The Great Mongolian Raid Of Georgia And The Siege Tower Of Corpses

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A Mongol melee in the 13th century. (Public Domain)

The Great Mongolian Raid Of Georgia And The Siege Tower Of Corpses

By late 1220, after being relentlessly pursued for months by Genghis Khan’s generals Shah Ala ad-Din Muhammad II of Khwarazm, wearing a torn shirt, died exhausted, poor, and from pleurisy. With the death of the Shah, Genghis Khan had received reports of a territory where “narrow-faced men with light hair and blue eyes” lived beyond the Caspian Sea. The Mongol forces analyzed their newly acquired intelligence, accumulated during the pursuit of the Shah, and turned their eyes to the west – the prelude to the great raid into Europe had begun, with a siege tower built of corpses, but this was just an omen of what Europe was to experience 16 years later.

Routes taken by Mongol invaders (Georgia lies to the left) (Public Domain)

Advancing On Azerbaijan

After reporting the death of the Shah to Genghis Khan at his camp at Samarkand, the Mongol general Subotai returned to the Caspian flats, where his army of 20,000 to 30,000 men had bivouacked for the winter and immediately began planning the next objective with fellow commander Jebe for the summer of 1220. During their military pursuit to capture the Shah, Subotai and Jebe had accumulated intelligence through active and passive reconnaissance as they moved westward. Every town, city and travelling caravan they came across provided the Mongols with a plethora of local and regional information. This allowed them to place and recruit a network of local contacts and spies in many quarters. However, one questions piqued their interest: What was beyond Khwarazm’s western borders? Subotai and Jebe constructed a map of the Transcaucasia infrastructure. 

Subotai. Medieval Chinese drawing. (Public Domain)

Subotai’s target was the Kingdom of Georgia, for intelligence reports had described Georgia as a worthy foe, known for its armorers, sword-makers, and warriors, particularly the royal household, consisting of over 30,000 Cuman cavalry bodyguards. Subotai and Jebe’s strategy was to focus first on one of Georgia’s vassals, who happened to be close to them. That vassal state was Azerbaijan and the city of Tabriz which reportedly held a considerable amount of riches. The town was a soft target. Subotai’s objective was twofold. Firstly, to loot the riches, and secondly, to test Georgia’s sphere of influence and military capabilities over the region.

As word spread throughout the Caucasus region of the Mongols toppling the Khwarazmian Empire, pockets of Kurdish and Turcoman irregular guerrilla freebooters - a reported 6,000 men or 12,000 according to an Armenian source - seeking wealth and adventure, offered their services to Subotai and Jebe as they entered Azerbaijan. Subotai accepted their service and proceeded towards Tabriz.  

George IV (Lasha), King of Georgia. A fresco from the Bertubani monastery (Public Domain)

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