After Fei River, Part 1

In December, 383 the Di 氐 leader Fu Jian 苻堅 of the Former Qin 前秦 dynasty met with catastrophic defeat in the Battle of Fei River near the city of Shouyang 壽陽. While Fu Jian was able to escape the battlefield, his loss of prestige marked the beginning of the end of his empire and a period of extended chaos in North China.

Initially, Fei River might not have been such a disaster. Only the Qin vanguard had been defeated and the main body of the invasion force, still in the Xiangcheng 襄城 area, was still intact. However, Fu Jian, taking refuge with the 39,000 troops of Xianbei 鮮卑 prince Murong Chui 慕容垂 to the west of Shouyang, opted to return north. At the time, Chui was urged by his son Bao 慕容寶 and brother De 慕容德 to take advantage of the opportunity to kill Jian and restore (Former) Yan 前 燕, the northern state ruled by the Murong family before falling to Former Qin in 370. Chui himself was a son of the Yan founder and had been a leading general of Yan until internal politics forced him to defect to Qin, which he had served with distinction for nearly a decade and a half. Because of that loyalty, he refused to kill Fu Jian and escorted him as far as Luoyang 洛阳, but still wished to restore Yan and, supposedly, aimed at a return to the pre-conquest division of North China into halves. To this end, Chui asked for permission to lead an army into the old Yan territories and put down any rebellions there. The historian Sima Guang puts what might be one of the greatest understatements of the era in Murong Chui’s mouth by having him say to Jian that the population might become rebellious on hearing of the “disadvantage” the Qin army had just suffered in the south. Fu Jian meanwhile continued his way to his capital at Chang’an 長安, where he arrived in February, 384.

However, a serious rebellion had already begun to break out before the end of the previous year. Qifu Guoren 乞伏國仁, a Xianbei tribal leader, had been dispatched to deal with an uprising by his uncle in Longxi 隴西, their home region. Instead of putting the rebellion down, Guoren joined forces with them. Meanwhile a Dingling 丁零 (possibly a proto-Turkish people) chieftain in the eastern (Yan) provinces, Zhai Bin 翟斌, rose in rebellion, aiming to conquer Luoyang where the Governor of Yu Province 豫州 (Fu Hui 苻暉, a son of Fu Jian) was stationed. Murong Chui was part of the force sent to put him down but instead massacred the troops of his assistant Fu Feilong 苻飛龍 on February 5th, assigned to him by Fu Jian’s son Fu Pi 苻丕, the viceroy of the east. Fu Hui’s general, Mao Dang, was subsequently defeated by Zhai Bin and killed. Chui then began preparing for his rebellion but still pretended loyalty to Qin. Meanwhile, Murong Nong 慕容農, one of Chui’s sons, along with two of his cousins fled from Fu Pi’s capital at Ye 鄴城 a few days after the massacre. They resurfaced leading an uprising of their own, with Nong gathering an impressive force of discontented soldiers and the allegiance of many nomadic tribal leaders. Fu Pi sent one of his best generals, Shi Yue, to attack them. However, the Qin army was defeated in a night attack on February 14th and routed from their fortifications, their general slain.

Two such defeats in close succession, in addition to the defection of Qifu Guoren, caused a drastic loss of morale across Former Qin. To make matters worse, the Eastern Jin 東晉 dynasty in the south that had defeated Fu Jian at Fei River was now on the move. The Jin governor of Jing Province 荆州, Huan Chong 桓沖, dispatched an army that successfully regained the southern cities of Shangyong 上庸, Weixing 魏興, and Xincheng 新塍 from Qin and evicted the local governor. Earlier, February 9th, Murong Chui had attempted to enter Luoyang but was refused by Fu Hui, who was by now aware of what had happened to Fu Feilong only four days ago. Chui dropped any pretense of loyalty and allied with Zhai Bin’s rebels. After rebuffing attempts to persuade him to take the title of emperor, Murong Chui led his army back towards Ye, believing Luoyang was too much trouble to put to siege.

Along the way, Chui proclaimed himself “King of Yan” and his dynasty is known today as Later Yan 後燕. On March 5th, he arrived at the walls of Ye with 20,000 men. By now he was rejoined by Murong Nong, whose forces had been securing cities throughout Hebei and Shandong in anticipation of Yan’s “revival”. Most of the pre-conquest Yan provinces declared for the new Later Yan state but Ye would prove an exceptionally difficult nut to crack. At first, Fu Pi attempted to persuade Chui to return to Qin service. He refused and tried to persuade Pi to abandon Ye and go to Chang’an. When the Qin prince refused, the siege began in earnest. After a month, the besiegers had succeeded in taking the outer walls, but that was the extent of their success. Despite a swelling of his numbers, thanks to the arrival of Xianbei and Wuhuan 烏桓 (a proto-Mongolic people) reinforcements gathered by Murong De, the king of Yan was unable to take the city by assault as the siege lasted into the second lunar month of 384.

Meanwhile Chui’s nephew Murong Hong 慕容泓, brother of the last emperor of Former Yan (Murong Wei 慕容暐), was independently active. When word reached him that Ye was under siege Hong abandoned his Qin governmental post and fled east beyond the historic Chinese capital region of Guanzhong 關中 (” Inside the Pass”) to gather a following of Xianbei horse herders numbering in the thousands. He returned to Guanzhong to camp at Huayin 華陰, east of the Qin capital. Fu Jian, recognizing the threat this posed, dispatched a general (variously identified as either Qiang Yong 強永 or Zhang Yong 張永) with 5,000 cavalry. The Qin force was defeated, and Hong’s numbers swelled with his victory. Taking advantage of the momentum Hong took a number of titles for himself, including the royal title he held under Former Yan, King of Jibei. Murong Hong’s dynasty is known today as Western Yan 西燕.


A Xianbei horse archer from the a tomb painting of the Fomer Yan period. By Unknown tomb painter ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

With his court now under serious threat from a victorious Murong Hong, Fu Jian raised new armies to put down the revolt. Meanwhile another Murong clansman, Hong’s younger brother Chong 慕容沖, rebelled east of the Yellow River. At Hua Marsh, the Qin army sent to attack Murong Hong was defeated, and its commander, Fu Rui 苻叡 (a brother of the Qin sovereign) was killed. When Hong had received word of Rui’s marching against him, he assembled his followers and intended to leave Guanzhong again to “go home” to Yan. Fu Rui’s assistant the Qiang 羌 leader Yao Chang 姚萇 argued the Xianbei had a strong homing instinct and not interfere. Fu Jian was livid when he received word his brother’s defeat and death and killed the messengers who came to report the news. Much like Murong Chui, Yao Chang had been a loyal general of considerable skill of Former Qin for many years, in this case from the beginning of Fu Jian’s reign in 357 when he led his branch of the Qiang to submit to Qin after the defeat and death of his older brother. A combination of secret ambition and fear for his life now caused Chang to flee north of the Wei River. Once there he began gathering the Qiang of Tianshui 天水 and Nan’an 南安to his banner. According to period sources, Yao Chang gained the support of 50,000 families before taking the prestigious title “Millennial King of Qin”. His dynasty is known today as Later Qin 後秦.

Former Qin gained a rare victory when the General Dou Chong 竇衝 defeated Murong Chong and sent him fleeing to his brother with some 8,000 cavalry. Murong Hong’s support had only continued to grow with his victory over Fu Rui and the arrival of Chong and now took the opportunity to demand the release of Murong Wei and the restoration of the pre-conquest division between Former Qin and Former Yan. Fu Jian rejected the proposal and ordered Wei to write to his relatives and order them to surrender. Secretly, however, Murong Wei urged Hong to forget about him and left instructions about how the three Murong leaders should share power and that if he (Wei) should be executed that Hong succeeds him as emperor. Murong Hong marched on Chang’an and formally broke with Fu Jian by changing the era name, marking the establishment of Western Yan in the fourth lunar month of 384.

However, the Qin ruler considered Yao Chang’s Qiang to be a more pressing concern. In the fifth month, Chang established his capital at Beidi 北地 in the northern reaches of Guanzhong and received the submission of the local Qiang. Fu Jian reacted in the sixth month with reportedly 20,000 infantry and cavalry to defeat the rebels on the field and cut off the Qiang from their water supplies. When Yao Chang dispatched his younger brother Yinmai to break the dam of the nearby Tongguan River he was defeated and killed along with the majority of his troops by Dou Chong. In the traditional histories Yao Chang and his soldiers were saved from thirst by a sudden rainfall which caused three feet of water to fall into their camp, but only an inch outside it.

Elsewhere Gao Gai 高蓋, the strategist of Western Yan, organized a conspiracy with some other officials to depose Murong Hong. They were concerned that Hong lacked as excellent a reputation as Chong and about his rigorous and strict application of the law and his high taxes. So they killed him and raised Murong Chong to power with the title “Imperial Younger Brother”. Yao Chang immediately sought an alliance, hoping to gain Western Yan aid and to avoid any possible trouble from the Yan forces as Chang moved his people west. The alliance was granted, and the millennial king moved his troops to engage Fu Jian directly, reportedly leading 70,000 men. Jian answered by sending a strike force against the Later Qin troops but was defeated. Fu Hui in Luoyang abandoned that city and the eastern half of the empire in the seventh month to lead his troops to Chang’an to reinforce his father. He was joined by Wang Ci, a general serving under the governor of Yi Province 益州. Unfortunately for Former Qin, the departure of Ci coincided with a Jin offensive into modern Sichuan led Yang Liang 楊亮. Fu Jian remained in the field facing off against Yao Chang until word reached him that Murong Chong was now very close to Chang’an. Jian acted quickly to organize a defense outside the city and placed Fu Hui in overall command with some 50,000 men.

However, Murong Chong was already planning a clever strategy. He ordered the Xianbei women to mount oxen and horses and carry sacks of dirt and tall poles with flags attached. At dawn, Chong lead his Xianbei to attack Fu Hui’s fortified camp. At a pre-arranged signal, the women advanced and broke their sacks, blinding the defenders. Drums and shouts added to the confusion, but the attackers were kept in good order by the flags the women carried. The Qin army was defeated and fell back. At Bashang, another army under Fu Lin 苻琳 (another of Fu Jian’s sons) was defeated and the prince killed. The Western Yan army subsequently took Afang (also rendered as Epang) Palace 阿房宮 and was now only 9 miles west from the capital. Afang had also been the site of a palace constructed by the First Emperor of China in antiquity.

