Mongol conquest of the Qara Khitai

The Mongol Empire conquered the Qara Khitai in the years 1216–1218 AD. Prior to the invasion, war with the Khwarazmian dynasty and the usurpation of power by the Naiman prince Kuchlug had weakened the Qara Khitai. When Kuchlug besieged Almaliq, a city belonging to the Karluks, vassals of the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan dispatched a force under command of Jebe to pursue Kuchlug. After his force of 30,000 was defeated by Jebe at the Khitan capital Balasagun, Kuchlug faced rebellions over his unpopular rule, forcing him to flee to modern Afghanistan, where he was captured by hunters in 1218. The hunters turned Kuchlug over to the Mongols, who beheaded him. Upon defeating the Qara Khitai, the Mongols now had a direct border with the Khwarazmian Empire, which they would soon invade in 1219.

Mongol conquest of the Qara Khitai
Part of the Mongol invasion of Central Asia

Mongol conquest of Qara Khitai (Western Liao) and Chinese regimes
Result Decisive Mongol victory, dissolution of the Qara Khitai
Territories of the Qara Khitai added to Mongol Empire

Mongol Empire

Badakhshani Hunters
Qara Khitai
Commanders and leaders
Jebe Kuchlug 
Units involved
Two tumens unknown
20,000 total unknown, over 30,000
Casualties and losses
minimal unknown


After Genghis Khan defeated the Naimans in 1204, Naiman prince Kuchlug fled his homeland to take refuge among the Qara Khitai. The Gurkhan Yelü Zhilugu welcomed Kuchlug into his empire, and Kuchlug became an advisor and military commander, eventually marrying one of the daughters of Zhilugu. However, during a war with the bordering Khawarzmian dynasty, Kuchlug initiated a coup d'état against Zhilegu. After Kuchlug took power, he allowed Zhilegu to rule the Qara Khitai in name only.[1] When the Gurkhan died in 1213, Kuchlug took direct control of the khanate.[1] Originally a Nestorian, once among the Khitai Kuchlug converted to Buddhism and began persecuting the Muslim majority, forcing them to convert to either Buddhism or Christianity, a move which alienated Kuchlug from most of the population.[2][1] When Kuchlug besieged the Karluk city of Almaliq, the Karluks, vassals of the Mongol Empire, requested aid from Genghis Khan.[3]


In 1216, after requesting Muhammad II of Khwarazm not to aid Kuchlug, Genghis Khan dispatched general Jebe with two tumens (20,000 soldiers) to deal with the Qara Khitai threat, while sending Subutai with another two tumens on a simultaneous campaign against the Merkits.[4][5] The two armies traveled alongside each other through the Altai and Tarbagatai Mountains until arriving at Almaliq.[5] At that point, Subutai turned southwest, destroying the Merkits and protecting Jebe's flank against any sudden attacks from Khwarazm.[6][7] Jebe relieved Almaliq, then moved south of Lake Balkash into the lands of the Qara Khitai, where he besieged the capital of Balasagun. There, Jebe defeated an army of 30,000 troops and Kuchlug fled to Kashgar. Taking advantage of the unrest fomenting under Kuchlug's rule, Jebe gained support from the Muslim populace by announcing that Kuchlug's policy of religious persecution had ended. When Jebe's army arrived at Kashgar in 1217, the populace revolted and turned on Kuchlug, forcing him to flee for his life.[8][9] Jebe pursued Kuchlug across the Pamir Mountains into Badakhshan in modern Afghanistan. According to Ata-Malik Juvayni, a group of hunters caught Kuchlug and handed him over to the Mongols, who promptly beheaded him.[10]


With the death of Kuchlug, the Mongol Empire secured control over the Qara Khitai. Another segment of the Qara Khitai, from a dynasty founded by Buraq Hajib, survived in Kirman as vassals of the Mongols, but ceased to exist as an entity during the reign of the Mongol Ilkhanid ruler Öljaitü.[11] The Mongols now had a firm outpost in Central Asia directly bordering the Khwarazm Empire.[9] Relations with the Khwarazms would quickly break down, leading to the Mongol invasion of that territory.[9]



  1. Golden 2011, p. 82.
  2. Morgan 2007, p. 54.
  3. Soucek 2000, Chapter 6 – Seljukids and Ghazvanids.
  4. Lococo 2008, p. 75.
  5. Gabriel 2004, p. 70.
  6. Lococo 2008, p. 76.
  7. Gabriel 2004, pp. 70–71.
  8. Turnbull 2003, p. 16.
  9. Beckwith 2009, pp. 187–188.
  10. Juvayni c. 1260, pp. 67–68"When he drew near to Sarigh-Chopan, he mistook the road (as it was right that he should do) and entered a valley which had no egress. Some Badakhshani huntsmen were hunting in the neighbouring mountains. They caught sight of Küchlüg and his men and turned towards them; while the Mongols came up from the other side. As the valley was of a rugged nature and the going was difficult, the Mongols came to an agreement with the hunters. 'These men', they said, 'are Küchlüg and his followers, who have escaped from our grasp. If you capture Küchlüg and deliver him up to us, we shall ask nothing more of you.' These men accordingly surrounded Küchlüg and his followers, took him prisoner and handed him over to the Mongols; who cut off his head and bore it away with them."
  11. Biran 2005, p. 87.


  • Beckwith, Christopher I. (2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 1-4008-2994-1.
  • Biran, Michal (2005). The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-84226-3.
  • Docherty, Paddy (2008). The Khyber Pass: A History of Empire and Invasion. New York City: Union Square Press. ISBN 1-4027-5696-8.
  • Gabriel, Richard A. (2004). Genghis Khan's Greatest General: Subotai the Valiant. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3734-7.
  • Golden, Peter B. (2011). Central Asia in World History. New York City: Oxford University Press, United States. ISBN 0-19-533819-7.
  • Juvayni, Ata-Malik (c. 1260). The History of The World Conqueror. Translated by John Andrew Boyle from Tarīkh-i Jahān-gushā, ed. Mohammad Ghazvini. Harvard University Press (published 1958).
  • Lococo, Paul (2008). Genghis Khan: History's Greatest Empire Builder. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books. ISBN 1-61234-060-1.
  • Morgan, David (2007). The Mongols (2nd ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 1-4051-3539-5.
  • Soucek, Svatopluk (2000). A History of Inner Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-65704-0.
  • Turnbull, Stephen (2003). Genghis Khan & the Mongol Conquests 1190–1400. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-523-6.
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