Khwarazmian Empire: a Turko-Persian Sunni Muslim Territory of 1077


The Khwarazmian or Khwarezmian Kingdom was a Turko-Persian Sunni Muslim territory that governed large parts of modern-day Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran between 1077 and 1231, first as vassals of the Seljuk Empire and the Qara Khitai (Western Liao dynasty), then as independent rulers until the Mongol conquest in the 13th century. In the early 13th century, the empire stretched an area ranging from 2.3 million square kilometres to 3.6 million square kilometres, essentially making it one of the largest land empires in history. The exact date of the Khwarazmshahs' state formation is unknown. Anush Tigin, also known as Gharachai, formed the dynasty that governed the empire. He was a Turkic slave of the rulers of Gharchistan and afterwards a Mamluk in the service of the Seljuqs. Khwarazm's independence from its neighbours was established by Ala ad-Din Atsiz, a descendant of Anush Tigin. However, the Mongols, led by Genghis Khan, invaded the Khwarazmian Empire in 1220, capturing the entire empire in less than two years. Mongols took advantage of the empire's weaknesses and conflicts, besieging and robbing its wealthiest towns while slaughtering its population in one of the worst wars in human history.

Khwarazmian Empire

From 1077 To 1231




  • Gurganj (from 1077 to 1212)
  • Samarqand (from 1212 to1220)
  • Ghazna (from 1220 to 1221)
  • Tabriz (from 1225 to 1231)

Major city

Shahr-e Ray

Common languages

  • Arabic (theology)
  • Persian (court, spoken)
  • Kipchak Turkic (dynastic, spoken)
  • Oghuz Turkic (spoken)


Sunni Islam


Khwarazmshah or Sultan

Absolute monarchy

  • 1077–1096/7 (Anushtegin, Gharchai)
  • 1220–1231 (Jalal ad-Din, Mingburnu)

Historical period

  • Established (1077)
  • Mongol conquest of the Khwarazmian Empire (1219-1221)
  • Battle of Yassıcemen (1230)
  • Disestablished (1231)


  • 1210 est. ( 2,300,000 km2 )
  • 1218 est. (3,600,000 km2 )


1220 (5,000,000)



Preceded by

  • Seljuk Empire
  • Ghurid Dynasty

Succeeded by

  • Mongol Empire        



Early History

The title of Khwarazmshah was given to the founder of the Afrigid dynasty in 305 AD and lasted until 995 AD. The title was restored after a brief hiatus. Rebels assassinated the then Khwarazmian king Abu'l-Abbas Ma'mun and his wife Khurra-Ji, the sister of Ghaznavid sultan Mahmud, during the rebellion in Khwarazm in 1017. To put down the revolt, Mahmud invaded the area. He eventually annexed a section of Khwarazm and installed a new monarch. As a result, Khwarazm became a Ghaznavid province, which stayed until 1034. In 1077, Anushtegin Gharchai, a Turkic mamluk leader of the Seljuqs, took possession of the territory that previously belonged to the Seljuqs from 1042 to 1043. In 1097, Ekinchi ibn Qochqar, the Khwarazm governor of Turkic ancestry, asserted independence from the Seljuqs and crowned himself the Shah of Khwarazm. However, he was assassinated by many Seljuq amirs who had risen in revolt after only a brief time. The Seljuqs, who had reconquered the province, replaced him with Anush Tigin Gharachai's son, Qutb al-Din Muhammad. Qutb al-Din became the first hereditary Khwarazmshah as a result of this.


From roughly 1077 to 1097, Anushtegin Gharachai was the governor of Khwarazm and a Turkic mamluk leader of the Seljuqs. He was the first affiliate of his family to rule Khwarazm, and the dynasty that ruled the area in the 12th and early 13th centuries was named after him. In 1073, the Seljuq sultan Malik-Shah I appointed Anushtegin and his master Gumushtegin Bilge-Beg to reclaim territories in northern Greater Khorasan that the Ghaznavids had captured. He was then appointed Sultan's tasht-dar, and because the income from Khwarazm was needed to cover the costs of this position, he was appointed governor of the province. However, the circumstances of his governorship are unknown; however, he died in 1097, and Ekinchi bin Qochqar temporarily held the position before passing to his son, Qutb al-Din Muhammad.

