The Hulegu-Berke war was fought by the leader of the Golden Horde— Berke Khan, and the lord of Ilkhanate— Hulegu Khan, in 1262 (Morgan 144). The action mainly happened around the Caucasus mountain area. Many say that the Berke-Hulegu war was the first major civil war in the western Mongol Empire. Economic, religious, and political conflicts had accumulated for years between the two kings. Finally, the fight started after the death of Mongke. The battle between Berke and Hulegu was an inevitable outcome.

Marco Polo had recorded the event in this book, The Description of the World, but how accurate is his description is gonna be examined in this project.


Who is Berke Khan?

Berke is the brother of Batu, the original ruler of the Golden Horde. Berke took place and became the Khan after the death of Batu. He also became the first Mongol ruler to be a Muslim (Morgan Loc.1516). Berke had been prepared for an offensive against Europe since his first invasion of Poland in 1259, then further to Hungary and Germany. Simultaneously, Mamluks get more and more advantages in Palestine and Syria under the new diplomatic situation. Under this case, Berke made the Golden Horde make alliances with the Mamluk Sultans (Jackson 189). The collaboration marks the first time a Mongol prince alliance with an external power against fellow Mongols. Their partnership makes Mamluks considerable in the Near East and gives their enemy— Hulegu, more pressure, which finally leads him to reproach the Latin West. Even though the new alliance made Berke more powerful, Hulegu’s power had not been undermined in Anatolia. Izz al-din had been expelled by Hulegu’s force and finally got rescued by Berke.


Who is Hulegu Khan?

Hulegu is the brother of the Great Khan Mongke. Hulegu had played an essential role in helping Mongke with an expedition to the Middle East. For him, the priority is to destroy Ismailis’s power (Morgan Loc.1561). After accomplishing those military duties commanded by Mongke, Hulegu remained and ruled Persia as his patrimony. After the death of Mongke, Hulegu withdrew his force toward north-west Persian and left Syria due to the going out of fodder.

Both Hulegu and Berke was the grandson of Chingiz Khan.


Background of the war:

The enmity between Berke and Hulegu had developed and culminated between 1261 and 1262 during a series of wars. The death of Mongke and the dispute between Hulegu’s brother had made Hulegu and Berke to overture with their impending struggle. Hulegu seeks to cooperate with a fellow-Muslim, and Berke is trying to hide behind the Mahmud’s. According to the Mongols, the reasons are both political and economic.

The war between Hulegu and Berke seems to be predetermined after Berke took place as the Khan. Before Batu’s death, Hulegu wanted to invade Calipo’s territory but was stopped by Batu. After Batu’s death, it is time for him to resume his offensive (Jackson 224). Peter Jackson believes that the assault on the Caliphate was the principal reason for the war. Berke had disapproved of Hulegu for murdering Caliph new hen he tried to do so, which also become part of the reason that leads to their enmity (Morgan Loc.1515). Another important aspect is the different religions they obtain have a conflict with each other. While Berke, as the Khan of the Golden Horde, shows his role to be a good Muslim, Hulegu, with their willingness to make alliances with the Christian, portrays themselves as a Christian (Jackson 225). Besides, many other factors also contribute to their outbreak, such as the Golden Horde had sent witchcraft against Hulegu and was executed by Hulegu with the approval of Berke; Berke had also presumed upon his and Batu’s role in the election of Mongke, he had also always instructing Hulegu which irritated him. All those factors contributed to their outbroke and finally led to the war.

Since many believe that religion is a significant issue that led to the war, this might not be a substantial concern for Berke, according to the letter from him to Mamluk court. He wrote in the letter expressing since both he and Hulegu are the offspring of Chingiz Khan, he remains the idea of Mongol unity in his mind. He mentioned in the letter that “Mongol swords kill Mongols. If we were united, then we would have conquered all of the worlds” (John 186). But with Hulegu continuing conquering and killing the Muslims, Berke stopped just sitting and watching. He mentioned in the letter that “Hulagu has sacked all the cities of the Muslims, and has brought about the death of the Caliph. With the help of Allah, I will call him to account for so much innocent blood” (Blair). With his words, he started the war.


