20080217-bombing attack u wash.jpg
Mongol bombing attack
Kublai Khan ultimately bankrupted his khanate and wasted the lives of many Mongols and non-Mongols in mostly unsuccessful attempts to expand his empire. Naval campaigns against Japan (1274 and 1281) and Java (1293) were defeated. Land campaigns into Burma, Vietnam and what is now the Yunnan Province in China were successful but costly.

The leaders of the Burmese kingdom of Pagan decided to flee their capital instead of fight the Mongols. The Vietnamese, however, were willing to fight. When the king of the Vietnamese kingdom of Annam refused passage to Mongol troops in 1281, the Mongols attacked and suffered terrible losses in the jungle terrain. Pagan and Annam both became vassal states of Yuan dynasty in 1287.

Neither Khublai nor Hulegu made a serious effort to avenge the defeat of Mongols by the Mamluks at Ain Jalut in the Middle East. Both devoted their attention primarily to consolidating their conquests, to suppressing dissidence, and to reestablishing law and order. Like their uncle, Batu, and his Golden Horde successors, they limited their offensive moves to occasional raids or to attacks with limited objectives in unconquered neighboring regions. After the failure of two invasion attempts against Japan in 1274 and 1281, Khublai also gave up his goal of expansion to the east. In January 1293, Khublai invaded Java and defeated the local ruler, only to be driven off the island by a Javanese ally who turned against him.*

In 1292, Kublai Khan sent 1,000 ships and 20,000 troops to Java to exact justice from a Javanese ruler who refused to pay tribute to the khanate and branded the face of one of Kublai Khan's emissaries and cut off his ears and nose. The Mongols were successful at first but ultimately their battle tactics were ineffective in Java’s tropical terrain. In 1293, they retreated back to China in humiliating defeatafter losing 3,000 men in an ambush.

Books: “The Mongols” by Stephen Turnbull; “Genghis Khan and the Mongol Conquests” by Stephen Turnbull; “Fighting Ships of the Far East” by Stephen Turnbull

Websites and Resources: Mongols and Horsemen of the Steppe: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; The Mongol Empire web.archive.org/web ; The Mongols in World History afe.easia.columbia.edu/mongols ; William of Rubruck's Account of the Mongols washington.edu/silkroad/texts ; Mongol invasion of Rus (pictures) web.archive.org/web ; Encyclopædia Britannica article britannica.com ; Mongol Archives historyonthenet.com ; “The Horse, the Wheel and Language, How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes shaped the Modern World", David W Anthony, 2007 archive.org/details/horsewheelandlanguage ; The Scythians - Silk Road Foundation silkroadfoundation.org ; Scythians iranicaonline.org ; Encyclopaedia Britannica article on the Huns britannica.com ; Wikipedia article on Eurasian nomads Wikipedia

Mongols in South-East Asia

Mongol Empire map 2
Mongol empire expansion
Present-day Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, were the targets of Kublai Khan's last efforts at expanding Mongol lands southward from China. The jungle-covered, hot and humid lands of Southeast Asia were quite different from the steppes of Central Asia and stretched the Mongol armies to their limits. There were also the challenges of a sea transport and unfamiliar styles of warfare.

According to historian Stephen Turnbull: “The Mongols had fought everywhere from the steppes of Mongolia to the snowy forests of Russia, from the mountains in Korea to the deserts of Syria but it was in the jungles of south-east Asia were the Mongols were faced with conditions and factors that were the most unfamiliar to them. These factors, most notably the heat and humidity took their toll on the Mongol military. Dense jungles, tropical swamps and long rivers were not suited to Mongol styles of warfare and although the Mongol army was able to adapt they were essentially never in their element during any of their south-east Asian campaigns.” [Source: “The Mongols” by Stephen Turnbull; “Genghis Khan and the Mongol Conquests” by Stephen Turnbull; Bloodswan: medieval2.heavengames.com *^*]

The Mongol wars in Southeast Asia marked the southern limit of the Mongol conquests. By this time the Mongol empire had split into various khanates with the most notable being the Il-khans of Persia, the Golden horde of Russia and the Jagadai khanate of central Asia. On top of this was the Yuan dynasty of China founded by Kublai Khan. A series of wars between the khanates effectively ended Mongol expansion westward whilst the campaigns against Japan and in Southeast Asia ordered under Kublai ended eastward expansion of the Yuan Mongol-Chinese Empire. These campaigns were very costly and many ended without effectively achieving their goals. The Mongol failures in Southeast Asia and Japan also marked the beginning of the end of Mongol power in China by undermining the Yuan dynasty's formidable military reputation.