Further south, in Jing province, the Jin army was on the offensive. Huan Shimin 桓石民, a nephew of Huan Chong, captured Luyang and dispatched an army to take Luoyang. Xie Xuan 謝玄, the victor of the Battle of Fei River, advanced and took Pengcheng 彭城 in Xu Province 徐州 in the eighth month. At the same time, at Ye, the siege continued to drag on. The city was granted an unexpected reprieve by the rebellion of the Dingling. Zhai Bin had been executed when Murong Chui discovered he was in communication with Fu Pi, frustrated at being passed over for the position of prime minister, and offering to flood the siege camp. However, Bin’s nephew, Zhai Zhen 翟真 had escaped and raised the banner of revolt. On July 18th, Chui was forced to lift the siege of Ye. In the ninth month Liu Laozhi 劉牢之, Xie Xuan’s protégé, advanced into Yan province 兗州 and attacked the Qin forces there, driving off the governor (into the arms of Chui) before taking and setting into position at Juancheng 鄄城. By now Murong Chong had reached Chang’an and demanded the release of his brother Wei, but Fu Jian angrily refused yet again. In the next month, Fu Pi attempted to take advantage of his new breathing space to call for aid from within Ji province 冀州, unaware that Later Yan had already seized control of the region. His general was captured, and Pi attempted to call on Bing province 并州 for aid but was refused.

Unexpectedly, Jin forces now began to enter Ji, posing a threat to both Qin and Yan. When southern troops advanced far enough to capture Liyang 黎陽 Fu Pi hastened to negotiate with Xie Xuan. In return for a show of submission, he asked for supplies and safe passage out of the province. Should he reach Chang’an and make contact with his father, Ye would be handed over to Jin. Should the capital have already fallen or the road blocked then Pi asked to be allowed to maintain possession of Ye. Unbeknown to him, Yang Ying 楊膺 his brother-in-law and assistant altered the letter to make it appear that Pi was making a genuine surrender to the southern court.

In Chang’an Fu Jian was suddenly confronted by a new conspiracy. Murong Wei organized the Xianbei population of the capital with the intention of organizing an ambush to kill Jian and then join the Western Yan forces outside the walls in the final month of 384. When the plot was leaked to the redoubtable Dou Chong by his wife (the younger sister of one of the plotters) the Qin sovereign executed Wei, his entire family save two young boys (Rou 慕容柔 and Sheng 慕容盛, the son and grandson of Murong Chui) and soon after every Xianbei in the city. Chui, meanwhile, put Ye back under siege and Xie Xuan countered by sending Liu Laozhi with 20,000 to rescue the city and bring supplies. At Afang Murong Chong learned of his brother’s death and in the first month of the new year, 385 proclaimed himself emperor of Yan.

It did not take long for the forces of Western Yan to tighten their siege of Chang’an. Combined with a sudden famine the city was soon in dire straits. Fu Jian was an energetic defender however and defeated Yan two times before being defeated in turn though the Qin sovereign was still able to escape. Gao Gai then made a night attack on the city with a small force. He succeeded in breaching the south gate and entering the southern parts of Chang’an, but was defeated by the Qin defenders, and the bodies of the dead were used for food. Fu Hong 苻宏, the Crown Prince, followed up on this victory by leading troops out to inflict a second defeat on Gao Gai. His father meanwhile was leading his troops and together they succeeded in driving the besiegers back to Afang on the 20th day of the second month. Shortly afterward Fu Hui committed suicide from a mixture of shame from being defeated by Murong Chong so many times and his father’s repeated rebukes. To the east Liu Laozhi had reached Fangtou 枋頭. His officers informed Fu Pi of what Yang Ying and his supporters had done, and Pi put them to death causing Laozhi to drag out his advance on purpose.

In the next month Qin cavalry, numbering 5,000, fought with Yan troops to bring in some grain. They were defeated in battle near Mt. Li; one general died, and the other fled to Ye. In an earlier battle at the same place Fu Fang 苻方, Jian’s cousin was slain. The second body of cavalry, some 2,500 elite troops led by Jian’s son-in-law Yang Ding, were dispatched and won a victory at Mt. Li, capturing some 10,000 Xianbei. The prisoners were buried alive. Ding’s victory forced Chong to begin protecting his camps with pits in hopes of forcing the Qin cavalry to dismount in future engagements. At the same time, Laozhi reached Ye and defeated Murong Chui, forcing him to retreat northward. While Pi led the garrison to Fangtou to load up on grain Laozhi pursued the retreating Yan army. He was defeated and fell back to Ye, where Pi allowed him to rebuild his army to fighting strength. Around the same time in Sichuan, the Qin governor of Yi Province fled from the advancing Jin forces to Longxi with 30,000 people.

For Murong Chui, his victory would soon prove hollow. His troops fell victim to starvation as famine afflicted the besiegers as well, and many abandoned their posts to flee to Zhongshan 中山, a major stronghold. Chui had placed one of his nephews in power there, Murong Wen 慕容溫, who turned around what was formerly a militarily precarious position. Once he had repelled a Dingling attack, Wen forwarded on supplies and started construction on a palace. In the fourth month, Chui began seriously considering moving his headquarters and capital to Zhongshan and sent Murong Nong on ahead of him. However, first he had to take Ye. Meanwhile out west Yao Chang was still tied down with a siege of his own.

The Later Qin forces had surrounded Xinping 新平 in the tenth month of the previous year, but the city was held stoutly by a Di leader of one of the Fu clan’s consort clans named Gou Fu 苟輔. When Yao Chang made hills of packed earth and dug tunnels under the walls, Fu had countermeasures waiting for him. At one point the defenders offered to surrender, but Chang was made aware it was a trick and pulled his army back before it could enter the city though he still suffered losses during the retreat. Now in the fourth month of 385 Xinping was running low on food and supplies and news from the area around Chang’an made it clear relief was not coming. Chang sent a messenger to tell Fu if he abandoned his city he could lead the surviving population to Chang’an in safety. Fu accepted the offer and led his people, numbering 5,000 in all, out. The Qiang surrounded and buried them alive except a lone survivor who made it to the Qin capital. In Sichuan Jin completed its conquest of Yi Province when its officer Ren Quan took the provincial capital of Chengdu.

In Chang’an matters continued to look grim. In the fifth month, some 3,000 men from 30 fortified strongholds in the Guanzhong region attempted to reinforce Fu Jian’s position and bring some much-needed supplies. This attempt failed due to bandits, which were running rampant in the area. When Jian sought to set fire to Murong Chong’s siege camps, this also failed. As the situation deteriorated and defections increased amidst fears that the city could not hold the Qin sovereign devised a new plan. He would leave Chang’an under the command of Crown Prince Hong while making his way with a small force into the mountains. Jian believed he could break through and bring back troops and supplies to relieve the city this way. As the first step, Yang Ding was dispatched to battle Murong Chong, but he was defeated and captured. Jian nevertheless stuck with his plan, breaking through the siege lines safely and proclaiming he would rescue his capital by the beginning of winter.

Without Fu Jian’s presence in the city, however, everything collapsed. Fu Hong abandoned Chang’an with his wife and mother in the next month and went south to Jin. The officials scattered, and several hundred took service with Yao Chang, who was closer than ever. Sensing his opportunity, Murong Chong entered Chang’an without a fight and gave his troops free reign to plunder it. Fu Jian was surrounded by Wu Zhong 吳忠, a general of Later Qin, in the seventh month and captured, taken to Xinping and put under house arrest. Chang attempted to convince him to abdicate in the following month, and his chief minister, Yin Wei 尹緯, joined in but Jian would hear none of it. Shortly after that, he killed his two daughters who were present with him, not wanting them to be raped by Qiang soldiers. Angered at being deprived of a “legitimate” succession to the imperial dignity Chang ordered his former ruler strangled to death when Jian visited the local Buddhist temple. Traditionally the date is said to have been October 16th, 385. Fu Jian, the man who had nearly unified China only a short time before, was dead at 47. Jian’s concubine, Consort Zhang, and his son Fu Shen 苻詵 who had also accompanied his flight from Chang’an, committed suicide on the same day. When Chang found his soldiers mourning, he kept his part in the death of Jian a secret and bestowed a posthumous name and title on the Former Qin sovereign.

“Jian is Defeated!” – The Battle of Fei River

The Battle of Fei River 淝水之戰 or the Battle of Feishui was a major battle of the Chinese Age of Fragmentation. At this battle, the forces of Former Qin 前秦, under the command of the Heavenly King 天王 Fu Jian 苻堅 were defeated by the much smaller army of Eastern Jin 東晉, under the command of Xie Xuan 謝玄 in December, 383.

The battle was the result of the meteoric rise of a new military dynasty in North China. Following the collapse of a unified Chinese empire (Western Jin 西晉, 265-316) in the early decades of the 4th Century, the land became divided. The North fragmented into many warring states founded by non-Chinese, many of whom had previously served the dynasty. The South remained largely whole under a remnant of Jin, which allowed it retain a measure of prosperity though the southern court was impotent and power rested in the hands of powerful land-holding aristocrats.

Lead by the Fu clan and its allies among the proto-Tibetan Di 氐 people, the new Qin empire was founded in the 350s following the catastrophic collapse of Later Zhao 后趙 at the beginning of the decade. It rose rapidly under a string of capable leaders, of whom the greatest was Fu Jian, nephew of the dynastic founder. Jian overthrew his cousin, traditionally portrayed as a tyrant, in 357. A man of some genius, Fu Jian had the ambition and energy to push the borders of his state aggressively. In 370, his prime minister, the ethnic Chinese official Wang Meng 王猛 conquered the Xianbei 鮮卑 state of Former Yan 前燕 to the east, Qin’s most formidable northern adversary. The fall of Yan left Qin with no more northern enemies that could realistically challenge it. In 376, he united North China with the fall of the Chinese state of Former Liang 前涼 in the northwest and Dai 代, another Xianbei state, in the extreme north. Three years before that Jian had taken his first steps against Jin by wresting control of modern Sichuan (Yizhou or Yi province 益州) from them.


China after Fu Jian’s unification of the north and the conquest of Sichuan. By Ian Kiu [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Fu Jian wanted to reunite China under his rule, and it appeared he was close to achieving that goal. He knew the fastest way to subdue the south would be to invade Jin through Jing province or Jingzhou 荆州 and from there marched on to Jiankang 建康, the imperial capital. The key to Jing was the city of Xiangyang 襄陽, positioned as the gateway to the central Yangzi River region 長江 and exerting control over the confluence of that river with its tributary the Han 漢江. Control of Xiangyang also provided a land route over the Huai 淮河. Strategically, the city was vital, and alongside Shouyang 壽陽 (perhaps better known as Shouchun 壽春) in Huainan 淮南 necessary for any attempted conquest of the south. So it was that Fu Jian dispatched an army his son Fu Pi 苻丕 to take Xiangyang in the second lunar month of 378. By the fourth month, the Qin army had reached the north bank of the Han. Any hopes by Jin that the invaders would be unable to ford without boats were soon dashed when Fu Pi’s elite cavalry swam across. Huan Chong 桓沖, the governor of Jing, sat put at his headquarters in Shangming 上明 south of the Yangzi.

