The Battle of Hims

  By Omar al Hashim, 15 December 2006; Revised
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In 1281 the middle east was divided into two major empires, the west, comprising primarily of Syria and Egypt was the Mamluke Empire under the rule of Al-Malik-al-Mansoor Qalaoon al-Elfi al-Salihi al-Alai a Qipchaq Turk who had been sold into slavery and raised as a Mamluke. The east, primarily and , were under the rule of the Il-Khan Mongols. A splinter of the empire Genghis Khan created only a few decades before.

In the summer of 1281 information reached Qalaoon, who was at the time in Damascus, that Mangu Timur the brother of the Il-Khan, and son Hulugu was preparing to lead an attack against the Mamlukes in with eighty thousand men. Sultan Qalaoon sent out a call to raise an army to confront the Mongol invasion. Fear of the Mongols, and the pillage and destruction brought with them, ensured that the turned out to supplement Qalaoons Mamlukes was high. Turkmans from north of Aleppo, the rulers of Kerak, and Hama, the Bedouin of the Syrian deserts commanded by Isa ibn Mahanna, and the Murra Arabs, who are reported to have brought along with four hundred well equipped cavalry, their slaves, baggage, camels, women, poets and the rest of their tribe, all responded to Qalaoons call. Even Qalaoons enemy Sonkor al Ashqar turned out to support the fight against the Mongols. All in all, the Mamluke army numbered about sixty thousand people. Qalaoon took his army out of Damascus and setup camp outside the city of Hims.

Meanwhile Mangu Timurs army was advancing into with fifty thousand Mongols, and thirty thousand troops from Mongol tributaries, mainly Georgia and Armenian Cilicia. Upon reaching Hama, Mangu forced the governor of Hama to dispatch a pidgeon to Qalaoon with the following message: “The enemy numbers eighty thousand. Tell the sultan to strengthen the left wing of the Mamluke army”. This message was probably a attempt to deceive the Mamlukes.

On the 31st of October 1281 the two armies met outside Hims. Qalaoon had set up his army with the turkmans on the left and Sonkor al Ashqar behind. On the right Isa ibn Mahanna and the Arabs were placed in front of the Prince of Hama and other Mamluke amirs. The center comprised of the crack troops of the Mamluke empire, including four thousand Royal Mamlukes. Qalaoon allowed himself a personal body guard of two hundred men. The commencement of the battle saw a heavy mongol attack on the right wing of the Mamlukes, following through with the deception in the message, and another attack on the left wing. The left wing, where Sonkor al Ashqar was stationed broke, and was chased off the field by the Mongols. The right wing held the attack and repulsed it back towards the Mongol center. The fleeing left flank ran towards Hims pursued by the Mongols. The city quickly shut the gates ensuring that the Mongols did not enter the city, although this did not save the surrounding countryside from destruction.

There are not many men who can claim that their lives altered history, but one of these men is Azdmir al Haj, a Mamluke amir. At this critical point in the battle Azdmir rode out to the Mongol lines announcing his defection, and requesting an audience with Mangu Timur. Azdmir upon meeting the Mongol leader, suddenly attacked the prince, dehorsing him and wounding him. Mangu’s bodyguards instantly killed Azdmir and many Mongol commanders jumped off their horse to help their fallen leader. Whether Qalaoon knew of Azdmirs plot or not is unknown, but Qalaoon did seize the advantage at this moment and the Mamluke army hastly charged the confused Mongol centre. The muslim army pressed the attack and the Mongols broke. The Mongols were pursued off the field and harassed by the local population in their retreat. At the end of the day, the Mongols had lost more men in the retreat than in the battle.

Qalaoon did not follow his men pursing the Mongol army and had stayed on the field with about one thousand men. The Mongol right flank, after completing its looting of the area around Hims, returned to the battle field right behind the Mamluke army that was now pursing the rest of the Mongol army off the field. Qalaoon managed to slip behind the returning Mongols and charged them in the rear. This sent the Mongol right flank into a panic, and they too were chased off the field.

The battle had been a great victory for the Mamlukes, largely due to the bravery of Azdmir al Haj.


Glubb, John B., Soldiers of Fortune, 1988, Dorset Press