Mongol Invasions of Vietnam

Mongol-Yuan Dynasty in 1294

In 1257, 1284, and 1287, the Mongol armies of Kublai Khan invaded Vietnam, sacking the capital at Thang Long (renamed Hanoi in 1831) on each occasion, only to find that the Vietnamese had anticipated their attacks and evacuated the city beforehand. Disease, shortage of supplies, the climate, and the Vietnamese strategy of harassment and scorched earth tactics foiled the first two invasions. [Source: Library of Congress *]

When the country was invaded by the Mongols, General Tran Hung Dao, wrote a proclamation to the army which is one of the jewels in the treasury of our national literature: I can neither eat nor sleep, my heart aches, and tears trickle down from my eyes; I am enraged at being unable yet to tear the enemy to pieces, pluck out his liver, taste his blood. But you are neither disturbed nor ashamed by the humiliation suffered by your king and your fatherland. You who are officers and generals of our royal army, how can you serve the enemy without feeling hatred? How can you listen to the music greeting enemy envoys without choking with anger? You spend your time watching cock fights, gambling, tending your gardens, looking after your wives and children. You are busy making money and forget about state affairs.

"The pleasures of hunting prevail in your minds over your military preoccupations. You are absorbed in wine and song. If the country were invaded by the Mongols, your cock's spurs would not be able to pierce their armour, your gambling tricks could not replace military strategy. You may possess immense gardens and fields but even a thousand taels of gold could not redeem your lives. Your wives and children would only encumber you; all the gold in the world could not buy the enemy's head, Your hunting dogs could not drive him away, your wine could not intoxicate him to death, sweet songs could not seduce him. Then both You and I would be in the enemy's clutches. Not only could I no longer enjoy my appanages, but you too would lose all your privileges; not only would my family be broken up, woe would also befall your wives and children; both royal ancestral temples and your own ancestors' graves would be trampled upon; dishonour would stain both my name and yours, not only during our lifetime, but for centuries to come. Would you then persist in pleasure-seeking?" ~

First Mongol Invasion of Vietnam

Mongol-Yuan invasion route in 1258

At the beginning of the 13th century, Gengis Khan, having unified Mongolia, started a war of conquest against China. In 1253, Kublai conquered the Dali kingdom in present-day Yunnan Province and reached the Vietnamese frontier. The Mongols demanded passage through Dai Viet (northern Vietnam) in order to attack the Song from the south (1257), but the Tran Dynasty that ruled Dai Viet refused. A Mongol army invaded Dai Viet, smashed its defenses, and seized the capital Thang Long, which was put to the sword and burnt to the ground. The King Tran left the capital, which was also abandoned by its inhabitants. The Mongol army were not able to obtain food and fared badly in the tropical climate. A Vietnamese counter-offensive drove the Mongols out of the capital. In retreat, the enemy was attacked by local partisans from an ethnic minority group living in the Phu Tho region. This was the first Mongol defeat. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Historian Stephen Turnbull wrote: “In 1253 Kublai Khan annexed the Chinese province of Yunnan in a successful out-flanking move against Song China. During this campaign the Mongols destroyed the Nanzhao kingdom based at it's capital of Dali. The campaign itself was carried out by Uriangkhadai, the son of the famous Mongol general Subodai Bahadur. In 1257 Uriangkhadai led another expedition into the lands that we now know as Vietnam. At the time of the campaign Vietnam was divided by two kingdoms. In the north was the kingdom of Annam with their capital at Hanoi and in the south was the Champa kingdom whose capital at the time was Vijaya. The Mongol advance against the Annamese was so rapid and devastating that the king fled to an offshore island and in 1258 recognised Mongol authority over his kingdom by sending his son as a hostage to the Khan's court.[Source: “The Mongols” by Stephen Turnbull; “Genghis Khan and the Mongol Conquests” by Stephen Turnbull, Bloodswan: medieval2.heavengames.com *^*]

Second Mongol Invasion of Vietnam

The Second Mongol Invasion of Vietnam took place after Kublai Khan asked the Vietnamese emperor for permission to cross Vietnamese territory to attack Champa but the emperor refused. Historian Stephen Turnbull wrote: It was not until 1273 that the King of Champa received a command to pay homage to the Khan. Recalling the fate of Annam, the king immediately sent a tribute of 20 elephants to the Mongol court. However in 1281 his successor, King Jaya Indravarman IV refused to continue paying this humiliating tribute. Kublai responded to this by sending one of his leading officals, Sodu on a sea expedition against the king. Commanding a force of 100 ships and 5,000 men, Sodu landed on the Champa coast, but the king withdrew to the mountains and a fierce guerrilla war prevented the Mongols from making any headway.*^*[Source: “The Mongols” by Stephen Turnbull; “Genghis Khan and the Mongol Conquests” by Stephen Turnbull, Bloodswan: medieval2.heavengames.com *^*]

