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Some Personal Notes October 26, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in 1260, Ayn Jalut, historical fiction, Mamluks, medieval period, Mongols, Richard the Lionheart, Richard Warren Field, Saladin, the crusades, third crusade.
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Yes, sometimes a blog is used for some personal news. Well, writing news and personal news. I haven’t often used mine that way. But, I just recently posted “Opportunity in Adversity: A Personal Note,” and let’s face it, the Magic the Cat posts, and the late Marie post, are a personal indulgence. So, here’s a little Richard Warren Field news:

  • The The Swords of Faith has been chosen as a finalist by the USA Book News for Best Books of 2010 in the Historical Fiction Category. Thanks, folks over at USA Book News!
  • This week marks the completion of the first draft of The Sultan and the Khan, another epic-scope novel, the follow-up to The Swords of Faith. I have a lot of work to do on the revision, but the basic book is in place. Dawud, that little guy born to Pierre and Atiya in The Swords of Faith, is a seventy year old man in The Sultan and the Khan, and is a character link between the two books. He goes through a lot between the end of The Swords of Faith and the beginning of The Sultan and the Khan, trying to navigate the conflicts raging in the Eastern Mediterranean/Middle East. But this is nothing compared to what he will experience between early 1258 and late 1260. This time it’s not just Christian “crusaders” against Muslims. Mongols, Muslims and Christians mix in bizarre ways, leading to the historically crucial Battle of Ayn Jalut in September of 1260.
  • My laryngitis condition is much improved. I have gone from having no function of the left side of my voicebox to a “bowing” of the left vocal cords, meaning I have some function. I can carry a tune again—raspy, unlistenable in public—but I can get musical notes to sound from my vocal cords. I hope to have a full recovery by the end of the year at the latest.

Coming soon? Some book commentaries, and other surprises. In the meantime, feel free to visit my Books-Into-Movies Blog.

750th Anniversary of the Rise of Baybars to Sultan of the Mamluks October 21, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in 1260, Ayn Jalut, Baybars, historical fiction, history, Hulegu Khan, Mamluks, medieval period, Mongols.
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Just a little less than two months after the pivotal Battle of Ayn Jalut (see my previous blog post about one of the most neglected battles in history), life had changed dramatically among the Mamluk leaders. Sultan Qutuz and Baybars had been sworn enemies before they united to defeat their common enemy, the Mongol invaders under the command of Genghis Khan’s grandson, Hulegu Khan. Baybars commanded the Mamluk vanguard during the battle, and was instrumental in the Mamluk triumph. After their victory, Baybars and his forces pursued the Mongols north.

In the aftermath of the battle, Qutuz went to Damascus and consolidated Mamluk rule over Syria, now relieved of the Mongol occupation during the previous year. He rewarded Muslim princes who had fought with the Mamluks, and punished those who had submitted to the invading Mongols.

Baybars and men loyal to him had pursued Mongols to northern Syria. Some accounts of these events indicate that Qutuz promised Baybars the governorship of Aleppo in the event of victory at Ayn Jalut and then reneged. Other accounts refer to friction due to Qutuz’s abusive treatment of some of Baybars’ men for allegedly fleeing the Mongols during the battle. But the truth is that these men hated each other, had fought against each other in the past, and had longstanding grudges and grievances. Qutuz would have been setting up a serious rival for power in the region if he had granted rulership of Aleppo to Baybars. The men were destined to clash.

Qutuz had planned to go north to continue his consolidation of his control of Syria. But the rising tensions with Baybars prompted him to go south, back to Cairo. At al-Salihiyya, just east of Cairo, on October 21st or 22nd, Qutuz was assassinated. The details differ among different accounts. But the basic facts are that during a hunt, after Qutuz rode off on the chase for a hare, Baybars and some conspirators killed Qutuz. Baybars was installed as Sultan shortly after.

Baybars proved to be a talented, ruthless ruler, and more importantly, a gifted organizer. This had been a region fraught with disunity. Even Saladin, the great sultan of the Ayyubid Dynasty, considered one of the most important Muslim rulers of the Middle Ages, had trouble bringing together all the regions of his empire of Syria and Egypt. Baybars put in place organizational controls that would keep this empire together until the early 1500s. The Mamluks would defeat Mongol attempts to move back into Syria, and would drive the western Christian crusaders out of the eastern Mediterranean permanently. It is not at all certain that another ruler would have brought this region together as he did, and would have established the basis for a dynasty that would last over two hundred years. Bayars’ leadership established the stability in the region that ensured the Mongols would not be able to undo the results of the Battle of Ayn Jalut. On that October day, when Baybars rose to power as sultan of the Mamluks, an essential following event to the Battle of Ayn Jalut occurred, an event that made certain the lasting impact of the battle.

(My upcoming novel, The Sultan and the Khan, dramatizes these little known, historically pivotal events. More information about The Sultan and the Khan is available at my website.)

