Siege of Bukhara

Coordinates: 39°46′40″N 64°24′37″E / 39.77778°N 64.41028°E / 39.77778; 64.41028
Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Siege of Bukhara
Part of the
Mongol conquest of the Khwarazmian Empire
DateFebruary 1220
Bukhara, present-day Uzbekistan
39°46′40″N 64°24′37″E / 39.77778°N 64.41028°E / 39.77778; 64.41028
Result Mongol victory
Mongol Empire Khwarazmian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Modern estimates range from 30,000 to 50,000 Modern estimates range from 2,000 to 20,000
Casualties and losses
Unknown Most of the garrison
Bukhara is located in Uzbekistan
Location of the siege on a map of modern Uzbekistan
Bukhara is located in West and Central Asia
Bukhara (West and Central Asia)

The siege of Bukhara took place in February 1220, during the Mongol invasion of the Khwarazmian Empire. Genghis Khan, ruler of the Mongol Empire, had launched a multi-pronged assault on the Khwarazmian Empire ruled by Shah Muhammad II. While the Shah planned to defend his major cities individually, the Mongols laid siege to the border town of Otrar, and struck further into Khwarazmia.

The city of

loyalists continued to defend the citadel for less than two weeks, before it was breached and taken.

The Mongol army killed everybody in the citadel and enslaved most of the city's population. The Mongols appropriated the work of skilled craftsmen and artisans, conscripting other inhabitants into their armies. Although Bukhara was then destroyed by fire, the destruction was relatively mild compared to elsewhere; within a short space of time the city was once again a centre of trade and learning, and it profited greatly from the Pax Mongolica.


On the eve of the Mongol invasion,

River Zeravshan.[5]

During the twelfth century, the city had been under the rule of the

Following the defeat of their common enemy, the

an unintended earlier skirmish with Mongol troops, whose speed and mobility frightened the Shah.[11] In 1218, the Shah allowed Inalchuq, the governor of Otrar, to arrest a Mongol trade caravan, and to seize its goods. Seeking a diplomatic resolution, Genghis Khan sent three envoys to Gurganj, but Muhammad humiliated them, publicly executing one. Outraged, Genghis left his ongoing war against the Chinese Jin dynasty, and rode westwards in 1219 with most of his army, leaving only a minimal force behind under the command of Muqali.[12]


There are conflicting reports as to the size of the total Mongol invasion force. The highest figures were calculated by classical Muslim historians such as

besieged it.[18] Genghis soon arrived with his youngest son Tolui, and split the invasion force into four divisions: while Chagatai and Ogedai were to remain besieging Otrar, Jochi was to head northwest in the direction of Gurganj. A minor detachment was also sent to take Khujand, but Genghis himself took Tolui and around half of the army — between 30,000 and 50,000 men — and headed westwards.[19]

Map of Central Asian Mongol campaigns between 1216 and 1223.
Campaigns of Genghis Khan between 1207 and 1225

The Khwarazmshah faced many problems. His empire was vast and newly formed, with a still-developing administration.

Juvaini states that 50,000 were sent to aid Otrar, and that there were at least 20,000 in Bukhara.[24] According to Sverdrup, there were between two and five thousand men at Bukhara.[25] Deducing the Shah's strategy, Genghis bypassed the stronghold of Samarkand and traversed 300 miles of the Kyzylkum Desert to reach Bukhara on 7 February 1220. As contemporaries thought the Kyzylkum impassable by large armies, modern historians such as H. Desmond Martin and Timothy May have considered the manouevre a tactical masterstroke.[26][27][28]


The Shah was caught completely unaware. He had anticipated that Genghis would attack Samarkand first, where both his field army and the garrison stationed at Bukhara would relieve the siege. The Khan's march through the Kyzylkum had left the Khwarazmian field army impotent, unable to either engage the enemy or help his people.[25] Juvaini records that the garrison at Bukhara was commanded by a man named Gür-Khan;[29] the early 20th century historian Vasily Bartold suggested that this may have been Jamukha, an old friend-turned-enemy of Genghis.[30] Most recent historians consider this unlikely, as Jamukha is believed to have been executed in 1206.[25][31]

The major military action of the siege came on the second or third day, when the Sultan's troops, numbering between 2,000 and 20,000, sallied forth; Juvaini records that they were annihilated by the Mongols on the banks of the river:

When these forces reached the banks of the Oxus, the patrols and advance parties of the Mongol army fell upon them and left no trace ... On the following day from the reflection of the sun the plain seemed to be a tray filled with blood.

