulsed with much bloodshed. The failure of June 9th convinced Karbuqa a direct assault would not work and decided to encircle the city and starve the Crusaders out. This was completed the next day, June 10th, despite fierce resistance from inside Antioch.

Morale plummeted among the Christians. Supplies had run out and talk of desertion spread throughout the city. That night a body of Crusaders abandoned Antioch and broke through the Muslim siege lines, making way for St. Symeon. Once there they convinced the fleet at anchor that all was lost, and fled further on to Tarsus. From Tarsus the deserters made their westwards, eventually meeting the Roman Emperor at Philomelium, in ancient Pisidia. There they convinced him the Crusade had failed, and as a result, the Roman offensive to the east turned back. Alexios’ decision was to earn him the hostility of the Crusaders, and they never forgave him or his empire for what they perceived as treachery.

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Karbuqa besieges Antioch, 1098. By Maître de Fauvel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile back at Antioch Karbuqa was meeting limited success. An assault on June 12th momentarily gave the Seljuqs control of one of Antioch’s towers, only to be cast out before they could take hold. Following this Bohemond proposed to his fellow princes that they burn down the streets near the walls, to allow themselves more room for maneuver. The others agreed, taking care to evacuate the inhabitants beforehand. About this time, rumors began to spread that the Holy Lance, the spear that was used to pierce Christ’s side at the Crucifixion had been revealed to be in Antioch by visions. Initially, Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, the spiritual leader of the Crusade, was not inclined to believe in the first vision brought to his attention on the 10th. His reluctance was because Peter Bartholomew, the man who had the vision, was ill regarded. However, now more visions had occurred, and the rumors spread. The Bishop accepted these later visions as genuine. Adhemar called together the leaders of the Crusade on the 13th and proposed they swear an oath not to abandon the siege. All did so, and morale began to soar. On the 15th, a delegation led by Raymond of Toulouse began to dig at the Cathedral of St. Peter, where the visions had pointed to the Lance being buried. Initially nothing was found, but then Peter Bartholomew went into the trench and lifted up an iron spearhead. This was taken to the Lance, and it was mounted on a spear shaft and paraded through the streets of Antioch. The effect was electrifying, and the whole city erupted in religious euphoria. Latin and Greek Rite alike sang out hymns of thanks to God.

This marked the turn of the tide in the siege. While the Christians were strengthened, the Muslims were weakened. Karbuqa was finding it increasing harder to hold his coalition together, and desertions became widespread. In desperation, he appealed to Ridwan of Aleppo, who had thus far remained neutral, and angered Duqaq in the process. This ignited several similar arguments among the other lords, and it looked as though the Seljuqs and Arabs would defeat themselves with no intervention from their enemies. On June 27th, a Crusader delegation arrived to negotiate. The Crusade leaders were no strangers to negotiation and had, during their siege of Antioch, negotiated with the Fatimid regime in Egypt as well as intrigued into the Ridwan-Duqaq feud. Karbuqa rejected the embassy out of hand made it clear he would accept nothing less than unconditional surrender. The negotiators returned far from empty-handed, however, as they had taken advantage of the truce to scout out the enemy camp. Following this Bohemond proposed a general charge of the six leading armies of the Crusade. The other leaders agreed, but Raymond due to his illness would be left behind to watch the citadel. On June 28th, the Crusaders crossed the Iron Bridge to challenge Karbuqa. The field battle following was a total victory for the Christians as neither the Seljuqs nor Arabs proved able to withstand a Latin cavalry charge. Karbuqa’s army fractured into its constituent pieces and scattered. Back in Antioch, the remaining defenders in the citadel surrendered, only to take it back once they realized Raymond was in charge. Ahmad ibn Marwan surrendered for real once the Norman leader returned to the city, converting to Christianity with many of his men shortly after that. Antioch had withstood the Islamic counterstroke, the question of what do now presented itself.

Following the defense of Antioch and the shattering of the Syrian Seljuqs the Crusade seemed to fail. Infighting among the principal leaders of the Crusade over secular concerns in a war of faith was a great blow to morale and put the offensive into limbo. Raymond and Bohemond jockeyed over control of Antioch and attempted to outmaneuver the other. Matters finally reached the boiling point when the footmen and knights of the Crusade refused to take part in the bickering in December; 1098.They demanded the Crusade make for the city of Jerusalem, to liberate the holy city from Islam. First Raymond and then Robert of Flanders and Godfrey of Boullion agreed to the army’s demands and on January 13th, 1099 Raymond left Syria for the Levant, a month later Robert and Godfrey followed. Bohemond and Baldwin of Boulogne stayed in Syria.

Meanwhile in the Levant the political situation had changed dramatically. The Christian success against the Seljuqs had weakened them, and the Fatimids took advantage. In the autumn of 1098, they conquered the entire Levant up to modern Beirut, Lebanon. The Crusaders’ course soon brought them in territory still under Arab control in February-March, resulting in a series of diplomatic negotiations that led to either ensuring the neutrality or outright alliance with the local powers. A series of adventures occurred leaving the Crusaders in control of the port of Tortosa and besieging Arqa.

Eventually, the attack came to nothing and on May 19th after rejecting the last peace missives from the Fatimids the Crusade crossed into the Holy Land. As had happened in southern Syria and Tripoli the cities of the Holy Land were eager to negotiate and avoid a battle with the Crusaders. In the morning of June 7th, the Crusade leaders gathered on the hill of Mountjoie for their first look at Jerusalem. By that evening, they had encamped.

Much had improved for the Crusaders since the days at Antioch. The supply problem had been solved during the march south as the Crusaders stocked up on supplies from the Levantine cities. Contact was also kept as long as possible with Crusader fleets patrolling the region. Large herds of pack animals and livestock also came into the possession of the Crusaders, through various means. The arrival at Jerusalem at lifted the spirits of many in the Christian camp and made the sacrifices and suffering they had endured over the past two years feel worth it. While Jerusalem had not been on Pope Urban’s mind when he called the Crusade, for many, poor and noble alike, there had never been any question of what their purpose was.

In terms of siege weapons, the siege of Jerusalem would see many machines. Most common of all was the use of the mangonel. Much controversy surrounds the mangonel, as no two sources agree on what it was. For our purposes, we will suppose the mangonel was a rotating beam throwing weapon with a fixed counterweight hutch. The other major machine used at Jerusalem was the siege towers of Godfrey and Raymond. The siege tower was a favored weapon in siege assaults in Europe, and the Levantine kingdoms would use them extensively after the First Crusade.

On the Muslim side, the Fatimids would prove to be different foes then the Seljuqs had been. The Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt had once contested control of the Middle East with the Roman Empire and commanded a formidable navy and army. However, the caliphate had declined since then but under a succession of competent grand viziers had begun a revival. Unlike the Seljuqs, the Fatimids were not wracked by internal dissension. Also, the Fatimid military had a degree of professionalism in the manner of the Romans.

The Crusaders moved quickly to surround Jerusalem. However, this would not be easy. The holy city was one of the greatest fortresses in the world in that time, and its walls were formidable, dating from the age of Hadrian and improved since by every power to occupy it. Natural features also protected Jerusalem, on the eastern side the valley of Kedron protected the walls. On the southeast side was the Vale of Gehenna. A third valley protected the western wall, but it was not as formidable as Kedron and Gehenna. Only the southwestern (cutting across Mt. Zion) and northern stretches of the wall was open enough for a full-scale assault.

Nevertheless, the Crusaders took up position opposite the gates of the city they considered most vulnerable or strategic. Robert of Normandy took position opposite Herod’s Gate, Robert of Flanders opposite of the Damascus Gate. Godfrey of Boullion did not take position around any of the gates but encamped around the whole of the northwestern part of the defenses. Near the Jaffa Gate, which the Tower of David protected, was the camp of Tancred and to his south was Raymond and his men. On June 9th, Raymond moved his camps to Mt. Zion itself, as he judged his original position too far away from Jerusalem. Meanwhile Iftikhar ad-Daula, the Fatimid governor of the whole region, had not been slack. He had expelled the Christian population of Jerusalem and poisoned the water supply outside the city in anticipation of the arrival of the Crusade. Also, Iftikhar had driven into Jerusalem any herds of livestock to be found nearby. Finally, he had word sent to Egypt for reinforcements.

On June 12th, the first major assault was launched on the advice of a hermit living on the Mount of Olives. The attack was repulsed, and the Crusaders feared it was because of a lack of adequate machinery to back up their attacks. On June 15th, the Crusade leaders agreed to hold off any further assaults until they had a better supply of mangonels and ladders. However, they found they lacked the building materials and expertise necessary. The arrival of a fresh fleet at Jaffa provided much of the needed equipment as well as food and engineers. These were all escorted back the camps under guard, resulting in skirmishes with Fatimid garrisons all along the road. However, the Christians were still short on wood. This was solved by the actions of Tancred (in the best imitation of his uncle) and Robert of Flanders who brought down plentiful wood from Samaria. Ladders, batteries of mangonels, and even two siege towers were all put under construction.

The rest of the month would go badly for the besiegers. By this time thirst had set in, and foraging parties were forced to go further and further outward in search of fresh water. The Pool of Siloam was close by, but it was in range of Jerusalem’s southern wall. The local Christians were more than willing to show the Crusaders to fresh water, but the Muslims knew of these spots and ambushes were common even out as far as the Jordan. Within Jerusalem, Iftikhar had taken measures against bombardment by the mangonel batteries by using bales of cotton and hay to strengthen the towers. The herds of livestock and pack animals began to die off as a combination of thirst, and the heat of a Judean summer took their toll on the besiegers. To make matters worse Raymond, Tancred, and the other leaders began to bicker over the division of territory. Morale plummeted and eventually some troops started to desert. As June ended, and July began, news arrived that al-Afdal Shahanshah, the vizier of the Fatimids, was marching to relieve the city. Something had to be done.

As at Antioch, a timely vision served the Crusaders’ cause well. A priest named Peter Desiderius claimed to have received a version of Adhemar of Le Puy (who had since died) scolding the Crusaders for being bogged down in secular concerns. He called for a fast and for them to circle Jerusalem barefoot, saying that if they did this with a repentant heart God would give Jerusalem over to them in nine days. The vision was initially dismissed until the brother of Adhemar announced his acceptance of it. The Crusaders went on fast and circled Jerusalem on July 8th. When the garrison heard of this, they lined the walls to mock the barefoot besiegers, but the Crusaders simply took this in stride. A sermon on the Mount of Olives was then held, and the leaders agreed to put their quarrels aside. On July 10th, Iftikhar ad-Daula and his men beheld to their shock two siege towers being rolled toward the walls, a third joining them later. Raymond and Godfrey had done a good job in masking the construction of these engines. Almost immediately, the garrison tried to bring them down, but the Crusaders had fortified the towers well with wood and ox-hide (and occasionally camel-hide). The attack was planned for the night of July 13-14th.

