Official Languages Persian, Khwarezmi, Kurdish, Turkish
Capital Khwarezm (1190-1200) then Samarkand (1200-20)
Last Ruler Muhammad II
Founded 1190
Dissolution 1220
Currency  ?

The Khwarezm Shahdom was a Muslim state, founded by the shores of the Aral Sea, that maintained a 30-year existence in the Middle East until its destruction by Genghis Khan Temujin in 1220. In the meanwhile, continued conflict with the warlords of the area, namely the crumbling Seljuk Sultanate of Merv.


Though stable years for the Sultanate of Merv, the reign of Sultan Selim al Bartooq saw the creation of a newly independent state within her borders. In 1190, a Persian nationalist by the name of Mehmet Salih rose the standard for revolt in the province of Khwarezm, in the farthest north of the Mervian-held domain. Being a relatively unimportant area in the empire, Selim showed little interest in its secession, perhaps because his understanding of the sentiments of his largely Persian population would be against such a move. By his death in 1192, neither a show of force nor a diplomatic mission had been sent to Khwarezm to resolve the issue.

War with Sanjar the Magnificent

Selim al Bartooq's death was unexpected, yet not particularly problematic. Within the year his replacement by Sultan Sanjar II saw a complete change to the diplomatic attitude to Khwarezm. Like his predecessor, Sanjar appreciated the problems of Persian nationalism. Where his views differed however, was the means by which he wished to attain a solution. Force was always a preferred option of Turkish monarchs, particularly one as proud as Sanjar.

Of course, Mehmet Salih and the Khwarezmians had been preparing too. Firstly, a matter of implementing some degree of economic organisation, largely neglected by previous rulers, had to be put into effect. Salih did this with little lustre; it was incidentally abandoned in the years following. Second was a matter of the Khwarezmian military. Realism had taught Salih that the Khwarezmians could not go it alone against an enemy both superior in numbers, weapons and experience of command. Salih knew his opponent to be a highly adept, but also impetuous, commander. He also knew however, that compared to his predecessor, Sanjar was no politician. It was imperative therefore, for Khwarezm to attain allies.

In 1195, Sanjar announced his decision to invade Khwarezm. Salih and his compatriots needed to act - and fast.

Alliances were made swiftly with the local Ghuzz chieftains, who were united in their hatred of their Seljuk brethren. However, early encounters with the Mervian army proved that this was not enough. Sanjar was adept at crushing Ghuzz warbands. He did so twice during the early months of the campaign.

The Qara Khitai

The weakness of the Ghuzz was threefold: first their disunity, secondly their lack of a fixed power base and thirdly an inept economy. This meant they could not sustain a proper offensive against Merv; all they were capable of was lightning raids on Seljuk positions. This was something at which Sanjar also excelled. Therefore, it was necessary for Salih to look for a more formidable local power. There were not very many of these: the Seljuks of Hamadan were no longer in a position to exact authority over their brethren in Merv (after the disastrous events of the 1192-4 war) and the Byzantines, Ummayads and Armenian Seljuks were too far away. To Balasagun, the capital of the Qara Khitai, the emissaries of Khwarezm went. It seemed that the Khitan Khan was the only man with the power to displace the Seljuks of Merv.

This was not how the situation appeared to Khan Baguur Chinua II when a deputation arrived from Khwarezm. For a number of reasons, he was reluctant to commit his kingdom's resources to war with Merv. The first of these was trade. The Khitans had long regarded the Seljuk Sultans and their successor states as useful trading partners. This was particularly the case with the Mervian Sultanate, who controlled cities such as Samarkand, Merv and Balkh, that lay on the Silk Road. Moreover, Baguur knew a gamble when he saw one. His state did not have the resources to match Sanjar's. Even in combination with Mehmet Salih, it would be a tight contest. Therefore, Baguur sent the emissaries back empty handed. He would not, given the present situation, make war on Merv.

The Yazdar Incident

Events were to change the mind of the Khitan Khan. A clever deception, devised by the Persian commander Bagras Yazdar, was implemented following the defeat of Khwarezmid-Ghuzz forces on the Caspian coast. Under torture, Yazdar created a story that his army had been subsidised by the Khitan Khan. Sanjar, ever a predictable character, hotheadedly ordered a preemptive attack into Khitan territory. The devastation caused made Baguur quickly change his mind. In late 1196, he approached Mehmet Salih to discuss an alliance. The agreement was simple. Baguur would raise an army that could be fielded in the next year. Meanwhile, the Persian-Ghuzz coalition would hold Sanjar in place, avoiding set piece battles until the opportune moment.

Initial failure of Persian Rebellion

The pro-Persian rebellion in the heartland of Sanjar's territory did not take off quite as expected by hardline rebels. The moderates that composed the majority of the leadership concluded that any attempt to stand against the Mervian regular army would be doomed to failure, even with possession of fortified cities like Isfahan and Balkh. Therefore, the rebels migrated in great number to the north of the country - towards Urgengh and beyond to Khwarezm. Despite the opportunity to pursue the rebels, Sanjar instead set about repairing the damage done to his hinterland and building up his armies in preparation for conflict.