According to the Vietnamese government: "Once they had become the overlords of China, the Mongols grew more and more demanding towards Dai Viet. Despite concession, by the Tran, the Mongol court remained intransigent, dreaming of conquering both Dai Viet and Champa. Relations between the two countries remained tense, and Mongols envoys behaved with arrogance at the Tran court. The Tran were not inactive, but rather made serious preparations for the country's defense. In 1281, Tran Di Ai, a member of the royal family, was sent as an envoy to China. The Mongols persuaded him to accept his investiture by them as king of Dai Viet. He returned to the country with an escort of 1,000 soldiers to ascend the throne. However, the Mongol escort was beaten and he was captured. In the meantime, the Mongols had completed preparations for an expedition by sea against Champa. At the end of 1282, a Mongol general, Toa Do (Gogetu), landed in Champa and seized its capital in 1281. But Cham resistance decimated the Mongol army. In 1284, Toa Do began withdrawing his troops, regrouping them in the northern part of Champa near the Vietnamese frontier, and awaiting further developments. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Kublai had been making preparations for a powerful expedition against Dai Viet and Champa; under the command of his son Thoat Hoan (Toghan), 500,000 cavalrymen and infantrymen were to rush southward to push the frontiers of the Mongol empire to the southernmost part of the Indochina peninsula. King Tran Nhan Tong was aware of the enemy's strategy. As early as 1282, he had assembled and consulted all the princes and high-ranking dignitaries on the action to be taken; their unanimous response was to fight. Tran Quoc Toan, only 16 years old, recruited a guard of 1,000 men to go to the front. At the close of 1283, all the princes and dignitaries were ordered to put their troops under the supreme command of Tran Hung Dao. A congress of village elders from all over the country was convened and the following question put to them: "Should we capitulate or fight?" A great cry rose from the assembly: "Fight!" ~

The Mongols demanded that their troops be allowed to pass through Dai Viet territory for the invasion of Champa. At the close of 1284, they crossed the frontier. The Vietnamese force, totaling a mere 200,000 men, was unable to withstand the first onslaught. Tran Hung Dao ordered the evacuation of the capital and was asked by the king: "The enemy is so strong that a protracted War might bring terrible destruction down upon the people. Wouldn't it be better to lay down our arms to save the population?" The general answered: "I understand Your Majesty's humane feelings perfectly, but what would become of our ancestors' land, of our forefathers' temples? If you want to surrender, please have my head cut off first". The king was reassurred. Hung Dao wrote a handbook on military strategy for his officers' use and issued a famous appeal which so inspired his men that they all had "Death to the Mongols!" tattooed on their arms. In the villages placards were put up enjoining the population to resist the invader by every possible means and, if necessary, to take refuge in the forests and mountains and continue the struggle. ~

War Elephants and Guerrilla Warfare in Second Mongol Invasion of Vietnam

According to historian Stephen Turnbull: “War elephants would have played a part in the battles. The Mongols had faced elephants before in Persia but not in the numbers they probably faced during their south-east Asian campaigns. In Vietnam elephants had an established military role. Vietnamese elephants carried only one warrior as well as a mahout. The elephants took an active role in the fighting themselves and were described as taking on foot soldiers and hurling them into the air and attacked with their tusks. Another important note to point out was that the Mongol cavalry was useless in the jungle. The elephants were much better suited to jungle fighting. An interesting development in the use of elephants was also used against Sodu. A two man crossbow was used on the back of the elephant and acted as a mobile artillery unit. This technique was used by the Champa against the Khmer empire in 1177. “ [Source: “The Mongols” by Stephen Turnbull; “Genghis Khan and the Mongol Conquests” by Stephen Turnbull; Bloodswan: medieval2.heavengames.com *^*]

The Champa had many fortified jungle fortresses, some with walls nine meters in height. The Mongols were forced to ask the Annam empire for assistance but the king Tran Thah-ton was not willing to allow a large Mongol force in his territory despite paying regular tribute to the Mongols. Soon the Annam kingdom also resisted against the Mongols. The guerrilla wars continued to take their toll on the Mongols and soon pestilence broke out in the Mongol camp. This added to the unfamiliar troubles of heavy rainfall and stifling heat which caused a severe drop in Mongol morale. In the summer of 1285 the Mongols were defeated at the decisive battle of Siming where Sodu was killed.*^*

Second Defeat of the Mongols by the Vietnamese

In early 1285, the Mongols captured several posts, crossed the Red River and entered Thang Long. The capital was ransacked and its inhabitants massacred. General Tran Binh Trong was taken prisoner. When the enemy tried to win him over he said: "I would rather be a ghost in the south than a prince in the north", and was subsequently executed. The Mongol general Toa Do left Champa to join up with the army led by his colleague O Ma Nhi (Omar). A Vietnamese army under the command of Tran Quang Khai was beaten off when it tried to block his way in Nghe An Province. The Mongol fleet was sailing up the Red River. Many princes and nobles, among them LeTac and Tran Ich Tac, betrayed their country. The Tran court had to take refuge in Thanh Hoa Province. The Mongols controlled the greater part of the Red River Delta and Thanh Hoa and Nghe An provinces, i.e. the majority of the country's territory. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Mongol attack
However, in the process the Mongols were forced to distribute their forces among a multitude of vulnerable posts and patrols whose task was to keep communications open. In the first months of 1285, local chiefs in the uplands inficted losses on the Mongols, while in the delta the population, leaving a vacuum before the enemy, denied them all access to supplies and put them in a most difficult position. The determination of the Tran command was thus able to be brought into full play. ~