The final assault of the First Crusade had begun. Godfrey’s tower would assault the northern wall with the third tower pulling off a diversionary attack on the northwest corner. Raymond’s tower was tasked with attacking the walls opposite Mt. Zion, but this would prove difficult because of a ditch between Zion and the walls. The defense of Jerusalem was fierce especially in Raymond’s sector where the governor led the Fatimid troops personally. In the morning of July 15th, Godfrey’s tower successfully bridged the wall near Herod’s Gate. As the Crusaders poured in the Damascus Gate was opened to allow the troops of the two Roberts (Flanders and Normandy) to enter. Ladders scaled the walls all along the breached sector. Tancred soon became the effective leader on the ground, and the Muslims fell back. By early afternoon, Iftikhar had become aware resistance was useless and surrendered his last post, the Tower of David, to Raymond. Jerusalem had fallen, and the First Crusade ended in triumph. The massacres that followed remain controversial to this day, as much remains unclear.


Godfrey’s tower assaulting Herod’s Gate, July 15th, 1099. By Anonymous ([1][2]) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Sui-Tang Invasions of Goguryeo

The kingdom of Goguryeo was one of the three great Korean kingdoms of that country’s Three Kingdoms period (57 BC – AD 668) that first arose in the 1st Century BC. The state expanded well beyond the Korean peninsula and soon encountered several Chinese dynasties in succession. A series of wars erupted between them even as China splintered in AD 220, ending the 400-year Han dynasty. The period that followed, known as the Age of Fragmentation, with interludes, lasted until 589 when the new Sui dynasty reunified the broken country.

The Sui quickly flexed its muscles on the neighboring powers, including Goguryeo. The first conflict between the two states occurred because of a limited invasion by Goguryeo in 597. This first war ended a year later in embarrassment for the Chinese. However, a diplomatic arrangement saved face for both sides. Years later a new emperor, Yang Guang, took the throne as Emperor Yang and initially did not think of Goguryeo. When Sui diplomats, and the emperor himself found diplomats of Goguryeo at the court of the Eastern Turks in 607, this changed.

Judged unacceptable by the Sui they demanded the King of Goguryeo, Yeongyang, come to the Chinese court to give account. When the king refused, the Sui began preparing for an invasion. On February 8th, 612 the Sui army, numbering over 600,000 men, invaded Goguryeo.

Both Emperor Yang and King Yeongyang had been aware that siege warfare would be inevitable in the coming conflict. The Sui had great siege experience, and the Chinese siege arsenal was formidable. However, Goguryeo also had siege experience, with the fortress line in what is now Manchuria was the kingdom’s greatest defense against external threats. After crossing the Liao River, the Chinese realized they would be forced to break the fortress line before being able to strike at the capital of Goguryeo at modern Pyongyang.

The fortress of Ryotongsong or Liaodong on the banks of the river was the primary target of the Sui siege effort. Ryotongsong was the key to the entire Liao River Valley and was judged ‘must take’ regardless of whether the other fortresses were bypassed or not. However, Emperor Yang discovered that other key fortresses would have to fall as well and so decided to settle down and prepare to take down the fortress line. He would command the siege of Ryotongsong personally while leaving the other sieges to his lieutenants.

The Chinese had several siege weapons at their disposal, for our purposes we will cover two in this article and another two in the next part. One of the most wide-spread of China’s siege machines was the so-called ’whirlwind’ traction catapult (xuanfeng pao in pinyin) which gained its name from its ability to swivel 360 degrees. The xuanfeng has been called a ‘sniper rifle of a catapult’ because it was incredibly accurate. They were used mainly to take out other catapults or even enemy generals. The xuanfeng was also adaptable and could be modified to suit the situation. Typical variations include two leg base, four leg base, swivel battery, and cart-mounted.

The other siege weapon we will cover is the cloud ladder. Called yunti che in pinyin the cloud ladder was a cart with a triangular base on which a series of ladders, curved so as to clamp into each other, rested. They operated the device by use of a wheel that could extend the ladder and propping levers to control the angle. A counterweight dropped as the ladder extended, increasing the height. The yunti che used a combination of wooden wheels and iron ‘teeth’ to latch onto its target as it was extended. The weapon gained its name from the perception there was no limit to how high it could extend.

For comparison, we will also cover the Korean fortresses and their garrisons. Goguryeo had come to depend on its fortress line in Manchuria, and so great lengths were taken to ensure their defense. The fortresses themselves came in several types, but we will cover the most common type here.

This was the ‘half-moon’ fortress type, typically anchored between the banks of a major river and a nearby tributary. Ryotongsong was one such fortress. Part of what made the ‘half-moon’ fortresses so hard to crack was the presence of multiple walls outside the central citadel, which could reach as high as 6 meters, with a thickness of 3 meters. A system of ditches dotted by a line of towers, each fortified by stone protected the walls in turn. Siege countermeasures varied though a common defense against catapults was the use of makeshift bastions and wooden cages draped over the walls.

The garrisons of the fortress line were a mixture of dedicated local forces and other forces. The military system of Goguryeo allowed for the formation of strong regional bands of mainly professional soldiers grouped around powerful local aristocrats empowered by the king. The fortress garrisons were similar but tied to their respective strongholds. They were supported by bands of young men, in their early 20s, organized into religious-military ‘clubs’ called kyongdang. The leader of a garrison was called the songiu, fortress lord.

Emperor Yang had started his invasion from the beginning of the year on purpose, to give himself time to get through Manchuria before the rainy season would make warfare impossible. The Sui needed to reduce or starve the garrisons, or they would have to retreat.

At first they made good progress (even expanding operations), and one key fortress, Yodong, began to make overtures of surrender. However, when the offer came it had to be relayed to the emperor at Ryotongsong, and he had to approve it first. By the time word got back to Yodong, the garrison had resupplied and reinforced. Word spread quickly and using this flaw in the Sui command structure the fortress line was able to hold out.

As June began the Sui sent out a detached force to race ahead to Pyongyang to force an end to the war by surprise. Emperor Yang decided to continue siege operations in the meantime, scaling back his attacks to small scale skirmishes. However, on August 27th word arrived the Premier of Goguryeo, Eulji Mundeok, had destroyed the Sui forces at the Salsu River around the 15th of that month. With his last hope destroyed and the first rains beginning to fall the emperor ordered a withdrawal. Several sieges ended in confusion and chaos; Premier Eulji perished in one such withdrawal at Sinsong fortress.

However, this was not the end of the matter. Emperor Yang had become obsessed with Goguryeo and sought to bring the kingdom down once and for all. Even as flood, drought, and disease sparked revolts across the empire the Sui war machine prepared to return the following year.

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Sui Yang di, second emperor of the Sui dynasty. Yen Li-pen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The events of the previous invasion had barely fazed the Sui monarch. Unwilling to accept his defeat, Emperor Yang announced a fresh attack in January, 613. The Chinese took precautions to avoid the problems that had plagued them in 612: extensive measures were chosen to make sure the army remained in supply across Manchuria. Emperor Yang also granted his commanders almost total autonomy, so the Korean garrisons would not be able to exploit command delays. However ominous rumblings of rebellion, as well as a horse shortage, cast a pall over the expedition.

On March 30th, the third invasion of Goguryeo was launched. On the Korean side, King Yeongyang remained confident the fortress line would be able to hold out, but still took added precautions across the fortress line and in the mountain fortresses near Pyongyang.

Sui invasion forces crossed into the Liao River Valley in Late May. The army then broke off into three columns with the emperor mandating that Ryotongsong and Sinsong must fall. The third column was directed to make an overland strike at Pyongyang in conjunction with naval forces coming up from the Shandong Peninsula.

The best-known siege of this war is the siege of Ryotongsong. Commanded by the Emperor in person the besiegers were prepared to use the full force of their arsenal against the garrison. For our purposes, we will cover another two siege machines leading on from last week.

In addition to the already mentioned xuanfeng catapult and yunti che ladder, another weapon employed by the Chinese was the ‘four-footed’ traction catapult. Called sijiao pao in pinyin it gained its name from the four large wooden columns that formed its legs and provided the corners of the frame. The sijiao was largest of the Chinese traction catapults, standing a good four times the height of the average adult man. Its primary purpose was the reduction of walls, a task it did well. Unlike the xuanfeng, the sijiao was one-directional. However, it could be made mobile through being mounted on a cart (though it was never fired while mounted). The weapon could be adapted by increasing or decreasing the number of bundled rods that comprised its throwing arm. Typical variations were: Five-rod arm, nine-rod arm, ten-rod arm, and thirteen-rod arm.

The other siege weapon we will cover is the assault cart. Called chong che in pinyin the assault cart was the Chinese version of the well-known siege tower. Like any siege tower, the chong che was a makeshift tower built on a wheeled cart. There was no typical chong che because each was constructed to fit the circumstances of its specific siege, thus allowing for much adaptation and flexibility. One famous chong che type was the so-called ‘cloud bridge’, a massive 100-meter tall weapon armored by layers of cowhide on the sides. The top level contained many bags of water to douse fires.

In the time between the sieges of 612 and 613, no significant changes took place on the Korean side of the war. However, we will cover in brief the importance of natural obstacles in Goguryeo defense strategy. As already mentioned the Koreans built their most common fortress type anchored between the banks of a river and a nearby tributary, which provided a natural defense line. They built other fortifications on the sides of or anchored onto a mountain. A network of such mountain fortresses protected Pyongyang, which made the city nearly impenetrable.

Historical records also point out that sometimes the garrisons of a particular citadel would try to extend the walls to take advantage of a nearby natural defense. Ryotongsong was one such fortress. While already anchored on the Liao River the garrison successfully reached the walls to a nearby mountain (probably between 612 and 613), causing the Chinese endless frustration.

From the beginning, the Chinese assaulted the Manchurian fortress line with far greater force than the previous year. Sui military engineers unrolled a much greater part of their siege arsenal in the third invasion then they had in the second. They hit Ryotongsong the hardest of all. Emperor Yang knew the fortresses’ importance and ordered attacks on it from all four directions at once unceasingly.

