Genghis Khan - Jacob Abbott

The Fall Of Bokhara

Bokhara was a great and beautiful city. it was situated in the midst of a very fine and fertile country, in a position very favorable for the trade and commerce of those days. It was also a great seat of learning and of the arts and sciences. It contained many institutions in which were taught such arts and sciences as were then cultivated, and students resorted to it from all the portions of Western Asia.

The city proper was inclosed with a strong wall. Besides this there was an outer wall, thirty miles in circumference, which inclosed the suburbs of the town, and also a beautiful region of parks and gardens, which contained the public places of amusement and the villas of the wealthy inhabitants. It was this peaceful seat of industry and wealth that Genghis Khan, with his hordes of ruthless barbarians, was coming now to sack and plunder.

The first city which the Monguls reached on their march toward Bokhara was one named Zarnuk. In approaching it a large troop rode up toward the walls, uttering terrific shouts and outcries. The people shut the gates in great terror. Genghis Khan, however, sent an officer to them to say that it was useless for them to attempt to resist him, and to advise them to surrender at once. They must demolish their citadel, he said, and send out all the young and able-bodied men to Genghis Khan. The officer advised them, too, to send out presents to Genghis Khan as an additional means of propitiating him and inducing him to spare the town.

The inhabitants yielded to this advice. The gates were thrown open. All the young men who were capable of bearing arms were marshaled and marched out to the Mongul camp. They were accompanied by the older men among the inhabitants, who took with them the best that the town contained, for presents. Genghis Khan accepted the presents, ordered the young men to be enrolled in his army, and then, dismissing the older ones in peace, he resumed his march and went on his way.

He next came to a town named Nur. One of the men from Zarnuk served as a guide to show the detachment which was sent to summon the city a near way to reach it. Nur was a sort of sacred town, having many holy places in it which were resorted to by many pilgrims and other devotees.

The people of Nur shut the gates and for some time refused to surrender. But at last, finding that it was useless to attempt to resist, they opened the gates and allowed the Monguls to come in. Genghis Khan, to punish the inhabitants, as he said, for even thinking of resisting him, set aside a supply of cattle and other provisions to keep them from starving, and then gave up all the rest of the property found in the town to be divided among his soldiers as plunder.

At length the army reached the great plain in which Bokhara was situated, and encamped before the town. Bokhara was very large and very populous, as may well be supposed from its outer wall of thirty miles in circuit, and Genghis Khan did not expect to make himself master of it without considerable difficulty and delay. He was, however, very intent on besieging and taking it, not only on account of the general wealth and importance of the place, but also because he supposed that the sultan himself was at this time within the walls. He had heard that the sultan had retreated there with his flying squadron, taking with him all his treasure.

This was, however, a mistake. The sultan was not there. He had gone there, it is true, at first, and had taken with him the most valuable of his treasures, but before Genghis Khan arrived he had secretly withdrawn to Samarcand, thinking that he might be safer there.

In truth, the sultan was beginning to be very much disheartened and discouraged. Among other things which occurred to disturb his mind, certain letters were found and brought to him, as if they had been intercepted, which letters gave account of a conspiracy among his officers to desert him and go over to the side of Genghis Khan. These letters were not signed, and the sultan could not discover who had written them, but the pretended conspiracy which they revealed filled his soul with anxiety and distress.

It was only a pretended conspiracy after all, for the letters were written by a man in Genghis Khan's camp, and with Genghis Khan's permission or connivance. This man was a Mohammedan, and had been in the sultan's service; but the sultan had put to death his father and his brothers on account of some alleged offense, and he had become so incensed at the act that he had deserted to Genghis Khan, and now he was determined to do his former sovereign all the mischief in his power. His intimate knowledge of persons and things connected with the sultan's court and army enabled him to write these letters in such a way as to deceive the sultan completely.