From Nghe An Province, Toa Do's troops, harassed by guerrillas, tried to move up the Red River and join the Mongol army stationed farther north. The Trap sent 50,000 men to intercept them, and the Mongols suffered an overwhelming defeat at Ham Tu (Hung Yen Province). Fired up by this victory, Tran Hung Dao's troops dashed towards the capital. Chuong Duong, an outpost 20 kilometers south of Thang Long, was taken. And when the King Tran with his troops left their Thanh Hoa refuge to advance toward the capital, the population rose up, harassing the rearguard of the Mongol armies. Enemy troops evacuated Thang Long and withdrew north of the Red River. The bulk of the Vietnamese forces threw themselves into battle against Toa Do's army, which was crushed at Tay Ket in July 1285; the Mongol general was killed and 50,000 of his men captured. ~

After posting troops along the route taken by the enemy as they retreated towards China, Hung Dao staged a frontal attack on the Mongol army. As the latter drew back, it fell into ambushes. Thoat Hoan, the Mongol commander-in-chief, escaped by hiding in a bronze cask. By August 1285, the whole country had been liberated, and the Mongol army of half a million strong defeated. ~

Mongols Invade Vietnam for the Third Time

In 1287, an army of 300,000 Mongols returned with the purpose of the fighting the Vietnamese not the Chams. Under the Vietnamese hero, Tran Hung Dao, a Mongol fleet was lured into a battle fought on Vietnamese terms. Borrowing a tactic used by Ngo Quyen in 938 to defeat an invading Chinese fleet, the Vietnamese discreetly drove iron-tipped stakes into the bed of the Bach Dang River (located in northern Vietnam in present-day Ha Bac, Hai Hung, and Quang Ninh provinces) at night, and the next day, with a small Vietnamese flotilla, lured the Mongol fleet into the river just as the tide was starting to ebb. Trapped or impaled by the iron-tipped stakes, the entire Mongol fleet of 400 craft was sunk, captured, or burned by Vietnamese fire arrows. The Mongol army retreated to China, harassed enroute by Tran Hung Dao's troops. [Source: Library of Congress]

Trần Quốc Tuấn, Vietnam's hero in the final defeat of the Mongols

Historian Stephen Turnbull wrote: “The campaign into Annam was launched in 1286 and reached Hanoi the following year. The city was captured and the king fled once again. Not completely satisfied with his victory, the Mongol commander Toghon returned during the hot season of 1288. After the Annamese captured a number of Mongolian settlements they had shortage of food and the Toghan found himself in a tight corner. Toghan had to split his army into two and retreat home. Bridges and roads were destroyed and attacks were launched by the Annamese. In early April a supply fleet led by Omar fled home along the Bach Dang river. [Source: “The Mongols” by Stephen Turnbull; “Genghis Khan and the Mongol Conquests” by Stephen Turnbull, Bloodswan: medieval2.heavengames.com *^*]

Before the attack on the Vietnamese, Kublai Khan was forced to abandon plans for a third invasion of Japan in order to make preparations for a revenge expedition against Dai Viet. As the Tran princes sought to recruit new troops, General Tran Hung Dao said to them: "The strength of an army lies in its quality, not numbers". And to the anxious king he said, "Our troops are now better trained, while the enemy, having suffered a defeat, has lost morale. Victory will be easier". In late 1287, Thoat Hoan again crossed the frontier with 300,000 men while a Mongol fleet of 500 vessels headed for the Vietnamese coast. The King Tran again left the capital. The Mongol general O Ma Nhi sent him this warning: "Even if you fled to the sky I'd go after you. I'd pursue you to the bottom of the seas, to the heart of the forests, if necessary!" The Mongols sought to occupy more and more territory, but found only deserted areas around them. The Yuan (name of the Mongol dynasty) annals relate: "The Chiao Chih (Dai Viet) population hid their rice and fled". The invading army ran short of supplies. Thoat Hoan ordered the capital set on fire, then withdrew north of the Red River; during that time, his troops were constantly harassed by the Tran army and the population. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Defeat of the Mongols by the Vietnamese at Bach Dang in 1288

Trần Quốc Tuấn on the 500 dong banknote

At Van Don on the coast (near present-day Halong), General Tran Khanh Du kept a close watch on Mongol supply convoys. He caught the enemy fleet unawares, destroyed it and seized the cargoes of food. The enemy was greatly demoralized on hearing the news. The Mongols pillaged the countryside, but the population put up a heroic resistance. Thoat Hoan was told by his generals: "We have no more citadels left, no more food; the strategic passes have been lost, and summer will soon come with its retinue of diseases. We'd better withdraw". The Mongol retreat was effected by land through Lang Son and by sea, the fleet sailing down the Bach Dang River. ~

Historian Stephen Turnbull wrote: “After evacuating civilians from the new capital of Thang Long, the Annamese decided to launch an offensive against the Mongolians in an estuary of the Bach Dang river. The Annamese general was Tran Hung Dao. He used the same tactic as a famous Vietnamese general had done several centuries before him against a Chinese invasion at the same location. He carefully planted stakes under the water at a chosen location and organised ambush parties along the river. The trap was now set.*^* [Source: “The Mongols” by Stephen Turnbull; “Genghis Khan and the Mongol Conquests” by Stephen Turnbull, Bloodswan: medieval2.heavengames.com *^*]

