Wars between the Khwarazm-Shahs and the Karakitais Empire in Central Asia undermined the safety of the trade arteries from China to the west in 1215, the great Mongol leader Genghis Khan used the situation as a pretext for the Mongols’ westward advance, claiming that his only aim was to restore the ﬂow of trade. Genghis is said to have had great respect for the Iranians and their civilization and even feared Iranian military strength. For this reason, perhaps, he ﬁrst tried to settle tensions by diplomatic measures.
However, the shortsightedness and overconﬁdence of the Khwarazm-Shahs, who treated Genghis’s emissaries as barbarians, encouraged the Mongol leader to attack Iran. During 1218- 1227, Genghis Khan took all the Iranian territories. The Mongol onslaught was cataclysmic. Numerous cities were razed, and great numbers of people (particularly males) were killed or taken into slavery.
Genghis Khan’s death prevented him from consolidating his power in Iran, and the country was left divided between Mongol agents and local adventurers, both of whom proﬁted from the ensuing chaos. A second Mongol invasion began when Genghis Khan’s grandson, Hulagu Khan, destroyed the Ismailite fortress at Alamut. He then besieged Baghdad and killed the last Abbasid caliph. Hulagu Khan hoped to extend the Mongol Empire as far as the Mediterranean, but the Mamluks of Egypt did not allow him or his successors to achieve their imperial goal.
In Iran, a Mongol dynasty, the Ilkhanids or “Deputy Khans” of the Great Khan in China was established. Hulagu Khan, assisted by his celebrated Iranian minister Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, managed to repair to a certain extent the damage caused by the Mongol invasions. He made Azerbaijan his center of operations and chose Maraghe as his ﬁrst capital. Maraghe continued as the capital city until Sultaniyeh was built early in the 14th century by Hulagu’s successors.
Another Mongol ruler, Ghazan Khan, guided by yet another Iranian vizier, Rashid al-Din Fazlollah, brought Iran a partial revival. Ghazan Khan was the ﬁrst Mongol ruler to adopt Islam. His successor Oljaitu, and after Oljaitu, Abu Said, continued the restoration of the country which they considered their own. However, they were unable to maintain the stability of the Ilkhanid regime. The Ilkhanid line was interrupted by the death of Abu Said, who died without leaving an heir.
As a result, Iran again fell under the control of petty dynasties, formed mostly by Ilkhanid military emirs who had established themselves as independent regional sovereigns. For a time, southern Iran was ruled ﬁrst by the Injuids, and then by the Mozaﬁarids. These local dynasties did not survive long. They were soon extinguished by Tamerlane (Timur), the next ruler to achieve the status of the emperor.
Because Timur did not have the huge forces of earlier Mongol leaders, his conquests were paced more slowly than those of Genghis Khan or Hulagu Khan. However, they were no less savage. Ironically, this ruthless warrior and the appalling killer was a great patron of the arts, and whenever he conquered a town, he spared men of learning, artists, and craftsmen.
These he encouraged to migrate to his great capital of Samarqand (today in Uzbekistan). Under Timur’s son Shahrokh and his grandson Ulugh Beik, the Iranian culture began to ﬂourish. Their capital, Herat, became the seat of a splendid culture. The atelier of great painters of miniatures; and the home of Persian poets, artists, and philosophers.
Not surprisingly, however, the Timurid Empire, the result of assimilated conquests, was very unstable. It disintegrated rapidly after Ulugh Beik’s death, although the Timurid princes continued to rule their petty kingdoms in eastern Iran and Transoxiana. At that time large parts of Iran, particularly in the north, were dominated by the Turkman tribe, Qara-Qoyunlu (The Owners of Black Sheep) Led by Jahan Shah, who had already extended their rule deep into the country during Ulugh Beik’s reign.
Their rival was another Turk-man tribe of Aq-Qoyunlu (“The Owners of White Sheep”), who were concentrated in western Turkey. The White Sheep, led by Uzun Hasan, had destroyed Iahan Shah’s troops by the end of 1467. Uzun Hasan established a short-lived empire but was confronted by a new power in Asia Minor, the Ottoman Turks. Minor Mongol tribes, Uzbeks, and Turkman clans ruled over Iran until the rise of the Safavid dynasty. Like the Arabs centuries earlier, century National the Mongol and Turk invaders of Iran fell under the spell of the Persians and became more and more Iranian in attitude, manner, and thought.
Both the Ilkhanids and Timurids became assimilated into the life of the conquered Iranians and came to think of themselves more as Iranians than Mongols or Tatars. Compelled to accept foreign doctrines, the Persians improvised, played for time, and conveniently translated and transmuted the alien element until it took on the appearance of something they had themselves invented. Mien the Mongols attempted to impose their Chinese character on Iran, their efforts proved fruitless, and instead, they carried the Persian language to China. The genius of the Persians lay also in their power to absorb all foreign influences and subtly transform them.
For example, Iranians developed a new style of painting based on a unique fusion of their solid, two-dimensional painting with feathery, light brush strokes and other motifs characteristic of Chinese art. Another positive inﬂuence of the Mongols and Turks was their religious leniency and their eager interest in unorthodox religious beliefs. Among the latter was Suﬁsm, which developed signiﬁcantly at this time. During the Mongol and Timurid rule, considered the most difﬁcult period of Iranian history when wars were fought, towns fell, and all their inhabitants were massacred Iran continued to exist, uplifted by its immense spiritual vitality.