750th Anniversary of One of the Most Neglected Battles in History/The Battle of Ayn Jalut September 3, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in 1260, Ayn Jalut, Baybars, history, Hulegu Khan, Kitbuqa, Mamluks, medieval period, Mongols.
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On September 3rd of 1260, one of the most important battles of history occurred. Considering the global importance of this battle and its result, I also maintain it may be one of the most neglected battles in history. The conflict involved Muslim Mamluks from Egypt against Mongols under the rulership of Hulegu Khan, founder of the Il-Khan dynasty, grandson of Genghis Khan. Mongols had never lost a major battle. They had depopulated Central Asia during the rule of Genghis Khan, and Hulegu’s forces had more recently reduced Baghdad from one of the world’s great cities to a ruined town surrounded by rotting corpses. A generation earlier, the Mongols had defeated Christians as well, overrunning Russia, utterly destroying the great medieval city of Kiev the way they would devastate Baghdad, as well as overrunning significant portions of Eastern and Central Europe.

After destroying Baghdad in early 1258, the Mongols threatened the very existence of Islam, moving south, taking Aleppo and Damascus, and looking further southwest to Egypt, maybe even to the rest of North Africa and the Mediterranean. They believed they were destined to rule the world and even the third generation of Genghis Khan’s sons/grandsons were fanatically committed to that purpose. They appeared to most in the eastern Mediterranean to be invincible, to be the inevitable ruling power of the region. Many Ayyubid princes, descendants of the legendary champion of Islam, Saladin, submitted to Mongol authority, along with the Christian states in Georgia and Armenia, and including even the Crusader state of the Principality of Antioch.

But in Egypt, Sultan Qutuz, a slave-soldier who had recently seized power, decided to defy the Mongols. He was aware the bulk of Hulegu’s forces had withdrawn from Syria to Azerbaijan to be ready for involvement in the Mongol succession. The Great Khan, Hulegu’s brother Mongke, had died a few months before. So Qutuz sensed an opportunity. He rallied like-minded Muslim warriors, including a bitter rival, Baybars, to move out of Egypt to take on the reduced Mongol forces under the command of the Mongol general Kitbuqa. The Muslim forces negotiated passage through the declining Crusader state, The Kingdom of Acre, and the two forces found and met each other at Ayn Jalut, also known as the Springs of Goliath.

On September 2nd, 1260, Baybars, commanding the vanguard of the Egyptian Mamluk forces, found the Mongols and fought a brief skirmish as his forces retreated. The next day, Mongols and Mamluks fought the main battle. The Mamluks drew the Mongols in with a feigned retreat, ironically a favorite tactic of the Mongols. After the setback of being momentarily fooled by their own tactic, the Mongols fought back, overwhelming the Muslim flank. It looked like the Mongols would gain victory after all. But Qutuz rallied his men with an impassioned plea, and that, along with a key defection of a Muslim prince from the ranks of the Mongols, handed the advantage to the Mamluk forces. Kitbuqa was killed, and Syria lay open to the Mamluks.

The Battle of Ayn Jalut led to the beginning of the Mamluk state in Egypt, a state that would rule significant areas of the Middle East until the early 16th Century, a state that would complete the expulsion of the western Christian “crusaders” from the Middle East by the end of the 13th Century, giving Muslims the final victory in that series of religious battles known as “the crusades.” But most importantly, the perception of Mongol invincibility ended. The zenith of the Mongol influence was established by this battle. The Battle of Ayn Jalut changed the world.

The argument can be made that the battle was an effect more than a cause, that Mongol decline was inevitable. But almost any large event in history can be seen that way. Mongol decline, through overextension and dynastic rivalry probably was inevitable. But the Battle of Ayn Jalut was the specific moment when a defiant, courageous leader chose to test whether the “inevitable” Mongol decline had arrived. It didn’t have to arrive at that time. Submitting Egypt to the Mongols was an easier, safer decision, the way the Ayyubid prince al-Nasir Yusif, ruler of Damascus, had abandoned that city to advancing Mongols and eventually submitted to them himself when taken into custody. If the “inevitable” decline had begun at a different place and time, history would have been different. So this deserves the designation I have suggested—of one of the most neglected battles in history.

The Battle of Ayn Jalut is the setting for the climactic final event of my novel, The Sultan and the Khan, follow-up to my novel about the Third Crusade, The Swords of Faith (now available wherever books are sold). The events leading up to the Battle of Ayn Jalut offer significant, surprising drama. Christianity mixes into the conflict in surprising and exotic ways. Mortal enemies become crucial allies in pursuit of larger goals. The Battle of Ayn Jalut and the events surrounding it make a great story, as well as constituting a key event in history. The story is populated by colorful characters, clashing perceptions of the world, and vicious, ruthless brutality allowing few options for the contending sides between victory and destruction.