Battle of Ain Jālūt

An Islamic Mamlūk Dynasty force dispatched by the sultan of Egypt defeated a Mongol army in Palestine, ending Mongolian expansion in the Middle East.

Summary of Event

By 1258, the Mongols, under Hülagü Hülagü (Genghis Khan’s grandson and il-khan of Persia), had conquered the remnants of the old ՙAbbāsid caliphate, capturing Baghdad and slaughtering a good portion of the population in the process. Damascus, the capital of the Ayyūbid sultanate, fell in March, 1260. By the month of April, Hülagü’s forces had advanced as far as Gaza in southern Palestine, thus setting the stage for an attack on Egypt, Egypt;Mongol invasion of which at the time was ruled by the Mamlūks. [kw]Battle of Ain Jālūt (September 3, 1260)
[kw]Ain Jālūt, Battle of (September 3, 1260)
Ain Jālūt, Battle of (1260)[Ain Jalut, Battle of (1260)]
Israel/Palestine;Sept. 3, 1260: Battle of Ain Jālūt[2460]
Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Sept. 3, 1260: Battle of Ain Jālūt[2460]
Baybars I

In response to the Mongol threat, the Mamlūk sultan of Egypt, Quṭuz Quṭuz , sent a force under his emir Baybars I Baybars I to Palestine. It was this force that confronted and defeated a Mongol army under Kitbuqa Kitbuqa at Ain Jālūt. The battle halted the Mongol advance on the Middle East and sealed the fate of the Crusader principalities in Palestine.

Starting in 1206, under the leadership of Genghis Khan Genghis Khan , the Mongols (a collection of Mongolic and Turkic tribes) began to spread from their homeland in what is now Mongolia across China, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe. Genghis Khan died in 1242, and in 1251 leadership of the Mongol passed to Mangu Mangu , grandson of Genghis. Mangu’s brother Hülagü was given the viceroyalty of Persia and was entrusted with the conquest of Mesopotamia and Syria.

In 1258, Hülagü’s forces captured and destroyed the city of Baghdad, nominal seat of the ՙAbbāsid caliphate since 750 and one of the great cultural centers of the medieval world. After sweeping through Mesopotamia, Hülagü’s armies invaded Syria, where in rapid succession they captured Aleppo and Damascus, putting an end to the Ayyūbid Dynasty Ayyūbid Dynasty;fall of , founded a century earlier by the Syrian sultan Saladin (r. 1174-1193).

In April of 1260, Mongol forces reached the southern city of Gaza. The capture of Gaza placed Hülagü in a position to attack Egypt, at the time ruled by the Mamlūk Mamlūk Dynasty[Mamluk Dynasty] sultan Quṭuz. Hülagü sent Quṭuz an ultimatum demanding he submit to the power of the great khan. It was at this point, however, that Hülagü received news of the death of Mangu. The death of the khan brought about a confrontation between his brothers Kublai and Arigböge. Hülagü departed immediately for Persia in order to be closer to the unfolding events. The recently acquired lands of Syria and Palestine were left in charge of Hülagü’s trusted general Kitbuqa, a Nestorian Christian. The forces at the disposal of Kitbuqa amounted to no more than twenty thousand warriors.

The size of the army in Kitbuqa’s command was inadequate for the threat that it faced from the Mamlūk forces. However, the Mongols counted with the support of local allies. In 1244, Hayton Hayton (d. 1271), king of Little Armenia (now in Turkey), had voluntarily become a vassal of the Mongols. Hülagü had shown favorable treatment toward Christians, possibly because both his mother and his wife were members of the Nestorian sect. Consequently, Hayton saw in Hülagü a natural ally against the Muslims.

When Hülagü entered Syria in 1260, he was accompanied not only by Hayton’s Armenian army but also by the Frankish troops of Bohemond VI Bohemond VI , prince (r. 1251-1268) and count (r. 1255-1275) of Tripoli. Hayton’s and Bohemond’s services were generously rewarded by Hülagü. Bohemond VI tried to convince the barons of the kingdom of Jerusalem to join the alliance, but to the knights of this southern Crusader state, the Mongols seemed a greater threat than their Muslim neighbors. Shortly after the departure of Hülagü, Count Julien of Sidon Julien of Sidon (d. 1275) ambushed a Mongol patrol, killing one of Kitbuqa’s nephews. Kitbuqa responded to this provocation by sacking the city of Sidon, thus ending any possibility of an alliance with the southern Franks.

Quṭuz was well aware that without the support of the Franks, who dominated the coast of Syria-Palestine, Kitbuqa would be unable to retain control of the recently conquered territories. Consequently, the sultan decided to move against the Mongols. A large Mamlūk army, under the command of Baybars, departed from Egypt on July 26, 1260. The Franks of Jerusalem declared their neutrality and allowed Baybars free passage through their territories. Baybars was allowed to camp outside the Crusader city of Acre and resupply his force; the emir, along with a number of Muslim notables, was even invited into the city as a guest of honor. After resting and reinforcing his army, Baybars advanced through Galilee, moving toward the valley of the Jordan River. Kitbuqa became aware of their advance, but he could not mobilize immediately because he had to put down an uprising of the Muslim population of Damascus.