However, the Korean garrison held on grimly. Each move made by the Chinese was countered by the garrison successfully. One celebrated episode was a mass assault on the walls by the Sui using yunti che assault ladders and battering rams. The attack was driven off by the Goguryeo garrison through the use of fire, burning them as the machines got caught in the ditch system in front of Ryotongsong. Another incident involved a different tack. Emperor Yang decided to attempt to take the fortress through tunneling, but the garrison had been expecting such a move. As the Chinese siege engineers dug toward the walls, the defenders flooded the tunnels with water from the nearby river, drowning them out.

However, the Sui Emperor had another card to play. After the siege had been going on for a month, the emperor tried another ploy. He ordered the construction of an enormous earthen ramp along one corner of the fortress wall. To protect the engineers and laborers as they worked eight chong che manned by the best archers in the Sui forces were built and rolled out near the walls. This time the Chinese met with success. The defenders were forced to abandon the section of the wall threatened by the ramp under withering arrow fire. On July 20th as the Sui prepared to storm the walls of Ryotongsong disastrous news arrived from China. Yang Xuangan, the son of the late famous Premier Yang Su, had risen in revolt and threatened the imperial capital of Luoyang itself.

The situation had drastically changed. Emperor Yang suddenly found himself facing the possibility of being caught between a rapidly growing rebellion at home and the forces of Goguryeo at the front. He acted immediately, recalling the advance column and the naval arm and directing them to make all haste to the heartland. The entire war was called off, and the Sui withdrew with barely disguised hurry. King Yeongyang of Goguryeo and his generals could barely believe it, especially as false retreats were a well-known Chinese trick. However, the hurry in which the Sui evacuated and several defections led them to infer it was real.

Eventually, while the Sui would mount one more invasion the following year (614), the third attack on Goguryeo was the last major offensive. Yang Xuangan’s revolt had lit the powder keg of discontent, leading the Sui Empire to unravel and fall in 618. Goguryeo survived but just barely, and would go on to face the successors of Sui: Tang.


Armed and armored statue from the tomb of King Dongmyeong. yeowatzup [CC BY 2.0 (], via Flickr. 

Events had changed dramatically since 613. The Sui dynasty, ravaged by rebellion, had begun to shatter in 615 and by the following year it became apparent the Sui could not regain control (at least with their current leadership). In late 617 a measure of peace returned when Emperor Yang’s first cousin, Li Yuan, suddenly seized control of the capital and moved the emperor into retirement. He took the title Prince of Tang and sought to quell the chaos as regent for a puppet child-ruler. However, the former emperor was assassinated soon after. Li Yuan then took the imperial throne for himself, becoming Gaozu of Tang in 618. Meanwhile in Goguryeo, King Yeongyang died and was succeeded by his younger half-brother as King Yeongnyu.

The two empires would spend the following years in cordial relations with each other. As the Tang sought to unify China under their rule, they tried to reconcile with the Korean kingdom on an equal basis, exchanging niceties and such forth.

In 626 an internal coup within the Tang imperial family resulted in the abdication of Gaozu in favor of his most able son, the Prince of Qin, Li Shimin. As Emperor Taizong, he embarked on a whirlwind campaign of military conquest. By 640 Tang power had become so great that even the Turkic khaganates had been humbled, and Taizong recognized as Great Khan.

For Goguryeo, the years saw the ascendancy of a new leader. Tang excursions had resulted in the construction of a new defense line in Manchuria, the Cheolli Jangseong (Thousand-Li Wall). The task of overseeing construction fell to a rising young military star, Yeon Gaesomun, who came from a prestigious background. Because of internal friction in Goguryeo between the civil and military officials Yeon launched a coup in 642 and killed the king. He placed a puppet ruler in power, King Bojang and assumed dictatorial powers as Grand Premier.

Yeon’s actions played into Chinese ambitions. Emperor Taizong wanted to succeed where Yang had failed, including against Goguryeo. The assassination of Yeongnyu gave him the perfect pretense for war. In April, 645 the Tang army invaded Goguryeo by land and sea.

Both the Chinese and the Koreans had learned valuable lessons from the Sui invasions. The Tang were well aware that Emperor Yang’s primary problem had always been the issue of keeping his massive armies supplied. Taizong launched a much smaller force of 113,000 men in total, a much easier number to manage logistically. The Chinese also had a far larger naval force than before, including river ships that could navigate the great rivers of Manchuria. Naval support not only gave them more flexibility tactically, but it also gave the Tang a steady source of supply for the first phase of operations (before moving too far inland).

Perhaps the most significant difference between the Tang and the Sui in approach was that Yang meant only to ‘chastise’ Goguryeo. Taizong intended to annex it outright. On May 1st, the Tang vanguard crossed the Liao River trailed by the naval force and Taizong’s personal cavalry squadrons.

Before moving on, we will say a few words about another two Chinese siege machines. The ‘crouching tiger’ traction catapult or hudun pao in pinyin was a medium catapult that roughly fell between the xuanfeng and sijiao in size and firepower. The weapon gained its name from the resemblance of its frame to that a tiger in a crouch. Like the sijiao, it was one-directional, but like the xuanfeng it was also mobile and could be fired on the move. One purpose of the hudun was to throw incendiary projectiles, which could disperse the enemy in a pinch. However, the hudun was adaptable. Typical variations include stationary, cart-mounted, three-rod arm, and seven-rod arm.

The other weapon we will cover is the chao che. Meaning ‘nest cart’ in English the chao che was one of the oddest Chinese siege machines. Put simply, the chao che was an eight-wheeled cart on which a tall pole, or a pair of tall poles was fixed. By use of a pulley wheel a small house-like box went up and down the pole (or poles). What the use of this device was is unknown, but its most probable use was as a mobile look-out tower, an artillery spotting platform, or a command platform.

On the Goguryeo side, things had changed as well. Yeon Gaesomun had been preparing for a Tang invasion since 643, once it became apparent that Taizong was planning an attack. Yeon placed much of his faith in the hardiness of his soldiers and garrisons and the impregnability of the Cheolli Jangseong. However the ‘thousand-li wall’ was still unfinished in 645. Yeon had realized this earlier, and so had focused on completing what he judged to be the most relevant sections of the wall, large fortress cities that formed the cornerstones of the network.

For our purposes in this article, we will focus on these fortress cities, Ansisong in particular. Much like the Liao River Valley line used by Eulji Mundeok and his successors during the wars with the Sui, the fortress cities of the Cheolli Jangseong anchored on natural features. Mountains were most common of all, given the most of the wall crossed. However for Ansisong and other fortresses like it the walls played a greater role. The walls of the Cheolli Jangseong were much larger than the walls of the old system and made from stone and packed earth reinforced with clay. Extra defensive measures similar to the ones used by the river fortresses were also used, such as ditches and secondary walls. Permanent stone bastions and forts built into the wall were all well-known. Protecting the city itself was smaller stone walls dividing it into sections.

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Map and prominent actions of the First Goguryeo-Tang War. By Historiographer at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

The Korean forces found themselves caught off guard almost as soon as the invasion began. The Tang vanguard had crossed the Liao River further north than predicted and put the fortress of Gaemosong under siege on May 16th. It fell only eleven days later. On June 7th Ryotongsong, the fortress that had defied the Sui twice, was put under siege. Emperor Taizong arrived a few days later. To the shock of Goguryeo, the great citadel fell on June 16th when the Chinese carried out a massive fire attack on the interior of the fortress. The advance kept up at a quick pace, leaving Yeon Gaesomun having to play a game of catch up. On June 27th, the fortress of Baegamsong fell without a fight, making the remaining citadels in the Liao River Valley inconsequential. Earlier the Chinese naval forces had landed a sizable contingent at the mouth of the Yalu River and captured Bisasong, the southernmost fortress-city of the Cheolli Jangseong. On July 18th, the main body of Tang troops arrived before the fortress-city of Ansisong, which was to become the most memorable siege of the war.

However, siege preparations were interrupted by a Goguryeo attempt to relieve the city. The Grand Premier had posted two governors, Go Yeonsu and Go Hyezin, in that region and ordered them to prevent the Tang from capturing Ansisong. Realizing the fall of that city would leave the interior open to invasion. However, neither of the two generals were skilled at war. Taizong routed the Koreans at Mt. Zhubi (as the Chinese dubbed it) and their nomadic allies (the Mohe, ancestors of the Manchus) in a two-day battle (July 20th-21st).

The siege itself now began in earnest. Much to Taizong’s dismay, and the cheer of Goguryeo, the walls and garrison of Ansisong held out against the first assault. A stalemate resulted within a month, and the emperor became impatient. He desired a quick campaign, and the longer Tang forces were held up at Ansisong, the less likely it looked that they would be able to clear Manchuria before the rains. The idea was floated to abandon the siege of Ansisong and take another fortress. However, Goguryeo resistance had stiffened considerably, and Taizong was aware the garrison commander, a Mohe dubbed Yang Manchen by tradition, at Ansisong could cut his supply lines if left unhindered.

The stalemate continued. In early October the Tang, realizing that time was running out, gambled everything on a large earthen mound that had been under construction for the past two months. However on the day of the assault, October 10th, the hill collapsed, and the Tang inexplicitly withdrew. Yang Manchen then took control of the hill, using it to reinforce the walls. In anger, Taizong ordered much of his army into the breach but on October 13th he ordered a withdrawal of all Tang forces. The first Tang invasion was at an end.

Eventually, the Tang would return. This victory significantly strengthened Yeon Gaesomun and his regime, and Taizong planned a second attack on Goguryeo. Before he could, the Tang Emperor passed away in 649, and invasion plans were called off until 660.

The failure of the first attack was the trigger for future conflict. Tang Taizong had never accepted his defeat at Ansisong and laid plans for future conquest. Border skirmishes and deep raids became the norm all along the northeast. Taizong’s death in 649 and the ascension of his son Li Zhi to the throne as Tang Gaozong had brought a respite. In Goguryeo the unyielding Grand Premier, Yeon Gaesomun, planned to take advantage of the lull. In 654 it was broken when a Goguryeo expedition threatened Tang client states on the steppe.

The Tang response, when it came, struck from an unusual direction. Emperor Gaozong knew that to take down Goguryeo would require an attack from more than one direction. To this end, he had continued his father’s diplomatic offensive in Korea, cultivating a relationship with the kingdom of Silla, Goguryeo’s most powerful rival on the peninsula. In 660 the King of Silla called for aid against Baekje, Goguryeo’s ally on the peninsula. Gaozong responded by sending an expeditionary force. Together the allied forces conquered Baekje, turning it into a Tang province. In an instant, the entire strategic balance of power in Northeast Asia had changed.

