Berke Khan (died 1266) (also Birkai; Mongolian: Бэрх хаан, Tatar: Бәркә хан) was a Mongolian military commander and ruler of the Golden Horde (division of the Mongol Empire) who effectively consolidated the power of the Blue Horde and White Horde from 1257 to 1266. He succeeded his brother Batu Khan of the Blue Horde (West) and was responsible for the first official establishment of Islam in a khanate of the Mongol Empire. He allied with the Egyptian Mamluks against another Mongol khanate based in Persia, the Ilkhanate. Berke supported Ariq Böke in the Toluid Civil War, but did not intervene militarily in the war because he was occupied in his own war.
|Khan of the Golden Horde|
Western Half (Blue Horde)
|Reign||1257 – 1266|
Burkhan Khaldun, Mongolia
Kura River, Azerbaijan
Berke is a name used by both Turkic peoples and Mongols. In the Mongolian language "Berkh" literally means "strong". "Berk" also has many meanings like "solid", "powerful", and "in power" in the Old Turkic language.
Berke was born to Jochi, the eldest son of Genghis Khan. There is no clear consensus regarding the year of Berke's birth. Mamluk ambassadors visiting him in 663 AH (1264/5) described him as fifty-six years old. This gives him a birth date somewhere between 1207 and 1209. However, contemporary Persian chronicler Juzjani claims that Berke was born during the Mongol conquest of Khwarezmia, which took place between 1219 and 1221.
The latter claim was used to support the argument of historian Jean Richard that Berke's mother was Khan-Sultan (or Sultan Khatun), the captured daughter of Muhammad II of Khwarazm. The marriage between Jochi and Khan-Sultan took place in 1220, allowing Berke's birth to be no earlier than 1221.
In 1236, Berke joined his brothers Orda, Sinkur, and Shiban and an assortment of cousins under the leadership of Batu Khan in a vast army, comprising some 150,000 soldiers, which marched from Siberia and into the territory of the Muslim Volga Bulgars and Kipchaks, whom they subdued. Batu and Subutai sent Berke to the country north of the Caucasus to conquer the Kipchaks there. Next they devastated the principalities of Ryazan and Suzdal in 1237, and marched further into Russia. During the winter of 1238-39, Berke defeated the Kipchaks and imprisoned the chief of the Merkits. He afterwards subdued the steppe watered by the Kuma and the Terek west of the Caspian Sea.
Berke further served under his brother during the invasion of Europe, fighting at the Battle of the Mohi, where the Hungarian army was decimated. When Ögedei Khan died, and all the princes of the blood were summoned to return to Mongolia to select a Great Khan, Berke and his brothers joined Batu in the kurultai to elect a new Great Khan.
Conversion to Islam
Berke Khan converted to Islam in the city of Bukhara in 1252. When he was at Saray-Jük, Berke met a caravan from Bukhara and questioned them about their faith. Berke was convinced to convert by the caravan travellers and became a Muslim. Berke then persuaded his brother Tukh-timur to convert to Islam as well.
In 1248 Batu sent Berke, along with his brother Tukh-timur, to Mongolia in order to install Möngke Khan on the throne of Great Khan. When he arrived, he invited the Chagatai and Ogedeyd families several times. That is why Berke conducted the kurultai in 1251 and had Möngke enthroned. Berke organized everything under strict conditions.
Assuming the Golden Horde
When Batu died in 1255, he was briefly succeeded by his sons Sartaq Khan and Ulaghchi, before Berke assumed leadership in 1257. He was an able ruler and succeeded in maintaining and stabilizing the Golden Horde, the western khanate of the Mongol Empire. During his government, the Mongols finally defeated the rebellion of Danylo of Halych and made a second attack against Poland and Lithuania, led by general Burundai (Lublin, Zawichost, Sandomierz, Kraków and Bytom were plundered) in 1259. Also in 1265 there was a raid against Bulgaria and Byzantine Thrace. Michael of the Byzantine Empire also sent much valuable fabric to the Golden Horde as a tribute thereafter.
Berke soon became a devout Muslim. His conversion resulted in the Blue Horde becoming primarily Muslim, although there were still animists and Buddhists among them. Berke was angered by Hulagu's destruction of Baghdad (as a Muslim) and was determined to deal with Hulagu Khan, who had murdered the Caliph Al-Musta'sim, and whose territorial ambitions in Syria and Egypt threatened Berke's fellow Muslims.
In the meantime, the Ilkhanates led by Kitbuqa had fallen out with the crusaders holding the coast of Palestine, and the Mamluks were secured a pact of neutrality with them, pass through their territory, and destroy the Ilkhanate army at the Battle of Ain Jalut. Kitbuqa was killed. Palestine and Syria were permanently lost, the border remaining the Tigris for the duration of Hulagu's dynasty. Berke's vow of vengeance against Hulagu had to wait until the latter's return to his lands after the death of Möngke Khan.
Hulagu returned to his lands by 1262, but instead of being able to avenge his defeats, was drawn into civil war with Berke and the Blue Horde. Berke Khan had promised such a defeat in his rage after Hulagu's sack of Baghdad.
