The Battle Against the Golden Host

The Armies Prepare

A report to the Court of King Philip of France from his emissary to the Kingdom of Jerusalem

“Preparations for the war began in Jerusalem. Getan de Reys organised the supplies for the great armies of the holy Land as they assembled to ride out against the Golden Host. The best weapons and armour were provided by the craftsmen and artisans of the Levant and enough rations to ensure the army could safely reach and return from the battle were donated by the Jewish farmers. Leading the Latin forces was Michael of Bethlehem whose head was enshrouded by a great cowl to hide his pale face ensnared with crawling chains. The great army moved towards the lands of the Rus, the banners of King Baldwin fluttering high above them, and as they moved through the Levant they were hailed by the nobles and peasants of the settlements they passed.

At the gates of Damascus another force assembled this one lead by the Sultan Al-Afdal ibn Salah ad-Din. He was joined by the hero Siddig al-Nazihah who came to ensure the evil of the Horde would never threaten his homeland. Amongst the forces moved the minions of Jamila bint Tariq bin Suleiman ad-Dar ensuring that the supplies were untainted, clean water was available and that medical provisions were provided for every regiment and legion.

Forth from the Holy Land marched these twin armies, united in one purpose. To fight the Golden Host, and stop them, or die trying.”

The Western and Eastern Fronts

Extract from Famous Tacticians and their Greatest Battles, by S. Hock & A. We.

”…The legions of the Arab’s and Catholics gathered upon the field of battle, the forces of the Khan arrayed before them beneath the strange grey banners from the east. The Orthodox took the centre of the field, Al-afdal the east and Michael the west. Michael, who had encountered the Host before and had studied their tactics, had been given the task of disabling their western flank and preventing their horse borne archers from reaching the Orthodox infantry. The Mongol general Samagar lead the Khan’s archers and Michael must have known the importance of his defeat to the success of the campaign…

…In the east Al-Afdal’s troops had mounted up early; ready to sweep down upon the Mongol’s eastern side. A thousand glittering scimitars stood ready to gouge and slash at the enemy but Al-Afdal held back his men, ever the patient tactician. Gazing down in the morning light he was carefully searching out the distinctive ceremonial furs of the Khan’s general: Chilaun, a man notorious for his ferocious attacks and deadly tactics…”

A Passage from Notable Battles of the 12th Century, by Hamm Erand & Ann Ville

“Rare are battles of this intensity and in the ancient world there are few that resulted in so much bloodshed. The Golden Host would give no quarter in the fight and every Mongol fought to the very brink of death. The Latin and Muslim forces were hard pressed to hold them back but in the end their combined might was able to break the ranks of the eastern horde. With the lines penetrated the strike forces of Al-Afdal and Michael of Bethlehem struck into the flanks of the Mongol army…

It is uncommon for generals to fight alongside their men and almost unheard of for them to fight each other. Yet in this most desperate of skirmishes it seems that two Mongol generals were engaged by Al-afdal and Michael. Chilaun, the Khan’s greatest strategist, was cut down by the blade of Al-Afdal while the two men fought surrounded by their battling forces. It is rumoured that the duel was a close one and that Al-afdal was nearly slain until the Mongol’s horse bucked costing its master his life. Across the field Michael of Bethlehem was seen to engage the war leader Samagar; though Michael was no fighter and took several arrows wounds as he approached his foe. As the legend goes; bloody and crippled Michael reached his opponent and tore him from his mount with unearthly strength. Witnesses claim they then heard the sound of scraping, rusty chains as the Knight ripped the Mongol general’s head off with his bare hands. With the leaders of the twinned Mongol forces slain it was merely a matter of closing in around the centre of the Host and engaging its leader, Genghis Khan…”

From the Evolution of Field Surgery, by Anne Pew & Tay Shun

”…Of more interest than the battle was the infrastructure that supported it. Rarely has there been such an example of providing an expeditionary force with such excellent supplies courtesy of the privy council of Jerusalem. The medical treatment is also distinguished as one of the first instances in the history of warfare where doctoring can be said to have prevented mass casualties and perhaps helped swing the tide of the battle. A pioneer in her field Jamila bint Tariq bin Suleiman ad-Dar can be held responsible for this great advance…”


From a “History of the Battles of the Orthodox Faithful” by X. Andrus, Constantinople University Press (1823).

“In great Constantinople the Emperor Loxos made ready for war too. His empire was in chaos but the threat of the horse barbarians was understood only too well by the descendants of Rome, and none wished the still-remembered fate of the Western Empire – too weak to hold back the raiders some seven centuries before – to be visited upon the Eastern.