In 661 the Tang court moved against Goguryeo proper. For this campaign the leading commanders of the Baekje campaign, led by Su Dingfang, took command. In August 661 these forces were sent across the sea to Goguryeo, bypassing the Cheolli Jangseong, and landed. The emperor accompanied the expedition to oversee the war.

Tang and Goguryeo had both been preparing for this inevitability. During the years between 645 and 660 both the Chinese and the Koreans had gained much experience and fighting the other. These lessons proved invaluable. Territorial advances along the Liao River line had pushed the border further into Manchuria. An attack directly on Pyongyang thus became possible, even though the fortress cities remained a concern. Chinese naval forces continued to exercise almost total control of the waves. Logistical concerns had already been taken care of earlier as the supplies gathered for 649 were now used to supply the expedition. Also, Silla promised military and logistics support to the Chinese.

As before, the aim of the war was to annex Goguryeo. By capturing Pyongyang, the Tang hoped to force the surrender of the Grand Premier, thus ending the war. Coordination with Silla, and their leading general Gim Yusin, in particular, played a role in this. While the Chinese handled affairs in the north, it was the job of Silla to keep them tied down in the south and give support to the forces in former Baekje territory.

Before moving on, we will cover our last Chinese siege weapon. Perhaps one of the most famous siege machines in East Asia was the siege crossbow, or chuangzi nu in pinyin (meaning ‘little bed crossbow’). These weapons were initially oversized crossbows mounted on a table frame, thus gaining its name. By Tang times, they had become far more sophisticated and powerful. Tang chuangzi nu used double bows (facing in opposite directions), increasing the drawing power significantly. The uses of the chuangzi nu were varied and used to good effect both for offense and defense. Mobility was an important feature of these weapons and functioned in a similar role to later horse artillery in that way. Typical variations include single bow, double bow, stationary, mobile, and battery (multiple weapons mounted on the same frame).

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Yeon Gaesomun, dictator of Goguryeo. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

On the Goguryeo side of the war, preparations had been underway for some time. Yeon Gaesomun was no fool and knew that his army would be unable to deal with a protected war. Now they would be forced to deal with two theaters, north, and south. The garrisons had been tired out by the long watch on the border zone and were demoralized. However, the Grand Premier had not given up. He focused his considerable energy on ensuring the defense of Pyongyang, taking measures to ensure the integrity of the city walls and the mountain fortresses that surrounded the capital. Yeon did not take command the garrison in person, however, and instead intended to remain mobile, commanding the capital armies and his personal militia. He also committed other troops to the field, both to support him and deal with Silla.

The much-vaunted Cheolli Jangseong would not play a role this war. While completed in 647 to great fanfare in Goguryeo the nature of the Tang invasion, an oversea surgical strike, meant that it would not come into play in any significant fashion. While Chinese armies did operate in that region, they did not engage the wall.

The initial landing went without trouble. The Tang quickly established a base on the coastline and Gaozong set up headquarters. However misgivings within the court over yet another invasion of Goguryeo, as well as the objections of the emperor’s strong willed consort, Wu Zhao, forced him to withdraw. He left affairs in the hands of his chief commanders: Su Dingfang and Qibi Heli (a Tiele or Siberian chieftain serving Tang). Within weeks, Su had crossed the Taedong River and by late August/early September he had put Pyongyang under siege.

Now the siege began. Besieging Pyongyang was no easy matter and was complicated by the mountain fortresses surrounding the city. An attack direct on the city walls was not probable as long as those strongholds remained intact. From these vantage points, the garrisons could rain down fire on the Tang besiegers, catching them in a crossfire between the walls and the mountains. The mountain holdfasts would have to reduced first before mounting an attack on Pyongyang proper. As the Sui engineers of that dynasty’s third invasion would have testified, trying to crack a fortress built onto the sides of a mountain was difficult.

However, outside developments appeared to aid the besiegers. Yeon Gaesomun knew the Chinese would attempt to link with their allies in Silla (which he was struggling to contain) and put a garrison on the Yalu River to stop the second column from crossing. The attempt failed spectacularly (around October, 661) and one of his sons, Yeon Namsaeng, was almost killed. Morale plummeted drastically. However, Su Dingfang recalled the victorious troops before they could cross the Yalu to take part in a troop rotation, giving the defenders time to recover. Winter proved to be the Tang’s greatest enemy as it proved unusually harsh, even for northeastern Korea. However, Su did not suspend operations but was preparing for a big push in the coming spring.

The following year, 662, the Chinese tried to reinforce their positions. As winter ended Emperor Gaozong dispatched additional forces from northeastern China into Manchuria to aid Su Dingfang in his siege of Pyongyang. Yeon Gaesomun heard of this and set a trap for the relief column at the Sasu River, near the capital. In the battle that followed the Koreans destroyed the Tang column and slew its commander. Su Dingfang now endured a morale crushing defeat of his own but hung on grimly until a spring blizzard wrecked the siege camps. Su ordered a general withdrawal of all Tang forces and suggested that Silla do the same. The second Tang invasion was at an end.

Goguryeo had managed to defeat the fifth major Chinese attempt against it, but the kingdom’s luck was running out. Despite the failure of the besiegers to take Pyongyang or cross the Yalu, the conflict proved the deadly effectiveness of the Tang-Silla alliance. The northern-most of the Korean Three Kingdoms now stood alone. Goguryeo was only able to hold out by virtue of the strength of Yeon Gaesomun and the effect he had on his soldiers. When the Grand Premier died in 666, it all fell apart.

In 663 a major uprising in former Baekje territory occurred to try and eject the Tang from the Korean peninsula as the latest of a series of rebellions over the last three years. This attempt, which was backed militarily by Yamato Japan, failed. This event marked the end of Baekje resistance and solidified the Tang-Silla alliance, increasing their ability to work together.

By now strategists in both Tang and Silla had realized that as long as Yeon Gaesomun lived the possibility of conquering Goguryeo was slim. Instead, they focused on externally weakening their common enemy. Over the next several years, both powers steadily built up along their border with Goguryeo. As a result border clashes intensified, especially in the Liao River Valley.

Then in 666 the situation changed. Yeon Gaesomun died toward the end of spring that year after abdicating his former position in favor the ceremonial post of Supreme Chancellor. Technically his eldest son, Yeon Namsaeng, was supposed to succeed him, but the two younger sons (Yeon Namgeon and Yeon Namsan) rose against him. The court split between the brothers.

The coup was too good an opportunity to pass up. The Tang moved quickly to take advantage of the chaos in Goguryeo, and sheltered Yeon Namsaeng. Military preparations in both China and Silla, which had been keeping pace with the situation, were ramped up. In fall, 667, Tang armies commanded by Chancellor Li Shiji crossed into Goguryeo. The armies of Silla did the same.

On this occasion, the Tang used Goguryeo’s infighting to their advantage. By co-opting the faction loyal to Yeon Namsaeng the Tang leadership hoped to ensure two things:

First they wanted to keep their army supplied. Li Shiji had brought a far larger army than in the previous invasions and knew that naval superiority and Silla would not be able to keep his men in supply. Those in Goguryeo loyal to Namsaeng would be more than willing to help a Tang ‘intervention’ if it meant the end of the chaos.

Second the Tang wanted to keep Goguryeo divided. A Goguryeo divided between court factions would be far easier to destroy than one united under a single ruler’s ambition, as had been the case under Yeon Gaesomun. By manipulating one faction into an alliance with them and setting it against the others, the Tang secured their victory by ensuring that no one would be strong enough to oppose them. It also kept their chosen faction beholden to China’s interests.

Before we move on we will cover what exactly made Goguryeo’s defense strategy work so well and why it failed. In the past, Goguryeo was able to mount such an excellent defense against sieges due to their use of ‘active defense’. As was displayed so well by Yeon Gaesomun and by Eulji Mundeok the generals of Goguryeo preferred to remain mobile rather then command a garrison under siege. Goguryeo had an extensive system of field armies formed chiefly of cavalry. These mobile forces allowed Goguryeo’s commanders to keep ahead of their enemies.

A favored ploy was one of scorched earth and quick raids. In 612 Goguryeo forces under the overall command of Eulji Mundeok had allowed the Sui forces to place their fortresses under siege but denied them supplies through the extensive use of scorched earth strategy. When Eulji defeated Emperor Yang’s vaunted detached force, he had weakened them through hit-and-run tactics in their rear before the battle at the Salsu River. Yeon Gaesomun had also used those same hit-and-run raids to great effect against the Tang in 662, attacking the siege camps of Su Dingfang shortly before the onslaught of that final blizzard.

However, this strategy was eventually defeated. In the first Tang invasion, Emperor Taizong recognized Goguryeo’s system for what it was and thus developed a counter strategy. He deployed his cavalry to fight with Goguryeo’s and avoided being caught between the ‘anvil’ of the fortresses and the ‘hammer’ of the mounted columns. Taizong also recognized the tactical weaknesses of Goguryeo’s field armies ( excessively oriented to heavy cavalry) and exploited it to excellent effect. In the third invasion, Li Shiji kept these lessons in mind and utilized a third. Goguryeo’s defensive garrisons had held off the armies of Sui and Tang through several invasions over the course of half a century. The protracted conflict had worn on them in more than one way. On top of these issues was the near self-destruction of Goguryeo’s royal court and military command. Without a strong, charismatic personality to inspire them the garrisons would not be able to hold out.

The Tang advance went quickly. Li Shiji swept away Goguryeo’s military presence on the Chinese side of the Liao River Valley before crossing over to the eastern side. On October 6th Sinsong, the key to the Cheolli Jangseong’s western flank fell after a short siege because of defectors inside the fortress-city. Li Shiji then continued down the ‘thousand-li wall’ and captured sixteen fortresses in all by the year’s end. Meanwhile, Tang mobile columns had moved to link with the armies of Yeon Namsaeng and were forced into a series of field battles with Yeon Namgeon, which ended in Tang victory. The younger Yeon then moved to set up a defensive perimeter at the Yalu River.

Here on the river the Chinese advance met its first setback. As a result of taunting from a member of Li Shiji’s staff the defensive measures at the Yalu were strengthened and the Tang advance halted at the riverbanks. More bad news arrived from the north with the defeat of the Tang force besieging Ansisong. Li Shiji then declared winter quarters and intended to pick up the following spring. However, despite these setbacks the Tang advance had reached further into Goguryeo then before. Also, as planned, the soldiers loyal to Namsaeng provided much-needed supplies to both Tang’s land and sea forces.