Meanwhile, Qin forces attacked Jiangling. Shortly after that the cities of Weixing 魏興 and Pengcheng 彭城 were attacked as part of a general offensive in Huainan and the Han River region to stretch the southern defenses. The siege of Xiangyang was continuing to drag out, longer than anticipated, and Fu Pi was faced with the choice of either achieving victory by the beginning of spring or committing suicide. Pi decided on making an enveloping assault on the walls. Early the new year, 379, the city finally fell, and Qin stepped up its offensive along the rest of the front and captured several strongholds including Pengcheng (after some difficulty) and Weixing.

By now the situation had gotten so bad that the mere appearance of a cavalry patrol was enough to frighten the elite Western Palace Guards stationed near Jiankang into dispersion. A new defense strategy was needed. As a result, a new plan was drafted calling for the southern garrison forces to defend along the Yangzi river line. The Northern Headquarters Army 北府兵 which was considered to be the best army then under arms was tasked to defend along the Huai. It was commanded by Xie Xuan, a nephew of Xie An 謝安, prime minister and the dominant power in Jin since 373. An’s brother Xie Shi 謝石 also held a military command in this campaign. However, members of the family were better known as dandies rather than military leaders. On June 25th Xuan scored a victory over Qin forces led by Ju Nan 俱難 and Peng Chao 彭超 at a place called Boma Embankment. On July 7th, he defeated Ju and Peng again at Xuyi. The third victory at Huaiyin forced them back over the Huai, and a fourth at Jun Stream proved decisive. These defeats convinced Fu Jian to return north, but even had though he had failed in conquering the south, he had still succeeded in pushing the border closer to Jiankang and held Xiangyang.

In 381-2, he sent another invasion force into Jing, but Huan Chong reacted quickly and countered the Qin force decisively, defeating them and gaining a great victory. Huan Chong followed up in the 5th lunar month of 383 with a large offensive to retake Xiangyang and Yi province. The attack was beaten back handily, and Qin was left in a strong position both militarily and morally. If Fu Jian invaded now, he would look like he was just retaliating for Huan Chong’s invasion. So the order went out, and mass conscription was enforced empire-wide in the seventh month. The scale was unprecedented, with one man for every ten being conscripted for service. According to period sources, such the “Chronicle of Fu Jian” in the official Jin history, the vanguard force alone under Jian’s youngest brother, Fu Rong 苻融, numbered 250,000 of cavalry and infantry. The main body was composed of 600,000 infantry and 270,000 cavalry and marched from the capital of Chang’an 長安. Even accounting for exaggeration, Qin’s sovereign was obviously intent on finishing what he began in 379. The advance was to proceed along many different routes into Jing, with a column advancing from Sichuan and a second to Pengcheng in the lower reaches of the Huai River.

The army of Former Qin was a polyglot force of many different ethnic groups. The Di themselves numbered relatively few and were more sedentary than their close cousins and old neighbors the Qiang 羌族. Unlike other “northern barbarians” of Chinese imagination, the Di fought primarily as foot soldiers instead of cavalry. As Qin’s rapid rise to prominence was built on a string of military victories they were able to incorporate the defeated into their armies. Meaning Jian could count on the well-organized Xianbei and Xiongnu 匈奴 to provide his mounted troops and plenty of Chinese to serve either on foot or for menial tasks. Fu Jian went the extra step of either keeping defeated officials in place or appointing them to new, high-level, posts both civil and military regardless of their loyalty. As a result, and due to the structural weaknesses of the Qin government, the entire edifice was only kept together so long as the leaders continued to win.

On November 28th, 383 AD, the Qin vanguard captured the city of Shouyang. Yuncheng 運城 fell shortly after. A Qin general, Liang Cheng, led 50,000 to nearby Luo Creek 洛澗 to the east and fortified it. At the same time, word of the invasion reached Jiankang and threw the imperial court into disarray. Hurriedly Huan Chong was put in charge of the defense of the middle Yangzi. The Northern Headquarters Army with mixed land and naval forces was called up to defend the Huai with Xie Shi and Xie Xuan in command. As prime minister, Xie An was put in overall command of the defense despite his lack of military experience. Rather than go into the field, An went to his villa outside the capital and played weiqi (also known by its Japanese name of go).

Meanwhile Fu Jian, bolstered by reports from Fu Rong that the Jin forces were in pitiful shape, left the bulk of his army behind on the northern banks of the Huai River at Xiangcheng (where he had been in command since September) to join his brother at Shouyang. Zhu Xu 朱序, a Jin officer, captured in 378, was dispatched to negotiate with Xie Shi. Xie had been frightened by the size of the invasion forces and by Fu Jian’s personal appearance at Shouyang. Zhu now informed him that only the Qin vanguard was present in the Shouyang area and urged him to attack before the main body could arrive from Xiangcheng. Together both Xie Xuan and his cousin Xie Yan (謝琰), the prime minister’s more militarily minded son, managed to convince their uncle to commit to an offensive policy.

Liu Laozhi 劉牢之, a protégé of Xie Xuan and noted non-gentry military officer, assaulted Liang Cheng’s fortifications (where he now had 20,000 men). This surprise night attack across the stream succeeded in killing Liang and 15,000 northern troops. The victory was an important and much-needed morale booster for the Northern Headquarters forces and shook the resolve of the invading army. Even Fu Jian began to doubt if he could win now. Meanwhile, Xie Shi and his troops had started advancing after their victory until encountering Fu Rong’s general Zhang Ci at the Fei River. The Fei was a tributary of the Huai near Shouyang and west of Luo Creek to which it parallel south-north. Xie Shi was defeated, but Xie Xuan and Xie Yan moved quickly in support and Zhang returned to the west bank of the river, outside the walls of Shouyang. By this point, the Jin had been drawn their troops in a much wider formation than usual to give the appearance of much larger numbers. With the Qin army’s formation crowding the opposite bank, making any assault across the river difficult, Xie Xuan dispatched a messenger to the other camp.

Xie Xuan’s messenger informed Fu Rong there was no room on the western side of the Fei for his soldiers to fight on with the massive size of his army. He requested that the Qin army back up from the banks to allow the Northern Headquarters Army to cross. This way they could settle the war in a single quick, decisive, battle rather than drag things out with a stalemate. There two separate traditions regarding who gave the fateful order to back up. According to the “Chronicle of Fu Jian”, Rong gave the order, but in Xie Xuan’s biography in the same work, it was Jian himself who did so over the objections of his officers. Sima Guang in his “Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government” (an 11th-century universal history of China) accepts the latter theory. In any case, regardless of which brother gave the order, the reasoning was the same. They expected to be able to take advantage of the Jin army once it was at its most vulnerable at mid-crossing. The order went out to back up. However, something went terribly wrong. The majority of the Qin army had little to no formal training or military experience. The mounted troops were still little more than spoiled teenagers newly conscripted from rich northern families. The call to fall back came as a surprise and when they could not find out why they panicked. At the front ranks Zhu Xu, taking advantage of the situation, leaped up and shouted: “We are defeated!” (or “Jian is defeated!”). At this point what little resolve remained in the Qin army failed, and the whole vanguard began to rout.

Meanwhile, the Northern Headquarters Army on the other side of the river could hardly believe their eyes. Xie Xuan was already sending his vanguard under Liu Laozhi across the river when the Former Qin army began to disintegrate. Quickly recognizing the opportunity before him, Xie Xuan immediately sent Xie Yan and Huan Yi 桓伊 (no relation to Huan Chong) across the river as well with 8,000 men for a major assault on the Qin positions. At this point, Fu Rong, who was desperately attempting to rally his men, was thrown off his horse and killed by Northern Headquarters soldiers. The battle turned into a slaughter as the Jin soldiers pursued and cut down the Qin survivors. Some of the stragglers managed to escape to safety on the northern bank of the Huai River, but it is estimated up to 80% later died from either starvation or hypothermia. Most the battle’s casualties died from drowning in the Fei or being trampled to death during the rout, traditionally the fallen were numerous enough to block the flow of the river. Fu Jian himself had been struck by an arrow but was able to retreat to safety alongside some of his cavalry. However, despite this, the battle was certainly the most unexpected, if not most influential, battle upset in medieval Chinese history. Shortly afterward Former Qin began to break up as the same leaders with whom Fu Jian had been so generous took advantage of his defeat to rebel against him. The dissolution of the empire plunged North China into chaos as it had not seen since the fall of Western Jin. For Eastern Jin, the battle ensured its continued survival and the independence of the south until unification in 589.



Qin and Jin as they were in 383. The black marks the furthermost advance of the border before the catastrophe at Fei River, the red line the new border after Jin northern offensives in the years following the battle. By 淝水之战前后形势图.PNG: noidea  derivative work: Zer0taku (淝水之战前后形势图.PNG) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

“Pang Juan died under this tree” – The battles of Guiling and Maling

The twin battles of Guiling and Maling (354 and 342 BC respectively) during China’s Warring States period made the reputation of the otherwise little known Sun Bin, a supposed descendant of Sunzi. These battles were also of epochal importance by breaking the military power of the State of Wei and, indirectly, making the rise of Qin possible.

With the partitioning of the “Super-State” of Jin in 453 and the three states that resulted formally recognized by the Royal Zhou in 403, the most powerful successor was Wei. Its strength derived from its control over the central regions of Jin. However, Wei also possessed significant strategic weaknesses since its territory comprised two large halves connected by a narrow strip. Additionally, both of Wei’s capitals were located on flat terrain that left them completely exposed to attack.

Nevertheless under the able rule of Prince Wen (445-396) the state underwent radical internal reforms. In this, he was aided by capable individuals like Li Kui, Ximen Bao, and the military administrator Wu Qi. Wei grew in power steadily, causing the other Jin successor states, Hann (different Chinese character then the Han Dynasty) and Zhao, to become wary and break off their existing alliances. In 370 Wen’s grandson, Prince Hui came to power following a civil war and invasions by Hann and Zhao. Hui, an ambitious ruler, immediately began expanding in all four directions.

By 356 Prince Hui felt powerful enough to force attendance by the minor states of Lu, Song, Wey (different Chinese character then Wei), and Zheng to a formal conference to affirm Wei superiority. Zhao was also supposed to attend, but instead formed a mutual defense pact with the State of Qi, now a great northeastern power. Two years later Wei led Hann, Zhao, and Wey in expanding their territories at the expense of their perimeter enemies. Zhao though failed to profit and now felt pressure to find some way to continue keeping up with Hann and Wei.

Later that year Zhao launched a mass invasion of Wey, forcing it to pay homage. This action was poorly received by Wei, as Wey was previously paying tribute to them. Prince Hui ordered a single, great, surgical strike directly at the Zhao capital of Handan aiming for a short war that would empower his state. As a first stroke, Wei forces besieged Chiqiu before heading on to the capital.

The other feudal states of China reacted badly to this move, wishing to prevent Wei from being able to wield power like Jin had done before the Warring States. Zhao sent a desperate plea for aid to Qi and Chu (a great southern power). Duke Wei of Qi was undecided about what to do and allowed his retainers to argue it out. The arguments of Sun Bin and Duanhan Lun (who might have been the same person) to “rescue” Zhao won out. Sun and Duanhan did not advocate for immediate intervention, but waiting until the two sides had worn each other out. Thus, Qi would be left in a position of strength by the end of the fighting.

