Gateway to the Classics: Genghis Khan by Jacob Abbott
Genghis Khan by  Jacob Abbott

The Sultan Mohammed

T HE portion of China which Genghis Khan had added to his dominions by the conquests described in the last chapter was called Katay, and the possession of it, added to the extensive territories which were previously under his sway, made his empire very vast. The country which he now held, either under his direct government, or as tributary provinces and kingdoms, extended north and south through the whole interior of Asia, and from the shores of the Japan and China Seas on the east, nearly to the Caspian Sea on the west, a distance of nearly three thousand miles.

Beyond his western limits lay Turkestan and other countries governed by the Mohammedans. Among the other Mohammedan princes there was a certain Sultan Mohammed, a great and very powerful sovereign, who reigned over an extensive region in the neighborhood of the Caspian Sea, though the principal seat of its power was a country called Karazm. He was, in consequence, sometimes styled Mohammed Karazm.

It might perhaps have been expected that Genghis Khan, having subdued all the rivals within his reach in the eastern part of Asia, and being strong and secure in the possession of his power, would have found some pretext for making war upon the sultan, with a view of conquering his territories too, and adding the countries bordering on the Caspian to his dominions. But, for some reason or other, he concluded, in this instance, to adopt a different policy. Whether it was that he was tired of war and wished for repose, or whether the sultan's dominions were too remote, or his power too great to make it prudent to attack him, he determined on sending an embassy instead of an army, with a view of proposing to the sultan a treaty of friendship and alliance.

The time when this embassy was sent was in the year 1217, and the name of the principal embassador was Makinut.

Makinut set out on his mission accompanied by a large retinue of attendants and guards. The journey occupied several weeks, but at length he arrived in the sultan's dominions. Soon after his arrival he was admitted to an audience of the sultan, and there, accompanied by his own secretaries, and in the presence of all the chief officers of the sultan's court, he delivered his message.

He gave an account in his speech of the recent victories which his sovereign, Genghis Khan, had won, and of the great extension which his empire had in consequence attained. He was now become master, he said, of all the countries of Central Asia, from the eastern extremity of the continent up to the frontiers of the sultan's dominions, and having thus become the sultan's neighbor, he was desirous of entering into a treaty of amity and alliance with him, which would be obviously for the mutual interest of both. He had accordingly been sent an embassador to the sultan's court to propose such an alliance. In offering it, the emperor, he said, was actuated by a feeling of the sincerest good-will. He wished the sultan to consider him as a father, and he would look upon the sultan as a son.

According to the patriarchal ideas of government which prevailed in those days, the relation of father to son involved not merely the idea of a tie of affection connecting an older with a younger person, but it implied something of pre-eminence and authority on the one part, and dependence and subjection on the other. Perhaps Genghis Khan did not mean his proposition to be understood in this sense, but made it solely in reference to the disparity between his own and the sultan's years, for he was himself now becoming considerably advanced in life. However this may be, the sultan was at first not at all pleased with the proposition in the form in which the embassador made it.

He, however, listened quietly to Makinut's words, and said nothing until the public audience was ended. He then took Makinut alone into another apartment in order to have some quiet conversation with him. He first asked him to tell him the exact state of the case in respect to all the pretended victories which Genghis Khan had gained, and, in order to propitiate him and induce him to reveal the honest truth, he made him a present of a rich scarf, splendidly adorned with jewels.

"How is it?" said he; "has the emperor really made all those conquests, and is his empire as extensive and powerful as he pretends? Tell me the honest truth about it."

"What I have told your majesty is the honest truth about it," replied Makinut. "My master the emperor is as powerful as I have represented him, and this your majesty will soon find out in case you come to have any difficulty with him."

This bold and defiant language on the part of the embassador greatly increased the irritation which the sultan felt before. He seemed much incensed, and replied in a very angry manner.

"I know not what your master means," said he, "by sending such messages to me, telling me of the provinces that he has conquered, and boasting of his power, or upon what ground he pretends to be greater than I, and expects that I shall honor him as my father, and be content to be treated by him only as his son. Is he so very great a personage as this?"

Makinut now found that perhaps he had spoken a little too plainly, and he began immediately to soften and modify what he had said, and to compliment the sultan himself, who, as he was well aware, was really superior in power and glory to Genghis Khan, notwithstanding the great extension to which the empire of the latter had recently attained. He also begged that the sultan would not be angry with him for delivering the message with which he had been intrusted. He was only a servant, he said, and he was bound to obey the orders of his master. He assured the sultan, moreover, that if any unfavorable construction could by possibility be put upon the language which the emperor had used, no such meaning was designed on his part, but that in sending the embassage, and in every thing connected with it, the emperor had acted with the most friendly and honorable intentions.

