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C - 3 : More Alternative History

Imagine the year 1246. You are standing at the sea gates of the imperial palace in Constantinople - just south of the Hippodrome - watching the magnificent fleet of the new Emperor pulling in: Güyük Khan, the Great Emperor of Mongolia.

Constantinople around 1'200 AD with Hippodrome, Imperial Palace and Harbour


Waiting next to you is Batu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, Viceroy of all the Western Lands and Leader of the Golden Horde. A few years earlier, he had conquered the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations and the Byzantine Empire. Over the Hagia Sophia the green flag of the Prophet is flying. In the old Imperial Palace, Frederick II, the dethroned German Emperor, the defeated Byzantine Emperor Baldwin II and Pope Gregory IX are waiting in chains for their fate. Europe is united again - under Mongol leadership. Güyük Khan's visit is to celebrate the new unity of Asia and Europe.

The Pope sent Franciscan Monk Gianni da Pian del Carpine to meet Güyük Khan in 1246


Sounds weird but almost happened. Had Batu Khan not been called back to Karakoram to participate in the election of a new Khan in the Winter of 1242, It actually would have happened. With their huge army of 140'000 cavalry men, the Mongols had conquered Poland and Hungary in 1241 followed by Dalmatia, Serbia and Bulgaria in 1242. The Mongol army found grazing ground for their horses in Hungary and was preparing to build siege engines to conquer the fortified towns their cavalry could not take. The situation was so desperate that the Byzantine Emperor Baldwin II forged an alliance with his arch enemies, the Seljuk Turks.

Mongol invasion of Europe in 1241 and 1242


Batu Khan's campaign had been meticulously planned for several years and aimed at defeating the Cumans, a federation of Turkish speaking nomads who were the Mongols main rivals in the Western steppe. When part of the Cuman population fled to Hungary and Bulgaria, Batu Khan extended his campaign and pursued them into Europe. Having destroyed the Polish Knights in Liegnitz in 1241 and the Hungarian Army sun Mohi the same year, Batu Khan "invited" the German Emperor Frederick II to dethrone himself and hand over the Imperial Regalia. The pursuit of Bela, the Hungarian King, had priority however. In fall 1241, Batu Khan took his army to Dalmatia where Bela was hiding in the Fortress of Klis and the town of Togir. Without proper siege equipment, Batu Khan could not take either. Of course, local Croatian historians only talk about the heroic resistance that stopped the Mongols.

Klis Fortress north of Split in the 17th century

The Klis Fortress today - the town of Split is in the upper left corner of this photo

Trogir which we will visit this summer - the banks to the north were uninhabited marshes


Since the karsty soil of Dalmatia can not support a large army - there is simply not enough food to steal - Batu Khan decided to push further south, march through the Serbian mountains and conquer Bulgaria where he could rest the horses and feed his troop. He would then attack Constantinople as next target - with siege engines made from local wood. He was again reminded of their need when passing by Dubrovnik and could not breach their strong walls. Also Dubrovnik has its tales of "being the only town that ever repulsed the Mongols".

Mongols in Bulgaria 1242


The conquest of Bulgaria went according to plan and by fall all Byzantine resistance was broken. The way to Constantinople was open. As a consequence, Bulgaria had to pay tribute to the Mongols for the coming 20 years. But then came the call from Karakoram and the rest is history. Constantinople was never attacked and the Golden Horde retreated to the steppe of the Ukraine and Russia where they ruled until 1502.

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