To that end, they advanced a three-point plan:


  1. Attack Xiangling with Song, Wey, and Chu to fool the Wei forces into thinking that Qi intended to attack their supply lines and primary staging area in the south.


  1. Send a dispatch to Handan to let Zhao know that help was on the way.


  1. Allow Handan to fall and Zhao to teeter on the brink of collapse before actually moving forward.



Sun Bin as depicted in a Ming Dynasty portrait. See page for author [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

This let Qi appear as if it was fulfilling its obligations but also let it take advantage of the situation. Qi forces were mobilized and a small, but highly skilled, the army was sent to besiege Xiangling. When Handan fell a year later, Qi gathered its forces to attack.

The army sent to Wei was commanded by General Tian Ji, with Sun Bin as his strategist. Sun suggested an attack on Pingling, another southern supply depot and staging area as a feint. To do this, he had the general send two detached columns under incompetent commanders. On receiving word of the columns’ defeat Tian Ji and Sun Bin dispatched their light chariots and light infantry to attack the suburbs of Daliang, Wei’s greatest city in the east. Chu was also active in this campaign, posing its own a threat to Daliang.

An already rattled Prince Hui desperately called for aid from his general Pang Juan, still in Zhao. Pang, believing the Qi army to be relatively small, departed for Daliang with only his elite light troops with him. While the Wei forces marched south, Sun Bin called forth his tactical reserves from across the border and planned an ambush. The site he chose was Guiling, through which Pang Juan would have to pass to reach Daliang. The Qi forces deployed in depth and partially concealed.

As a result when the Wei forces finally did arrive they were taken completely by surprise. Suffering both from the after-effects of siege warfare and the quick march south the forces of Pang Juan crumbled under the press of the Qi assault. Sun Bin’s forces were well-rested and supremely motivated, allowing him to defeat Pang’s Wei forces handily.

In the chaos, the Wei commander was captured and General Tian allowed Sun Bin to decide his fate. For the strategist, this was an opportunity for revenge. Pang Juan and Sun Bin had once been competitors for Prince Hui’s favor, and Pang won the contest by mutilating and exiling Sun. Strangely Sun Bin allowed Pang Juan to live and sent him back to Wei in disgrace. The campaign had ended in smashing victory for Qi, allowing Zhao to recover and ending the myth of Wei military invincibility. In the west Qin, sensing opportunity, invaded Wei. At the battle of Yuanli, they defeated Prince Hui’s troops and annexed Shaoliang, part of Wei’s home territory.

Sun Bin and the Qi army’s spectacular feat was not enough to end Wei’s hegemonic ambitions. In 352 Prince Hui, with Hann assistance, was able to defeat the allied armies at Xiangling and conclude terms. The next year Handan was returned to Zhao and a peace settlement reached on friendly terms. This allowed Prince Hui to turn his attentions on Qin. Shaoliang was reclaimed, and the city of Dingyang captured. In 350 Prince Hui was able to force Duke Xiao of Qin to do homage and accept Wei overlordship. In 344 Prince Wei declared himself equal to the Zhou king and gave himself a royal title. Qi’s Duke Wei followed suit, the two rulers agreeing to recognize the other’s independence from Zhou.

In a display of strength, Wei called a conference at Fengze to affirm its power and superiority. Song, Wey, Zou, Lu, and Hann were all summoned to attend. Hann was the only absence, building up strength under the guidance of its Legalist chief counselor, Shen Buhai. In 343 Hann armies attacked minor states nearby, which coupled with Hann’s general aim since Guiling of strengthening their position in the center of the plains, posed a serious threat to Wei.

King Hui, therefore, had three reasons to attack Hann. First, Hann territory intersected Wei and divided them into halves. Second, Hann’s growing strength posed a threat to Wei hegemony. Third, Hann’s refusal to show up at Fengze was perceived as an insult.

Pang Juan was dispatched to attack Xinzheng, the Hann capital. Much like with Zhao twelve years earlier, King Hui was aiming for clean surgical strike straight at the enemy capital to bring the war to an end quickly. Hann called on Qi for aid, judging that Qin was in no position to help and that Chu would just swallow up their southern half.

King Wei asked his retainers to argue it out. Eventually, the arguments of Sun Bin and Tian Chensi won out. Wary of Hann’s growing power and hoping to increase Qi’s prestige Sun and Tian advocated waiting for one year to allow both sides to tire out. A repeat of the strategy adopted when Wei invaded Zhao. Like before, Hann was given assurances of support.

A year later Hann, having been defeated by Pang Juan five times in major battles, sent a second plea for aid. They even agreed to recognize Qi overlordship in their desperation. Qi, which had been gathering its troops along the border, swung into action. Tian Ji (given certain chronological difficulties, Tian Ban is sometimes suggested instead) and Tian Ying were both appointed generals and Sun Bin as their strategist.

Under Sun Bin’s advice, Tian Ji led his army on a march to Daliang. King Hui responded by recalling Pang Juan from his siege of Xinzheng, the Hann capital. He also mobilized a fresh army under his heir, Crown Prince Shen (also called Jia), which would unite with Pang’s army to overwhelm the Qi forces with sheer weight of numbers.

The Qi army withdrew in the sight of the two Wei columns. Sun Bin knew Pang Juan would be wary of ambush, so he concocted a clever ruse. Over three days he ordered the number of cooking fires reduced to less than half the original to make it appear as though their troops were deserting. In the meanwhile, Tian Ji and Tian Ying had been leading the army to Mt. Maling, near modern Tancheng in Shandong.

Sun Bin had chosen his site carefully. The road to the mountain passed through a valley marked by ravines and wooded hillsides. Here Sun laid out an ambush force in a circular formation along the sides and the far end of the valley, erected fortifications, and held most of the Qi army in reserve at the mouth of the valley. Pang Juan, meanwhile, had abandoned the greater part of his army to race ahead with his elite vanguard at double pace. He arrived at Maling by dusk, with Crown Prince Shen lagging behind.

According to the Records of the Grand Historian Sun Bin, had scraped some bark off of a tree and wrote: “Pang Juan died under this tree”. He also left orders to his crossbowmen to rise and fire as one when they saw a torch. The results were predictable. Pang perished in a hail of bolts (alternatively he escaped the initial volley only to commit suicide later), and his army thrown into disarray as the Qi army sprung its trap. Crown Prince Shen’s troops were soon caught up in the trap as well as they found themselves attacked from behind by the Qi reserve. The Wei forces found themselves trapped in a killing zone with no way out and destroyed.




A map of the Maling campaign. By Tzhu (the English language Wikipedia (log)) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Historical records differ as to the fate of the Wei crown prince, with him either falling in battle, being captured, or committing suicide. In any case, the Qi victory at Maling was another smashing success and confirmed Sun Bin’s reputation. Qin and Zhao allied with Qi to make considerable territorial gains at Wei’s expense. Qin, in particular, prospered at the direction of Shang Yang, who attacked Wei in 340, capturing the new Wei crown prince and forced King Hui to cede all territory west of the Yellow River. Wei then moved its capital to Daliang to escape Qin and never recovered its former power. Qi meanwhile enjoyed undisputed hegemony in eastern China for the next several decades before its decline.



Ma Teng, Han Sui, and the Liang Rebellion

Traditionally, Ma Teng and Han Sui are portrayed as being loyal subjects of the Han dynasty starting with the Ming novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” and the various media that has followed it. Ma Chao, Teng’s most famous son, is portrayed similarly.

Han Sui was an officer in modern Lanzhou at the time of the outbreak of the Liang Rebellion and joined the Qiang and Lesser Yuezhi mutineers of the Auxiliary of Loyal Barbarians in late 184. He quickly emerged as rebel leader alongside his colleague Bian Zhang. Ma Teng, half-Qiang himself, was a foot soldier in the government armies rising to major under Inspector Geng Bi by 187. He claimed descent from Ma Yuan, a famous general who helped establish the Later Han dynasty.

Following the inspector’s death in battle, Ma Teng switched sides and quickly caught attention. He styled himself a general under Wang Guo, the new rebel leader. When loyalist forces under Huangfu Song defeated Wang at Chencang during an attack on Chang’an and deposed in 189 Ma Teng took control of Longxi commandery, fighting the Qiang and Di. From there he exerted control over the middle Wei River as one of three main rebel commanders. Han Sui, holding Jincheng commandery, was another and commanded the majority of the Liang troops. Song Jian, who adopted the grandiose title “King of the Sources of the Yellow River, Pacifier of Han”, was the third and later set up an independent state from his base at Fuhan.

With the turmoil caused by the Han succession disputes and Dong Zhuo’s coup no one paid attention to events in Liang province. Dong, however, recognized the strength of Ma and Han’s armies and offered them pardon in return for service against the coalition of lords aligning against him in 190. They accepted and made imperial generals but stayed neutral in the war against Dong Zhuo.

Ma Teng and Han Sui both re-confirmed their loyalty after Dong made the move west to Chang’an. Two years later Dong Zhuo was assassinated by Lu Bu, and Li Jue and Guo Si seized power after a brief succession struggle. At first Ma Teng and Han Sui submitted to the new clique and were confirmed as generals for this submission. In reality they were just biding time, for Ma Teng wanted power for himself. Slowly, Ma extended his control east as far as Mei Castle on the northern bank of the Wei River. In 194 Ma Teng suddenly struck for Chang’an with Han Sui and Governor Liu Yan of Yi province supporting him. Northwest of the capital at Changping Slope Guo Si and Fan Chou defeated the Liang-Yi forces. Ma withdrew to Liang while Han, pursued more carefully, withdrew to Chencang. He reached an amicable agreement with Fan, his countryman and was able to return to Jincheng after that. Both men were subsequently pardoned and given new titles.

Failure at Changping Slope weakened the Liang rebels, allowing the central government to make gains at their expense. The commanderies west of the Yellow River were lost and reorganized as a new province, called Yong. The official government of Liang also began reasserting itself from the capital at Ji.

In 197 both Ma Teng and Han Sui acknowledged Cao Cao’s control over the Han dynasty. They dispatched hostages east, and Cao sent his agent, Zhong Yao, to them. Zhong sparked a falling out between the two leaders and Liang fell into civil war. Han emerged victoriously and killed Ma’s wife and some of his children in the process. Zhong Yao then brokered a peace agreement and Ma Teng withdrew to his home in Youfufeng commandery west of Chang’an and set his capital at Huaili. A few years later in 202 Cao Cao sent another agent, Zhang Ji, to conclude an alliance and ask for troops for his war with the sons of Yuan Shao.

