Mongke Khan - Mongol Leader

Mongke Khan

Mongke Khan was the eldest son of Tului Khan (fourth son of Genghis Khan) and Sorghaghtani Beki and fourth khaghan or grand khan of the Mongol empire. He was a famous warrior and commander and was also noted for his devotion to the Mongol way of life. He had served on the campaign in eastern Europe under his cousin Batu Khan’s leadership and gained the latter’s goodwill.

The good relations between Batu’s (leader of the Golden Horde) and Tului’s families were reinforced when Ogotai Khan’s son and successor Guyuk Khaghan (r. 1246–48) planned to ambush Batu, and Mongke’s mother secretly warned Batu of the plot, even though nothing came of it because Guyuk soon died.

In the struggle among the grandsons of Genghis Khan to be his successor, Batu successfully sabotaged regent Oghul Khaimish’s (Guyuk’s widow) attempt to have the Mongol council elect one of her sons the next khaghan.

Batu was not interested in being khaghan, but as the descendant of the eldest son of Genghis, he wanted the role of kingmaker and was successful in having Mongke elected the fourth khaghan in 1251.

Mongke immediately consolidated his position by ruthlessly purging and killing his cousins and other relatives from the Ogotai and Chagatai (Genghis’s second son) branches of the family and their supporters.

Anticipating his election, Mongke established a shadow government. Thus he was able to move quickly to fulfill his grandfather’s mandate to conquer the world. Ruling from Karakorum in Mongolia when not on the move, Mongke relied on Mongols in top positions in his government, assisted by people from the conquered ethnic groups.

He made important reforms needed to mobilize resources and manpower by unifying the tax collection system, stopping many abuses, and rebuilding the economies in some already conquered lands. Starting in 1252 he began a census of the peoples and resources of his lands from China to Iraq to assess taxes, control resources, and identify skilled craftsmen.

Mongol Empire during the reign of Mongke Khan
Mongol Empire during the reign of Mongke Khan

In 1252 Mongke began a three-pronged campaign. One brother, Hulagu Khan, commanded an army that headed west, successfully targeting Kashmir, the Assassins in the Caucasus, Iran, and the Abbasid Caliphate, and taking Baghdad in 1258.

A relative from the Golden Horde headed for Korea, subduing it in 1259. Another brother, Kubilai Khan, set out to conquer the Nanchao or Dali (T’a-li) kingdom located in modern Yunnan Province in southwestern China, securing its surrender in 1253.

His youngest brother, Arik Boke, remained in Mongolia. In 1256 Mongke announced his goal of conquering the Southern Song (Sung) in which he would take personal command with a threepronged attack from the north, west, and south.

In the midst of the campaign, Mongke died in August 1256, of either wounds or dysentery. Mongke’s death gave the Southern Song a 20-year reprieve because Kubilai immediately halted the campaign to secure his succession as khaghan.

The ensuing civil war between Kubilai and his brother Arik Boke involved his other brother, Hulagu, and various cousins. The Mongol empire reached its apogee under Mongke and would never recover from the succession crisis.