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Article

Michael Hope

In Muharram ah 617/March 1220 ce Chinggis Khan led his armies to Bukhara as part of a larger campaign against the Khwārazmshāh Empire (616–621/1220–1225). The city quickly surrendered and was rapidly integrated into the growing Mongol Empire. In the subsequent decades, Bukhara enjoyed a speedy recovery under the stewardship of a series of Mongol officials, who patronized religious institutions, repaired the damage caused by the invasion, and mitigated some of the excesses of the Mongol armies stationed in Transoxania. Yet this revival was stunted in the second half of the 13th century when the Mongol Empire was divided by war. During this period different factions contested control of Transoxania, and Bukhara became the target of periodic raids and attacks. A full rehabilitation of the city had to wait until after 716/1317–1318, when alliances between the Mongol military elites and the popular religious leaders of Bukhara facilitated a new period of stability that would last until the fall of the last effective khan, Qazān Sultan, in 746/1346. Bukhara’s status as an intellectual, economic, and political capital of Transoxania was diminished during the period of Mongol rule. Samarqand was designated as the administrative capital of Transoxania for much of this period, and the presence of Mongol forces in Nakhshab saw Bukhara subordinated to the itinerate court of the Chaghadaid-Mongol princes. Nevertheless, the city continued to be seen as an important center of religious scholarship, and its prestige was boosted by the fact that it served as the base for two of the leading Sufi movements of its time, the Kubrawiyya and the Naqshbandiyya.

Article

Despite enduring years of adverse and highly critical propaganda and entrenched negative attitudes from both the scholarly world and the general public, the Mongols and successors of Chinggis Khan have continued to hold the world’s rapt attention and interest. However, the Chinggisids have in recent years and especially since 2001 and the publication of Thomas Allsen’s Culture and Conquest, benefited from a spreading positive re-evaluation by the academic community and revisionist researchers, which amounts to a fresh assessment of the Chinggisid domination of western Asia. It is now acknowledged that they enjoyed a constructive, generally positive relationship with much of the Muslim world. Relations with Iran were particularly strong, so much so that it was Iranians who invited Hulegu and the Chinggisid army to come to the west in 1254 and who actively cooperated in the establishment of the Ilkhanate. The state of Iran had ceased to exist after the Arab invasion of the region in the 7th century, and in its place, Greater Iran became a collection of often warring statelets: Azerbaijan, Khorasan, Fars, Iraq al-Arab, Iraq al-‘Ajam, Sistan, and Jabal, to name a few. After Hulegu crossed the Oxus, c. 1254, he revived the idea of Iran, and the Ilkhanate essentially became the basis for what eventually became the modern state of Iran. From 1220 to 1254 Iran had existed in a state of anarchy, loosely under the control of Chinggisid military governors. Iran’s city-states were peripheral to an empire to which they paid taxes but from which they derived few advantages nor enjoyed any of the benefits to which their taxes should have entitled them. The delegation sent from Qazvin to Mongke’s coronation requested the Great Khan to send a prince of the blood to rule Iran and to replace the inept military governor. The delegation wanted Iran to be absorbed by the empire so that the country could benefit from joining a global community and a global market. Chinggis Khan had initiated the world’s first experience of globalization, and Iran wanted to be part of that experience. The Ilkhanate (1258–1335) was a Persian renaissance and established Iranians once again as key regional players. Although the ruling family remained ethnically Mongol, the government was multiethnic, and the country was multicultural. In 1295, when the seventh Ilkhan, Ghazan, ascended the throne and announced his submission to Islam, his act signified the union of Turk and Tajik, of “steppe and sown,” of Iran and Turan, of Persian, Chinese and Turkish cultures, and the coronation of a king of and for all Iranians. It was immaterial whether his conversion was sincere or just politically astute. What was important was his proclamation of becoming a legitimate Iranian king duty bound to serve all his people, whether Turk or Tajik, and that his reign was hailed as the start of a golden age, as well as being a high point of relations with the Yuan regime in the east. The Mongols never left Iran, but simply assimilated.