"Once the Mongols reached Bach Dang, some Annamese boats harassed the Mongols then fled. As the Mongols pursued thousands of boats ambushed them. Inflicted with a sudden and strong attack, the Mongols tried to withdraw to the sea in panic. Hitting the stakes, their boats were halted and many were sunk. At that time, a number of fire rafts quickly rushed toward them setting fire to several Mongolian vessels. Frightened, the Mongolian troops jumped down to get to the banks where they were dealt a heavy blow by a big army led by Tran Hung Dao. The Mongolian supply fleet was totally destroyed and Omar was captured.t the same time another army led by Dai Viet made continuous attacks and defeated Toghan's army on its route of withdrawal through Lang Son. Toghan risked his life making a short cut through forests to flee home.*^*

According to the Vietnamese government:Tran Hung Dao used Ngo Quyen's old stratagem, iron-tipped stakes planted at the mouth of the river. General Pham Ngu Lao was sent to Lang Son to guard the mountain passes. Tran Hung Dao himself took the bulk of the troops across the Hoa River (Kien An Province) and launched a big offensive. When crossing the river, Hung Dao publicly swore the following oath: "If the Mongols are not defeated, we will not recross this river". At high tide, the Mongol fleet sailing down the Bach Dang was engaged by a small Vietnamese fleet which soon retreated. O Ma Nhi's forces were pursuing it when Tran Hung Dao's army turned up. The Mongol fleet beat a hasty retreat, but by this time the tide was ebbing and the Mongol junks broke up on the iron-tipped stakes. O Ma Nhi was taken prisoner and 100 of his junks were destroyed and another 400 captured (April 3, 1288). Thoat Hoan was terrified on learning the news, and hurriedly withdrew. His troops were decimated during their retreat, the third Mongol defeat. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The kings of Annam and Champa realised the need to negotiate with the Mongols in order to escape further attack. Both kingdoms offered token tribute to Kublai and submitted to Mongol authority. As both kings had anticipated though this simply meant that they were left alone. In late 1288, in the Confucian way, Vietnam sent emissaries to apologize for the "irresponsible behavior" of their soldiers while they sued for peace. King Tran offered a tribute to the Mongol court. In 1289, he handed over the captured Mongol generals and officers. The Chinese court wanted more than this formal recognition of suzerainty but its demands were not accepted. In 1293, the Mongols began organizing another expedition but Kublai died in 1294 and his son Timour abandoned the project. The new ruler established friendly relations with Dai Viet, which continued to pay tribute annually to the Mongol court. ~

Battle of Bach Dang

Mongol Campaign in Burma

Beginning in the early 13th century, the Shans began to encircle the Pagan Empire from the north and the east. The Mongols, who had conquered Yunnan, the former homeland of the Burmans in 1253, began their invasion of Burma in 1277, and in 1287 sacked Pagan, ending the Pagan kingdom's 250-year rule of the Irrawaddy valley and its periphery. Pagan's rule of central Burma came to an end ten years later in 1297 when it was toppled by Myinsaing. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The first signs of disorder appeared soon after Narathihapate's accession in 1256. The inexperienced king faced revolts in Arakanese state of Macchagiri (present-day Kyaukpyu District) in the west, and Martaban (Mottama) in the south. The Martaban rebellion was easily put down but Macchagiri required a second expedition before it too was put down. The calm did not last long. Martaban again revolted in 1281. This time, Pagan could not do anything to retake Martaban because it was facing an existential threat from the north.

The first invasion in 1277 defeated the Burmese at the battle of Ngasaunggyan, and secured their hold of Kanngai (modern-day Yingjiang, Yunnan, 112 kilometers north of Bhamo). In 1283–84, their forces moved south and occupied Bhamo. In 1287, Mongol armies invaded farther south once again. Instead of defending the country, the king fled Pagan for Lower Burma where he was assassinated by one of his sons.

Kublai Khan’s Attack on Pagan

In 1277, Kublai Khan attacked Pagan after the conquest of Yunnan, reportedly after the eccentric King Narathihapate---"the swallower of 300 dishes of curry daily"” refused to pay a tribute and murdered an envoy sent by the Great Khan. During Narathihapate'a rule Pagan's resources had been depleted by a massive temple-building campaign and other indulgences, bankrupting the kingdom and making it ripe for defeat.

There some doubts about exactly how Kublai Khan defeated the Burmese. Marco Polo reported that he defeated the Southeast Asian empire with only jugglers and clowns, while the Burmese claim the Great Khan employed six million horsemen and twenty million foot soldiers. Most historian believe the Mongol-Chinese force consisted of 12,000 horsemen and a smaller number of foot soldiers.


