A 16th century illustration of Subutai

Subutai 1175-1248

Subutai was one of the Mongol’s greatest generals who commanded the armies of both Genghis and Ogodei Khan. Subutai was born in 1175 probably close to the Onon River. At the age of 14 he joined Genghis, following the example of his older brother Jelme. He quickly rose to command a Tumen of 1000 men.

He is first mentioned by name as a commander in 1212 leading troops in the campaign against the Jurchen, although he almost certainly served in Genghis’s earlier battles. Between 1216 and 1219 he led troops against the remnants of the Merkits. In 1219 he led the vanguard of the Mongol invasion force in Central Asia. After the initial victories Genghis sent Subotai and Jebe to pursue the fleeing Shah of Khwarazim. They hunted him to the shores the Caspian Sea where the Shah died from illness before being captured. Subutai did not retreat instead Jebe and Subotai led a great raid around the Caspian Sea lasting two years (1222-24). They defeated the armies of Georgia and the nomadic Cumans before turning to attack the principalities of Rus. The Mongols defeated a combined Rus force at the Battle of the Kalka River in May 1223. Subotai did not attempt to conquer Rus territory instead he rejoined Genghis and returned to Mongolia.

Subotai took an active role in the campaigns against the Tanguts and Jurchen 1226-1234. In early 1227 he assisted Genghis Khan in the conquest of the Jurchen territory along the Wei River. It was during this operation that Genghis Khan died. Between 1230 and 1234 Subotai completed the conquest of the Jurchen. He suffered initial defeats but in February and March 1232 the Mongols won three decisive victories against Jurchen forces. However, it took another two years to end resistance. It was summer 1234 when the Juchen capital Kaifeng finally fell to Mongol forces.

Subatai’s next task was to lead the Mongol invasion of Rus and Eastern Europe. The first engagements took place in 1237 with successful attacks against the Kipchaks and Bulgars. Subutai then led a winter assault on the Rus cities, capturing Vladimir and Ryazan. Over the next two years the Mongols systematically destroyed the cities of Rus including Chernigov, Vladimir and Kiev, which fell in December 1240. In 1241 Subutai commenced operations against Eastern Europe. In perhaps his most impressive feat of arms the Mongol armies under Subutai’s command defeated a combined force of Poles, Germans and Czechs at the battle of Legnica on April 9th 1242 and the two days later destroyed the army of Hungary at Mohi.

Further expansion west was stopped by the death of Ogodei Khan. Subutai and the rest of the army returned home to take part in the election of the new Great Khan. Once Guyuk had been confirmed in power he appointed Subutai to command the attack on the Song in 1246-47 although Subutai was over the age of 70 at the time. However, Subutai returned home to Mongolia in 1248 where he died at the age of 72.


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