Article

The medieval Uyghurs became a political entity in the mid-8th century when they established their steppe empire as the inheritors of the ancient Türk steppe tribal confederation. They ruled their empire for a century from their capital city in the heart of the Mongol steppe. Their empire ended when rival Kirgiz tribes attacked it, and the Uyghur aristocracy fled south into the borderland areas between China and the steppe. Two groups of diaspora Uyghurs built new states in Gansu and the Tarim Basin. The Gansu Uyghurs stayed in that region but never exerted any real power as a state. The Uyghurs who migrated to the Tarim Basin were more successful, building an independent kingdom that maintained a stable rule over the mixed population of city dwellers and nomads who lived in the far-flung oases of the area. The Tarim Basin Uyghurs readily adapted to the sedentary lifestyle and built one of the most highly diverse societies of the age, where Buddhists, Nestorian Christians, Manichaeans, Zoroastrians, and nomads all lived side by side. Even after they became subjects of the Qarakhitai and then the Mongols, the Uyghurs retained some autonomy as political rulers in the Tarim Basin. That ended when Khubilai lost control of the Tarim Basin and most of the Uyghur aristocracy moved to China. The Uyghur diaspora refashioned their identity a third time in China as members of the conquest government and the cultural literati. Their existence as a distinct political entity ended with the eviction from China of the Mongols.

Article

The Manchus, a powerful military state in northeast Eurasia, declared the founding of the Qing dynasty in the early 17th century. They conquered Beijing in 1644, and the core of Ming China by the end of the century, but they continued to expand into Central Eurasia, creating China’s largest enduring empire. Their most formidable rivals were the Mongols organized in the Zunghar state, which dominated western Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet. Through daring military expeditions, adroit diplomacy, and extensive economic mobilization, the Qing rulers eliminated the Zunghar state, establishing uncontested power over Central Eurasia. After the conquest, the Manchus consolidated control of the region with productive economic policies, with extensive surveying and mapping, and by producing an official account of their military achievements. Qing expansion and Zunghar resistance left strong legacies for the definition of the territory of the empire and the Chinese nation that succeeded it in the 20th century.

Article

Nomadic warfare in the Eurasian steppes centered on a mobile horse-archer whose composite bow was surpassed by firearms only in the 17th and 18th centuries. Until the rise of effective firearms, pastoral nomadic horse-archers were the most dominant element on the battlefield. Even after the advent of firearms, nomads remained effective. The horse-archer’s bow possessed comparable accuracy, range, and a more favorable rate of fire than slow-loading harquebuses. As early firearms tended to be slow and inaccurate, they were not decisive against nomads until cannons became sufficiently mobile to disrupt formations of swift moving horse-archers. Even then, it was still necessary for states to have well-developed logistical systems in order to support sedentary-firearms-based armies in the steppes. These armies still found it necessary to have suitable numbers of nomads to serve as scouts and to protect their flanks. While massed firearm-wielding infantry, accompanied by cannons, could defeat nomadic armies, they remained vulnerable in transit. The success of nomadic warfare prior to firearms was dependent not only on technological factors such as the composite bow and lamellar armor, but also factors such as tactics that became a standard part of steppe warfare, including the feigned retreat and encirclements. The strategic and tactical level of steppe warfare reached its zenith during the period of the Mongol Empire, which also ushered in a revolution in steppe warfare. Other factors also played a part, including the training for warfare through hunting and herding. Combined with a vigorous and often harsh lifestyle on the steppes, sedentary observers often viewed the pastoral nomadic warrior as if bred for war.

Article

In the popular imagination, the meeting of Buddhism and Islam is often conceptualized as one of violence; namely, Muslims destroying the Dharma. Of course, in more recent years this narrative has been problematized by the reality of Buddhist ethnic cleansing and the genocide of Muslims in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Yet, what needs to be recognized is that the meeting between Buddhists and Muslims has never simply been one of confrontation. Rather, the interaction of these two religions—which has been going on for more than one thousand years across the length and breadth of Asia (from Iran to China and Indonesia to Siberia)—has also involved much else, including artistic, cultural, economic, and intellectual exchanges.