It was past midsummer when the army of Genghis Khan laid siege to Bokhara, and it was not until the spring of the following year that they succeeded in carrying the outer wall, so strongly was the city fortified and so well was it defended. After having forced the outer wall, the Monguls destroyed the suburbs of the town, devastated the cultivated gardens and grounds, and pillaged the villas. They then took up their position around the inner wall, and commenced the siege of the city itself in due form.

The sultan had left three of his greatest generals in command of the town. These men determined not to wait the operations of Genghis Khan in attacking the walls, but to make a sudden sally from the gates, with the whole force that could be spared, and attack the besiegers in their intrenchments. They made this sally in the night, at a time when the Monguls were least expecting it. They were, however, wholly unsuccessful. They were driven back into the city with great loss. The generals, it seems, had determined to risk all on this desperate attempt, and, in case it failed, at once to abandon the city to its fate. Accordingly, when driven into the city through the gates on one side, they marched directly through it and passed out through the gates on the other side, hoping to save themselves and the garrison by this retreat, with a view of ultimately rejoining the sultan. They, however, went first in a southerly direction from the city toward the River Amoor. The generals took their families and those of the principal officers of the garrison with them.

The night was dark, and they succeeded in leaving the city without being observed. In the morning, however, all was discovered, and Genghis Khan sent off a strong detachment of well-mounted troops in pursuit. These troops, after about a day's chase, overtook the flying garrison near the river. There was no escape for the poor fugitives, and the merciless Monguls destroyed them almost every one by riding over them, trampling them down with their horses' hoofs, and cutting them to pieces with their sabres.

In the mean time, while this detachment had been pursuing the garrison, Genghis Khan, knowing that there were no longer any troops within the city to defend it, and that every thing there was in utter confusion, determined on a grand final assault; but, while his men were getting the engines ready to batter down the walls, a procession, consisting of all the magistrates and clergy, and a great mass of the principal citizens, came forth from one of the gates, bearing with them the keys of the city. These keys they offered to Genghis Khan in token of surrender, and begged him to spare their lives.

The emperor received the keys, and said to the citizens that he would spare their lives on condition that, if there were any of the sultan's soldiers concealed in the city, they would give them up, and that they would also seize and deliver to him any of the citizens that were suspected of being in the sultan's interest. This they took a solemn oath that they would do.

The soldiers, however—that is, those that remained in the town—were not delivered up. Most of them retired to the castle, which was a sort of citadel, and put themselves under the command of the governor of the castle, who, being a very energetic and resolute man, declared that he never would surrender.

There were a great many of the young men of the town, sons of the leading citizens, who also retired to the castle, determined not to yield to the conqueror.

Genghis Khan, having thus obtained the keys of the city itself, caused the gates to be opened, and his troops marched in and took possession. He had promised the citizens that his soldiers should spare the lives of the people and should not pillage the houses on condition that the magistrates delivered up peaceably the public magazines of grain and other food to supply his army; also that all the people who had buried or otherwise concealed gold and silver, or other treasures, should bring them forth again and give them up, or else make known where they were concealed. This the people promised that they would do.

After having entered the town, Genghis Khan was riding about the streets on horseback at the head of his troop of guards when he came to a large and very beautiful edifice. The doors were wide, and he drove his horse directly in. His troops, and the other soldiers who were there, followed him in. There were also with him some of the magistrates of the town, who were accompanying him in his progress about the city.

After the whole party had entered the edifice, Genghis Khan looked around, and then asked them, in a jeering manner, if that was the sultan's palace.

"No," said they, "it is the house of God." The building was a mosque.

On hearing this, Genghis Khan alighted from his horse, and, giving the bridle to one of the principal magistrates to hold, he went up, in a very irreverent manner, to a sacred place where the priests were accustomed to sit. He seized the copy of the Koran which he found there, and threw it down under the feet of the horses. After amusing himself for a time in desecrating the temple by these and other similar performances, he caused his soldiers to bring in their provisions, and allowed them to eat and drink in the temple, in a riotous manner, without any regard to the sacredness of the place, or to the feelings of the people of the town which he outraged by this conduct.