By means of conciliating language like this the sultan was at length appeased, and he finally was induced to agree to every thing which the embassador proposed. A treaty of peace and commerce was drawn up and signed, and, after every thing was concluded, Makinut returned to the Mongul country loaded with presents, some of which were for himself and his attendants, and others were for Genghis Khan.

He was accompanied, too, by a caravan of merchants, who, in consequence of the new treaty, were going into the country of Genghis Khan with their goods, to see what they could do in the new market thus opened to them. This caravan traveled in company with Makinut on his return, in order to avail themselves of the protection which the guard that attended him could afford in passing through the intervening countries. These countries being filled with hordes of Tartars, who were very little under the dominion of law, it would have been unsafe for a caravan of rich merchandise to pass through them without an escort.

Genghis Khan was greatly pleased with the result of his embassy. He was also much gratified with the presents that the sultan had sent him, which consisted of costly stuffs for garments, beautiful and highly-wrought arms, precious stones, and other similar articles. He welcomed the merchants too, and opened facilities for them to travel freely throughout his dominions and dispose of their goods.

In order that future caravans might go and come at all times in safety, he established guards along the roads between his country and that of the sultan. These guards occupied fortresses built at convenient places along the way, and especially at the crossing-places on the rivers, and in the passes of the mountains; and there orders were given to these guards to scour the country in every direction around their respective posts, in order to keep it clear of robbers. Whenever a band of robbers was formed, the soldiers hunted them from one lurking-place to another until they were exterminated. In this way, after a short time, the country became perfectly safe, and the caravans of merchants could go and come with the richest goods, and even with treasures of gold and silver, without any fear.

At first, it would seem, some of the merchants from the countries of Mohammed asked too much for their goods. At least a story is told of a company who came very soon after the opening of the treaty, and who offered their goods first to Genghis Khan himself, but they asked such high prices for them that he was astonished.

"I suppose," said he, "by your asking such prices as these, you imagine that I have never bought any goods before."

He then took them to see his treasures, and showed them over a thousand large chests filled with valuables of every description; gold and silver utensils, rich silks, arms and accoutrements splendidly adorned with precious stones, and other such commodities. He told them that he showed them these things in order that they might see that he had had some experience in respect to dealings in merchandise of that sort before, and knew something of its just value. And that, since they had been so exorbitant in their demands, presuming probably upon the ignorance of those whom they came to deal with, he should send them back with all their goods, and not allow them to sell them any where in his dominions, at any price.


Merchants offering their goods.

This threat he put in execution. The merchants were obliged to go back without selling any of their goods at all.

The next company of merchants that came, having heard of the adventure of the others, determined to act on a different principle. Accordingly, when they came into the presence of the khan with their goods, and he asked them the prices of some of them, they replied that his majesty might himself fix the price of the articles, as he was a far better judge of the value of such things than they were. Indeed, they added that if his majesty chose to take them without paying any thing at all he was welcome to do so.

This answer pleased the emperor very much. He paid them double price for the articles which he selected from their stores, and he granted them peculiar privileges in respect to trading with his subjects while they remained in his dominions.

The trade which was thus opened between the dominions of the sultan and those of Genghis Khan was not, however, wholly in the hands of merchants coming from the former country. Soon after the coming of the caravan last mentioned, Genghis Khan fitted out a company of merchants from his own country, who were to go into the country of the sultan, taking with them such articles, the products of the country of the Monguls, as they might hope to find a market for there. There were four principal merchants, but they were attended by a great number of assistants, servants, camel-drivers, etc., so that the whole company formed quite a large caravan. Genghis Khan sent with them three embassadors, who were to present to the sultan renewed assurances of the friendly feelings which he entertained for him, and of his desire to encourage and promote as much as possible the commercial intercourse between the two countries which had been so happily begun.

The three embassadors whom Genghis Khan selected for this service were themselves Mohammedans. He had several persons of this faith among the officers of his court, although the Monguls had a national religion of their own, which was very different from that of the Mohammedans; still, all forms of worship were tolerated in Genghis Khan's dominions, and the emperor was accustomed to take good officers into his service wherever he could find them, without paying any regard to the nature of their religious belief so far as their general duties were concerned. But now, in sending this deputation to the sultan, he selected the embassadors from among the Mohammedans at his court, thinking that it would please the sultan better to receive his message through persons of his own religious faith. Besides, the three persons whom he appointed were natives of Turkestan, and they were, of course, well acquainted with the language of the country and with the country itself.