Historian Stephen Turnbull wrote: In 1271 the Yunnan government in Dali was used by Kublai to demand tribute from the king of Burma, Narathihapate. Narathihapate, who was said to have 3,000 concubines, sent back the Yunnan ambassadors empty handed. In 1273 Kublai sent more ambassadors along with a letter written by himself demanding tribute. This time however the ambassadors were killed over a dispute involving not taking off their shoes in the king's presence. The Yunnanese convinced the Khan that only war would bring the kingdom of Burma under Mongol control. [Source: “The Mongols” by Stephen Turnbull; “Genghis Khan and the Mongol Conquests” by Stephen Turnbull, Bloodswan: medieval2.heavengames.com *^*]

Mongol Campaign in Burma

The Mongols under Kublai Khan demanded tribute, in 1271 and again in 1273. When Narathihapate refused both times, the Mongols systematically invaded the country. In 1277, Kublai Khan attacked Pagan after the conquest of Yunnan, reportedly after the eccentric King Narathihapate—"the swallower of 300 dishes of curry daily"— refused to pay a tribute and murdered an envoy sent by the Great Khan. During his rule much of the kingdom’s resources was spent on temple building and other indulgences that bankrupted Pagan and made it ripe for defeat.

Historian Stephen Turnbull wrote: Action was not taken until 1277 when an unwise raid by the Burmese into southern China made a response inevitable. Kublai sent Nasir al-Din, son of his trusted retainer Saiyid Ajall into Burma with the objective of taking the capital Pagan. The Mongols continued their advance until heat and exhaustion forced them to return to China. The Burmese king did not learn from his mistake and after further Burmese raids Kublai sent his grandson Temur on a second campaign against Burma to kill the "insolent king". The capital of Pagan was sacked and Narathihapate fled. Narathihapate was poisoned by his son, who later lost what was left of his kingdom to the Mongols in 1287 at the battle of Vochan.[Source: “The Mongols” by Stephen Turnbull; “Genghis Khan and the Mongol Conquests” by Stephen Turnbull, Bloodswan: medieval2.heavengames.com *^*]

sites of Mongol battles in Burma

The crucial battle took place in Vochan (Ngasaungsyan), 350 miles north of Pagan, near the Chinese border. Mongol horses initially shied away when they confronted a Burmese army consisted of 2,000 battle elephants and thousands of foot soldiers. But ultimately the Mongol-Chinese force prevailed after Kublai Khan's forces lured the Burmese army into a forest. Mounted Mongol archers outmaneuvered and "made pincushions of Pagan's vaunted war elephants” and “shattered the elephant cavalry's myth of invincibility."

Turnbull wrote: Burma presented similar challenges to Vietnam and Marco Polo's description of the battle of Ngasaungyyan actually compressed a decade of campaigning in Burma. In one of his accounts his mentions an encounter on the plain of Vochan between the Mongol cavalry and Burmese war elephants. The account described how 12,000 well equipped Mongol cavalry faced a Burmese army of 60,000 plus 2,000 elephants. The elephants were used by the Burmese differently to the Annamese and held between twelve to sixteen men upon wooden castles on their backs. The Mongol's horses could not be made to go anywhere near the elephants so the Mongol general had them tied up to trees and the Mongols fought dismounted. From cover of the trees they fired volley upon volley of arrows into the vulnerable parts of the elephants until they were driven away. Once the elephants had been driven away the Mongols mounted their horses and attacked the Burmese infantry defeating them. After the battle the Mongol commander took some elephants back to Kublai who included them in his armies.

It is not clear whether the Mongols Khan every occupied Pagan. Recent research indicates that Mongol armies may not have reached Pagan itself, and that even if they did, the damage they inflicted was probably minimal. But the damage was already done. All the vassal states of Pagan revolted right after the king's death, and went their own way. In the south, Wareru, the man who had seized the governorship of Martaban in 1281, consolidated Mon-speaking regions of Lower Burma, and declared Ramannadesa (Land of the Mon) independent on 4 April 1287. In the west too, Arakan stopped paying tribute. The chronicles report that the eastern territories including trans-Salween states of Keng Hung, Kengtung and Chiang Mai stopped paying tribute although most scholars attribute Pagan's limits to the Salween. At any rate, the 250-year-old Pagan Empire had ceased to exist.

Mongols and Siam and Khmer Empire

20080216-mongol archers brook.jpg
Mongol archer
Historian Stephen Turnbull wrote: The Mongol campaigns in Siam were vastly different from those of the others already mentioned. The land we know as Thailand today was at this time a number of separate states. King Ramkhamhaeng of Siam whose capital was at Sukhothai took a very different approach to the Mongol empire than his contemporaries in Burma and Java. The king of Siam actively sought good relations with Kublai and negotiated a treaty of amity with the Yuan dynasty in 1282. He made a personal visit to China to see the khan shortly before his death in 1294. [Source: “The Mongols” by Stephen Turnbull; “Genghis Khan and the Mongol Conquests” by Stephen Turnbull, Bloodswan: medieval2.heavengames.com *^*]

