Scourges of God: A General Comparison of Tamerlane and Hulagu in the History of Baghdad
By Michael Hancock
Graduate Paper, Published Online (2011)
Introduction: Archetypes of destruction appear throughout history, but their relationship with reality is tenuous at best, especially in the pre-modern era. Each society can identify itself at least partially by naming the force of destruction against whom it stands in opposition. This paper will seek to compare two such figures, connected by similar cataclysmic events, united in location but separated by more than a century; the sack of Baghdad by Il-Khan Hulagu in 1258 AD and by Tamerlane in 1401 AD. A variety of contemporary sources exist, as well as later histories and commentaries on the sources, and a multitude of modern interpretations. The manipulation of sources suggests that Arab nationalism and Sunni struggles against Shīah incursions may have played some role in the shaping of history, namely because Hulagu’s attack has been redefined as a destruction of Arab culture and even a ‘vengeful’ action against the mighty Arab Empire, while Tamerlane‟s equally ferocious action is rarely given the same attention.
The sacking of Baghdad earned both Hulagu and Tamerlane the epithet ‘scourge of God’, though it will be shown that Hulagu‟s reputation has suffered more, acting as the scapegoat for later failings of Muslim empires. Tamerlane’s reputation has fluctuated over time in various locales, being scorned by his contemporary neighbors and lauded in Europe as a possible savior, even immortalized in song, prose, and on the stage. Tamerlane, unlike Hulagu, has more recently been recreated in the form of an Uzbek national hero for use by the ruling elite of newly independent Uzbekistan. This paper will explore the portrayal of both conquerors in turn, chronologically.