Following his father's death, Qutb al-Din, in 1127, Atsiz rose to power. He consumed the first years of his reign defending Khwarazm against nomad assaults. He revolted against his suzerain, the Seljuq sultan Ahmad Sanjar, in 1138 but was beaten and forced to escape Hazarasp. Sanjar returned to Merv after installing his nephew Suleiman Shah as monarch of Khwarazm. However, Atsiz returned, and Suleiman Shah was unable to keep the province. After attacking Bukhara, Atsiz surrendered to Sanjar in 1141, who pardoned him and formally handed control of Khwarazm to him. The Kara Khitai, led by Yelu Dashi, defeated the Seljuqs at Qatwan, near Samarqand, in the same year Sanjar pardoned Atsiz. Atsiz used the loss to invade Khorasan and take over Merv and Nishapur. Yelu Dashi, on the other hand, dispatched a force to loot Khwarazm, obliging Atsiz to pay a yearly tribute. Sanjar drove Atsiz from Khorasan in 1142, and the following year, Sanjar invaded Khwarazm and forced Atsiz back into vassalage. Still, he continued to pay homage to the Kara Khitai until his death. When Atsiz grew rebellious again in 1147, Sanjar launched another expedition against him. Atsiz was a deft politician and ruler who could navigate between Sultan Sanjar and Yelu Dashi, both of whom were equally powerful. He maintained his predecessors' land-gathering agenda by annexing Jand and Mangyshlak to Khwarazm. The Khwarazmshah was the only source of income for many nomadic tribes. Atsiz subjugated the entire northern area of Central Asia near the end of his reign, and the region gained independence from its neighbours.

Regional Expansion

From 1156 to 1172, Il-Arslan was the Shah of Khwarazm. Atsiz was his father, and he was his son. His father initially appointed Il-Arslan as governor of Jand, a Syr Darya outpost that had recently been reconquered. Atsiz died in 1156, and Il-Arslan became Khwarazmshah in his place. He chose to pay tribute to both the Seljuk sultan Sanjar and the Qara Khitai gurkhan, just like his father. Unfortunately, Sanjar died barely a few months after Il-ascent, Arslan's resulting in anarchy in Seljuq Khurasan. Il-Arslan was able to break off Seljuk suzerainty due to this effect, but he remained close with Sanjar's successor, Mas'ud. Il-Arslan, like his father, wanted to expand his authority in Khurasan. In 1158, Il-Arslan became engaged in the matters of the Karakhanids of Samarqand, another Qara Khitai vassal state. Chaghri Khan, a Karakhanid, had been persecuting the Qarluks in his domain, so numerous Qarluk leaders escaped to Khwarazm and sought Il-assistance. Arslan's retaliated by invading the Karakhnid realms, capturing Bukhara and besieging Samarqand, where Chaghri Khan had sought refuge. The latter also pleaded to the Syr Darya Turks and the Qara Khitai Turks, and the gurkhan despatched an army, but its commander was hesitant to fight the Khwarazmians. The Qara Khitai mounted a punitive expedition against Il-Arslan in 1172 when he failed to pay his annual tribute. However, the Khwarazmian army was crushed, and Il-Arslan died not long after. Following his death, the realm was briefly thrown into disarray as his sons Tekish and Sultan Shah fought over the succession. From 1172 to 1200, Tekish was triumphant and ruled over the empire. However, Tekish continued his father Il-expansionist Arslan's intentions. Despite winning his throne with the Qara Khitai's support, he later freed his kingdom from their suzerainty and defeated the Qara Khitai's following invasion of Khwarazm. Tekish maintained tight ties with the Oghuz Turkmens and Turkic Qipchak tribes of the Aral Sea region and recruited them to conquer Iran on several occasions. Many of these Turkmens were still pagan, and they were notorious throughout Iran for their brutality and ferocity. In 1194, Tekish fought Toghrul III, the Seljuq sultan of Hamadan, and conquered his territory in an alliance with Caliph Al-Nasir. After the fight, he broke with the Caliphate and was on the verge of war with it until 1198, when the Caliph acknowledged him as the Sultan of Iran, Khorasan, and Turkestan. In 1200, Tekish died of a peritonsillar abscess. Ala ad-Din Muhammad, his son, succeeded him. His death sparked spontaneous uprisings and a widespread massacre of Iran's despised Khwarazmian Turkic warriors.