To the north of Siam was the kingdom of Lan Na. It was ruled by King Mangrai whose capital was at Chiang Mai. A border dispute led to war in 1296 but an expedition carried out in 1301 ended in a Mongol disaster.*^*

The only other kingdom not yet mentioned is that of the Khmers of Cambodia. This once glorious empire that built the wonderful temples, shrines and palaces of Angkor was already overrun by Thais. They had already taken Sukhothai from the Khmers in 1220 and made it their capital. Ramkhamhaeng played a master-stroke in this regard. Whilst the Mongols threatened to destroy their enemies in Burma and Vietnam and with his Northern opponent in Lan Na in a state of concern, King Ramkhamhaeng could prosper at the Khmer's expense. His Mongol allies had no concern over his realm and if matters changed, he still had Lan Na as a buffer in the north. Angkor held out until 1431 when it was finally taken by the Siamese. *^*

Mongol Invasion of Java

Chinese ships
Of all the Mongol campaigns in Southeast Asia, Java was the most far flung and ranked with the Japanese invasion as the most disastrous. The process began as it had in Burma and Vietnam with the Mongol envoy demanding tribute from Java's ruler, king Kertanagara. The king responded by branding the ambassador's face. The invasion began in 1292 with a fleet sailing out from Daytoun (Quanzhou). The journey took several months and the fleet did not land in Java until 1293. The landing spot was near present day Rembang on Java's north-east coast. The Mongol commander ordered half of his troops to proceed overland in a show of force whilst the rest of his troops would continue eastward by sea. The rendezvous point was at Surabaya.

The Mongol expedition out in 1292 to avenge the grave insult to the Mongol ambassador. Depending on the sources, the Mongol emissaries' faces were branded with a hot iron or tattooed and possibly had their ears cut-off— punishments usually meted to common criminals. The Mongols took three years to assemble the invasion fleet which is said to have included 20,000 to 30,000, possibly predominantly Chinese forces in 1000 ships. There was also a years worth of grain and large amounts of silver. (Paul Michel Munoz in Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and Malay Peninsula quoting unreferenced Yuan sources claims a figure of 100 000, including cavalry.) The command structure was interesting with a Mongol, Shi-pi, a veteran of the war against the Song Chinese in overall command. The ground forces were commanded by a Chinese, Kao Xing - presumably not an easily defeated enemy Chinese general from the recent Mongol campaign against the Song. The naval forces were under a Uighur, named Ikh-Musu, he was probably there for his command experience and not for his maritime skill, although China's most famous marinner, Zheng He also hailed from the interior of China. [Source: asianmil.typepad.com *^*]

The historian Stephen Turnbull wrote: “A large naval force comparable to that used against Japan 11 years earlier carried out the invasion. The fleet set sail from Quanzhou (the place that Marco Polo calls Daytoun) and took several months to reach Java because they chose an open-sea route, calling at small islands, rather than one that followed the coast through Malacca and Sumatra. We are told that 'the wind was strong and the sea very rough, so that the ships rolled heavily and the soldiers could not eat for many days.' [Source: Stephen Turnbull, January 24 2004 +++]

The fleet departed from southern China and tracked down along what is now modern Vietnam. There is some dispute in the sources as to whether the fleet tried to land in Champa and were rejected (Munoz and Delgado) or whether the fleet headed directly for Java (Man). Man goes further and suggests that Kertanegara had already placed forces in Champa to deal with any fleet and so the decision to avoid that location actually worked in the Mongol's favour. the voyage had been hard and that the army was in a weakened state. *^*

Mongols Arrive in Java

location of Java

Turnbull wrote: “The Mongols landed early in 1293 near to present-day Rembang on the north-eastern coast of Java. The Mongol commander landed half his army here and instructed them to march overland in a show of force, while the rest of the troops continued eastwards by sea. Their rendezvous point was Surabaya, where the river, which provided the orientation for the land forces, entered the sea. The two armies joined up around the beginning of May, and the land party expressed surprise that they had met with so little resistance as they crossed a landscape already scarred by recent fighting. An explanation was soon forthcoming. A Javanese rebel had taken advantage of the turmoil caused by the Mongols' arrival and had overthrown and killed King Kertanagara. Kertanagara's son-in-Iaw, Prince Vijaya, was carrying on the struggle in the south of the country near present-day Kediri, which accounted for the absence of Javanese troops in the north. Hoping to use the Mongol army to help him crush the rebels, Prince Vijaya sent envoys to assure the invaders that he had already pledged the homage that his late father-in-Iaw had so steadfastly refused. +++

The Mongol fleet fought a naval engagement with the Javanese fleet at Surabaya. It is possible that these boats were oar-powered barges that would have looked to come alongside and board a Mongol vessel. After that encounter the Mongol commander disembarked a large number of his ground forces for a land campaign while the fleet sailed off to Sumatra to seek the submission of the kings there. While this is not far on a map it could have taken the ships a while to complete this task as the winds would have to be favourable. The fleet must have recovered quickly also to be prepared to make this move. The Mongol commander must have been very confident of success or of his new Javanese allies to have allowed the fleet to move away from him. The fleet carried out their tasking well and secured the allegiance of the Sumatra kingdoms as well as royal hostages. [Source: asianmil.typepad.com]

