By 1218, Genghis Khan had united the Mongols and together they had conquered northern China. The had expanded westward as well by conquering Kara-Khitai and were collecting tribute from Korea. They first encountered the Empire of Khorezm, which extended from the Aral Sea to the Persian Gulf in one direction and from Iraq to India in the other. The Empire was led by the Shah Ala ad-Din Mohammed II. He also had designs of China, and was miffed the Mongols had gotten their first.
As the way of things, envoys met and exchanged expensive gifts. The Mongols sent jade, ivory, gold, cloaks of rare white camel wool to Samarkand, the Shah’s capital. Representatives were received and treated cordially on both sides. A Mongol entourage arrived in Kunya Urgench in 1218 and discussed the possibility of trade. All of this seemed positive, however, when a Mongol trade caravan of 450 men was sent into Utrar things did not go well. Governor Inalchek sent word back to the Shah he suspected the caravan was full of spies. The Shah agreed and the the caravan was killed all but a single man and their goods were added to the city coffers. This did not go over well with Genghis Khan, who reportedly wept tears of anger over the incident. Ambassadors were swiftly dispatched to demand recompense and that Governor Inalchek be handed over for punishment. The Shah killed one ambassadors and sent the other two back after setting their beards on fire. Genghis Khan lost his mind because as one historian put it, “Mongols believed in the absolute inviolability of ambassadors.” The Shah just poked the bear.
After building an army for a year, Genghis Khan raised a force of more than 200,000 troops with local prisoners forced to march before them as a human shield. First stop, Utrar. Despite fierce resistance where defenders threw naphtha—probably a stubborn-burning mixture of sulfur, niter, and petroleum- and the very bricks down at the conquerors, the city was overpowered. The hapless Governor Inalcheck was brought alive to the Khan who poured molten gold down his throat and into his ears. Ouch. In the meantime, the Shah had divided his forces and deployed them in different cities. Each division would act on its own authority. Every one of the Shah’s military advisors, including his son Jalladin Menguberdi, thought this was a terrible idea. Indeed, the Shah’s refusal to mount a united defense doomed his Empire to conquest.
Then Bukhara, where the central mosque was destroyed. He declared to them, “I am the Flail of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.” He then had the cases for the Koran were used as horses’ mangers. The libraries with their centuries of knowledge were reduced to ash. Upwards of three hundred thousand people were killed that day. Women were raped and enslaved with their children, riches were despoiled while the Khan drank fermented mare’s milk and listened to music. Anyone with a useful profession, an artisan or builder, was sent to the capital in Mongolia. Those that lived were allowed to escape to tell their tale of horror to the other cities in the region. To teach them the wrath of the Mongols was a very real and terrible thing. The next city of Kunya Urgench was supposedly wiped off the map for its rebellion. Legend says the Mongols dammed the Oxus River for three centuries causing it to flow into the Caspian Sea instead of the Aral over the smoking ruins of Kunya Urgench.
Next stop, Samarkand. The people of Samarkand weren’t dumb and opened the gates to the Mongols. Those who did not surrender went to the large wooden mosque for Friday prayers. The Mongols burned it over their heads. They continued on through the rest of the Muslim cities along the Silk Road bringing fire and destruction. Those who surrendered weren’t safe. In Balkh they were massacred anyway, “divided up according to the usual custom into hundreds and thousands to be put to the sword.” In Nishapur, it was said they even killed the animals.
The Shah, needless to say, was terrified and high tailed it. He was able to stay one step ahead of the Mogols as his son Jalladin continued to fight. The Shah made it to the town of Astara, where he put on a disguise of beggar’s rags and escaped to a small island in the Caspian Sea. There he died naming his son as his heir. However, the Empire of Khorezm never recovered.
Sources available on request