“From the Theme of Cyprus came the Governor Ithakenseys with a force of many men raised from that prosperous island and a fleet to carry them. The Romans lacked not for ships, the navy had suffered but little division and few losses in the chaos of the civil year but one year earlier. All knew, however, that ships would matter little in the coming conflict for the mobile armies of the Golden Host could move nearly as swiftly as triremes and would not seek battle upon the waves.

“Armies there were in Constantinople already, the great martial herd of elephants that Emperor Loxos honoured greatly, the Varangian Guard led by their General Korovic (only recently recovered from the poison administered by the Hashashin during a disastrous battle in Armenia) and, of course, the large and experienced force led by the Basiloprator Michael. Mere days before the great army departed there was a final addition, the General Aprenos, who had relinquished his claim to the throne of the Romans. The general was accompanied by his own small but veteran force.

“The army sailed, upon the Roman fleet, through the straits of the Bosphorus for the colony of the Crimea and the city of Cherson, there to prepare to meet the armies of the golden horsemen. There Governor Antipatra strengthened the defences prepared in previous years by Sergios o Ithakenseys.

“An advance force, led by the Mongol lord Burundai, ranged already deep into the Rus lands, following the coast of the Black Sea. Burundai had won fame amongst the Mongols for speed, ranging ahead of the main host of horsemen, fighting only those battles he chose and sowing chaos amongst his clumsy foes.

“From the hills above Cherson faint smudges could be seen against the blue sky, smoke rising from the lumber camps that fed timber to the shipyards of Cherson. The generals marched their forces out of the keep of Cherson, banners flying in the cold wind from the Rus lands, and sought battle with this arm of the Golden Host.

”[…] The battle began two days later upon the Perekop Isthmus that linked the Crimea to the main Rus lands. As the disciplined forces of the Orthodox faith marched in formation across the narrow strip of land an immense horde of fur-clad horsemen descended upon them, with a great screaming cry.

“But the generals were neither taken aback nor afraid, for the Basilopraetor Michael had sent men many years before to judge the worth and tactics of the horsemen, and devised tactics suitable to their defeat. The forces of the Byzantines stood firm against the first charge, refusing to allow the horsemen to break their formation, for swords or arrows to drive them to flight and ruin.

“The elephants of Emperor Loxos moved forward, supported by the mercenaries of General Aprenos, the horses of the raiders shying from the grey giants. The Mongols archers wheeled in confusion before the unbreakable formation of the Byzantines, arrows falling from their short bows to fell Roman soldiers. Then a great horn sounded and a passage formed amongst the troops, to be filled by charging Roman cavalry, a force new formed by Basiloprator to drive back the Mongols.

“The troops of Governor Ithakenseys caused even more confusion as the cavalry thundered together, arrows falling to the rear of the Mongol front line, but arrows laden with Greek fire that exploded. Confusion gripped the Mongol horde, unable to escape forward through the Byzantine lines, too afraid of the alchemy of the Roman's to fall back. The battle descended into a rout.

“The elephants of Emperor Alexios surged forward, separating Burundai and his commanders from their men, as General Aprenos' mercenaries fought through into the trap created. It was General Aprenos himself who separated the Mongol's head from his shoulders.

”[…] With the defeat of the Mongol force the Orthodox troops proceeded unopposed to the great Battle of Donets River. […]”

The Great Battle of Donets River

Extracts from the 'Histories' of Hieronymus the Armenian, vol. III 'Wars', republished by Constantinople University Press (1878).

”[…] and these things that I have written I have also for the most part seen, for I lived through the turbulent times. But also, as those before me have done, I have taken eyewitness accounts of these events, and those that I could not have seen myself, and examined each one, seeing the truth in it. All these things I have written down that they may be remembered by other generations and they may know the truth of these things…”

“Now I had accompanied the train of Basilopator Michael for many months and have been permitted now to join the meetings of all the strategoi who would face the Golden Host. There was Basilopator Michael, and with him Emperor Alexios, accompanied by the Varangian Captain Korovic and the many Rus Great Princes. For it is their lands which the Host now threatened most, and already many Rus had fallen before the hooves of the Grey Banner. Stood apart, but with the Roman force, the General Lucius Aprenos, and upon the other side of the tent, in front of some of the Rus, also a number of Georgians, the King Pyotr Loria among them. Now with them stood Marshal Michael of Bethlehem (and it was most fortuitous, I had though, that two Michaels, as the Angels, would lead into battle), who had brought the armies of Jerusalem. Though his face looked pallid and sick, he stood ever tall and stern, never once losing his poise that I or others have seen. And joining them at last came the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, Al-Afdal ibn Salah ad Din the Magnificent, as his subjects named him, and magnificent to behold in every sense. The great Muslim general stood swathed in silks, and looked every part the great leader of a people that he was.”