Besides the merchants and the embassadors, Genghis Khan gave permission to each of his wives, and also to each of the great lords of his court, to send a servant or messenger with the caravan, to select and purchase for their masters and mistresses whatever they might find most curious or useful in the Mohammedan cities which the caravan might visit. The lords and ladies were all very glad to avail themselves of the opportunity thus afforded them.

All these persons, the embassadors and their suite, the merchants and their servants, and the special messengers sent by the lords and ladies of the court, formed, as may well be supposed, a very numerous company. It is said that the caravan, when ready to commence its march, contained no less than four hundred and fifty persons.

Every thing being at last made ready, the caravan set out on its long journey. It was accompanied by a suitable escort, and, in order to provide still more effectually for the safety of the rich merchandise and the valuable lives committed to it, Genghis Khan sent on orders beforehand to all the military stations on the way, directing the captains to double the guard on their respective sections of the road while the caravan was passing.

By means of these and other similar precautions the expedition accomplished the journey in safety, and arrived without any misfortune in the Mohammedan country. Very serious misfortunes, however, awaited them there immediately after their arrival, arising out of a train of events which had been for some time in progress, and which I must now go back a little to describe.

It seems that some difference had arisen some time before this between the Sultan Mohammed and the Calif of Bagdad, who was the great head of the Mohammedan power. Mohammed applied to the calif to grant him certain privileges and powers which had occasionally been bestowed on other sultans who had rendered great services to the Mohammedan empire. He claimed that he had merited these rewards by the services which be had rendered. He had conquered, he said, more than one hundred princes and chieftains, and had cut off their heads and annexed their territories to his dominions, thus greatly enlarging and extending the Mohammedan power.

Mohammed made this demand of the calif through the medium of an embassador whom he sent to Bagdad. The calif, after hearing what the embassador had to say, refused to comply. He said that the services which Mohammed had rendered were not of sufficient importance and value to merit the honors and privileges which Mohammed demanded. But, although he thus declined complying with Mohammed's request, he showed a disposition to treat the sultan himself with all proper deference by sending an embassador of his own to accompany Mohammed's embassador on his return, with instructions to communicate the reply which the calif felt bound to make in a respectful and courteous manner.

Mohammed received the calif's embassador very honorably, and in his presence concealed the anger which the answer of the calif excited in his mind. As soon as the embassador was gone, however, he convened a grand council of all the great chieftains, and generals, and ministers of state in his dominions, and announced to them his determination to raise an army and march to Bagdad, with a view of deposing the calif and reigning in his stead. The great personages assembled at the council were very ready to enter into this scheme, for they knew that if it was successful there would be a great many honors and a great deal of booty that would fall to their share in the final distribution of the spoil. So they all engaged with great zeal in aiding the sultan to form and equip his army. In due time the expedition was ready, and the sultan commenced his march. But, as often happens in such cases, the preparations had been hindered by various causes of delay, and it was too late in the season when the army began to move. The forces moved slowly, too, after they commenced their march, so that the winter came on while they were among the passes of the mountains. The winter was unusually severe, and the troops suffered so much from the frosts and the rains, and from the various hardships to which they were in consequence exposed, that the sultan found it impossible to go on. He was consequently obliged to return, and begin his work over again. And the worst of it was, that the calif was now aware of his designs, and would be able, he knew, before the next season, to take effectual measures to defend himself.

When the calif heard of the misfortunes which had befallen the sultan's army, and his narrow escape from the dangers of a formidable invasion, he was at first overjoyed, and he resolved at once on making war upon the rebellious sultan. In forming his plans for the campaign, the idea occurred to him of endeavoring to incite Genghis Khan to invade the sultan's dominions from the east while he himself attacked him from the west; for Bagdad, the capital of the calif, was to the westward of the sultan's country, as the empire of the Monguls was to the eastward of it.

But when the calif proposed his plan to his counselors, some of them objected to it very strenuously. The sultan and the people of his country were, like the calif himself, Mohammedans, while the Monguls were of another religion altogether, or, as the Mohammedans called them, unbelievers or infidels; and the counselors who objected to the calif's proposal said that it would be very wrong to bring the enemies of God into the country of the faithful to guard against a present and temporary danger, and thereby, perhaps, in the end occasion the ruin both of their religion and their empire. It would be an impious deed, they thought, thus to bring in a horde of barbarian infidels to wage war with them against their brethren.