Conflict resumed in the spring of 668. Li Shiji turned away from the Yalu and instead decided to focus on reducing Goguryeo’s northern flank first. In March-April the north end of the Cheolli Janseong, Buyeosong, fell, and the entire northeast was laid bare. When he attempted to recapture the fortress, Yeon Namgeon was defeated handily. The Tang forces then divided into columns and advanced from the north down to the Yalu.

That fall it all came together. The various columns reformed into a central army at the banks of the Yalu after the fall of the last of the northern fortresses. They then forced their way across the Yalu and put Pyongyang under siege. Forces from Silla, victorious in the south, marched up to join them, and the attack commenced around September, 668. On October 17th, King Bojang and Yeon Namsan attempted to surrender, only to be prevented from doing so by Yeon Namgeon, who refused to accept the inevitable. On October 22nd, the city fell for real when his generals betrayed Namgeon. Li Shiji occupied the city in triumph soon after, and Goguryeo officially annexed that winter. The kingdom became a Tang province like Baekje, and the long wars between China and Goguryeo were at an end.

Tang’s preeminence in Korea was not destined to last long. Almost as soon as the kingdom fell a slew of revival movements rose, with the greatest one led by Prince Anseung (a relative of King Bojang) and Geom Mojam. To make matters worse Silla was covertly backing these movements as a result of a falling-out with the Tang. This falling-out was because of the differing aims of the two states: While both sought the end of Goguryeo, Tang intended to bring Korea under its control while Silla sought unification.

The uneasy peace continued until the outbreak of war in 670. The Silla-Tang War lasted for six years with Tang unofficially admitting defeat by moving the headquarters of its ‘Eastern Protectorate’ into Liaodong. The region between Liaodong and the Taedong River, marking the border of ‘Unified Silla’, remained a frontier zone until 698 when a Goguryeo revival movement led by Dae Joyeong created Balhae.

The Muslim Conquest of Hispania and the First Invasion of Gaul

The Muslim conquest of Spain, then known as Hispania, was the furthest west of all the Arab conquests during the first century of Islamic history. The conquest, carried out in the opening stages by a small force of Berbers, was an astonishing feat of arms. The Visigothic kingdom collapsed, and Christians would not rule the entire peninsula again for 800 years. The Muslims would use the impetus gained to push further north, before facing decisive defeat at Tours.

For an understanding of how a small army could conquer a kingdom like Visigothic Hispania, we should first look at the internal picture of the country leading up to the conquest. By the 7th Century, the power of the regional nobility and the Christian Church effectively dwarfed the throne itself. The nobles had become steadily more dominant over the preceding century, resembling feudal lords. The Church became a major force following the Visigoth conversion to Nicene Christianity, and the Councils of Toledo carried as much weight, if not more, than secular law. Always present in the background was the continued struggle of elected versus hereditary succession.

Altogether the government of Visigothic Hispania was dangerously weak, despite the kingdom’s status as among the most successful of the post-Roman states. The kings exercised little practical power, and often at the mercy of factions. The great landowners ruled with virtual independence, and on the eve of the invasion the kingdom was gripped by political and religious turmoil.

The Muslims made several attacks on Hispania before the successful invasion of Tariq ibn Ziyad. The Chronicle of 754, the only Christian source on the Muslim Conquest of Hispania, records the Moors of North Africa had long raided the shores of the kingdom before the invasion. The later Chronicle of Alfonso III also notes the Muslims sent 270 ships in aid to the rebellion of Comes (a Latin title usually rendered as count) Flavius Paulus against King Wamba (672-681) in 672-73. In this case, they had been invited by Jewish shipping interests, out of fear that Wamba would persecute them. Wamba defeated this fleet, and the Moors returned to raiding. They returned in force some years later, again under Jewish invitation. Again, the Visigoths repulsed the attack, but later events would bring them back, and this time to stay.

Wittiza’s reign (694-710) has long been the subject of controversy. The king either brought joy and prosperity to the kingdom or as a moral degenerate who ruined Hispania according to competing accounts. Regardless, his death at age 25 or thereabout threw the country into an uproar. The sequence of events that follows is difficult to reconstruct.

Coin evidence reveals the possibility of two kings ruling in opposition to each other. One, Roderick, ruling in Toledo and Central Lusitania. The other, Achila II, ruling in Tarraconensis and Narbonensis, also called Septimania. Supporting evidence is found in two competing continuations of the Visigothic regnal lists, one of which records a three-year reign by a King Achila, the other a King Ruderigus. Unfortunately, these continuations are of a later providence and first come into disagreement with the reign of Erwig (680-87). The Chronicle of 754 records simply that in AD 711 “Roderick tumultuously invaded the kingdom with the encouragement of the Senate” and goes on to say he reigned one year. Senate, here, may refer to the great landowners and senior clergy. What the chronicler means by invasion is still unclear. One explanation is Roderick gained power in a palace coup with noble and clerical support, only for a full-blown civil war to erupt.

However, the Chronicle makes no mention of Achila II, or even of the death of Wittiza. Roderick may have overthrown him by violence, which accounts for the tumult the chronicler describes. The Chronicle’s description of the invasion sheds further light. It looks to suggest that the army abandoned Roderick during a battle with “Taric Abuzara” (Tariq ibn Ziyad?) resulting in his death. This was possibly part of an earlier plan by some unnamed nobles opposed to Roderick, and they either died with him or shortly after. Another passage of the Chronicle indicates that the Muslims executed several noble lords who had aided the flight of one Oppa, son of King Egica (687-702) after the fall of Toledo. Oppa was holding the city about this time.

In short, Wittiza had no recognized successor. Roderick had taken power, but his claim was contested by two separate men, with important power bases of their own. Achila was clearly the more powerful rival and controlled the northeast. Oppa, the late king’s brother, seized Toledo at one point (perhaps just before Roderick’s death), and fled before the fall of the city. Hispania was deeply divided, giving the Muslims the perfect opportunity to invade.

Muslim sources corroborate this view. Ibn Abd al-Hakam, the first Muslim to record the invasion, and from whom all other Muslim sources stem, tells the story of Count Julian of Ceuta. Julian exchanged letters with Tariq ibn Ziyad and offered to ferry the joint Arab-Berber army across the straights to Hispania. He was willing to do so because Roderick had gotten his daughter pregnant, and had since set himself among the king’s enemies. While the story of Julian is complete nonsense and has no support anywhere else, it does support the basic idea that Hispania was divided.

Tariq ibn Ziyad was a Berber (Mauri, Moor) Muslim, who held command at the fortress of Tangiers on the behalf of his former master, Musa ibn Nusayr. Musa, a man of humble origins, had become the governor of North Africa in 704 thanks to the support of Abd al-Aziz ibn Marwan, governor of Egypt and brother of Caliph Abd al-Malik. Once in power Musa had charted an independent course, completed the conquest of North Africa by 708, and laid firm foundations for Arab administration.

Through Tariq, Musa was kept aware of events in the Visigothic Kingdom. It seems likely that he struck a deal with one of Roderick’s opponents in the civil war, perhaps something similar to the intervention on behalf Count Paulus in Wamba’s time. Musa’s son Marwan launched a probing raid on the coast of Lusitania, and when they came back with a favorable report, the go-ahead for a larger operation was given to Tariq. This was undoubtedly welcome news. Most of his soldiers, recent converts to Islam, had gone without pay for years. Their loyalty was dubious, and Tariq needed some new source of revenue and spoils to appease them. Hispania seemed perfect.

By April-May, 711 the invasion force was ready. Traditional accounts claim some 12,000 for the invaders, and later historians have tried to explain this as having come in waves, with the first numbering 7,000. More probably the Muslims numbered only 1,750. Arabs formed a minority. On landing in Hispania, Tariq, who probably planned this out as a raid, let his men loose across the southern part of the peninsula. The following events are unclear, but what is known is that Roderick confronted the raiders at some point, traditionally identified as the river Guadalete, was abandoned by his men, and killed. The death of Roderick changed everything.

As Roderick’s rivals probably perished with him or soon after (see above), the Muslims saw their chance to take advantage of the chaos to claim the region as their own. The Chronicle of 754 says that Toledo fell to Muslim arms about the same time as Roderick’s death. Cordova, another major Visigoth city, also fell. The Muslims then killed much of the remaining prominent nobles, likely including Oppa (see above). This served the interests of the invaders by leaving the Visigoths effectively leaderless, the remaining regional lords lacking the means to engage the Muslims. These events occurred in either late 711 or early 712.

Tariq’s startling success brought the attention of Musa. By the beginning of the campaign season of 712, the governor of Ifriqiya (North Africa) had entered the Iberian Peninsula with a larger army than that of Tariq’s. While there are no reliable numbers for this force, we do that Musa brought along elite troops and the leaders of the Arab tribes in his province. Musa and Tariq linked at Toledo and divided operations between them. Tariq likely headed towards the Ebro valley, where Achila II held sway while Musa focused on consolidation in the south. He first conquered Medina Sidonia, then Carmona. The jewel of his campaign was Seville, one of the largest cities on the peninsula, and they all fell with minimal force. Resistance finally stiffened with the siege of Merida, which held out until the end of June, 713. Meanwhile Musa and Tariq met up again at Toledo, to discuss dividing the spoils. However, Musa demanded that all prizes be handed over to him, and Tariq complied. Shortly after he set up his headquarters at Cordova, separate of Musa. This was done to show his discontent with his superior’s high-handedness. Tensions between Arab and Berber, already high, would pose a problem in the Islamic West for centuries.

About this time, Musa had sent his son, Abd al-Aziz, out to deal with a rebellion in Seville, and from there advanced to Murcia. A Visigothic enclave, Murcia was ruled by a man known as Count Theodemir. Rather than conquer, Abd al-Aziz instead negotiated with Theodemir, granting the Visigoths local autonomy in return for tribute and ensuring their regional security. Such a deal is not surprising because of contemporary Muslim practice elsewhere. The land was called Tudmir by the Arabs in its ruler’s honor. The following year, 714, Musa moved north into the Ebro personally and captured Zaragoza before going to siege Lerida and making progress towards Barcelona and Narbonne. As this coincides with the end date of Achila II’s reign, he was likely killed during these events. A man named Ardo succeeded Achila, and continued the resistance.