A few days after this Genghis Khan assembled all the magistrates and principal citizens of the town, and made a speech to them from an elevated stand or pulpit which was erected for the purpose. He began his speech by praising God, and claiming to be an object of his special favor, in proof of which he recounted the victories which he had obtained, as he said, through the Divine aid. He then went on to denounce the perfidious conduct of the sultan toward him in making a solemn treaty of peace with him and then treacherously murdering his merchants and embassadors. He said that the sultan was a detestable tyrant, and that God had commissioned him to rid the earth of all such monsters. He said, in conclusion, that he would protect their lives, and would not allow his soldiers to take away their household goods, provided they surrendered to him fairly and honestly all their money and other treasures; and if any of them refused to do this, or to tell where their treasures were hid, he would put them to the torture, and compel them to tell.

The wretched inhabitants of the town, feeling that they were entirely at the mercy of the terrible hordes that were in possession of the city, did not attempt to conceal any thing. They brought forward their hidden treasures, and even offered their household goods to the conqueror if he was disposed to take them. They were only anxious to save, if possible, their dwellings and their lives. Genghis Khan appeared at first to be pleased with the submissive spirit which they manifested, but at last, under pretense that he heard of some soldiers being concealed somewhere, and perhaps irritated at the citadel's holding out so long against him, he ordered the town to be set on fire. The buildings were almost all of wood, and the fire raged among them with great fury. Multitudes of the inhabitants perished in the flames, and great numbers died miserably afterward from want and exposure. The citadel immediately afterward surrendered, and it would seem that Genghis Khan began to feel satisfied with the amount of misery which he had caused, for it is said that he spared the lives of the governor and of the soldiers, although we might have expected that he would have massacred them all.

The citadel was, however, demolished, and thus the town itself, and all that pertained to it, became a mass of smoking ruins. The property pillaged from the inhabitants was divided among the Mongul troops, while the people themselves went away, to roam as vagabonds and beggars over the surrounding country, and to die of want and despair.

What difference is there between such a conqueror as this and the captain of a band of pirates or of robbers, except in the immense magnitude of the scale on which he perpetrates his crimes?

The satisfaction which Genghis Khan felt at the capture of Bokhara was greatly increased by the intelligence which he received soon afterward from the two princes whom he had sent to lay siege to Otrar, informing him that that city had fallen into their hands, and that the governor of it, the officer who had so treacherously put to death the embassadors and the merchants, had been taken and slain. The name of this governor was Gayer Khan. The sultan, knowing that Genghis Khan would doubtless make this city one of his first objects of attack, left the governor a force of fifty thousand men to defend it. He afterward sent him an additional force of ten thousand men, under the command of a general named Kariakas.

With these soldiers the governor shut himself up in the city. He knew very well that if he surrendered or was taken he could expect no mercy, and he went to work accordingly strengthening the fortifications, and laying in stores of provisions, determined to fight to the last extremity. The captain of the guard who came to assist him had not the same reason for being so very obstinate in the defense of the town, and this difference in the situation of the two commanders led to difficulty in the end, as we shall presently see.

The Mogul princes began the siege of Otrar by filling up the ditches that encircled the outer wall of the town in the places where they wished to plant their battering-rams to make breaches in the walls. They were hindered a great deal in their work, as is usual in such cases, by the sallies of the besieged, who rushed upon them in the night in great numbers, and with such desperate fury that they often succeeded in destroying some of the engines, or setting them on fire before they could be driven back into the town. This continued for some time, until at last the Mongul princes began to be discouraged, and they sent word to their father, who was then engaged in the siege of Bokhara, informing him of the desperate defense which was made by the garrison of Otrar, and asking his permission to turn the siege into a blockade—that is, to withdraw from the immediate vicinity of the walls, and to content themselves with investing the city closely on every side, so as to prevent any one from going out or coming in, until the provisions of the town should be exhausted, and the garrison be starved into a surrender. In this way, they said, the lives of vast numbers of the troops would be saved.

But their father sent back word to them that they must do no such thing, but must go on and fight their way  into the town, no matter how many of the men were killed.