Article

Michal Biran

The Qara Khitai or Western Liao dynasty (1124–1218) ruled in Central Asia in the period that preceded the rise of Chinggis Khan. Founded by Khitan refugees who escaped from north China when the Jurchen Jin dynasty (1115–1234) vanquished their Khitan Liao dynasty (907–1125), they soon carved out for themselves a multicultural empire in Central Asia that combined Chinese, nomadic, and Muslim elements. Vanquishing the Qarakhanids and the Seljuks and making the Khwārazm Shāhs, the Gaochang Uighurs, and various Mongolian tribes their vassals, at its height the Qara Khitai Empire stretched from the Oxus to the Altai Mountains (namely, from Uzbekistan to western Mongolia including most of Xinjiang, China). Their biggest victory in 1141 against the Seljuks even became the basis for the legend of Prester John. Practicing religious tolerance and mostly indirect rule—leaving local rulers largely intact apart from in their capital Balāsāghūn (Burana, Kyrgyzstan)—and, using their Chinese and nomadic cultural capital, the Sinicized Buddhist nomads ruled over their heterogeneous but mostly Muslim sedentary population in rare harmony. The aging dynasty, however, could not survive the repercussions of Chinggis Khan’s rise, which coincided with the bolstering of the Khwārazm Shāh’s power. In the early 13th century, after a Naiman prince who had escaped from Chinggis Khan usurped the Qara Khitai throne, the Mongols vanquished the Qara Khitai, incorporating most of their troops into the Mongol army and channeling their skilled subject population for imperial needs. A scion of the Qara Khitai established the Muslim Qutlughkhanid dynasty of Kirman (south Persia, 1222–1306) that ruled under Mongol and later Ilkhanid aegis.

Article

Joo-Yup Lee

The Kazakh Khanate was a Chinggisid nomadic state that ruled the eastern Qipchaq Steppe (Dasht-i Qipchāq), a steppe zone that roughly corresponds to modern-day Kazakhstan, during the post-Mongol period as one of the most important successor states of the Mongol Empire and the last reigning dynasty of the Chinggisids. The Kazakh Khanate branched off from the Ulus of Jochi, whose people (ulus) were called Uzbeks in 15th-century Central Asia. The Kazakh Khanate was founded by the Uzbeks led by Jānībeg Khan and Girāy Khan, two Jochid princes who sometime in the 1450s had broken away from Abū al-Khair Khan, the Jochid ruler of the eastern Qipchaq Steppe. In the 16th century, like other Chinggisid states such as the Crimean Khanate, the Northern Yuan, and the Shibanid Uzbek Khanate that emerged as regional empires in the territories of the former Mongol Empire, the Kazakh Khanate was transformed into a nomadic empire. During the reigns of Qāsim Khan (r. c. 1512–1521) and his successors Ḥaqq Naẓar Khan (r. c. 1538–1581) and Tawakkul Khan (r. c. 1582–1598), the Kazakh Khanate expanded westward to reach the Yayïq (Ural) River and eastward the Tienshan Mountains. The Kazakh Khanate entered a period of sharp decline at the turn of the 18th century due to the Zunghar Oirat onslaught. As a result, the Kazakh khans and sultans became nominal vassals of the Russian Empire and the Manchu Qing Dynasty. The Kazakh Khanate was annexed by the Russian Empire in the early 19th century, which brought to an end the six-centuries-long reign of the Chinggisids.

Article

When the first hominins and their successors migrated north from Africa into Eurasia, they created a new, interlinked disease environment. They brought some diseases, such as malaria, with them from Africa, and newly encountered others, such as plague, in Eurasia. Regional changes in climate played a role in human health, not simply due to their influence in determining the success of year-to-year harvests and grazing lands, but also because periods of warming or severe and sudden cooling shifted the interactions between humans and the flora and fauna that made up their environment. Exchanges of disease between the two continents would continue up through the medieval era. Whereas vast distances and low population density likely shielded Eurasian populations from frequent epidemic outbreaks up through the Neolithic period, by the beginning of the common era, with its vastly intensified trade networks, Eurasia would begin to see a new phenomenon: pandemics, including the Justinianic Plague and the Black Death, the largest mortality events in human history. The diseases of medieval Eurasia are still among the world’s leading infectious killers and causes of debilitating morbidity. Because they have all persisted to the present day (with the exception of smallpox), modern science plays an important role in their historical reconstruction.

