Ain Jalut, Israel (1260 AD)
The Battle of Ain Jalut was one of the greatest defeats the Mongol armies ever faced, and marked the southeasternmost point the great empire ever reached. Fought between an advance army sent by Haluga Khan and a Mamluk slave army from Egypt under famed Muslim general Baibars, it was one of the most evenly matched battles of the various Mongol Wars and the entire Middle Ages. The Mamlukes met their enemies almost man for man and beat the Mongols using their own tactics against them. Because of this victory, the Islamic kingdoms managed to prevent themselves from being wiped off the face of the map.
By the beginning of the 13th century, the Mongol Empire had managed to conquer virtually the entire Middle East in Asia, barring only the Arabian Peninsula and parts of Asia Minor. With Persia conquered, the rest of the Middle East, including Iraq, Syria, Asia Minor and the Levant, came under direct threat from the Mongols.
In 1251, Genghis Khan’s grandsons, Mongke Khan and Haluga Khan, set about completing the conquest of the known world. Haluga was put in charge of southwest Asia and set about absorbing the rest of the Middle East. Assembling a massive army, the Mongols moved westward, conquering everything in their path and laying waste to the ancient, beautiful capital of Baghdad.
By 1260, the only major Muslim realm still in a position to fight the Mongols was Egypt, then under the control of the Mamluk slave-soldiers. Their leader, Baibars, defied the Mongols. Fortunately for the Mamlukes, Mongke had died, and Haluga had returned to Asia with most of his army to press his claim on the throne. Thus when the Mongol and Mamluk armies met south of the Sea of Galilee, it was with a much reduced Mongol force.
Each side numbered about twenty thousand, and was composed almost entirely of horsed archers and other cavalry units. The two sides fought with relative equanimity for hours, until the Mamlukes turned and fled in a feigned retreat, a classic Mongol trick. The Mongols fell for it, and pursuing the Mamlukes suddenly found themselves in a trap. Surrounded on all sides, the Mongols were showered with arrows. After the Muslim heavy cavalry rode in, virtually all of the Mongols were slaughtered. After this phenomenal victory, the Mongols never made any further serious attempts to campaign in Egypt or the Holy Land.
The Battle of Ain Jalut was possibly the greatest battle ever fought in what is now Israel that did not substantially involve either Jewish or Christian forces. Because of this the battle does not figure prominently into modern Israeli history and is therefore not well commemorated. The exact extent of the battlefield is not known, but the accepted site is still little-developed hill country. The area is not well marked.
The site of Ain Jalut is located about fifteen miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee, approximately 25 miles southeast of Haifa. It is an open site, and there is no cost of admission. Web: www.goisrael.com (official tourism website of Israel).