However, now events in faraway Syria (a much larger area than the modern day state of that name) brought the conquest to a halt. In 715, as Musa and Tariq were campaigning in the northern mountains of Iberia word came from the east that Caliph al-Walid was dead. Much like his father before him, al-Walid had been tolerant of Musa ibn Nusayr’s independence; in fact the Caliph had supported the venture in Hispania. However, his brother and successor, Sulayman, had no such tolerance. A desire to deal with all he considered political rivals, coupled with the well-known Umayyad fear of successful generals, resulted in the recall and disgrace of Musa, Tariq, and several other prominent military leaders. Sulayman nevertheless did respect the political arrangement left by Musa in the new province of al-Andalus and Ifriqiya, leaving his sons in power. Abd al-Aziz took over in Hispania.

His tenure is mainly cloudy; supposedly making inroads into both modern Portugal and Catalonia. Administratively it is assumed that either Abd al-Aziz or his father had started the minting of gold coins from mobile army mints. Military settlement, the usual model followed by Muslim armies post-conquest, was also abandoned about this time. Instead, they intermingled with the population, the Arabs settling in Cordova, Toledo, Seville, and Zaragoza while the Berbers settled on the Meseta.

Abd al-Aziz would fall in 716 amid controversy surrounding the practice of the Arab nobility marrying wealthy Visigoth women. His cousin succeeded him, who was in turn deposed after only a few months. His successor, al-Hurr ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Thaqafi, led the first Islamic forays into Southern Gaul (France), opening the possibility of even further conquests. In 717 he led a reconnaissance expedition into Septimania and from there up into Gaul, hoping to take advantage of Frankish disunity and made several follow-up trips. Disaffection from the Umayyads with his military progress, as well as widespread internal problems between Arabs and Berbers, led to al-Hurr’s sack in 718.

Al-Hurr’s tenure also oversaw the beginnings of what would become the Christian Reconquista. During this time, an increasing number of Visigoths and other Christians had begun to flee Muslim rule into the southern valleys of the Pyrenees and the region of Asturias in the Picos de Europa. In the latter case, the area was ruled by one Pelagius, a man of uncertain though wealthy background. Pelagius welcomed these refugees, and the Muslims could do little to stop him. Roman civilization had never fully penetrated there, Visigothic authority had only been nominal. Marking the terrain was a mixture of rugged peaks and rivers that overflowed during periods of heavy rainfall. Muslim rule was present in Asturias, but it was never firm or stable. Pelagius continued to send tribute to the capital of Cordova according to the terms of the treaty until 718 when he raised the standard of revolt for reasons unclear. It is likely that, before his revolt, Pelagius was offered similar terms to those offered Theodemir. Peter of Cantabria, ruler of the western Basques and fellow refugee, soon joined him, and two together adopted a defensive posture while the Muslim conquest of the rest of Hispania wrapped up.

In Cordova, a new governor was named, al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani. As a leader, al-Samh proved to be of a different quality than his immediate predecessors, and his ambition and drive powered a full-scale invasion of Septimania. Coin evidence corroborates the traditional Muslim account of the fall of Narbonne, and all coins of Ardo, the last King of the Visigoths, stop after 721. All residual resistance was handled by treaty or force of arms over the following years. With a firm base behind him, al-Samh pushed north, into Aquitaine with the intent of capturing the capital of Toulouse and the Garrone River valley. However, he was defeated by Odo the Great, Duke of Aquitaine, on June 9th, 721 in a massive pincer attack. The governor died at Narbonne from mortal wounds suffered in battle. Anbasa ibn Sulaim al-Kalbi succeeded al-Samh, who moved to keep up the appearance of military strength with large raids. He did so to avoid either Odo or his northern rival, the powerful Frankish Mayor of the Palace Charles, from striking south.

However, the Muslims soon faced much bigger problems. Muslim tax policy in al-Andalus following the disaster at Toulouse sparked serious unrest, and Pelagius in Asturias took advantage to expand the extent of his authority. Their subsequent failure to crush him at Covadonga has morphed into a legend. The few firm known facts is that Pelagius emerged victorious in a skirmish deep in the mountains, the Muslim general was slain, and that a general mutiny by Astur soldiers in Muslim service followed. Pelagius was subsequently elected king of an independent Asturian kingdom. Following the battle other Christian kingdoms would form in the mountains of northern Spain, the Pyrenees, and the Basque Country. From these holdouts the long Reconquista began.

Meanwhile, affairs in Gaul continued to occupy the attention of the governors of al-Andalus. In 724 the Muslims under Anbasa captured the last Visigoth holdouts in Septimania at Carcassonne and Nimes, and the following year he raided as far north as Autun and the Rhone valley. Anbasa was then killed in battle in 726 and succeeded by a succession of temporary governors of little ability. In 730 the Umayyad Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik intervened and appointed al-Samh’s former second-in-command, Abd al-Rahman al-Ghafiqi, as governor. Like al-Samh, Abd al-Rahman possessed the ability, the drive, and the ambition to lead.

First, affairs in Sepitmania had to be settled. Uthman ibn Naissa, a Berber general, had become the effectively independent governor of Muslim Gaul, and in 730 had negotiated a marriage alliance with Duke Odo, who was desperate for allies against Charles. The following year Uthman had become so confident in his strength that he rejected the authority of Cordova. Abd al-Rahman saw his chance and took it. He struck for Narbonne and crushed Uthman. Duke Odo, who arrived too late to save his ally, attempted to return to Toulouse. The two armies met in battle near the Garrone where the Aquitanians were so badly slaughtered the Chronicle of 754 remarked that only God knew the number of the slain.

Thus emboldened, Abd al-Rahman pressed onwards. Muslim forces besieged and took the city of Bordeaux. From there he marched north, following a deliberate policy of sack and plunder of both palaces and churches in hopes of demoralizing the population. By 732 they had reached the Loire River, plundering Christian religious centers as they went. The advance column was outpacing both the supply train and the main body of the invasion force. Abd al-Rahman was aiming to attack Tours and the Church of St. Martin, which was the most famous Christian shrine in Gaul. By this time Odo was making appeals to Charles, but the Mayor of the Palace was unwilling to hear him. He accused the Duke of Aquitaine of betraying his Christian faith but said he could gain forgiveness by submitting to the central authority, and Charles’ power. Odo did so, and the Franks moved to deal with the threat.

According to the Chronicle of 754 Charles was aware of the power of the Muslim cavalry from Odo and intended to fight Abd al-Rahman from a wooded high ground, using an infantry square. The resulting Battle of Tours, traditionally believed to have been fought over seven days in late October, has been controversial. Both the sequence of events and battle’s importance are disputed. For the moment, Charles, now known by the nickname Martel, the Hammer, had ended the immediate threat to the Frankish territories. Internal problems within al-Andalus, now reawakened following Abd al-Rahman’s death at Tours, would eventually end the threat of invasion for good in the 740s as Umayyad rule destabilized.

File:Steuben - Bataille de Poitiers.png

The famous 19th Century painting of the Battle of Tours by Charles de Steuben [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons Charles Martel is mounted on the horse on the left, facing Abd al-Rahman al-Ghafiqi on the right.

The defeat at Tours largely marked the end of large-scale military activity coming out of the impetus of the invasion of Hispania. Muslim focus now began to shift from waging war to creating a more lasting, stable administration. In this, they succeeded with mixed results, with various forms of al-Andalus persisting until 1492.

Sun Jian and the Alliance against Dong Zhuo

In 189 AD the Later Han 後漢 Emperor, Liu Hong (posthumous name: Han Ling di 漢靈帝), died, and a succession struggle erupted between the He 何 consort clan and the eunuch clique. In the chaos created by the fighting, the powerful western warlord Dong Zhuo 董卓 entered Luoyang and seized control. The following year Dong deposed the late Ling’s successor, Liu Bian (posthumous name: Prince of Hongnong 弘農王). He raised Prince Liu Xie (posthumous name: Han Xian di 漢獻帝) to the throne instead. Dong Zhuo soon proved to be a tyrannical and authoritarian dictator who heaped rewards on himself (including reviving the post of Chancellor of State 相國) while stifling all dissent with brutality.

This angered the powerful provincial lords on whom the Han had come to depend on for support. Among those angered by Dong’s excess was the dominant Yuan clan 袁 of Ru’nan1. In February, that same year a series of accusatory letters circulated in the provinces, drafted by the Grand Administrator of Dongjun, Qiao Mao 橋瑁. Yuan Shao 袁紹, Grand Administrator of Bohai and head of the Yuan clan, took the leadership position of a growing body of angry lords. This body was called the Guandong (East of the Pass2) Coalition 關東聯軍 better known by the familiar name of the Alliance against Dong Zhuo. Dong unexpectedly then gave fuel to the fire of rebellion when he murdered the former emperor and his mother the following month.

In this article, we will follow the actions of one of the most successful lords in the coalition, Sun Jian 孫堅.

Now about the time the alliance was formed Sun Jian was Grand Administrator of Changsha. He had been appointed to that position by the Han Court to take down the rebel Ou Xing 區星. Sun Jian had already proven to be a talented general through a career of good service to the throne. First against the Yellow Turbans (under General Zhu Jun 朱儁) and then against the Liangzhou rebellions (under Minister of Works 司空 Zhang Wen 張溫) Sun had propelled himself forward.

After Ou Xing had been crushed, the Han Court decided to post Sun Jian in the region more or less permanently with enfeoffment as Marquis of Wucheng 烏程侯. This did not work well as Marquis Sun often clashed with his nominal superior Inspector Wang Rui 王睿 of Jingzhou, who treated him rudely. During this time, Sun Jian expanded his active control to the neighboring commanderies of Lingling and Guiyang.

When news arrived in Jingzhou of Dong Zhuo’s coup and the formation of the Guandong Coalition the Marquis prepared to march north to aid to join the other lords. When he reached Hanshou to meet with Wang Rui Sun Jian discovered orders to execute the Inspector. The Grand Administrator of Wuling, Cao Yin 曹寅, had forged the orders out of fear of Wang. When Marquis Sun moved against his superior, the latter committed suicide. Sun Jian absorbed his army and continued marching north. At Nanyang the Grand Administrator, Zhang Zi 張資, refused the Marquis supplies because he thought he left his territory without authorization. In response Marquis Sun invited Zhang to his camp, killed him, and took over Nanyang. After absorbing the local troops, he continued north.

Soon afterward the army arrived in Luyang. Sun Jian’s plan had been to link with Yuan Shu 袁術, General of the Rear 後將軍, as the Luyang encampment was the closest of the Coalition bases to his territory. Yuan Shu was impressed by Marquis Sun and offered him court rank as General Who Smashes the Caitiffs 破虜將軍 and the post of Inspector of Yuzhou. Sun Jian accepted and began to settle his army in Luyang for winter quarters and training.