To this the calif replied that the emergency was so critical that they were justified in availing themselves of any means that offered to save themselves from the ruin with which they were threatened. And as to the possibility that Genghis Khan, if admitted to the country as their ally, would in the end turn his arms against them, he said that they must watch, and take measures to guard against such a danger. Besides, he would rather have an open unbeliever like Genghis Khan for a foe, than a Mohammedan traitor and rebel like the sultan. He added, moreover, that he did not believe that the Mongul emperor felt any animosity or ill will against the Mohammedans or against their faith. It was evident, indeed, that he did not, for he had a great many Mohammedans in his dominions, and he allowed them to live there without molestation. He even had Mohammedan officers of very high rank in his court.

So it was finally decided to send a message and invite him to join the calif in making war on the sultan.

The difficulty was now to contrive some means by which this message could be conveyed through the sultan's territories, which, of course, lay between the dominions of the calif and those of Genghis Khan. To accomplish this purpose the calif resorted to a very singular device. Instead of writing his communication in a letter, he caused it to be pricked with a needle and some indigo, by a sort of tattooing process, upon the messenger's head, in such a manner that it was concealed by his hair. The messenger was then disguised as a countryman and sent forth. He succeeded in accomplishing the journey in safety, and when he arrived Genghis Khan had only to cause his head to be shaved, when the inscription containing the calif's proposal to him at once became legible.

This method of making the communication was considered very safe, for even if, from any accident, the man had been intercepted on the way, on suspicion of his being a messenger, the sultan's men would have found nothing, in searching him, to confirm their suspicions, for it is not at all probable that they would have thought of looking for a letter among his hair.

Genghis Khan was well pleased to receive the proposals of the calif, but he sent back word in reply that he could not at present engage in any hostile movement against the sultan on account of the treaty of peace and commerce which he had recently established with him. So long as the sultan observed the stipulations of the treaty, he felt bound in honor, he said, not to break it. He knew, however, he added, that the restless spirit of the sultan would not long allow things to remain in the posture they were then in, and that on the first occasion given he would not fail to declare war against him.

Things were in this state when the grand caravan of merchants and embassadors which Genghis Khan had sent arrived at the frontiers of the sultan's dominions.

After passing the frontier, the first important place which they reached was a city called Otrar. They were received very courteously by the governor of this place, and were much pleased with the opportunity afforded them to rest from the fatigues of their long journey. It seems, however, after all, that the governor's friendship for his guests was only pretended, for he immediately wrote to the sultan, informing him that a party of persons had arrived at his city from the Mongul country who pretended to be merchants and embassadors, but that he believed that they were spies, for they were extremely inquisitive about the strength of the garrisons and the state of the defenses of the country generally. He had no doubt, he added, that they were emissaries sent by Genghis Khan to find out the best way of invading his dominions.

One account states that the motive which induced the governor to make these representations to the sultan was some offense which he took at the familiar manner in which he was addressed by one of the embassadors, who was a native of Otrar, and had known the governor in former times when he was a private person. Another says that his object was to have the expedition broken up, in order that he might seize for himself the rich merchandise and the valuable presents which the merchants and embassadors had in their possession.

At any rate, he wrote to the sultan denouncing the whole party as foreign emissaries and spies, and in a short time he received a reply from the sultan directing him to put them all to death, or otherwise to deal with them as he thought proper. So he invited the whole party to a grand entertainment in his palace, and then, at a given signal, probably after most of them had become in some measure helpless from the influence of the wine, a body of his guards rushed in and massacred them all.

Or, rather, they attempted to massacre them all, but one of the merchants' men contrived in the confusion to make his escape. He succeeded in getting back into the Mongul country, where he reported what had happened to Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan was greatly exasperated when he heard these tidings. He immediately called together his sons, and all the great lords and chieftains of his court, and recited to them the story of the massacre of the merchants in such a manner as to fill their hearts with indignation and rage, and to inspire them all with a burning thirst for revenge.

He also immediately sent word to the sultan that, since by so infamous an action he had violated all the engagements which had subsisted between them, he, from that instant, declared himself his mortal enemy, and would take vengeance upon him for his treacherousness and cruelty by ravaging his country with fire and sword.

This message was sent, it was said, by three embassadors, whose persons ought to have been considered sacred, according to every principle of international law. But the sultan, as soon as they had delivered their message, ordered their heads to be cut off.

This new massacre excited the rage and fury of Genghis Khan to a higher pitch than ever. For three days, it is said, he neither ate nor slept, and seemed almost beside himself with mingled vexation, grief, and anger. And afterward he busied himself night and day with the arrangements for assembling his army and preparing to march, and he allowed himself no rest until every thing was ready.

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