Once the city was pacified, Kitbuqa moved south with a force that could not have numbered more than twenty thousand, including Armenian and Georgian contingents. On September 3, 1260, on the plains of Ain Jālūt, the two armies met. Since Baybar’s forces were vastly superior, he deployed only part of his army in plain view of the Mongols; the rest of his troops were concealed in the surrounding hills. Kitbuqa charged valiantly with his cavalry against the Muslim forces. The initial Mongol charge failed to break the well-positioned Mamlūk lines, and as Kitbuqa’s men withdrew to regroup, Baybars ordered a charge of his own. The Mongols made a stand, but at this moment the troops that Baybars had concealed in the hills came down charging on the flanks of the Mongol force. The great numbers of Mamlūk warriors overwhelmed the enemy.

Kitbuqa displayed tremendous courage during the battle, refusing to retreat as the Mamlūk warriors proceeded to surround his men. With the encirclement the battle was over. Only a small number of Mongols and their allies escaped; the great majority were killed in battle or captured. Among the captives was Kitbuqa, who was decapitated.

Following the battle, all Mongol presence in Palestine and Syria ended. Baybars and Quṭuz quickly occupied Aleppo and Damascus, taking revenge upon the Christian population who had recently collaborated with the Mongols. Hülagü sent a large Mongol force to Syria at the end of November to recover the lost territories and avenge the defeat. Although the Mongols were able to recapture Aleppo, they were halted at the Battle of Homs Homs, Battle of (1281) in December, 1281. Ain Jālūt had broken their momentum, and after Homs no further attempt was made to reconquer Syria-Palestine.


The Battle of Ain Jālūt represented the end of Mongol expansion in the Middle East. The dynastic conflicts within their empire did not allow the Mongols to make an effective effort to recover Syria. By the time dynastic conflicts had been settled in the Mongol Empire, the Mamlūks had already consolidated their position in the area, making an invasion infeasible.

Beyond stopping the Mongol advance, the Battle of Ain Jālūt sealed the fate of the Crusader kingdoms of Palestine. Prior to the arrival of the Mongols, the Christian kingdoms were placed between the competing powers of Mamlūk Egypt and Ayyūbid Syria. The rivalry between these two Muslim states enabled the Franks to survive and even prosper at times. After Ain Jālūt, however, all the territories from Egypt to the Euphrates were controlled by a single Muslim power emanating from Cairo.

The aftermath of the battle left the Frankish baronies surrounded by the Mamlūks on all sides. Even though the Crusaders had provided assistance to the Mamlūks, once the Mongol threat dissipated, Baybars (by this time sultan of Egypt) felt comfortable beginning a prolonged offensive against the Christian principalities. From 1263 to 1291, the Crusader strongholds along the coast fell one by one. The city of Acre (the last Frankish principality in the Holy Land) was captured by Mamlūk forces in 1291. There would be no armed European presence in Syria and Palestine until 1917.

Further Reading

  • Amitai-Preiss, Reuven, ed. The Mamlūk-Ilkhanid War, 1260-1281. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. A detailed account and analysis of the conflict between the Mamlūk sultanate of Egypt and the Mongol state in Persia. Also explores the Battle of Aīn Jalūt and other military battles of the time. Maps, bibliography, index.
  • Amitai-Preiss, Reuven, and David O. Morgan, eds. The Mongol Empire and Its Legacy. Boston: Brill, 1999. A wide-ranging examination of the Mongol Empire and its historical significance. Includes chapters on the making of the Mongol states during the early years of Maḥmūd Ghāzān, before his reign; Mongol nomadism; imperial ideology; and the letters of Rashīd al-Dīn. Genealogical tables, maps, bibliography, index.
  • Grousset, Rene. The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia. Translated by Naomi Walford. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1970. An account of the historical development and influence of the nomadic peoples of Central Asia from antiquity to the eighteenth century. Maps, bibliography.
  • Maalouf, Amin. The Crusades Through Arab Eyes. Translated by Jon Rothschild. New York: Schocken Books, 1984. An account of the Crusades using contemporary Arab sources.
  • Morgan, David. The Mongols. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987. A nonspecialist account of the Mongol Empire, this book is strongly recommended as introductory reading on the period. Maps, tables, bibliography, index.
  • Nicolle, David. The Mongol Warlords: Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, Hülegü, Tamerlane. Poole, England: Firebird, 1990. An examination of the major Mongol rulers. Bibliographies, index.
  • Roux, Jean-Paul. Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003. An examination of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire’s founding, endurance, and decline. Bibliography, index.
  • Runciman, Steven. A History of the Crusades. Vol. 3. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1951. Part of a three-volume classic containing a comprehensive and detailed account of the Crusades. Illustrations, maps, and a genealogical table.