Ata-Malik Juvaini, Tarikh-i Jahangushay[29]

The historian Paul Buell notes that the sortie, conducted solely by the Sultan's auxiliary troops and not by the city garrison, may have just been an attempt to flee; he attributes their willingness to leave to the fact that Bukhara was a very recent Khwarazmian conquest, having been taken from the Qarakhanids less than a decade previously.[32] On 10 February the town surrendered. The only resistance now came from a small band of loyalists in the citadel. The citadel was built to the highest specifications, but the Khan had brought experts in siege warfare from China; a breach was made after ten days using incendiary and gunpowder weapons, and the citadel fell on the twelfth day.[33][34]


Kalyan minaret; the Samanid Mausoleum, which survived because it was buried in mud;[35] and the Magok-i-Attari Mosque.[36]

Having entered the city, Genghis Khan is recorded to have given a speech at the city's

O People, know that you have committed great sins, and that the great ones among you have committed these sins. If you ask me what proof I have for these words, I say it is because I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.

The small amount of resistance from the citadel would prove detrimental to the rest of Bukhara. The Mongols set fire to the city in an attempt to flush out the holdouts; since most structures in the city were wooden, the soon-uncontrollable fire reduced most of the city to cinders, including the famed library.[32] Most of the stone structures left standing by the fire were razed by the Mongols, including the Po-i-Kalyan mosque; the Kalyan minaret was left standing.[39]

Although everybody inside the citadel was massacred, the population was not wholly exterminated, unlike other cities such as Merv and Gurganj. Instead, the people were evacuated and divided up. Most women were raped and taken as concubines, and the city's craftsmen were sent to factories and instructed to produce Mongol weaponry, and all remaining men of fighting age were conscripted into the Mongol forces.[40][41] These conscripts would be used as human shields in the sieges of Samarkand and Gurganj, which would follow in 1220 and 1221.[42] Shah Muhammad died destitute on an island in the Caspian Sea, and the Mongols systematically besieged and took every major city in his empire;[43] his son Jalal al-Din would put up the most resistance but was eventually defeated at the Battle of the Indus in November 1221.[19]


Although devastating in the short-term, the siege was not the city's end. In fact, the city was able to serve as a centre of Asian trade within two decades.

Sayf al-Din al-Bakharzi one of the most richly endowed properties in the region.[48]



  1. ^ Al-Hamawi gives a less flattering portrait of the densely populated centre, citing poets who criticize the "filth and prevalence of uncleanliness in its streets".[1]


  1. ^ a b al-Hamawi 1955, pp. 354–4.
  2. ^ Modelski 2007.
  3. ^ Ahmad 2000, p. 217.
  4. ^ Emin 1989, pp. 8–10.
  5. ^ Nelson Frye 1997, pp. 28–32.
  6. ^ Golden 2009, pp. 12–15.
  7. ^ a b Abazov 2008, p. 43.
  8. ^ Buniyatov 2015, pp. 32–33.
  9. ^ Biran 2009, p. 47.
  10. ^ Jackson 2009, pp. 30–31.
  11. ^ al-Nasawi 1998, p. 13.
  12. ^ a b May 2018, pp. 60–61.
  13. ^ Juzjani 1873, p. 968.
  14. ^ al-Din 1998, 346.
  15. ^ Rossabi 1994, pp. 49–50.
  16. ^ Smith 1975, pp. 273–274, 280–284.
  17. ^ Sverdrup 2010, pp. 109, 113.
  18. ^ Buniyatov 2015, p. 114.
  19. ^ a b Sverdrup 2010, p. 113.
  20. ^ Barthold 1968, pp. 373–380.
  21. ^ Golden 2009, pp. 14–15.
  22. ^ Jackson 2009, p. 31.
  23. ^ Sverdrup 2013, p. 37.
  24. ^ Juvaini 1958, p. 82.
  25. ^ a b c Sverdrup 2017, pp. 151–153.
  26. ^ Buniyatov 2015, p. 117.
  27. ^ Martin 1943, pp. 63–64.
  28. ^ May 2018, p. 62.
  29. ^ a b Juvaini 1958, p. 103.
  30. ^ Barthold 1968, pp. 119–120.
  31. ^ Mote 1999, p. 422.
  32. ^ a b c Buell 1979, pp. 130–131.
  33. ^ Buniyatov 2015, p. 118.
  34. ^ Jackson 2009, p. 34.
  35. ^ Starr 2013, p. 236.
  36. ^ World Heritage Site: Bukhara.
  37. ^ May 2007, p. 1.
  38. ^ Juvaini 1958, p. 105.
  39. ^ Man 2005, pp. 198–199.
  40. ^ Atwood 2004, p. 25.
  41. ^ Chalind, Mangin-Woods & Woods 2014, pp. 144–145.
  42. ^ Martin 1943, pp. 64–65.
  43. ^ Buniyatov 2015, p. 125.
  44. ^ Foltz 2019, p. 94.
  45. ^ Atwood 2004, p. 307.
  46. ^ Chih'ch'ang Li 1888, p. 327.
  47. ^ May 2019, p. 39.
  48. ^ Blair 2000, p. 347.



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