Article

Beatrice Forbes Manz

The Timurid dynasty was founded in 1370 by the Turkic warlord Temür, usually known in the west as Tamerlane (Temür the lame). Rising to power within the realm of Chinggis Khan’s second son Chaghadai, Temür established his capital at Samarqand and embarked on a career of conquest throughout the former Mongolian Empire and the Central Islamic lands. While his campaigns ranged from Delhi almost to Moscow and from the eastern Turkestan to western Anatolia, Temür established an administration only over the central regions, including Iran and Transoxiana; these were largely settled and Persian-speaking territories. Temür and his followers were Turks loyal to the Mongol tradition, but they were also Muslim and well acquainted with Perso-Islamic culture. The dynasty lasted three more generations—those of Shāhrukh (1409–1447); Abu Sa`īd (1451–1469); and Sulṭān Ḥusayn Bayqara (1469–1506). During this time, the Timurid state shrank in size but gained fame for its wide-ranging cultural patronage and sophisticated styles in architecture, literature, and the arts of the book. In 1507, the Uzbek Shibani Khan overthrew the Timurid dynasty and took over its eastern territories. The Timurid prince Babur Mirza retreated from his region of Ferghana to Kabul and then in 1526 conquered Delhi and founded the Mughal or Later Timurid dynasty.

Article

The medieval state of Kievan Rus’ took shape in the late 10th century when Vladimir (Volodimer), reportedly a descendant of the semi-legendary Ri͡urik, established his exclusive rule over the Slavs, Finns, and Balts dwelling along the river systems stretching from the southern end of Lake Ladoga to Kiev (Kyiv) and adopted Christianity from Byzantium for his realm. His descendants, collectively known as the Riurikid dynasty, oversaw the growth of Kievan Rus’ into a complex federation of principalities, populated mainly by sedentary agriculturalists but also benefiting from urban commerce linked to broad intercontinental trade networks. Riurikid princes repeatedly competed with each other and also contended with nomads of steppe, especially the Pechenegs, Polovt͡sy (Kipchaks, Cumans), and the Mongols who conquered both the nomads of the Pontic steppe and the Rus’ principalities in 1237–1240. Over the next century the western portions Kievan Rus’, located in modern Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, were absorbed by Poland and Lithuania. Its northern principalities continued to be ruled by their Riurikid princes under the hegemony of the khans of the Golden Horde, the portion of the Mongol Empire more accurately known as Juchi’s ulus. As the Golden Horde fragmented in the 15th century, those principalities coalesced to form Muscovy, the precursor of modern Russia. Muscovite rulers expanded their realm by seizing territories from Lithuania and in the mid-16th century by annexing the Tatar khanates of Kazan’ and Astrakhan’, two heirs of the Golden Horde. By the time Riurikid dynastic rule ended in 1598, Muscovy had also subdued the Khanate of Sibir’, launching a new phase of development arising from its exploration and incorporation of Siberia and resulting in its transformation from a regional power into a vast Eurasian empire.

Article

The Turkic identity that first emerged with the rise of the Türk empire in the mid-6th century did not encompass all Turkic-speaking nomads in the Inner Asian world. The Türks, who founded the first Turkic nomadic empire, reserved the term Türk for themselves. In turn, the Uighurs and the (Yenisei) Qirghiz, who succeeded the Türks in the Mongolian steppes, did not identify themselves as Türk. As a result, after the final collapse of the Türk empire in the mid-8th century, Turkic identity did not survive among non-Türk groups in the Mongolian steppes. Turk became a much broader identity in the Islamic world. Muslim writers spread the term Turk (plural Atrāk), virtually using it as a synonym for Inner Asian nomads including both Turkic- and non–Turkic-speaking groups. Accordingly, when the Mongols entered the Islamic world, Muslim writers in general identified them as Turks. The Muslim view of the Turks as Inner Asian nomads was adopted by the Mongols of the Ilkhanate and the Mongol successors in Central Asia (Timurids, Moghuls, and Shibanid Uzbeks), who viewed themselves as the most prominent branch of the Turks. (The designation Central Asia is used here for the interior region stretching from the Caspian Sea in the west to Xinjiang, China in the east. Inner Asia denotes the steppe regions.) Essentially, their Turkic identity was a non-Tajik, Inner Asian nomadic identity, not a non-Mongol, Türk-related identity. Importantly, it encompassed Mongol identity. In the histories and documents produced in the Ilkhanate and the Mongol successor states in Central Asia, Turk in the phrase “Turk and Tajik” and various Chinggisid and Timurid genealogies primarily denoted the Mongols. However, a Central Asian type of Turkic identity was non-existent in the Qipchaq Steppe during the Mongol and post-Mongol period. Apparently, the term Turk had not been used as a self-appellation among such non-Türk groups of the Qipchaq Steppe as the Qipchaqs. Likewise, the Mongol successors of the Qipchaq Steppe (Uzbeks, Qazaqs, and Tatars) did not self-identify as Turks. However, like their Central Asian counterparts, they identified themselves as Mongol descendants.

