Subotai

Subotai

(c. 1176-1248)

Subotai became one of Genghis Khan’s most trusted generals dur¬ ing the war against the Chin Empire (see no. 30). After Khan destroyed the Kharismian Empire in Persia, Subotai went north in pursuit of the son of the former Kharismian shah. They crushed Christian Georgia and entered the land of the Kiptchak Turks in southern Russia.

Subotai explored and ravaged the area before wintering on the Black Sea in 1223. Subotai returned to central Asia, and complet¬ ed the conquest of the Chin Empire.

In 1237, Subotai was made co-commander (with Batu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan) of the Mongol forces in southern Russia. With Subotai acting as the military genius, and Batu representing the power and importance of the Genghisid line, the Mongols captured the Moscow area. In December 1240, they destroyed the Russian principality of Kiev.

In the 16 years that had passed since he had been on the Black Sea, Subotai developed an extensive network of spies in eastern Europe. His goal was to subdue the Christian kingdom of Hungary. Subotai was especially anxious to do this since the Hungarians were the only peo¬ ples of Mongol-Turkic descent who had yet to acknowledge the overlordship of the Genghisid family in central Asia.

Four “flying columns” or army groups car¬ ried out the invasion. Prince Kaidu led the first group northeast into Poland; he defeated the Poles and their allies at Szydlow and Liegnitz (near Krakow). With his right flank covered, Subotai plunged into Hungary with the three other columns. Following Mongol strategy to perfection, the three army groups rode by dif¬ ferent routes, but all converged on the Danube River by April 4, 1241.

Led by King Bela, the Hungarian army was camped on the west bank of the river. Seeing the strength of his foe, Subotai retreated 100 miles northeast and positioned himself on the east bank of the Sajo River. Bela followed him, and on April 10, the Hungarians established a small bridgehead on the eastern bank.

Early in the morning ofApril 11, Belas troops were hit by a massive Mongol attack on the bridgehead. The Mongols fought their way across and attacked the main Hungarian camp. The battle was evenly matched until Subotai came seemingly out of nowhere widi 30,000 men; they had crossed the river south of the Hungarians the night before. The hard-fought batde turned into a tremendous rout. By noon, the Hungarian army was destroyed, and between 40,000-70,000 Hungarians lost their lives on the field.

In December 1241, he learned that Ogedi Khan, son of Genghis Khan, had died. Mindful of his duty to the Mongol law code, Subotai sent the princes he had with him home to par¬ ticipate in the vote that would name a new great khan. Subotai himself took leave of the Mongol court and retired to die alone in his tent on the steppes of northern Asia.