Descriptions of the battle

According to the Description of the World, the conflict between Berke and Hulegu showed up when both of them want the border province to be theirs, and neither of them agrees to concede the province to the others (Polo 213). Hulegu didn’t start the war until his army was well-equipped. Hulegu had 300,000 horsemen on his side; they rode to a plain and set their camp in excellent order. Their headquarters was located on the border between Hulegu’s area and Berke’s. On Berke’s side, he was also well-prepared, with 50,000 more people than Hulagu. The two leaders both made 10,000 horsemen in one battalion, so Hulegu has 30 battalions, and Berke has 35. From Berke’s side, he believes he got to win this war due to the more people he had than Hulegu; he prays to God for each of his men to be ready (Kinoshita 216) To Hulegu who believes Berke’s man was not as good as him even though they have more in quantity. He said to his men to fight as hard as they can or be defeated. It is better to die on the field to keep their honor.

Soon the battle begins. Both sides fight hard that there are so many arrows flying in the sky and so many people and horses die simultaneously. The fight went on so cruel that the earth was covered with blood and dead bodies. Marco Polo described this war that “not in a long time had there been such a battle in the world where so many men came together as in this one” (Kinoshita 217). Even though the 650,000 people on the field were all close relatives since Hulegu and Berke were both imperial lineages of Chingiz Khan, they didn’t show they wanted each other well at all, but only they were mortal enemies. For the leaders, King Hulegu fights so well with his mighty army; he shows he is the appropriate one to be the lord of this land in the war. For King Berke, even though he also conducted his bravely, many of his people got killed during the battle, that his army could not continue fighting anymore. Thus, Berke decides to abandon the field and turn in the flight. As they turn back, Hulegu and his people continue chasing them and do great harm to their enemy. King Hulegu burned the dead body for the enemies and their people the next day, then returned with the victory.


Doubts about the records

Even though it is clear that the war between Hulegu and Berke had occurred in history, Marco Polo had also mentioned in the Description of the World, how, why, and the result of the war in Marco’s record are likely to be inaccurate.

In the Description of the World, the war was described in a rhetorical way similar to many other wars he had mentioned in the book prior; and there are merely details about the Hulegu—Berke War in the Book of Marco Polo. But since almost 650,000 people had joined in the war and it was such a great conquest, it is unusual to see the less amount of descriptions by Polo.

The Polos recorded Hulegu’s victory in the war, but according to Pelliot, Berke won, and Hulegu had been beaten (Pelliot 94). Marco Polo further mentioned that Maffeo and Niccolo Polo went from the Volga to Burhara since the road is free and they will not be captured during the war with Hulegu. In The Mongols and the Americans, the author also mentioned Hulegu was defeated during the battle with Berke. “Berke Khan initiated a series of raids, which drew Hulegu north to meet him, and Hulegu Khan suffered a severe defeat in an attempted invasion in the north of the Caucasus in 1263” (Dashdondong, 154). Peter Jackson also mentioned that Hulegu were defeated during the war in his The Dissolution of the Mongol Empire, “Hulegu had been obliged to withdraw troops from there for the struggle with Berke” (Jackson 233).

According to all those secondary sources that were examined by various scholars, most of them agree that it is Berke who wins the Hulegu—Berke war. And since Jackson, Pelliot, and Dashdondong’s work are the primary sources when people study Mongol history, their words are considered authoritative. Therefore, I agree with them that Hulegu got defeated in the end, which is the opposite of Marco Polo’s result. However, the inaccurate record in the Description of the World did not equal the claim that Marco Polo is a fraud who never went to these places and experienced the war. According to Dr. Jackson’s study of Marco Polo’s Travel, he examined that the less of the record is highly due to the status of the Polos. Berke’s war with Hulegu caused the journey of the Maffeo and Niccolo Polos to Bukhara and of then following up to Polian, in which the trip was original with the aim of a commercial expedition. During the Polos’ travel, they might not retrace their steps due to the war between Berke and Hulegu (Jackson 95). The war had made them change their route from the Volga to Bukhara since the pass will be free for them to be captured during the war with Hulegu (Pelliot 94). Thus, even though the records in the Description of the World are not entirely accurate, the events mentioned in the book had indeed occurred.