Dong Zhuo, who remembered Sun Jian from the fighting in Liangzhou (and respected him), then moved to dislodge the allies from Luyang. When the attack came, the Marquis kept his cool and made an orderly withdrawal into the citadel of Luyang. Dong Zhuo’s forces were amazed at the composure of the allied troops and began retreating to Chang’an (Luoyang having been razed earlier in the year, in April).

Early the following year, February 191, Yuan Shu moved to make the first serious offensive of the war, Sun Jian acting as his vanguard. Even though the former imperial capital was now a burnt-out shell, Dong Zhuo kept a notable garrison there. Dislodging this garrison would go a long ways to removing Dong himself from the government. However at Liang County the allied advance was halted when Dong general Xu Rong 徐榮 succeeded in surrounding Sun Jian. The Marquis managed to escape through trickery3 and regrouped his forces at Yangren in early March.

There the forces of the Coalition scored a great victory when Sun Jian exploited a rift between the Grand Administrator of Chenjun, Hu Zhen 胡軫, and Lu Bu 呂布 (Dong Zhuo’s adopted son and bodyguard). Hua Xiong 華雄, who held rank as Chief Controller, was captured in this battle and executed on the Marquis’ orders. This victory lifted Coalition morale, which had been flagging in the aftermath of Liang and the defeat of Wang Kuang 王匡 (Grand Administrator of Henei) at Meng Crossing.

At this point Yuan Shu, fearing Sun Jian’s success, withheld supplies from him. When Marquis Sun heard this, he raced to Luyang, over a hundred li, and swore his undying loyalty to the cause and the Yuan clan4. Yuan Shu was ashamed and resumed sending supplies to Sun Jian.

The fall of Dong Zhuo’s southern front changed the course of the war. Dong Zhuo, fearing Marquis Sun, tried to bribe him with a marriage proposal and government posts5. He furiously rejected the proposal. Sun Jian’s vanguard forces surged ahead and at Dagu Pass faced the forces of Dong Zhuo himself. Dong was routed and forced to fall back to Mianchi (on the Chang’an road), entrusting Luoyang to Lu Bu. Lu was in turn also routed, leaving the husk of Luoyang to the Coalition.

Sun Jian entered the city in triumph and soon set about attempting to repair the damage. During the razing of the city, Dong Zhuo had dug up the Han imperial tombs and ransacked them. The Marquis sealed the tombs and buried them again. During this time, Sun Jian may have found the Great Seal of State 傳國璽, more popularly known as the Imperial Seal.

File:Jade Seal.png

By The picture above is a print from a Qing Dynasty edition of Luo Guanzhongs Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Franz Kuhn: Die drei Reiche) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

However, records concerning this are confused and contradictory. The most likely sequence of events is that Sun Jian did indeed find the Great Seal of State in the Imperial Pottery Works, and without much further ado handed the object over to Yuan Shu. The Seal eventually returned to the Han when Yuan Shu fell in 199.

In any case, Sun Jian evacuated the city when he was sure he did enough and retired to Luyang. He could not do much else, as the rest of the Coalition was in no position to support him in Luoyang. Besides that, Dong Zhuo’s (who had completed his relocation of the capital) positions on the Chang’an road were too heavily fortified to assault.

Soon afterward the Guandong Coalition fell apart. Despite the success of Sun Jian, the other lords of the Coalition proved unable to act on the initiative and gradually the war ground to a halt. Infighting set in soon after. Yuan Shao had schemed against the Governor of Jizhou, Han Fu 韓馥 and manipulated the hapless man into giving up his territory in the summer/autumn of 191. Yuan Shu fell out with his elder brother in the aftermath, and open warfare resulted between them6.

Meanwhile Dong still held control of the central government, and his conduct worsened, dropping all pretense of restraint.In May 192 the dictator fell victim to an internal conspiracy within the Han Court led by Minister over the Masses 司徒 Wang Yun 王允 and was assassinated by Lu Bu7. The Guandong Coalition officially disbanded, but it had been fiction for months by then.


‘Generals of the South: Chapter 2: The Founder of the Family: Sun Jian’ as available at by Dr. Rafe de Crespigny.

‘To Establish Peace: Being the Chronicle of the Later Han dynasty for the years 189 to 200 AD as recorded in Chapters 59 to 63 of the Zizhi Tongjian of Sima Guang, Volume 1’ as available at by Sima Guang, translated by Dr. Rafe de Crespigny.

‘Sanguozhi: The Record of the Three States: Biography of Sun Jian’ as available at by Chen Shou, translated by Jack Yuan.

‘Three Kingdoms Comprehensive Biography: Sun Jian (Wentai)’ as available at by Jonathon Wu.

Author’s Notes:

1: At first Dong Zhuo attempted to appease the Yuan clan and keep them close to him. Dong reasoned that if a family with a century’s worth of prestigious service to the empire backed his regime, the rest would fall in line. However, when Dong attempted to depose Liu Bian he angered Yuan Shao. A heated argument broke out, recorded in Pei Songzhi’s notes to the Sanguozhi biography of Yuan, which resulted in him leaving the capital. When Dong went forward with his scheme, Yuan Shao fumed in exile (in Bohai) and was the first to respond to Qiao Mao’s call-to-arms. In response Dong Zhuo executed Yuan’s uncle and other family members living in the capital.

2: ‘East of the Pass’ here refers to Hangu Pass, the vital strategic gateway separating the center of government at Luoyang from the rest of China. The pass today is near modern Lingbao County. The gate itself was constructed in 361 BC by the State of Qin, to protect its heartland regions.

3: Sun Jian wore a distinctive wooly red headdress in battle to allow his men to identify him quickly in the field. While escaping from Xu Rong he gave the headdress to his trusted man, Zu Mao 祖茂. Zu then led off the majority of the pursuers down one road while Sun went down a less known path. The two men met up again later at Yangren, Zu Mao having escaped by ditching the red headdress onto a burning stick.

4: The Sanguozhi has the following speech after Sun draws out a line on the ground. “Above I am attacking a rebel in the name of the Emperor, below I am aiding the private vengeance of your clan, my general. This is the reason that I fight without consideration to my own safety, for the clans of Sun Jian and Dong Zhuo have no enmity. But you attend to the words of liars, and turn around with your unfounded suspicions.”

5: The Sanguozhi has the following attributed to Sun Jian in his reply, spoken to Li Jue 李傕: “Dong Zhuo opposes Heaven and is without morality; he has destroyed and overturned the Imperial clan. Now, unless I destroy you and your three generations as a sign to all within the four seas, I will not be able to close my eyes when I die. How can there be marriage relations between our clans?

6: Yuan Shao and Yuan Shu were half-brothers (and cousins by Shao’s posthumous adoption by their uncle, Yuan Cheng) and never got along. Both men were ambitious, and this put them at odds more often than not. Yuan Shu had flung the first shot by doubting his brother\cousin’s paternity and his status as a Yuan clansman. Yuan Shao, having taken over Jizhou around this time, was incensed. While Sun Jian was busy in Luoyang, Yuan Shao attacked his rear supply dump at Yangcheng through the Zhou brothers of Kuaiji, appointing one of them as Sun’s replacement as Inspector of Yuzhou. When Yuan Shu heard of it, he was angered, and counterattacked. He sent the younger cousin of his ally Gongsun Zan 公孙瓒 (General Who Suppresses Enemy Captives serving under Liu Yu 劉虞, Inspector of Bingzhou), Gongsun Yue 公孫越. While the Zhou brothers were repulsed, young Gongsun was killed and the elder launched a full-scale invasion of Yuan Shao’s territory. In response, Shao allied with Liu Biao 劉表, Wang Rui’s replacement as Inspector of Jingzhou. Yuan Shu sent Sun Jian to deal with the threat to his rear, leading to Sun’s death in battle against Liu Biao during the siege of Xiangyang City.

7: The incident forms the historical basis for the fictional story of Diaochan. Wang Yun’s fellow conspirators were Huang Wan 黃琬, Lu Xu 魯旭, Shisun Rui 士孫瑞, Xun Shuang 荀爽 (Xun supported the coup, but died before it went forward), Yang Zan 禓瓚, and Zhang Wen. All of these men were high ranking members of the Han government who could no longer abide Dong Zhuo’s autocratic and dictatorial rule. Lu Bu had joined the conspiracy because Dong had begun to mistreat him, and had attempted to kill him. There was also the matter of a chambermaid that Lu Bu had seduced, over which he felt guilty and was afraid of being found out. Dong was killed on May 22nd.

The Three Provinces Alliance

In 1554, the greatest three powers on Japan’s Kanto plain, the Imagawa, Takeda, and Hojo, put aside their mutual hostility to focus on other matters outside the Kanto. This alliance made possible three events: First, it allowed the Imagawa to make their fateful advance on Kyoto. Second, it allowed the Takeda to focus on Shinano. Third, it allowed the Hojo room to deal with the Uesugi.

To understand this agreement, we must go back to 1536. In that year Imagawa Ujiteru, the Lord of Suruga, died suddenly and lacked any sons. His brothers, including several who were serving as priests in Buddhist temples, all fought to succeed him. The Takeda of Kai and the Hojo of Sagami both took an interest in this fight (which was called the Hanagura Incident) and backed the capable fifth brother. This man took the name Imagawa Yoshimoto on his victory in 1537. Yoshimoto then married the eldest daughter of the Takeda clan head Takeda Nobutora, turning previous diplomacy on its head.

The Imagawa and Hojo had been close allies for decades by this time, and the Hojo daimyo Hojo Ujitsuna took offense at this perceived snubbing. Yoshimoto also negotiated the marriage of Takeda Harunobu (the future Shingen) to a noblewoman of the Imperial Court (a daughter of Sanjo Kimiyori). This arrangement was a return-in-kind for the marriage of Harunobu’s sister. Thanks to Satomi aggression, the Hojo would not act on the Imagawa realignment until 1539 by seizing territory on the western bank of the Fuji River. At the same time affairs in Kai changed dramatically.

While a talented ruler, Takeda Nobutora was not popular. Now considered to have suffered from some form of mental instability, Nobutora was a harsh, intemperate man who governed according his arbitrary designs. His retainers tolerated this for as long as it benefited them and the clan. For all his faults, Nobutora had succeeded in rebuilding the fortunes of the Takeda and unified the province of Kai. However, in 1540 he pushed them over the edge by announcing the deposition of his eldest son in favor of a younger one, Nobushige.

