Historical Figures with Unforeseen Downfall and Misfortune
Historical Figures with Unforeseen Downfall and Misfortune

Historical Figures with Unforeseen Downfall and Misfortune

Khalid Elhassan - April 9, 2020

Historical Figures with Unforeseen Downfall and Misfortune
A dinar coined during Al Musta’sim’s reign. Wikimedia

4. The Last Caliph

Al Musta’sim Billah (1213 -1258) was the last ruler of the Abbasid Caliphate, and Islam’s last Caliph. A weak ruler ruling a weak rump of what had once been a mighty empire, Al Musta’sim was surrounded by ineffectual advisors who offered conflicting advice when the Mongols demanded his submission. He rejected the demands, ignoring some and answering others with bluster and empty threats, but failed to prepare adequate defenses against what was sure to follow such rejection.

The Mongols first erupted into the Islamic world in the 1220s, when Genghis Khan destroyed the Khwarezmian Empire and conquered as far west as western Persia up to the edges of Mesopotamia. That outburst was followed by a decades-long relative lull, as far as the Middle East and the Islamic world were concerned. During that stretch, the Mongols directed their energies elsewhere, against China, Kievan Rus, Eastern Europe, and in internal squabbles amongst themselves.

Historical Figures with Unforeseen Downfall and Misfortune
Hulagu leading a charge. Assassins Creed Wiki

3. Misreading the Situation

The lull ended in the 1250s, when a new Mongol ruler, Genghis Khan’s grandson Mongke, turned his attention to the Middle East and sent his brother, Hulagu, to assert Mongol power over the region. Hulagu began by first destroying the Assassins, a murderous cult led by a shadowy mystic known as The Old Man of the Mountain. They operated out of a string of mountain fortresses, from which they terrorized the Middle East for over a century and a half.

Completing that task by 1256, Hulagu turned his attention to the Abbassid Caliphate, based in Baghdad. He ordered its Caliph, Al Musta’sim, to submit to Mongol suzerainty and pay tribute. The Caliph made a catastrophic mistake by misreading the situation, overestimating his own power and influence, and underestimating the Mongols’ might.

Historical Figures with Unforeseen Downfall and Misfortune
A medieval tapestry depicting the Mongol Siege of Baghdad. History Buff

2. Pride Without Power

The Abbassids had once been a powerful dynasty that had ruled the world’s largest, strongest, and most prosperous empire. However, they were centuries removed from their heyday by the time Al Musta’sim became Caliph.

By the 1250s, the Abbasid Caliphate’s sway did not stretch far beyond Baghdad. As to the Caliphs, they had been reduced to mostly ceremonial figureheads, puppets of Turkish or Persian sultans wielding real power and acting in their name. What Caliph Al Musta’sim s still had was a remnant of spiritual and moral authority, and enough pride to refuse Hulagu’s summons to submit.

Historical Figures with Unforeseen Downfall and Misfortune
Mongol Siege of Baghdad. Tes Teach

1. The Caliph Discovers Just How Catastrophically Wrong He Had Been

Al Musta’sim was not prepared to face the Mongols, who had conquered bigger and tougher opponents than the small rump which still remained in the Abbasid Caliphate. However, Al Musta’sim believed that the Mongols would not be able to seize Baghdad, and that if the city was endangered, the Islamic world would rush to its aid. He turned out to be catastrophically wrong.

Hulagu marched on Baghdad, the Islamic world did not rush to its aid, and after a 12-day siege, the city fell. The Mongols sacked Baghdad, massacred its inhabitants, burned its vast libraries, and put the city to the torch. Al Musta’sim was captured, but the Mongols had a taboo against spilling royal blood. So they had him executed by rolling him in a carpet, over which their army rode when it marched off to further conquests, their horses trampling the last Caliph to death.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Beevor, Antony – Stalingrad (1998)

Business Insider, May 17th, 2016 – Here‘s the Story of How the Hunt Brothers Tried to Corner the Silver Market

Ceilan, Cynthia – Thinning the Herd: Tales of the Weirdly Departed (2007)

Clark, Alan – Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-1945 (2000)

Clements, Jonathan – The First Emperor of China (2006)

Conquest, Robert – The Great Terror: A Reassessment

Cracked – 7 People Who Were Proven Wrong as Hard as Humanly Possible

Craig, William – Enemy at the Gates: The Battle For Stalingrad (1973)

Crown Chronicles – History‘s Strangest Deaths: The Duke of Clarence Drowned in a Barrel of Wine

Elting, John R. – Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon‘s Grand Armee (1988)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Al Musta‘sim, Abbasid Caliph

Encyclopedia Britannica – Charles II, King of Navarre

Facing History – Weimar Political Parties

Fall, Bernard B. – Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu (1967)

Glantz, David – Stumbling Colossus: The Red Army on the Eve of World War (1998)

Glantz, David – When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler (1995)

Gonick, Larry – The Cartoon History of the Universe, Part II (1994)

Jacobin, November 25th, 2015 – Hitler Wasn‘t Inevitable

Mitrokhin, Vasili – The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB (1999)

Riehn, Richard K. – 1812: Napoleon‘s Russian Campaign (1991)

Sima Qian – Records of the Grand Historian

Simpson, Howard – Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot (1994)

Snopes – Did a Man Die Demonstrating a Window‘s Strength?

Tuchman, Barbara – A Distant Mirror (1978)

Wikipedia – Franz Reichelt

Wikipedia – Great Purge

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