Deterioration and Fall

Muhammad took over after his father, Tekish, died. A small group of Mongols crossed borders in 1218 in search of an escaping enemy general. Genghis Khan established touch with the Shah after successfully recovering him. Genghis wanted to establish economic contacts, but the Shah mistook this gesture to conquer Khwarazm after hearing false tales about the Mongols. To underline his desire for a trading route, Genghis dispatched agents to Khwarazm. In retaliation, Muhammad II had one of his governors (Inalchuq, his uncle) accuse the espionage party, seize their valuables, and arrest them. In an attempt to continue diplomacy, Genghis dispatched a three-person envoy to the Shah, allowing him to deny any knowledge of the governor's conduct before handing him over to the Mongols for punishment. Instead, the Shah killed the ambassador, who then executed the Mongol merchant group (both Muslim and Mongol). These actions prompted Genghis to react by crossing the Jaxartes in 1219 with a force of 100,000 to 150,000 troops and sacking the cities of Samarqand, Bukhara, Otrar, and others. Soon after, Muhammad's capital city, Gurganj, was founded.

The Khwarazmian Empire evolved a diarchy on the eve of the Mongol invasion. Although Khwarazmshah Muhammad II was considered the absolute ruler, his mother, Turkan Khatun, wielded considerable power. Turkan Khatun had her own Diwan and palace, and the Sultan's commands were not deemed official unless she signed them. This, combined with her disagreements with Muhammad II, may have contributed to the Khwarazmian Empire's helplessness in the face of the Mongol invasion. She was seized by Genghis Khan's forces in 1221 and died in poverty in Mongolia.

In 1218, Genghis Khan dispatched a trade delegation to the realm, but the governor of Otrar confiscated their goods and executed them, believing the Khan's messengers to be spies. The Shah refused to fulfil Genghis Khan's demands for restitution. Genghis launched a multi-pronged attack with a force of 100,000 warriors in retaliation. The Mongolian army crossed the Syr Darya in February 1220. Bukhara, Gurganj, and Samarqand, the Khwarazmian capital, were all sacked by the Mongols. The Shah fled and perished on an island in the Caspian Sea a few weeks later. Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, Ala ad-Din Muhammad's son, became the new Sultan. He tried to flee to India, but the Mongols caught up with him and defeated him at the Battle of the Indus. He managed to flee to the Sultanate of Delhi, where he found refuge. Iltumish, on the other hand, denied it to him because of the Abbasid caliphs' ties with him. He assembled an army and re-established a kingdom in Persia after his return. However, he never solidified his power and spent the remainder of his life fighting Mongols, Rum Seljuks, and pretenders to his kingdom. In a combat counter to the Mongols in the Alborz Mountains, he lost control of Persia. In 1225, he escaped to the Caucasus and seized Azerbaijan, establishing his capital in Tabriz. He attacked Georgia in 1226 and sacked Tbilisi. He continued across the Armenian highlands, clashing with the Ayyubids and conquering the town of Ahlat on the western banks of Lake Van, where the Ayyubids were seeking assistance from the Seljuq Sultanate of Rum. In the Battle of Yassiçemen in 1230, Sultan Kayqubad I defeated him near Arzinjan on the Upper Euphrates. In the ensuing chaos, the Mongols captured Azerbaijan, and he fled to Diyarbakir. Kurdish highwaymen assassinated him in 1231.

From 1220 until 1231, Jalal al-Din was the last of the Khwarazmshahs, ruling over the remnants of the Khwarazmian Empire and northeastern India. Ala ad-Din Muhammad II's firstborn son was said to be Ala ad-Din Muhammad II, and his mother was a Turkmen courtesan named Ay Chichek. Terken Khatun, Jalal al-powerful Din's grandmother and Qipchaq princess, refused to endorse him as successor to the throne because of his mother's low status, preferring instead his half-brother Uzlagh-Shah, whose mom was also a Qipchaq. Jalal al-Din first seems in historical records in 1215, when Muhammad II divided his empire among his sons, giving Jalal al-Din control of the southwestern section. Following his father's defeat, Ala ad-Din Muhammad II by Genghis Khan in 1220, Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu came to authority and retreated with the lasting Khwarazm militaries, while followed by a Mongol military and at the combat of Parwan, north of Kabul, beaten the Mongols. Jalal ad-Din attempted to re-establish the Khwarazm monarchy after gathering an army and entering Persia, but he never fully consolidated his rule. As an alternative, he spent the rest of his life fighting Mongols, pretenders to the throne, and the Seljuqs of Rum. Year after year, he had to campaign to maintain his authority in the region. Finally, in 1231, an anonymous Kurd supposedly working for the Seljuqs assassinated Jalal ad-Din.