“The strategoi debated long upon the strategy of the campaign, and I listened to every word that was said. For the two Michaels had some knowledge of the nature of this host. As Basilopator Michael had recounted to me once, the Marshal and himself had sent some of their soldiers when rumours had first come of the Great Host in the East - guided by one of the famed Al-Nazihah, they had espied the Host long before they had approached the lands known to us. And there they saw how the foe fought, how they were equipped, what number they sent to war and what military structures could be guessed from the observation. From this valued knowledge they had proposed their plans, and indeed for this campaign had prepared appropriate troops. The Romans of previous centuries, have long used many numbers of…”

”[…] so that the greater part of the Roman force now comprised of cavalry, both light and heavy, that it might contend easily with the swift riders and archers of the Host. The Latins, too, had made an attempt and their famed knights came lightly armoured, wearing but coats of mails at most and many now armed in the style of Levantine soldiers, many archers among the ranks of infantry. The Rus fielded a great many horsemen, all but the militia mounted upon hardy stallions. The Sultan had also brought forces appropriate for such war, for a great number of infantry, many archers, and even more light cavalry, and more importantly the camel-riding Mamluks of Salah ad-Din, for it has long been known that the scent of the camel terrifies the horse, and they might be used to great effect against the Grey Horsemen. Yet I shall tell of the greatest weapon of our armies last, for the Emperor of the Romans Alexios Komnenos rides into battle upon a great tusked beast - the elephant, and with him a whole horde such as had not been seen since the Carthaginians crossed…”

”[…] on the seventh day of waiting since the missive of the Khagan of the Golden Host, when the armies were engaged in morning prayer, priest calling out before the masses in Latin, Greek and Slavonic and the imams clearly in Arabic, the scouting force under Princess Petra of Vladimir-Suzdal returned. She brought the message to the gathered Strategoi that the masses of the Golden Host were even now approaching the eastern banks of the Donets river and the first riders were already crossing the fords. It was the next day that all were arrayed for the great battle.

Placed in the centre, with the great porphyry [purple] tent towering even as tall as the elephants, were the armies of Rome, under Basilopator Michael, flanked by the Rus and Georgian forces with the Great Prince Vsevolod stood at the fore of the Rus. From where I stood with the Basilopator, the elephants of Emperor Alexios commanded the view before me, and as I glanced to the left, I could see the many pennants and banners of the Latins, glorious and gaudy in their many designs. There could be seen the heavy guard that surrounded the command of Marshal Michael of Bethlehem, his standard flying above all, the gold of Jerusalem catching the sun. As I took my eyes to the right, below the bend of the river were arrayed the many Arabs, the masses still beneath the sky. And there I spied the field-palace of Al-Afdal, green with the many wondrous plants of Damascus and behind it, the hospital tents of Jamila ad-Dar, which I have described in my previous volumes…”

”[…] beheld the terrible sight of the Host. All their troop arrayed, all faces lost behind the teeming mass of lances and upon the flanks the countless mounted archers. Though the horde displayed all the signs of the invading barbarians, they yet aped the civilised forces with the many fabrics and pennants flow upon the lance-tips and great banners fluttering all across the line - a Grey Circle, the Grey Sun, the Pallid Eye, the greatest among them flying above the Kaghan named Ghengis. He who promised Doom to all and the end of civilised man. There is not a man or woman who stood before the countless host without a little fear creeping into their hearts, as each knew that these invaders could spell the end of all.”

”[…] and with little signal, the Host advanced, and the battle began. I myself was lost many times in the mass of combat, or with poor view of the field, yet there are many who have lent their accounts to my ears, and I have taken these and woven them into the flow of these events. I have learned also of the names of the generals fighting under the Grey Sun and here record them. These are the fateful things that happened.

First to fall upon our armies was the daring Subutai, who led a great many lancers against the Arabs, for he sought to sweep the detached forces of Al-Afdal into the river. Even as the lancers charged, the Egyptian archers loosed every arrow in their quiver, so that to the south the sky grew dark and I could not see how the battle progressed. Yet I am told that few of the arrows fired pierced the armour of the Host, but by God's Grace more found the horses, so that the charge was slowed. Yet when it fell upon the ranks of Arabs, the horror of the Host's power could scarce be believed, as Al-Afdal's line buckled and all but broke. Yet already the Knights of Georgia had ridden to strike Subutai in the flank and the melee locked for some time.