Cao Cao came to depend upon on Ma Teng for his famed Qiang-style cavalry and used these forces for the remainder of his campaigns against the Yuans and northern unification. Ma Chao, Teng’s eldest, commanded the Liang cavalry and served with distinction. However this service only strengthened the ties between Ma Teng and Cao Cao, decreasing the former’s independence. Han Sui, on the other hand, remained steadfast in refusing any more contact with Cao Cao or his government then necessary.

In 208 Cao Cao, now paramount warlord, dispatched Zhang Ji a second time to Huaili. Ma Teng was compelled to come east and take up a post at Ye, Cao’s military capital. He was enfeoffed and given the exalted position of “Minister of the Guards” but was also a hostage along with his surviving sons, except Ma Chao.

Chao was given command of Liang province troops as a lieutenant-general and set up his command in Longxi. Meanwhile, Han Sui was forced conclude an alliance with Cao Cao in 209 and send his sons as hostages. The following year he invaded Yong province and destroyed Inspector Zhang Meng. Ma Chao by now had established an alliance with Han.

In 211 Xiahou Yuan marched into the Wei valley to attack Zhang Lu’s positions in Hanyang commandery. Unfortunately Ma Chao and Han Sui misinterpreted this as a preemptive strike against them and began building a western coalition to oppose Cao Cao. They expelled Xiahou’s army and forced Cao to appear himself that autumn. Blocked at Tong Pass, Cao Cao left a holding force behind and led his troops north, crossed the Yellow River upstream to the west, then marched south, intending to cross the Wei at Huaiyin. Han Sui requested a truce to negotiate and reminisce (the two were old friends), but only succeeded in arousing Ma Chao and the other western lords’ suspicions. The coalition was defeated at Huaiyin and driven back.

The following year, during the summer, Ma Teng and his entire household were executed because of Ma Chao’s rebellion. Chao, from his refuge in Longxi, gathered support for a renewed attack east. With Qiang, Di, and Zhang Lu of Hanzhong’s support he attacked Liang and Hanyang, conquering Ji in September, 212. Ma Chao proclaimed himself ruler of Liang and Bing, but his “reign” was short-lived. The next winter, 213, a local uprising evicted the Ma forces and forced them to take refuge in Hanzhong. Zhang Lu backed Ma Chao’s attempt to return in 214, but he was defeated by Xiahou Yuan and compelled to retreat. With Zhang refusing to support him, Ma fled to the Di where he would remain until Liu Bei invited him to join his attack on Liu Zhang of Yi province later that year.

Meanwhile, Han Sui was hard pressed. Xiahou Yuan expelled him from his forward positions in Hanyang and annihilated his army. Han fled back to Jincheng and then to modern Xining. Xiahou was turning his attention toward the Di and took Xingguo before pressing on to attack Song Jian. Zhang He, then serving under Xiahou Yuan, embarked on campaign independently over the Yellow River into the territory of the Lesser Yuezhi around Qinghai Lake. When Xiahou Yuan’s armies were recalled for the campaign against Zhang Lu in 215 Han Sui, then planning to flee into Yi, listened to the pleas of his advisors and raised fresh troops. With these and Qiang support he crushed the revolt of his son-in-law Yan Xing, now aligned with Cao Cao and died. That July the head was offered to Cao along with the submission of Han’s officers.

Content with mere recognition of his authority, Cao Cao left matters in Han Sui’s former territory alone. Only in Jincheng did he appoint his officer, Su Ze, as administrator. In late 217 government forces took Fuhan and executed Song Jian and his ministers. The following year the commanderies of Xining, Wuwei, Zhangye, and Jiuquan all fell into anarchy following a general war between their officers.

Peace was not restored until the very end of the Han and the beginning of the Three Kingdoms. In the summer of 220 Cao Pi, having succeeded his father, Cao Cao as King of Wei, appointed Su Ze as Protector of the Qiang. Su was charged, along with Zou Qi (inspector of the newly reconstituted Liang province), to restore order in the far west. The rebels raised their banner again and united under Huang Hua and Wang Zhao, joined the Qiang and Dingling. Su and Zou, aided by Inspector Zhang Ji of Yong and the Dunhuang chieftain Zhang Gong, emerged victorious a year later. In 222 the western trade reopened, marking the end of 50 years of turmoil.

Battle of Santiago de Cuba

The naval battle of Santiago de Cuba was the greatest naval action of the Spanish-American War, fought in 1898. Here the naval forces of the United States, under the joint command of Rear Admiral William T. Sampson and Commodore Winfield Scott Schley fought the Spanish naval forces under the command of Rear Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete. The American victory, coupled with the victory at Manila Bay, propelled the United States Navy to worldwide prominence.

The Spanish-American War was long in the wings. Spain had once ruled the greatest colonial empire that was ever seen. By the late 19th Century most of that empire had rotted away, inspired to revolt and create nations of their own by the success of the United States. Only a few colonies remained in Spanish hands, much to the chagrin of the native populace, and the United States. Cuba and the Philippines were the most important of these colonies, and the cause of the greatest grief. In 1895, another Cuban revolt against Spanish rule gained widespread coverage in the American press. When the situation escalated due to the refusal of the Conservative controlled Spanish government to let go of even one inch of land, US President Grover Cleveland intervened politically. However, the Spanish Prime Minister, Antonio Canovas del Castillo, refused to listen at all. Instead, he sent General Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau to assume the captaincy general of Cuba. Weyler’s brutal methods (among them relocating entire towns of people by force), born more of frustration than cruelty, made him despised by the American press.

In 1897, William McKinley succeeded Cleveland as President, and he brought more pressure to bear on Spain. To make matters worse a rebellion broke out in the Philippines and in June Prime Minister Canovas was assassinated by an anarchist. His successor, the Progressive Praxedes Mateo Sagasta, took a different stance to the situation. He offered the rebels autonomy and self-governance, a wildly unpopular move in Spain. It was for moot for the rebels felt that only bloodshed would earn their independence. Meanwhile the American press, outright lying about the situation in Cuba to sell newspapers, had only inflamed the national sentiment against Spain. Cries for intervention soon began to drown out all attempts at moderation in the crises and President McKinley, by nature a peaceful man, was besieged on all sides by the jingoists in Congress and the greater public. In February 1898, the Spanish Ambassador, Enrique Dupuy de Lome, wrote a critical letter about the President, which the Cubans leaked. Public outcry resulted in Prime Minister Sagasta sacking de Lome, hoping to calm American ire. Then on February 15th the battleship USS Maine blew up in Havana harbor. Why the Maine blew up remains a mystery, but to the press it was clear who was responsible. Headlines across the nation blared the news that the Maine had struck a Spanish mine and sunk. Demand for a war against Spain now reached a fever pitch with the cry of “Remember the Maine!” President McKinley tried his best to calm things down by ordering an investigation into the matter. Prime Minister Sagasta and his Progressive government were anxious to avoid war, making vague promises to help the Cubans.

No one in the United States believed these promises, and the climate within Congress grew increasing hostile. By early April McKinley knew he could no longer stem the tide of public opinion away from war. On April 11th, he asked Congress for authorization to send the Army in to enforce a peace settlement in Cuba. He received this on April 19th and a Three-Point Resolution detailing the following: That Cuba was now a free and independent nation, that America had no designs on Cuba, and that all Spanish forces must withdraw. A fourth resolution was added later giving the President the authority to use as much force as necessary to aid the freedom fighters in Cuba. Spain then cut off all diplomatic ties with the United States. On April 25th, Congress retaliated with a formal Declaration of War. The Spanish-American War had begun.

With the beginning of hostilities, the navies of both nations started to prepare for a great clash. In the United States, the Navy Department had been planning for a war since 1897, specifically for a war in the Philippines. Theodore Roosevelt, while he was still Under-Secretary of the Navy had been the most vocal proponent of the need for the Navy to prove itself. When the age of the steel battleship had begun, the United States Navy was forced to undergo a transformation. The so-called ‘New Navy’ was untried and unsure of itself. There was also a great deal of mistrust over the need to even have battleships, many believing that the United States had little need for such status symbols. The Navy Department knew the ‘New Navy’ needed to prove itself not only to the American people but the world at large.

In Spain, they had also been preparing for war. Rear Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete, world renowned and a legend even then, was Spain’s greatest naval leader and had seen that a war with the United States was inevitable. At the urging of Maria Christina, Queen Regent of Spain, he had returned from self-imposed exile to prepare the Spanish Navy for war. Unfortunately the Ministerio de Marina, the Spanish Admiralty, was hostile to Cervera’s ideas due to political differences. For this reason, the well-prepared plan to fight the naval war from the Canary Islands was brushed aside. Many within the Ministerio felt that the United States Navy did not pose a threat to Spain’s naval forces. On April 30th, Cervera’s squadron left the port of Cape Verde with orders to proceed west to protect Cuba.

File:Almirante cervera.jpg

Rear Admiral Cervera. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In the United States, a plan had been laid for the naval war in the Caribbean. US naval planners realized early that Key West, part of an island chain within the area between Florida and Cuba, would make the perfect place for a base of operations in that theater. The first force sent there, the Atlantic Squadron, was placed under the command of Acting Rear Admiral William T. Sampson. Sampson was subsequently chosen to be overall commander for Navy affairs in the area. During this time the battleship, USS Oregon proceeded to make an incredible journey to join Sampson’s squadron at Key West from Puget Sound, Washington. The 67-day voyage of the Oregon was a major morale lifter for the sailors of the ‘New Navy’ and also the public. While the Oregon was making her journey, more news arrived. A group of mysterious ships had been spotted off the Eastern Seaboard. These strange ships were none other then the Flota del Ultramar, the squadron under Cervera’s command. A public panic ensued as the people wondered as Cervera’s intention. Would he shell the coast? Would he burn Washington D.C. as the British had done in 1812? Would he prey on the merchants? No one knew and Congress, to assuage the public, ordered the formation of a ‘Flying Squadron’ to be based at Hampton Roads, Virginia. This squadron was put under the command of Winfield Scott Schley, and ordered to protect the East Coast from enemy attack.

File:William Thomas Sampson.jpgWinfield Scott Schley.jpg

Rear Admiral Sampson (top) and Commodore Schley (bottom). Sampson: By [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Schley: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In the offices of the Navy Department, there was some concern that Cervera would attack the Oregon, which had no escort and would be vulnerable. The knowledge that Spanish destroyers Pluton and Furor carried torpedos, the most feared weapon of the day, only increased those concerns.  So on May 4th the Navy sent out Sampson with a mission to intercept Cervera at Puerto Rico. The Navy guessed that Cervera would need to make a stop at Puerto Rico to re-coal. On May 11th, Sampson arrived at the island and shelled the harbor of San Juan. After two hours, Sampson realized that Cervera was not there and returned to Key West. On May 15th, Sampson received word that Cervera was at the French island of Martinique. By the time he got there, the Flota del Ultramar had already vanished. Sampson then followed Cervera to the Dutch island of Curacao, but once again the wily Spaniard had escaped. Sampson returned to Key West once again. The Navy Department, frustrated by the lack of progress ordered all major warships, save those serving with Rear Admiral George Dewey in the Pacific, to converge on Cuba.