Article

Beginning in 1206 large parts of Eurasia came under the sway of the Chinggissid Mongols. In 1260 the united Mongol Empire came to an end and divided into four khanates ruled by the progenies of Chinggis Khan. The four khanates were the Yuan (centered at China), the Ilkhanate (Middle East), the Golden Horde (Russia and the Caucasus), and the Chaghadaids (Central Asia). These political entities remained connected under the broad umbrella of the institutions and worldview that originated in the steppe and was informed by Chinggis Khan’s rule. Essentially the periods of the united Mongol Empire (1206–1260) and of the four khanates (1260–1350) can be termed as the period of Mongol rule. The abiding allegiance to the Chinggissid legacy continued to find resonance for the far-flung imperial family well in to the mid-14th century and even later in some parts of Eurasia. Under this united system of rule, trade came to occupy a special place and led to hitherto unprecedented exchanges and prosperity. Mongol Eurasia was able to transform micro economies into a coherent macro economy that relied on overland and maritime trade. These exchanges in large part were achieved through the building of physical infrastructure connecting China all the way to northwest Europe, and provision of capital. Along with overland trade, the Mongols were able to participate in and spur maritime trade in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean-Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean trade complex, even though they didn’t control all of it. The architecture essential for conquest proved important for trade and exchanges of goods, peoples, and ideas as well. Physical security, storage facilities, monetary policies, and the creation of markets and cities across the expanse of Mongol Eurasia enlivened trade. The historical accounts of this period describe cities overflowing with goods and riches along with transfers of a variety of technologies, providing a vivid picture of exchanges. The Mongols followed in the footsteps of a long line of nomadic empires that had been pivotal in the flow of long-distance trade and expanded it across Eurasia. Not only did they promote trade and patronize traders, they influenced the kinds of goods and technologies that were found on the Silk Road(s) at the time. The presence of a wide array of manufactured goods in large quantities signifies their role in the founding of production centers. While the Mongols were not traders themselves, the Khans were impressive in their understanding of the importance of trading networks and relied heavily on access to the information traders provided. From the very beginning of the empire traders filled the ranks of middlemen and helped carve a space for bolstering exchanges in policymaking. Traders were close to the Khans and political elites and informed decision-making, often serving as emissaries, ministers, and administrators in the service of the Khans. Not only did traders provide the Khans with commodities, but they also served as money lenders, making them important partners to the Mongol state and the imperial family. The myriad relationships between the Mongol Khans and traders are testament to a deep partnership that brought to bear an exciting moment for Eurasia, making it possible to refer to the Mongol period as the first globalization.

Article

Emperors were the symbolic and administrative pivot of the Chinese empire ever since its establishment in 221 bce. They were arguably the most powerful human beings on earth. Their nominal authority was limitless, and it encompassed the administrative, military, economic, social, religious, and intellectual spheres to mention only a few. Moreover, the emperors’ semi-sacral status added superhuman dimensions to the imperial position. And yet, only very few emperors were able to impose their will in full. The combination of limitless institutional authority and limited personal power is the major paradox of China’s emperorship. The contradiction between the emperor’s nominal omnipotence and his limited ability to impose his personal will on his subjects was imbued into the imperial institution from its very inception. Chinese thinkers of pre-imperial age (pre-221 bce) sought peace and stability in their realm and came to the conclusion that these are attainable only under the omnipotent universal sovereign. Yet being aware of the dangers of the ruler’s potential mediocrity, these thinkers tried to create a system in which the ruler reigns but not rules, and the effective power rests with the ministers of proven intellectual and moral abilities. Although the system they envisioned never worked perfectly and allowed periodic recurrences of the emperors’ abuse of power, overall their goal was achieved. The imperial literati were more often than not able to moderate the emperor’s whims and create a viable mode of rule in which the hereditary monarchy at the top was maintained by the meritocratic bureaucracy below. Despite persistent tensions, the system was flexible enough to ensure the empire’s exceptional political durability.