This was unacceptable to the retainers and Nobushige alike, as the latter remained loyal to his brother. Imagawa Yoshimoto got wind of this and supported his brother-in-law, as potential instability in Kai was not in the best interest of Suruga. So Harunobu, his guardian Obu Toramasa, and other senior Takeda retainers, plotted the downfall of Nobutora. While the details of the coup are unclear by 1541 Takeda Nobutora was living in exile in Imagawa lands, at the expense of Yoshimoto and Harunobu was lord of Kai. Harunobu paid back the debt in part by supporting the Imagawa during the Kitsunebashi campaign against the Hojo in 1544. By that time, Ujitsuna had died and was succeeded by his brilliant son Ujiyasu.

489px-Ujiyasu_HojoHojo Ujiyasu of Sagami. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Under new leadership, Takeda made significant inroads into Shinano. In 1542, Harunobu defeated a major alliance of Shinano lords at the battle of Sezawa. The Suwa, Kiso, and Tozawa (in a separate campaign) clans were all absorbed. The Takato followed in 1545, and it appeared the Takeda would conquer the province shortly. The situation changed in 1548 when the Murakami dealt the conquerors a bloody nose at Uehara. When the Murakami and their allies the Ogasawara had been pushed out of Shinano in 1552, they fled to Echigo and the shelter of Nagao Kagetora (the future Kenshin).

The Imagawa had similarly become preoccupied with Mikawa and Owari. Nominally under the control of the Matsudaira clan, Mikawa had fractured after the death of Matsudaira Kiyoyasu in 1536. The Matsudaira themselves were similarly divided. The chaos opened the way for the invasions of Oda Nobuhide of Owari. Nobuhide (the father of the famous Nobunaga) was a talented and aggressive commander. His aggression would earn him the nickname “Tiger of Owari”. Nobuhide began by taking the Matsudaira stronghold of Anjo in 1540 in a lightning invasion. This sent the young lord of the Matsudaira, Hirotada, to the Imagawa for support.

Yoshimoto moved to intervene and sent an army commanded by his uncle, the monk-general Taigen Sessai into Mikawa. The resulting struggle lasted most of the decade. Eventually Taigen Sessai was able to defeat Nobuhide at 2nd Azukizaka in 1548. The following year, Hirotada died. Control passed to the Imagawa through the future Tokugawa Ieyasu, a child. Oda Nobuhide then died in 1551, causing a civil war in Owari.

Meanwhile in the east, the Hojo contended against the Uesugi and Satomi. In 1545 Hojo Ujiyasu and his brother Tsunanari won one of the finest victories of the era at Kawagoe. Defeating the combined forces of the allied Uesugi branch families (the Ogigayatsu and Yamanouchi) and the eastern Ashikaga in the process. The Hojo went on the offensive, and within a few years the Ogigayatsu Uesugi had been eliminated, the eastern Ashikaga contained and rendered toothless, and the Yamanouchi Uesugi struggling in Kozuke.

In 1551, Ujiyasu took the Uesugi fortress of Hirai and evicted them from Kozuke. Uesugi Norimasa, Lord of the Yamanouchi, fled to Echigo. Nagao Kagetora soon proved to be a problem for the Hojo, leaving them unable to secure Kozuke. To counter the Nagao, the Hojo were forced to divide Kozuke with the Takeda. To the east, the Satomi continued to pester the Hojo, and Ujiyasu was hard pressed to do anything about them.

With all three lords now confronted by situations that required their attention to be elsewhere they decided to settle the matter of their shared border by diplomatic means. Such an agreement would not have been without precedent. In 1545, the Takeda had proposed a truce that allowed the Imagawa and the Hojo the breathing room needed to deal with concerns in Mikawa and at Kawagoe.

In 1554, Yoshimoto, Ujiyasu, and Harunobu all met at Zensho Temple under the watchful eyes of Taigen Sessai. At the monk’s insistence, a network of marriages was arranged. Hojo Ujiyasu would wed his daughter to the heir of the Imagawa and his heir in turn was married to Harunobu’s daughter. In 1552 a prior arrangement had seen the heir of the Takeda wed to Yoshimoto’s daughter. Sessai further negotiated a mutual cease-fire between the factions and vows made for mutual reinforcement and support. Thus settled, the Three Provinces (named for Kai, Sagami, and Suruga) Alliance allowed each clan to focus on affairs outside the Kanto.

The Imagawa turned their eyes on Owari. Nobuhide had been succeeded by his second son, Nobunaga, who was an unlikely choice in the eyes of the neighboring lords. Nobunaga in his youth put on an elaborate act conducting himself in the most shocking manner possible to traditional mores. The charade ended in 1553 when an elder retainer had committed suicide out of shame, and Nobunaga took on a more acceptable, though still eccentric, manner. Imagawa Yoshimoto laid plans to deal with the Oda as his ambitions for Kyoto grew, which was derailed by the death of Taigen Sessai in 1557. By this time, he had come to depend on the talents of a maturing Ieyasu, now known as Matsudaira Motoyasu. The Imagawa campaign for Owari started the following year in 1558 with the fall of Terabe Castle. It ended with the ambush at Okehazama, the death of Imagawa Yoshimoto, and the catapulting of Oda Nobunaga to national prominence in 1560.

800px-The_grave_of_Yoshimoto_Imagawa_in_OkehazamaThe Grave of Imagawa Yoshimoto of Suruga at Okehazama. By Lombroso (Photo taken by Lombroso) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Power then passed to Imagawa Ujizane, Yoshimoto’s heir. However, Ujizane was a weak and politically inept leader, and before long he had alienated many of his father’s retainers. Fatally, among those included was Matsudaira Motoyasu. The young lord of Mikawa broke away from Imagawa control in 1561 by tricking Ujizane into releasing the Matsudaira hostages in Suruga. With the Matsudaira gone, the Imagawa turned to the Asahina clan for support. Under their influence, Ujizane executed many of his retainers, and the Imagawa fell into decline.

The Takeda turned to greater ambitions. While his allies took care of their concerns, Harunobu could resume his march into Shinano. In 1553, the Murakami and Ogasawara returned in force with the support of Nagao Kagetora and the two forces clashed for the first time at Kawanakajima. Eventually, the two warlords would fight five times over that ground. The battle ended in a stalemate though technically the Takeda came away a little worse. In any event, Harunobu’s ambitions had been checked. Eventually, he would triumph by conquering Shinano in 1564, but it came at a price through the constant skirmishes at Kawanakajima, especially the pitched 4th battle in 1561. Shingen (he had taken that name in 1559 on entering the Buddhist priesthood) then turned to Kozuke and Hida, and military action there would occupy him for much of the decade.

Takeda_HarunobuTakeda Harunobu of Kai, AKA Shingen. By 日本語: 不明 English: Unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Internal problems would also plague the Takeda during those years. In 1560, a plot led by Shingen’s cousin Katanuma Nobumoto was uncovered, resulting in the conspirator’s death. There was a second plot in 1565, this time led by Obu Toramasa and Shingen’s heir Yoshinobu. Toramasa was forced to commit suicide while Yoshinobu was confined to Toko Temple. Two years later he died under unclear circumstances; though it seems likely his father forced him to commit suicide. These events placed great strain on the Three Provinces Alliances, as Imagawa Ujizane did not take well to the news of his sister’s disgrace, and the Hojo supported him.

For the Hojo, the alliance proved less advantageous. Already checked in Kozuke by the Nagao and with the Satomi blocking his expansion further east, Hojo Ujiyasu was left with little option in where to expand. So he turned inward, refining and extending a line of castles and their networks of satellite castles that served to protect Odawara and the Hojo domains. In 1559-1560 events in Echigo saw the rebirth of the Uesugi when Uesugi Norimasa adopted Kagetora, who took to his new role and name (Uesugi Masatora) with vigor. He also assumed the title of Kanto Chancellor.

The Uesugi struck into Kozuke with the Satomi in 1560 and continued to push inwards through the following year. During this Ujiyasu stepped down as lord of the clan, passing the title to his son Ujimasa, but in reality the elder Hojo remained in control.

The Uesugi advance went up to the walls of Odawara itself and succeeded in burning the castle town, but they were turned back after two months by logistics problems and the Hojo defenders. However, Masatora was able to score a propaganda victory by visiting the Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine at Kamakura. There, he announced his assumption of the Uesugi patrimony and entered the Buddhist priesthood, taking the name Kenshin. From here on for the next eight years Hojo and Uesugi would clash across the Kanto, the conflict finally ending until 1569 when Ujiyasu arranged for his 7th son to be adopted by Kenshin. In the meantime, Ujiyasu triumphed in the 2nd Battle of Konodai in 1564 against the Satomi, and Hojo forces entered Shimosa and Kazusa. However, the Satomi were not entirely defeated, continuing the feud.

By 1568, it was clear the Three Provinces Alliance had collapsed. However, Shingen’s ambition was what finally broke it. That year Takeda Shingen negotiated a secret deal with Tokugawa Ieyasu (he had changed his name to this form in 1566, by petition to the Imperial Court) to divide the Imagawa domain between them. The Tokugawa would take Totomi, the Takeda would take Suruga. However, both men possessed great ambition and during the invasion Takeda troops attempted to conquer Totomi, and Ieyasu sheltered Ujizane after the latter agreed to cede his land to the Tokugawa.

At the same time, Hojo Ujiyasu was enraged by Shingen’s one-sided actions and launched an invasion of Suruga in an attempt to throw the Takeda out, commanded by Ujimasa. Shingen’s response was to attack Odawara Castle itself in 1569. However, the Takeda overextended, leaving Hojo castles to their rear intact, and were forced to leave after burning the castle town to the ground. During the retreat the Hojo attempted an ambush at Mimasetoge, fought off with heavy casualties to the Takeda. In 1570 Ujiyasu died, and Hojo Ujimasa maintained the war with the Shingen for another year before agreeing to peace. This effectively set the stage for the events of the next decade.

In conclusion by agreeing not to attack each other the Imagawa, Takeda, and Hojo made it possible for them to attend their ambitions without fear of destabilizing the Kanto. In the end, it all came up short. Imagawa Yoshimoto underestimated Oda Nobunaga and paid with his life, making the Oda ascendancy possible in the process. Both Takeda Shingen and Hojo Ujiyasu found themselves blocked by an enemy who proved to be their equal in Uesugi Kenshin, resulting in a bloody stalemate between all three. Ambition, which brought the alliance together, tore it apart.