On May 18th, Sampson met with Schley, commander of the ‘Flying Squadron’ and now his second in command to discuss how to handle the situation. Unfortunately, the Navy could not have picked a worse pair of men to put together. Schley was brash and took unnecessary risks. Sampson was reserved and taciturn. It was exactly the kind of thing Cervera could take advantage of, and he did. On the 22nd Schley and his ‘Flying Squadron’ blockaded the port of Cienfuegos near Havana, sure that Cervera was there. Over the course of the next several weeks, Schley would disobey several direct orders from Sampson to move out from Cienfuegos. Finally, he left the port, but instead of proceeding to Santiago de Cuba to investigate a sighting there Schley made for Key West. To this day, no one knows why Schley decided just to get up and leave the area against orders to stay in Cuban waters. After many arguments, some of which with the Secretary of the Navy himself, Schley finally made for Santiago de Cuba. On the morning of May 29th, they found the Cristobal Colon, a key vessel in the Flota del Ultramar, lying moored in the harbor. Finally, after weeks of playing cat-and-mouse they had found Cervera.

The two United States Navy squadrons may have been slow, but they were powerful. Of the ships present in the combined fleet at Santiago de Cuba there was: five battleships, (USS Indiana, USS Massachusetts, USS Oregon, USS Iowa, and the USS Texas). They were accompanied by two armored cruisers, (USS Brooklyn and the USS New York) several armed yachts that carried about the pestering newspapermen, the coal ship Merrimac and with other supply vessels. Finally was the mine layer Resolute.

The Spanish Flota del Ultramar was smaller than the American ships but faster. The ships that were with Cervera at Santiago de Cuba were not the full number of vessels in the Flota del Ultramar. Most notably missing was the battleship Pelayo, which was, along with the armored cruisers Princesa de Asturias and Emperador Carlos V, left behind to join the Home Squadron to defend Spain itself. Because of this Cervera only brought four armored cruisers (Almirante Oquendo, Viscaya, Infanta Maria Teresa, and the Cristobal Colon) and two destroyers (Pluton and the Furor) with him to Cuba.

  On May 31st, ecstatic over finally cornering Cervera, Rear Admiral Sampson arrived with the Atlantic Squadron to join Commodore Schley’s ‘Flying Squadron’ in the blockade of Santiago Bay. A new problem soon presented itself. As long as Cervera remained in the bay the American ships could not touch him. The entire harbor area was covered by Spanish coastal batteries that could tear Sampson and Schley’s ships to shreds. Unsurprisingly Cervera had no intention of coming out. Besides that, a variety of technical problems plagued his command. The breech-loading mechanisms were faulty, the boilers were in bad need of repair. Additionally, Viscaya‘s keel in severe need of a scrubbing, and on the Cristobal Colon the ship had been rushed out of the docks before its main gun could even be installed. Complicating matters further, the gunnery crews had little experience in firing live ammunition. Most of those problems could have been fixed within the harbor, but for some reason never explained the Captain-General of Cuba, Ramon Blanco y Erenas, refused to be of help. So with both fleets not moving the situation turned into a stalemate.

On June 2nd, Admiral Sampson decided to make a move to break the impasse by blocking the harbor mouth. For this purpose, he decided to scuttle the troublesome coal ship Merrimac. The attempt failed, and the Spaniards were able to capture the Merrimac‘s crew. Nevertheless the American press made a great deal of fanfare about the whole event, blowing everything out of proportion. Meanwhile, the 5th Corps of the United States Army commanded by Major General William Shafter had begun an overland campaign against Santiago de Cuba. On July 1st, the Americans won a great victory over the Spanish defending the San Juan Heights overlooking the city. Later in the day Captain-General Blanco ordered Cervera to get underway and to leave the harbor as soon as possible.

Spain could not afford to let the Flota del Ultramar fall into enemy hands while in port. Cervera knew he could not just steam straight out of the harbor in broad daylight (his ships would get blasted to bits). Nor could he do it at night (there was a danger of collision). Instead, the crafty admiral cooked up a plan. July 3rd fell on a Sunday, and the United States Navy held mandatory church services at 9:00 in the morning. Therefore, the Flota del Ultramar could make a breakout while the Americans went to church. To prepare for this Cervera ordered all his ships to begin storing up a full head of steam (steam power took quite a while to build up) on the morning of July 2nd. By noon lookouts onboard the USS Brooklyn, Commodore Schley’s flagship, noticed increased steam smoke rising from Santiago Bay. Schley immediately knew something up and had the armed yacht Vixen send word of what was happening up and down the blockade. Sampson, onboard the USS New York, ordered the blockade tightened on Schley’s advice. However despite the order the blockade was in some disarray the following morning Sunday, July 3rd, 1898. At 8:45 the New York suddenly began to move off from the line. It had raised the signal flag meaning ‘Disregard the movements of the Commander-in-Chief’ and steamed out of view. As it turned out, Rear Admiral Sampson was due to meet Major General Shafter for a strategic conference. Meanwhile, Admiral Cervera noticed the sudden gap in the western portion of the blockade line. Knowing he would not have a second opportunity like this again he prepared to move out at 9:00 as planned. At the appointed time, the Flota del Ultramar, already in position from the previous day, begun moving. At 9:35 the navigator of the Brooklyn spotted the Spanish flagship, Infanta Maria Teresa, exit the harbor. He immediately sounded the alarm with the signal ‘The Enemy is coming out!’ The Battle of Santiago de Cuba had begun.

File:Infanta Maria Teresa at Sao Vicente April 1898.jpg

By U.S. Naval Historical Center photo.Mdnavman at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

Cervera’s plan for the battle was to steam out as fast as possible through the gap created by the absence of the New York. Schley noticed immediately and knew he had to cut off the Flota del Ultramar by cutting in front of them. Taking quick action Schley signaled for the closest ships, the battleships Texas, Oregon, Iowa, and Indiana as well as the yachts Vixen and Gloucester. The firing commenced when the Teresa opened fire with her forward guns, sounding a response the Iowa returned fire and it was soon joined by the rest of the fleet. Soon a dark fog of thick smoke covered the whole area, and no one was quite aware of what was going on.

Meanwhile Rear Admiral Sampson, having just disembarked from the New York, noticed the smoke from the battle. Quickly realizing what was happening Sampson got back on board and ordered the crew to take him back to the Bay as quick as they could. However, the New York would not arrive until the battle was over. On the Spanish side, Cervera had signaled his ships to begin to make the turn to the southwest, to the gap. Schley noticed this and made a move that to this day bewilders naval historians. Instead of keeping on the intercept course he had started Schley had the Brooklyn make a sudden, unwarned of, turn to the northeast. This threw the American fleet into confusion as suddenly the crew of the USS Texas noticed the flagship seemed to be steaming toward them on a ramming course. On the Brooklyn, the navigator tried to warn Schley that he was about to hit the Texas. Schley did not heed the warning, and the crew of the Texas had to back the engines into reverse, just barely missing what would have been a disaster. However crazy and dangerous the move had been Schley had accomplished something. He had cut off Cervera and the Infanta Maria Teresa from the rest of the Flota del Ultramar. However, it was in the end a hollow victory for Schley.

Cervera had noticed the move as his American opponent had made it and knew that if the rest of the squadron was to survive he would have to sacrifice himself. So he ordered the Teresa to steam straight ahead into the trap while signaling for the rest of ships to continue steaming along the preplanned course, which was now almost open. When the Teresa steamed into Schley’s trap, nearly all of the American ships had arranged themselves in a semicircle. The Spanish flagship was hit on all sides by withering fire and soon the ship was alight. Admiral Cervera, unwilling to doom his men to die a grisly death ordered the vessel to be beached, which signaled that the ship was surrendering. Meanwhile the remaining vessels of the Flota del Ultramar, now led by the Almirante Oquendo were beginning to get out of range. Schley now realized that it was he that had been tricked, not Cervera. However, there was a problem. To get going a ship needed a full head of steam, and only the USS Oregon had built one up.

The rest of the US fleet was running only on half power, and by the time the boilers had been brought back up it would be too late. So Schley ordered the fleet to pursue the best they could, guns blazing. The first Spanish ship to go down would be the new leader, Almirante Oquendo. Damaged badly by a combination of enemy fire and its own guns’ bursting that the vessel broke in two shortly after beaching. The feared destroyers Pluton and Furor went next, with the Pluton beaching itself after suffering a direct hit from a battleship and the Furor blowing up before reaching shore, the only Spanish ship not to do so. Despite all of these victories that the US fleet was making against the Spaniards, Schley was convinced that his casualties would run so high that it would be a Pyrrhic victory. In fact despite the heavy amount of fire that the Flota del Ultramar had been putting out much of it was useless, and the Americans suffered only two dead.

As all of this was happening the remaining two Spanish ships, Viscaya and Cristobal Colon, were steaming ahead. Schley decided to take off after the Viscaya with his ship the Brooklyn as well the battleships Texas and Oregon. The rest of the fleet was ordered to stay behind and help any Spanish survivors to best of their ability, as according to the Rules of Engagement of the time. Quickly it became apparent that only the Brooklyn was going to be able to keep up with the Viscaya. For over an hour, the two ships blasted away at one another, due to both the heavy armor of the Viscaya and the ineffectiveness of the Spanish shells. According to later reports, the running duel between the Viscaya and the USS Brooklyn was the most savage of the entire battle. The contest ended when a shell fired from the Oregon took off the bow of the Viscaya. The ship then ran aground, and Commodore Schley ordered a cease-fire. The Texas then moved in to help survivors. Pulling in close the captain of the Texas noticed how bad the fires aboard the Viscaya were and ordered his crew to stop cheering. A little later the Iowa pulled up to aid in the rescue effort. When the captain of that ship noticed that the Cuban rebels were taking pot-shots at the Spanish wounded he turned his guns on the rebels and told them to stand down.

File:USS Brooklyn h91960.jpg

USS Brooklyn in 1898. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.


The last remaining Spanish vessel, the Cristobal Colon, continued to make good her escape. For two hours the Brooklyn, Oregon, and Texas tried in vain to catch up to the Cristobal Colon, but the Spanish cruiser had a six mile lead on them and faster besides. Schley knew he could not let the Colon go, but neither could he catch it. So instead Schley decided to try to catch the ship when she made a turn to the south to follow the Cuban coastline. However, as it turns out Schley would not have to spring his trap. At about 12:15 the Cristobal Colon had run out of good coal and was forced to switch to inferior Santiago coal. This switch allowed for the USS Oregon to finally catch up with the Spanish ship. The Oregon fired seven times at the Colon, but only the last two shots hit. In any case the crew of the Spanish ship knew the jig was up and struck her colors, signifying surrender, much to Schley’s surprise. At this point, as the battleships closed in to claim the Cristobal Colon as a prize Rear Admiral Sampson and the New York finally arrived.