Upon the left flank, the generals Neguder and Hulegu had marshalled their forces to strike at the Latins, pouring many arrows upon them until they were forced to fight. Even as Marhsal Michael called forward his cavalry, Hulegu was already retreating and the knights were held back by an iron discipline, so that they did not puruse alone into the whole might of the Host. Even as Neguder and Hulegu rode forth again, the general Bayan led the main force in the centre to engage with the Romans. So the tide of battle flowed everywhere and on all parts of the field the men and women fought the Golden Host, and the lines moved back and forth.

Al-Afdal fought Subutai back with the aid of Pyotr Loria's knights, yet could not press against the fast-riding archers who threatened him across ther river. To the left, Michael of Bethlehem yet battled with Neguder, seeking to catch the Host and bring it to the sword, and yet he could not, and in the centre, the Romans and Rus barely held the Host back. For though the elephant herd of Emperor Alexios had thundered through the very centre, already two of the great beasts had been felled by the many arrows fired upon them and the Emperor had pulled back. Basilopator Michael had commanded now the heavy infantry he had brought to engage with those of the Host who held in the line and dispatched the General Korovic along with his cavalry, to try and force the left flank and help Marshal Michael.

Yet even aided by the Rus cavalry, the Latins could not catch the archers of Neguder and Hulegu. Even more grim the lancers of Subutai once again struck at the Arab force and with the Georgian Knights pressed upon the centre, the general of the Golden Host himself had struck through to cross swords with the Mamluks. Al-Afdal himself, strumming the Bow of Gilgamesh now was entering the fray, every arrow meeting the throat of the enemy. Yet Subutai pressed forth, his lance striking Al-Afdal's bow, the bone barely holding fast. Now the men crossed swords and were seen to be matched, so that it was as a dance in the front lines, the Mamluks barely holding the line against the wild barbarians who fought with such ferocity that even their horses dared not give into their fear of the camels.

At last, the first glimmer of light came on this day, for as Subutai struk the sword from Al-Afdal's hand, so the Sultan's other found an arrow from his quiver. Throwing himself upon the favoured general of Ghengis Khan, both were struck off their mounts and fell upon the ground. So it was that Subutai fell and only Al-Afdal of Damascus rose, holding aloft the General's broken lance and crying out in the name of Allah for the foe to be crushed…”

”[…] and more news came as Michale of Bethlehem at last came to engage the foe upon his flank, his knights falling upon them and the horsemen of General Korovic ranging even ahead to run down the archers. The Rus General fighting with a great ferocity, I am told, that even his men could scarce kill enough enemies to keep up with him. Though victory may have seemed in hand upon the flanks, in the centre, Basilopator Michael stood grim, a frown upon his face. For it seemed that the mass of the Host upon the centre had grown, and Kaghan Genghis has produced reserves that could not have been accounted for. The Basilopator reacted quickly, commiting the Roman reserves and the remainder of the Rus, yet it seemed that would be too little, for the Host fought with such ferocity that the centre could not hold. Even as Sergios o Ithakenseys, the governor of Cyprus and great friend of Emperor Alexios, rode forth with the Roman reserves, the Host attacked again and again and the Cypriots gave away their lives dearly…”

“It was only later that I had discovered the full extent of this attack. For the Kaghan of the Golden Host had under his command a great many Witches and Hedge Wizards, so that they made the warriors more fierce and inflated the ranks of the Host beyond all imagining. Yet they met their death, for the Princess Petra of Vladimir-Suzdal led a number of Rus, who she had spent months training and who now struck at the Witches and Wizards, hunting out every one of them, disguised as warriors of the Host. She herself fought the wizards who had created the illusions, for that is when it shattered. Yet the warriors fought hard against the Romans still.

Now though Al-Afdal and Michael of Bethlehem pressed forth against the barbarians, the forces of the Romans were fighting in great desperation. The Emperor fought as the great warrior he was, and inspired the soldiers with him and together with him a great elephant arose to crush all before it - a shadowy shape, sometimes almost invisible and impervious to all the efforts of the Host. At last, however, the Great Khagan was roused to the fight, and the great guard, all in gold surrounding him, advanced with the great Grey banner.

Lances shining still in the sun, the Host of Ghengis formed as a lance itself and pierced deep into the Roman lines. For it was said that many a battle was won as the Golden Host's Khagan did strike against the leaders of an army, and wiping the command, let fear and disorganisation win the battle. Even as he passed the Emperor, I am told that Alexios fired an arrow from his giant bow, seeking the heart of the Khagan, but the leader of the Golden Host, without turning, snatched the arrow from the air though it had flow true. So Ghengis himself had come almost to the post of the Basilopator, so that the officers around were in a great panic, and though few could see the change, the Basilopator showed some fear. Then the Khagan was through the lines and at the command post, killing the guards on every side - his Host behind him - and seeing that the Basilopator there, seeing that the old man was frail and that the ceremonial sword at his belt would snap on the first blow, rode straight for him.