Article

Paul Buell and Francesca Fiaschetti

The Mongols, creators of the largest continuous land empire in history, who initiated an unprecedented era of international exchange, are mostly known for their land conquests and contacts, but, they also actively participated in maritime and land trade. The key event in this development was a Mongol commercialization ongoing with the Mongol conquest of key coastal areas in China and Iran that brought them face to face with the trading world of the South Seas and Indian Ocean. There was a military aspect of this, starting in Japan, Southeast Asia, and Java, and there was the diplomatic and informal initiatives of Qubilai-qan to expand Mongol influence over the seas as far as the Red Sea and Africa, in ways not achievable with military means alone. A thesis is that the Mongols in China ended by creating, with the help of the Mongols in Iran, a first maritime age, paralleling those established by the Portuguese and others that came later.

Article

The histories of humanity and nature are deeply entangled across Inner Eurasia. Great expanses of steppe and mountain connected peoples at the far ends of the landmass and sustained unique civilizational zones of nomadic and settled societies. These are regions profoundly shaped by some of the most complex climatic regimes and by one of the most devastating disease vectors in the world. Viewed in the longue durée of the Holocene, the premodern prehistory and history of Inner Eurasia takes on new dimensions when reviewed in the context of the latest work being done in environmental, climate, and genetic science.

Article

The task of the tümens of Jebe and Sübedei’s raid to Europe (1221–1223) was not limited to reconnaissance only. This raid was part of Chinggis Khan’s general expansion strategy involving establishing total control over the Kipchaks and conquering their steppe territories both in Asia and Europe. This strategic ambition had to be implemented by Prince Jochi, the ruler of the Western ulus of the Mongol Empire. Jochi was to bring his major forces to Europe and join the Jebe and Sübedei vanguard corps for the final defeat of the Kipchaks. Being allies and kin of the Kipchak rulers, the prince of Kiev and other southern Rus’ princes provided military assistance to them. Thus, the counter-attack of the Mongols targeted Rus’. After the defeat of the Rus’–Kipchak coalition forces in the Battle of the Kalka River, the Mongols were able to cross the Dnieper and approach Kiev. However, Jochi’s refusal to bring his major forces to support the Mongol vanguard brought to naught all the victories and achievements of generals Jebe and Sübedei. The initial goals of the Great Western Campaign of the Mongols (late 1236–1242) consisted in conquering Volga Bulgaria, the Kipchak/Polovets steppes, and the Hungarian kingdom. To a large extent, the defeat and destruction of Vladimir-Suzdal Principality occurred as part of the aftermath of the battle of Kolomna, where Kölgän, the youngest son of Chinggis Khan and one of the most honorable Mongol lords, was killed. The Mongol invasion was preceded by peace negotiations with the Mongols conducted by the most powerful Rus’ princes, specifically Yury Vsevolodovich of Vladimir-Suzdal and Daniel Romanovich of Galicia-Volhynia. Following these negotiations, the princes did everything they could to avoid personal involvement in military action against the Mongols. The Mongols’ stone artillery and wide use of flame liquids were critical weapons in the siege and assault of Rus’ cities and towns. The defendants had no effective countermeasures against these dangerous weapons. A comparative analysis of various reports in Rus’ chronicles about the date of the capture of Kiev by the Mongols with information from Hungarian sources shows that the most likely date is December 6, 1240. The proper names Uladmur and Uchogul Uladmur, given by the medieval Persian historian Rashīd al-Dīn in his account of the conquest of south Rus’ by the Mongols, cannot be related to the historical toponyms of Galician-Volhynian Rus’. The Mongol name Uladmur was connected with the name of Prince Vladimir Riurikovich, who had occupied the Kievan throne not long before the attack of the Mongols against south Rus’ and held peaceful negotiations with Prince Möngke. In Volhynia and Galicia the Mongols used a method that they had often used before. They forced the residents of the conquered cities to go outside the city walls and massacred them. They spared only the young men suitable for military service and took them into auxiliary troops (khashar), so that they should fight in the most dangerous areas of the battle.