Muslim historian Rashid-al-Din Hamadani quoted Berke Khan as telling his Mongols and Muslim subjects, in protest at the attack on Baghdad:
- "He (Hulagu) has sacked all the cities of the Muslims, and has brought about the death of the Caliph. With the help of God I will call him to account for so much innocent blood." (see The Mongol Warlords, quoting Rashid al-Din's record of Berke Khan's pronouncement; this quote is also found in The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War)
Before his succession, he also complained to Batu "We helped Möngke to enthrone. But he forgot who the enemy is or friend is. Now, he is starving the lands of our friend Caliph. It is abject". It is notable that Berke Khan kept his promise, allying himself with the Mamluks, (Berke sought an alliance with the Mamluk sultan Baibars against Hulagu) and when Hulagu returned to his lands in 1262, after the succession was finally settled with Kublai as the last Great Khan, and massed his armies to avenge Ain Jalut and attack the Mamluks, Berke Khan initiated a series of raids in force which drew Hulagu north to meet him. This was the first open conflict between Mongols, and signalled the end of the unified empire.
But the reasons for the conflict between Berke and Hulagu was not only just religion, but territory as well. Möngke Khan gave Azerbaijan, which had been given to Jochi by Genghis Khan, to his brother Hulagu. Although Berke did not like the situation, he was patient till Möngke's death.
Berke at first desisted from fighting Hulagu out of Mongol brotherhood, he said Mongols are killed by Mongol swords. If we were united, then we would have conquered all of the world. but the economic situation of the Golden Horde due to the actions of the Ilkhanate led him to declare jihad because of the Ilkhanids domination of the wealth of North Iran, and the Ilkhanate's demands for the Golden Horde to not sell slaves to the Mamluks.
In 1262 the conflict turned into open war. Hulagu Khan suffered a severe defeat in an attempted invasion north of the Caucasus in 1263. Hulagu's forces were crushed at the Terek river by Berke's nephew Nogai, forcing Hulagu into retreat; he died in 1265. Also Chagatai Khan Alghu invaded Khwarizm and annexed Golden Horde lands. Jochid army unsuccessfully tried to halt his advance.
Berke also supported Great Khan claimant Ariq Böke in the Toluid Civil War, and he minted coins in the name of Ariq Böke. However Kublai defeated Ariq Böke by 1264. Kublai called both Hulagu and Berke to discuss Ariq Böke. However, both of them noted that they could not come to the Kurultai at the moment, and the new Kurultai was never held.
As Berke sought to cross the Kura river to attack Hulagu's son, Abaqa Khan, he fell ill and died sometime between 1266 and 1267. He was succeeded by his grandnephew, Mengu-Timur. The policy of alliance with the Mamluks, and containment of the Ilkhanate, was continued by Mengu-Timur. Many historians are in agreement that the intervention by Berke against Hulagu saved the remainder of the Holy Land, including Mecca and Jerusalem, from the same fate as Baghdad.
- The Russian colloquial name Golden Horde for the Kipchak Khanate is believed to have been derived from the steppe color system for the cardinal directions: black – north, blue – east, red – south, white – west, and yellow (or gold) – center, or from the golden field tent of the ruler.
- In this terminology the names Blue and White follow the Persian usage, as do most contemporary historians; in Turkish usage they are reversed, causing some confusion in secondary literature.
- Devin De Weese. Islamization and Native Religion in the Golden Horde, Penn State Press, Sep 1, 1994, ISBN 0-271-01073-8 pg.3
- Peter Jackson, The Mongols and the Islamic World: From Conquest to Conversion (2017), p. 348
- Anne F. Broadbridge, Women and the Making of the Mongol Empire (2018), p. 231-232
- Johan Elverskog (6 June 2011). Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 186–. ISBN 0-8122-0531-6.
- E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936, Volume 7 By Martijn Theodoor Houtsma, page 708
- Michael Pravdin, Lev Nicholaevich Gumilev, Reuven Amitai-Preiss, N. Kruchki
- Amitai-Preiss, Reuven. The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War, 1998
- Chambers, James, The Devil's Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe
- Hildinger, Erik, Warriors of the Steppe: A Military History of Central Asia, 500 B.C. to A.D. 1700
- Morgan, David, The Mongols, ISBN 0-631-17563-6
- Nicolle, David, The Mongol Warlords Brockhampton Press, 1998.
- Reagan, Geoffry, The Guinness Book of Decisive Battles (Canopy Books, New York, 1992).
- Saunders, J. J., The History of the Mongol Conquests (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971).
- Soucek, Svatopluk. A History of Inner Asia, Cambridge, 2000.
- Vásáry, István, "'History and Legend' in Berke Khan's Conversion to Islam", in Aspects of Altaic Civilization, vol. III, ed. D. Sinor, Bloomington (IN), 1990, 230-252 (reprinted in: Idem, Turks, Tatars and Russians in the 13th-16th Centuries (Farnham, Alershot, 2007) (Variorum Collected Studies Series: CS884), XVII.)
House of Borjigin (1206–1634)Died: 1266
| Khan of the Golden Horde