Sampson was furious that the battle had already been fought and won without him; he blamed Schley for this loss of martial glory. With the surrender of the Cristobal Colon, the battle of Santiago de Cuba was over, and the United States’ ‘New Navy’ had admirably proved herself in battle beyond all doubt. However, no account of the battle can be complete without the mention of this one last bizarre incident. As the Iowa steamed about the area rescuing survivors they came across the captain of the Viscaya. After his wounds were treated, the captain turned to the flaming hulk of what was once his ship and tearfully saluted it farewell. Almost as in reply the Viscaya suddenly blew up, the explosion noticeable for miles.

In conclusion, the naval battle of Santiago de Cuba was one of the most decisive battles of the war. With the destruction of the Flota del Ultramar Spanish naval power ceased to exist, the only other squadron of importance having been destroyed by Commodore George Dewey and the Asiatic Squadron at Manila Bay. The Spanish-American War ended not long afterward on August 12th, 1898, having not even lasted a year. In the aftermath of the war the United States annexed what remained of Spain’s colonial empire, and became a world power.

The Nicopolis Crusade

In 1389, the Ottoman Sultan Murad, I led his army into Serbia following a defeat at the hands of a Serb-led coalition at Plocnik some years previous. In the battle that followed at Kosovo polje, the Field of Blackbirds, the Ottomans won a great victory and Serbia became a vassal of the young Ottoman Empire. However, it came at a high price. In the course of the battle, Murad was assassinated by a Serbian knight making a false surrender. While this is the common belief, the circumstances of Murad’s death remain unclear. His oldest son, Bayazid, quickly took control after executing his younger brother Yakub. After marrying the Serbian princess Olivera Despoina and setting her brother Stefan Lazarevic on the Serbian throne, Bayazid made his way back into Anatolia. However, the Ottoman state had no peace, and the new Sultan was forced to move at a pace most would find unbelievable, earning him the nickname, Yildirim, the Thunderbolt.


Sultan Bayazid the Thunderbolt from an Ottoman family tree. By Ottoman miniature painter (Badisches Landesmuseum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

By 1391, Bayazid had won control of all of Western Anatolia, bringing the Ottoman Empire to direct borders with the Emirate of Karaman, ruled by his troublesome brother-in-law Ala ud-Din Beg. To celebrate his conquests, Bayazid called for a conference at Edirne (formerly Adrianopolis, conquered by Murad), the Ottoman capital in Europe. This conference highlighted a rising tension between Bayazid and the Roman (Byzantine) Emperor, Manouel II. Earlier in life Manouel had been an enemy of the Ottomans, and the passage of time had done nothing to smooth his hostility. Bayazid for his part had already begun to cast his eyes on Constantinople, the Queen of Cities and capital of the Roman Empire. Other matters in the Balkans soon drew Bayazid’s attention.

In 1393, Bayazid moved into the remnants of the Second Bulgarian Empire, having heard of Bulgarian negotiations with Ottoman enemies. With the fall of Tarnovo in the summer, he had nipped this threat in the bud and Ivan Shishman, the former Tsar, was kept under close watch at Nicopolis. Bayazid continued to move, dealing with border skirmishes with the Sultan of Sivas, Qadi Burhan al-Din in Anatolia. By winter he was back in the Balkans, and called for another conference, this time in Serres, a Roman princedom in Macedonia. News that Manouel II was plotting to reconcile with his nephew and rival for the throne, Ioannes, was a cause for concern. So Bayazid called Manouel, all of the Roman princelings, and Stefan Lazarevic, to report to him. Strangely enough Bayazid did nothing more than berate the assembly for not governing their lands well and sent them on their way.

In the spring of 1394 his intentions became clear: Ottoman forces began to move into Thrace and construct a series of castles to encircle Constantinople. Bayazid was going to lay siege to the city. However when the Roman and Latin princes of Greece decided to move toward independence Bayazid left his preparations and struck west. Macedonia and Thessaly were both annexed outright, and the Latin Duchy of Athens forced into vassalage.

In 1395, Bayazid seemed intent on reducing the Despotate of Morea when news from the north called him back. Mircea cel Batran, or Mircea the Old, was Voivode of Wallachia and self-proclaimed champion of Balkan Christianity. He was also allied to the powerful Sigismund I of Luxembourg, the king of Hungary. Taking advantage of the Ottoman focus on Greece, Mircea had launched an invasion. Bayazid replied in kind, living up to his nickname by striking like a thunderbolt into Wallachia. While ultimately ending in a stalemate the invasion had the aftereffect of destabilizing Wallachia and sending Mircea straight into the arms of Sigismund.

  Ottoman success had finally caught Western Christendom’s attention. The rapid rise of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans since they first entered the area under Murad I had been a cause of concern in Europe. By 1395, Bayazid was almost in complete control of the Balkans. Bulgaria was dying a slow death, the Roman Empire’s authority extended little beyond Constantinople’s famed triple walls, and now with Mircea the Old pleading in Buda for aid the situation had reached a critical stage.  However, Western Christendom had problems of its own.

The Western Schism, which had begun in 1378 when two popes, both elected by the Curia following Gregory XI’s death, had split Europe in two. The Hundred Years’ War between England and France had also flared up again, creating further chaos. With the threat of the Ottomans looming over them though, a strange thing began to happen. Richard II of England and Charles VI of France agreed to a cease-fire in 1384 and started to plan for a joint Crusade to end the Hundred Years’ War permanently and heal the Western Schism.

A desire for a real chivalric culture of peace, love, and understanding had become popular in both England and France and the two kings realized that all this energy needed a powerful outlet. Richard and Charles reaffirmed the peace in 1389 and headed by Charles’ tutor Philip of Mezieres preparation and organization for a Crusade was underway.

  In 1392, Charles VI laid down the first concrete plans for what was to become the Nicopolis Crusade with his uncle, Philip II the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Sigismund had already started calling for aid by this time, and the first joint Anglo-French army arrived in Hungary. In 1394, Richard II, Philip II, and the French king’s brother Louis I, Duke of Orleans organized a joint planning session with Sigismund. A massive Anglo-French army would be gathered to wage a Crusade for the salvation of Constantinople.

Philip II, Louis I, and the English king’s uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster were appointed to hold joint command of the Crusade. The following year was set as the departure date. Crusade taxes were levied in Burgundy, France, and England. By the end of the year, Philip II had the money needed to fund the Crusade and John of Gaunt had gathered 1,500 men-at-arms. Contracts with Venice to provide naval support were agreed on. Finally in June and again in October that year the Roman Pope Boniface IX issued a papal bull for the Crusade, preaching it to the masses. The Avignon Pope, Benedict XIII, did not like being left out and copied him, preaching the Crusade to his flock as well.

However in 1395 the plan began to fall apart. Negotiations to finalize the contracts with Venice dragged on for months, and it was not until May the planned summit between Sigismund, Philip II and Louis I at Lyons could take place. This ended all hopes of the Crusade getting off on schedule. Further problems resulted as France experienced internal turmoil while bickering with England over whom Richard II should marry, now that his first wife, Anne of Bohemia, was dead. This moved John of Gaunt to cancel his Crusade obligations, and he delegated his responsibilities to John Beaufort, his eldest illegitimate son. However, Beaufort never went on Crusade, due to a revival in Anglo-French tensions. Philip II followed his lead and pulled out, delegating his obligations to his eldest son, Jean I, Count of Nevers. Louis I then pulled out entirely and the Crusade, which had stood as the best hope for peace in Western Europe, had become little more than a Burgundian expedition.

In April 1396, the Crusade finally left France for Hungary, under the command of Jean. By late July, the Western Crusaders had reached Buda, the capital of Hungary, and the leadership met with Sigismund and Mircea the Old to decide how to proceed.


An older Sigismund of Hungary. Pisanello [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

From the start, the campaign was fraught with problems. Sigismund feared Bayazid and knew the Ottoman Sultan would attempt to invade Hungary. He had called the Crusade in hopes of having at his disposal the force necessary to defend his lands. However, the Crusaders had come to lift the Siege of Constantinople, not to support Hungary and overruled the angry Sigismund at the Buda conference. Instead, they opted for a massive strike into Ottoman territory, forcing Bayazid to meet them on the field of battle as soon as possible. This choice seemed to be the right one in the eyes of the Western leaders as Sigismund’s much-feared invasion never materialized. As a result, they labeled him a coward. The territory the Crusaders chose, with the aid of Mircea, was the former lands of Ivan Shishman.

Meanwhile on the other side of the line Bayazid had hardly been sitting still.  He ended the possibility of Bulgarian collaboration with Mircea by having the former tsar, still at Nicopolis, beheaded and the city invested with an Ottoman garrison. He then turned to Constantinople and with the ring of castles now complete settled in for a siege. However, the Ottoman fleet was unable to cut off the Romans by sea and even with the ring of castles cutting them off by land the Queen of Cities remained supplied. Bayazid was quickly growing impatient and attempted to assault the city, but the triple walls, which had saved Constantinople so many times before, saved the city again. News reached Bayazid relatively quickly of the Crusade, and he left only a small holding force behind while rallying an army at Edirne. In the meantime, he issued orders to his irregulars and scouts to not engage. The Crusaders were at this time advancing into former Bulgaria.

When they arrived at Vidin, the city surrendered to them. As it turned out, Vidin was ruled by Ivan Sratsimir, the younger half-brother of Ivan Shishman. While technically an Ottoman vassal, Ivan Sratsimir had claimed the title of tsar following the execution of his half-brother and had aspirations to restore the Bulgarian Empire. After negotiations with Ivan Sratsimir were concluded the Crusader-Hungarian force proceeded to the next fortress, Rahowa. Here they encountered resistance from the Ottoman garrison. Rahowa held out for five days before surrendering. When the Crusaders entered the city, they massacred the Turkish population before moving on.

On September 12th, the Crusaders and their allies arrived at Nicopolis, the last major fortress to besiege. Unfortunately the Ottoman commander, Dogan Beg, proved far more skilled then the Western leaders expected. Neither the Crusaders nor the Hungarians had brought siege weapons, probably hoping to reduce any obstacles by starvation. Alternatively the Crusaders hoped to force Bayazid to break the blockade. While the siege continued, the Ottomans made real progress and Bayazid met Stefan Lazarevic on the 22nd. That same day a Hungarian scouting party encountered the main body. The Crusader-Allied army, surprised, dispatched more scouts and located Bayazid’s newly fortified camp on the 24th, just south of Nicopolis (he had just arrived the previous day). In reaction, the Crusaders prepared to leave Nicopolis (executing their prisoners beforehand) to face Bayazid on the open field the morning of the following day, September 25. The battle of Nicopolis had begun.