State Equipment

A vizier was in charge of the Kharazmshahs' central state apparatus. The first counsellor to the head of state was Vizier. All state dignitaries obeyed the Vizier. He oversaw the diwan officials, appointing them and setting their wages and benefits, and overseeing tax administration and the treasury. Al-Harawi, the Kharazmian Empire's most renowned Vizier, erected a mosque for the Shafi'is in Merv, a massive madrassah, a mosque, and a manuscript repository at Gurganj. Shia Ismailis assassinated him. Most of the time, the senior or great Hajib, a representative of the Turkic aristocracy, held an important position in the Khwarazmshahs' state apparatus. On concerns concerning the Shah and his family, Hajib reported to the Khwarazmshah. The Khwarazmshah might have several hajibs who carried out the Sultan's orders.

Capital Cities

Urganch or Gurganj was the capital of the Khwarazmian Empire at first. Gurganj is a stunning city, surrounded by angels representing the city in heaven, much like a bride in her groom's home. The capital's residents were skilled artisans, particularly blacksmiths, carpenters, and others. Carvers were well-known for their ivory and ebony creations. In addition, natural silk-producing workshops were located across the city. In the final years of the state, Samarqand, Ghazna, and Tabriz also served as capitals of the Khwarazmian Empire.


The Kwarazmian Empire's population was primarily made up of sedentary Iranians and semi-nomadic Turkic peoples. The empire's urban population was concentrated in a limited number of very large cities rather than a large number of smaller towns. On the day before of the Mongol incursion in 1220, the empire's population was believed to be at 5 million people, a small number given the vast region it encompassed. According to historical demographers Tertius Chandler and Gerald Fox, Tertius Chandler and Gerald Fox estimate the populations of the empire's principal cities at the beginning of the 13th century to be between 520,000 and 850,000 people.




 Around 80,000–100,000















Otrar, Urgench, and Bukhara

Less than 70,000


Despite their Turkic origins, the Khwarazmshahs, like their Seljuq forefathers, adopted Persian culture, followed the Sunni branch of Islam, and ruled Khorasan's richest and most populous towns. As a result, the Khwarazmshah era possessed a dual personality, reflecting its Turkic origins and fine Persian culture.


Central Asian society was fractured during the Khwarazmshah era, and it was only recently unified under one flag. The Turks dominated the Khwarazmian military, while the civilian and administrative elements were almost entirely Persian. The Turkic inhabitants of Khwarazm spoke Kipchak Turkic and Oghuz, with the latter being a relic of the area's previous masters, the Seljuq Turkomans. However, Persian was the main language of the time and was spoken by the majority in the major Khwarazmian cities. The sedentary diwan's language was Persian, and its members, regardless of ethnic origin, had to be well-versed in Persian culture. Persian became the Khwarazmshahs' official state language and was used for administration, history, fiction, and poetry. The Turkic language was the Anushteginid family's native tongue and home language, whereas Arabic was mostly used for science, philosophy, and theology.

Armed Force

Before the Mongol invasion, the Khwarazmian army was 40,000 cavalry, largely of Turkic ethnicity. In addition, militias existed in the major cities of Khwarazm, although they were of inferior quality. With a combined population of roughly 700,000, the major cities possessed between 105,000 and 140,000 healthy males of fighting age. Still, only a small percentage of these would be part of a regular militia with significant training or weapons.

Private Army

Many Khwarazmians survived the Mongol invasion of the Khwarazmian Empire by working as mercenaries in northern Iraq. Sultan Jalal ad-followers Din's remained faithful to him even after he died in 1231. For the following several years, he ravaged the Seljuq kingdoms of Jazira and Syria under the name Khwarazmiyya. Later, in Egypt, the Ayyubid Sultan as-Salih Ayyub employed them against his uncle as-Salih Ismail. On 11 July 1244, the Khwarazmiyya, on their way south from Iraq to Egypt, invaded Crusader-held Jerusalem. On 23 August, the city's citadel, the Tower of David, surrendered, and the city's Christian population was banished. This prompted Europe to call for the Seventh Crusade, but the Crusaders would never retake Jerusalem. Instead, the city remained under Muslim rule after being conquered by Khwarazmian soldiers until 1917, when it was occupied from the Ottomans by the British. Following their conquest of Jerusalem, the Khwarazmian soldiers moved south, fighting on the side of the Ayyubids at the Battle of La Forbie, or Harbiyah as the Crusaders called it, a village northeast of Gaza, on 17 October, destroying the Crusader army's remnants and killing over 1,200 knights. It was the Crusaders' greatest engagement since the Battle of the Horns of Hattin in 1187.

Last updated: 2021-October-11
Tags: Mongol Empire
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