So the princes began again with fresh ardor, and they pushed forward their operations with such desperate energy that in less than a month the outer wall, and the works of the besieged to defend it, were all in ruins. The towers were beaten down, the ramparts were broken, and many breaches were made through which the besiegers might be expected at any moment to force their way into the town. The besieged were accordingly obliged to abandon the outer walls and retire within the inner lines.

The Monguls now had possession of the suburbs, and, after pillaging them of all that they could convert to their own use, and burning and destroying every thing else, they advanced to attack the inner works; and here the contest between the besiegers and the garrison was renewed more fiercely than ever. The besieged continued their resistance for five months, defending themselves by every possible means from the walls, and making desperate sallies from time to time in order to destroy the Monguls' engines and kill the men.

At length Kariakas, the captain of the guard, who had been sent to assist the governor in the defense of the town, began to think it was time that the carnage should cease and that the town should be surrendered. But the governor, who knew that he would most assuredly be beheaded if in any way he fell into the hands of the enemy, would not listen to any proposal of the kind. He succeeded, also, in exciting among the people of the town, and among the soldiers of the garrison, such a hatred of the Monguls, whom he represented as infidels of the very worst character, the enemies alike of God and man, that they joined him in the determination not to surrender.

Kariakas now found himself an object of suspicion and distrust in the town and in the garrison on account of his having made the proposal to surrender, and feeling that he was not safe, he determined to make a separate peace for himself and his ten thousand by going out secretly in the night and giving himself up to the princes. He thought that by doing this, and by putting the Monguls in possession of the gate through which his troops were to march out, so as to enable them to gain admission to the city, his life would be spared, and that he might perhaps be admitted into the service of Genghis Khan.

But he was mistaken in this idea. The princes said that a man who would betray his own countrymen would betray them  if he ever had a good opportunity. So they ordered him and all his officers to be slain, and the men to be divided among the soldiers as slaves.

They nevertheless took possession of the gate by which the deserters had come out, and by this means gained admission to the city. The governor fled to the citadel with all the men whom he could assemble, and shut himself up in it. Here he fought desperately for a month, making continual sallies at the head of his men, and doing every thing that the most resolute and reckless bravery could do to harass and beat off the besiegers. But all was in vain. In the end the walls of the citadel were so broken down by the engines brought to bear upon them, that one day the Monguls, by a determined and desperate assault made on all sides simultaneously, forced their way in, through the most dreadful scenes of carnage and destruction, and began killing without mercy every soldier that they could find.

The soldiers defended themselves to the last. Some took refuge in narrow courts and lanes, and on the roofs of the houses—for the citadel was so large that it formed of itself quite a little town—and fought desperately till they were brought down by the arrows of the Monguls. The governor took his position, in company with two men who were with him, on a terrace of his palace, and refused to surrender, but fought on furiously, determined to kill any one who attempted to come near him. His wife was near, doing all in her power to encourage and sustain him.

Genghis Khan had given orders to the princes not to kill the governor, but to take him alive. He wished to have the satisfaction of disposing of him himself. For this reason the soldiers who attempted to take him on the terrace were very careful not to shoot their arrows at him, but only at the men who were with him, and while they did so a great many of them were killed by the arrows which the governor and his two friends discharged at those who attempted to climb up to the place where they were standing.

Mongols attacking a city


After a while the two men were killed, but the governor remained alive. Yet nobody could come near him. Those that attempted it were shot, and fell back again among their companions below. The governor's wife supplied him with arrows as fast as he could use them. At length all the arrows were spent, and then she brought him stones, which he hurled down upon his assailants when they tried to climb up to him. But at last so many ascended together that the governor could not beat them all back, and he was at length surrounded and secured, and immediately put in irons.

The princes wrote word at once to their father that the town was taken, and that the governor was in their hands a prisoner. They received orders in return to bring him with them to Bokhara. While on the way, however, another order came requiring them to put the prisoner to death, and this order was immediately executed.

What was the fate of his courageous and devoted wife has never been known.