Yet the Basilopator, though an old man, was yet a Roman and with speed and skill unsheathed his sword, avoiding the Khagan's charge and in one blow unhorsing him. Then from all around, men dressed in black cloaks, lined barely with a purple stripe, closed in around the warriors of the Host, and fought them to a stand-still. The Khagan rained blows upon the Basilopator, but the old strategos held his own, keeping the Kaghan in a deadlock, and now the whole Host was still as the Romans fought with renewed valour. Even as the Khagan was held, so I had myself been ordered to take horse to Al-Afdal, there to bring news of the enemy's position, and likewise a messenger sent to Michael of Bethlehem.

Al-Afdal returned me with Zafir Al-Nazihah and the Bedouin tribes with all haste, and as we arrived, the Basilopator yet fought, though he was already wounded. There, as but few of the Host remained around the Khagan, so his latest blow struck the Basilopator through his guard, and before the porphyry tent the great strategos fell. A cry went up, and it was taken up even louder by the Bedouin - Zafir the loudest among them, as they fell upon the barbarians and slew the last of them, and Zafir himself struck at the Khagan. So now they fought, their scimitars flashing with such speed and sparks flying from every blow. I saw Zafir take a wound upon his shoulder, and then the Khagan himself was reeling, the two further exchanging blows until the Khagan was finally taken with some weariness. The Host came to help the Khagan make his escape, yet the press of the Bedouin and the Basilopator's bodyguard did not allow it, and so the Khagan fought for his life, with renewed vigour. So it was seen that Ghengis fought with great honour and seemed to accept the fate that would befall him, for he looked no longer like a barbarian, but like any Prince of Europe…

“The skill of Zafir could not be surpassed, and even the Khagan, though a worthy oppnonent, could no longer resist the man's offense falling before a single clean blow…”

”[…] the heart falling from the Host, the remaining generals calling for a retreat…”

”[…] Marshal Michael in pursuit of the Host, and Strategos Aprenos organising the Romans to join him…”

”[…] the Emperor coming to the dying Basilopator, cradling the old man in his arms as the breath withdrew…”

”[…] for I was there with the Emperor and the greatest strategos of Rome, as he whispered his farewells, and looking beyond the Emperor, above the corpse of the slain Khagan, nodded to some spectre of Ghengis. And I believe I saw it too, for the form of him was as Golden threads, bowing to the Basilopator in turn, and then dissipating as the strands turned grey…”

”[…] I am told by many that all over the field of battle, the most remarkable sight of all those slain. As the dust settled upon the battle, so rose from each warrior of the Host a fain orb, all but a small number grey, and some golden, some black. The grey but disappearing as a smoke, and the golden rising to the sky, and the black sinking deep into the ground…”

The Aftermath

A passage from a French textbook on Medieval history, used from 1958.

The Mongol Empire at Bay

Following the Battle at the River Donetsk, the forces of the Kaghan retreated from the Rus territories, the remaining generals of Ghenghis Khan taking his body far east. It is not clear where he is buried, but it is likely that he may have remained close to where he died, since his sons were more involved in the dispute of who would become the Khagan of the Mongols.

The Civil War was a complicated affair, but the Mongols did not come West again for over a century, and even then, no force as great as Ghengis had gathered could be brought this far. The victory of the Byzantine, Ayyubid and Latin forces at Donetsk ensured that the threat of the Mongols had indeed been vanquished. The cost was great for the Basileopator Michael Karantenos had been killed, and countless thousands of warriors from the armies had gone too. The recovery of the armies took a long time and, together with the events at Jerusalem months later, ensure that a peace lasted in Europe for many years…

From 'Legacy of the Mongols', a short history of the invasion of the Golden Host

“The Rus lands safe, but the many great warriors and boyars dead, and among them Prince Vsevolod of Vladimir-Suzdal, the Principalities would take a long time to recover. Closer bonds with the fellow battle-brothers, the Byzantines and Georgians, ensured the protection of the Rus even as the Mongols were a threat again a few centuries later. Such an outcome could not have been likely if Ghengis Khan had remained alive and the Host with him - for in his previous campaigns he had suffered defeats, and had not allowed that to deter him. With the Great Khan dead, and his ablest lieutenant Subutai slain, it is unsurprising that Ghenghis' children aimed to divide the Empire between them, and though his daughter emerged the strongest contender…”

news/the_golden_host.txt · Last modified: 2009/07/11 12:09 by innokenti
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