Fighting During the Mongol Invasion of Java

Hoping to use the Mongols to help him crush the rebels, Prince Vijaya sent ambassadors to the Mongol camp and ensured them that he would pay tribute which his late father-in-law had earlier refused. Vijaya sent supplies to the Mongol force that marched to his aid and despite encountering rebel resistance on their way Vijaya's to assistance they were easily defeated. The Mongols fought a rebel army at Modjopait (Majapahit) where Vijaya had been holding out and drove them back into the jungle. The Mongols finally moved against the rebel stronghold at the fortified town of Daha (modern Kediri) and destroyed their army.

topography of Java

The true ground campaign started with the Mongols heading up the Brantas River valley towards Kediri. Raden Vijaya's forces supposedly targeted isolated Kediri garrisons while the Mongols concentrated on the Kediri armies. Jayakatwang's army was effectively being enveloped by the Mongol Army from the north and the forces of Raden Wijaya from the east. It was not clear how victory was obtained but it appears that Jayakatwang's forces were outnumbered by these two armies and went down fighting in a battle in March 1293. Without an army Jayakatwang remained in Kediri which was invested by the Mongols and he was captured in his palace on 26 April 1293.[Source: asianmil.typepad.com]

Stephen Turnbull wrote: “The envoys also acquainted the Mongols with all the details they needed of the roads, rivers and resources of the country to enable them to march to Vijaya's assistance. Some rebel troops tried to stop them moving upstream from Surabaya, but were easily routed and fled into the interior. The Chinese account tells us: The commanders of the Mongol imperial arrny made a camp in the form of a crescent on the bank of the river and left the ferry in charge of a commander of' ten thousand; the fleet in thc river and the cavalry and infantry on shore then advanced. The commander, seeing this, left his boat and fled overnight, whereupon more than a hundred large ships, with devils' heads on the stem, were captured.” [Source: Stephen Turnbull, January 24 2004 +++]

“The Mongol army continued on its way upriver and fought a battle under the walls of Modjopait (Majapahit), the strongpoint (and future capital) where Vijaya was holding out, and drove a further rebel army back into the jungle. Finally, the Mongols moved on to the rebels' base at the fortified town of Daha (modern Kediri) and destroyed the final opposition to Vijaya. This action is of some historical interest because the chronicle tells us that, in order to co-ordinate their attack, the separate Mongol and loyalist Javanese units agreed to commence battle when they heard the sound of the pao. This word was originally used to identify a catapult, and later a cannon, but its use here referring to a signalling device indicates that these would have been thunderclap bombs -explosive gunpowder devices cased in thick paper which acted like a maroon. The bombs were fitted with a time fuse, and one would probably have been flung up into the air from a traction trebuchet. Its loud bang would then have been the signal to advance. +++

Mongols Retreat from Java

Prince Vijaya seeing that his enemies were destroyed became reluctant to reward the Mongols for their efforts. He made up an excuse so he could return to his capital and was escorted by a small group of Mongol soldiers. On the way back he slaughtered the Mongol soldiers and took back his tribute. The Mongols quickly sent an army against him but they were ambushed and the survivors forced back to the coast.

14th century Mongol-Yuan junk

Stephen Turnbull wrote: “Prince Vijaya then took an enormous gamble. As his enemies were destroyed he no longer had need of a Mongol army to help him, and he was also very reluctant to reward them for their efforts. He therefore made up an excuse for having to return to his capital, and was escorted by a small detachment of Mongol soldiers. On the way back he repudiated his homage, slaughtered the guards, and moved into a hostile position against the Mongols. An army was quickly sent against him, which he successfully ambushed, causing the survivors to flee back towards the coast. [Source: Stephen Turnbull, January 24 2004 +++]

The Mongol forces commenced a fighting withdrawal north-east to Surabaya. The men boarded the ships and after some deliberation the Mongol force decided that further military action would be counterproductive and so they sailed back to China. The expedition leaders probably had some justification as Kertanegara was dead and the initial insult had been avenged. Kublai Khan did not see it like that and had Shi-pi as well as Kao Xing flogged and a third of their property confiscated, although they were both eventually pardoned. Ikh-musu was rewarded for prevention an outright disaster. The Sumatran hostages were allowed to return home while the Javanese hostages were taken back to China, except for Jayakatwang who was killed by the Mongols during the voyage. [Source: asianmil.typepad.com]

Turnbull wrote: “Here the Mongols rapidly considered their position. They had been in Java for four months, and were already suffering from the equatorial heat, so, taking with them what prisoners and treasure they had gained, the fleet set sail for China and home. Three thousand Mongols perished in the Java expedition, and even the treasure, which included gold, silver and rhinoceros horn, was not sufficient to save the campaign commander from receiving 17 lashes and having one-third of his property confiscated. +++

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except Mongol cavalry attack, Washington University; Mongol bombs, University of Washington; Mongol archer, Brooklyn College

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated February 2019

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