The Crusader army was a diverse group of men drawn together from all walks of life. The central component of the Crusader forces at Nicopolis was the Franco-Burgundian cavalry.  Jean I, Count of Nevers and his personal household contingent and Burgundian vassals formed the core part. The other leading commanders, the epitome of French chivalry and valor, were Jean Boucicaut, the Marshal of France, Philip de Artois, the Constable of France, and Jean de Vienne, the Admiral of France. Enguerrand VII de Coucy, Henri de Bar, and James I de Bourbon were other prominent knights and lords present with the main body but had joined the Crusade after the march had begun.

Jean I, Count of Nevers

Jean I of Nevers, later duke of Burgundy. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

While the Crusade was passing through Germany, it was joined by men from the Palatinate of the Rhine, the Duchy of Bavaria, and the city of Nuremberg. Many other Germans besides joined the Crusade. Also, there may have been a small English detachment serving under the Earl of Huntingdon, but this is disputed. Lastly, we know of contingents from Aragon, Poland, and many other Christian powers. Naval support was provided by the Hospitallers, Venice, and Genoa.

On reaching Buda in Hungary King Sigismund joined his men, mostly light infantry, and cavalry, to the Crusader forces. The Hungarian army was remarkably varied and while centered around a superficial knightly class was made up predominantly of horse archers and mixed infantry (especially crossbowmen).

The Wallachians of Mircea the Old also joined the Crusade with what remained of his army, though he was Orthodox, not Catholic like the Crusaders. While organized along tribal lines rather than feudal the Wallachians were known as some of the best soldiers in the Balkans. The Crusader army in total then numbered somewhere in the ballpark of 16,000 men.

The Ottoman army was the living legacy to the brilliance of Murad I. Bayazid Yildirim owed much of his success to the new model army that his father devised and that he perfected. This new army was not based on tribal ties, but instead on a professional, standing, basis. The core was the Ottoman ruler’s household, divided into an inner and outer “service”. These men were called the kapikulu, or slaves though most of those in service would have long since been manumitted. This included the elite palace cavalry corps (the Six Regiments) and the Yeni Ceri (Janissary) infantry battalions.

The majority of the Ottoman troops were divided up between two large formations, the Anatolian, and Rumelian corps. Comprised of men from the eastern and western halves of the state respectively, the organization of these troops was much more streamlined than in the West. The cavalry were divided into timariots, (regulars maintained by Latin-style fiefs called timars), maasli, (regulars supported by the state) akinjis, (irregular frontier warriors) and musellems (irregular mounted pioneers). Infantry were divided up between the yayas (irregular spearmen) and the azaps (semi-regular skirmishers).

To this forces must be included the Serbian army of Stefan Lazarevic. Latin feudalism had entered the Balkans earlier in the century and had been embraced by the Serbs. Stefan Lazarevic’s army was organized into a mainly heavy cavalry force supported by mercenaries and a general levy though it appears that only the Serbian knights themselves took the field at Nicopolis. The Ottoman army in total then numbered somewhere in the ballpark of 15,000 men.

The final preparations were underway. The previous evening Sigismund had advised caution to his allies, suggesting to first of all discover whether or not the Ottomans planned to attack and second to send Mircea’s troops out in front to clear the field of akinijs ahead of the main assault by the Franco-Burgundians. This plan was met with resistance by the other leaders, angered at being denied the right to lead the charge.

Jean, I was more outraged then anyone and countered that Sigismund wanted the glory for himself. This brought to a head what had so far been the Crusade’s biggest problem: Sigismund and Mircea thought in the mold of eastern style warfare. The Hungarian king’s plan was backed by a belief that he could harass the Ottoman lines into weakening enough to collapse upon contact with the Franco-Burgundian knights. The concept of first man in combat gains the most glory, so dear in the contemporary West, was foreign in the Balkans, even with Hungary fielding knights of its own. The matter reached its height when Robert de Artois, Count d’Eu, made the following speech:

“Yes, yes, the king of Hungary wishes to gain all the honor of the day. He has given us the vanguard, and now he wishes to take it away, that he may have the first blow. Let those who will believe what he sends to us, but for my part I never will… In the name of God and Saint George, you shall see me this day prove myself a good knight.”

This brought the second problem to the fore. Western thought in general and French thought, in particular, focused on the superiority of the knight over all others on both the battlefield and in society. Even though this certainly did not hold true even in Europe itself anymore, the lesson was hard learned. Sigismund was caught in a vice, but could not risk alienating the French and Burgundians. He caved to their demands, allowing the knights to take vanguard.

The line was organized thus: The Franco-Burgundian knights all took a position out in front. King Sigismund took command in the center with the Hungarians and the German Crusaders. The Transylvanians under Stephen Laczkoivc (subject to Sigismund) took a position on the right, and the Wallachians took a position on the left.

Bayazid had none of the problems that afflicted the Crusaders and already formed his men in a classic crescent formation. He had established a fortified camp with the purpose of forcing the Crusaders to attack him, another classic move. The Rumelian regulars were deployed on the right, the Anatolians on the left. In the center, behind the stake barricade, were the azaps and Yeni Ceri. In front of the barricade were the akinjis. Behind the main lines, hidden from view, was the household division of Bayazid with his personal guard in the center and the Six Regiments divided into three each on his right and left. On the further left was the knights of Stefan Lazarevic.

Sigismund was reluctant to engage the Ottoman lines and intended to play a waiting game with Bayazid. However, the French had no such ideas. Jean had lost all patience and unable to hold it in any longer shouted the charge straight into the Ottoman light cavalry. Surging forward on their great horses the greatest warriors of Western Christendom collided head on with the akinjis. Jean himself commanded from the front, earning him the nickname ‘sans Peur’, the Fearless. The Ottoman skirmish cavalry at first appeared to have broken on impact, but it was, in fact, a clever ploy by Bayazid.


The battle of Nicopolis. By J. Schiltberger (J. Schiltberger, Ein wunderbarliche…) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Turning around the skirmishers led the Crusader knights into the wall of stakes. At first they attempted ride over the wooden barricade but their horses were not bred for leaping, especially over sharpened logs. Realizing they would have to dismount, the knights began to leave their horses. On that signal, the azaps and Yeni Ceri took out their bows and opened fire. Under a hail of arrow fire, the French and Burgundians tore the stakes out of the ground and took many casualties. Finally, they managed to clear a path through the barricade but because they could not remount their horses Jean ordered his men to advance on foot. The other knights followed his lead and engaged the azaps and Yeni Ceri. Some of the akinjis and regular cavalry were also drawn into the melee. Even without horses the Western knights were still formidable opponents, and the Ottoman infantry was devastated, especially the azaps, who soon broke and fled for real. In a testament to their skills, the Yeni Ceri managed to maintain their cohesion and begun an orderly retreat, drawing the dismounted Crusaders with them.

When they reached the hills, the main body of the Ottoman regular cavalry moved to engage. However, they withdrew almost as quickly as they came. The Franco-Burgundians continued to struggle uphill only to walk into an ambush by the Ottoman household troops led by Bayazid. The regulars then rejoined, to surround the Crusaders on three sides. Within minutes, the entire body was either dead or captured. Among the first group was Jean de Vienne, who was slain defending the French banner and among the latter group Jean I, Count of Nevers.

Meanwhile on the other side of the field the horses of the French and Burgundian knights had begun to return to camp. King Sigismund, who had already ordered the center forward in an attempt to support the charging knights, now knew something was wrong. The fresh troops first encountered the reformed Ottoman infantry on the plateau before facing the mounted regulars. The resulting contest was far more equally matched, but Bayazid had one last trick up his sleeves. As the day passed into the late afternoon, the Serbian knights of Stefan Lazarevic burst from cover and hit the king of Hungary’s undefended flanks.

The Transylvanians and Wallachians had retreated during the march (neither Mircea nor Steven Lazarevic felt any great loyalty to Hungary, and were more concerned about their people), and left the center exposed. The Serbian knights threw themselves toward the main Hungarian banner and overthrew it. Seeing the lead banner fall, the Hungarian commanders prevailed on Sigismund to disengage. The King agreed, and his forces retreated in good order to the banks of the Danube, where the joint Hospitaller and allied Italian fleet was waiting. The remaining Crusader-Allied senior leadership was able to embark safely, but many others were not so fortunate as there was not enough room for everyone on the ships. As word of this spread, a panic broke out in the ranks. A few ships were sunk in the chaos by overloading. As the water was low in September, many Crusader-Allied troops were able to ford the river safely by swimming or crossing further downstream where it was broken up by islands. The Ottomans took advantage of the chaos, isolating bodies of Crusaders on hill tops (including the famous incident of the “Knight of Poland”, who sacrificed himself to keep the Ottomans from being able to fire on the fleet from the heights), or hunting them in the space between the hills. However, Bayazid was largely content to watch his enemy self-destruct. Observing this as his ship sailed for Constantinople, Sigismund famously remarked on the French:

“If only they had listened to me… We had men in the plenty to fight our enemies.”

The battle of Nicopolis, the last great battle of the Crusading Era was over. The Ottoman dominion was reaffirmed.

In the aftermath of the battle much happened. The outcome of the Nicopolis Crusade was a surprise to the powers of Western Europe. In one single horrific afternoon, the flower of the west were either struck down or captured. For those who were caught the culture shock left a profound and lasting effect. Islamic culture did not have the same codes toward the treatment of prisoners that Christian culture had.

The worst came when Bayazid, in a fit of anger over the massacres and the heavy casualties his men suffered in the first phase of the battle executed a large number of Crusaders he had taken prisoner. Only the most wealthy (Like Jean I) or young (like Johann Schiltberger) survived. The exact number is unknown (ranging from 300 to 10,000), but it seems likely that Bayazid wanted to execute even more, holding off out of awe from the peaceful way in which the executed went to their deaths. This was perhaps an even wider shock to Western Europe, and never again would a Crusade be launched against the Ottomans. Left alone the Ottoman Empire continued to expand, only to be nearly destroyed in 1402 when Bayazid was defeated and captured by the great Turko-Mongol conqueror Timur-e Lang, or Tamerlane at Ankara.



Norman Housley, The Later Crusades, 1274-1580: From Lyons to Alcazar.  New York, 1992.

Aziz Atiya, The Crusades of the Later Middle Ages. New York, 1965.

Aziz Atiya, The Crusade of Nicopolis. New York, 1978.

George  Nafziger and Mark Walton, Islam at War: A History. Westport, 2003.

Buchan Telfer, trans, The Bondage and Travels of Johann Schiltberger. London, 1979.

David Nicolle, Nicopolis 1396: The Last Crusade, illustrations by Christa Hooks. Oxford, 1999

Caroline Finkel, Osman’s Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire. New York, 2005.

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.




John Keay, India, A History (New York: Grove Press, 2000)

Hafeez Malik, Moslem Nationalism in India and Pakistan (Washington DC: Public Affairs Press, 1963),

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.

7 Feb. 2010 <>.

The Battle of Khawja. May. 2006. Military History of India.

13 Feb. 2010 <>.


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.

File:Ashikaga Yoshimasa.jpg

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.

File:Hosokawa Katsumoto.jpg

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.