"The Dog of War" Subutai

Subutai (Mongolian: Сүбээдэй, Sübeedei; Classic Mongolian: Sübügätäi or Sübü'ätäi; Chinese: 速不台; 1176 to 1248) was the primary strategist and general of Genghis Khan and Ögedei Khan.
He directed more than 20 campaigns during which he conquered (or
overran) more territory than any other commander in history. He gained
victory by means of imaginative and sophisticated strategies. He
routinely coordinated movements of armies that were more than 500 km
away from each other. Usually he maneuvered the enemy into a position
of weakness before accepting battle. He is most remembered for devising
the battle plan that destroyed the armies of Hungary and Poland within
2 days of each other, by forces almost a thousand miles apart. He
helped Genghis Khan with the military campaigns in Mongolia, northern China, and Central Asia. He was one of Genghis Khan's "dogs of war." He is regarded in history as one of Genghis Khan and Mongol Empire's
most prominent generals in terms of ability, tactics and in loyalty to
Genghis Khan. He commanded many successful attacks, invasions during his
time and was rarely defeated.


Early life

Historians believe Subutai was born between the years of 1160-1170,
probably just west of the upper Onon River in what is now Mongolia. He
belonged to the Uriangqai tribe, a name Mongols gave to a number of
tribes of forest people. Subutai's family had been associated
with the family of Genghis Khan for many generations. His brother
Ca'urqan and cousin Jelme (whose father was a blacksmith) served in the
Mongol army. Subutai joined Genghis Khan (or Temujin) while still a
teenager. Within a decade he rose to become one of the senior officers,
commanding one of 4 rowing detachments operating ahead of the main
forces. In 1212 he took Huan by storm, the first major independent
exploit mentioned in the sources.

Subutai was proof that the Mongol Empire, more than any that had preceded it, was a meritocracy. He was the son of Qaban, who was supposedly a blacksmith,
which was a highly valued position. Qaban brought his son to serve
Genghis Khan when Subutai was about 17 years old, and he rose to the
very highest command available to one who was not directly related to
the Khan. Genghis Khan called him one of his "dogs of war", a title he
earned through his campaigns.

Mongol histories say that Subutai said to Genghis Khan "I will ward off your enemies like felt cloth protects one from the wind.".

Tactical ability

Subutai was one of the first Mongol generals besides Genghis Khan who realized the value of engineers in siege warfare. Even in the field, he made use of siege engines, much as the Chinese troops had in earlier campaigns. For instance, at the Battle of Mohi,
the Hungarian crossbowmen had during the night defeated a bridge
crossing by the Mongols, inflicted considerable casualties, and offered
particularly fierce resistance to the Mongol forces fighting to cross
the river the following day. Subutai ordered huge stonethrowers to
clear the bank of crossbowmen and open the path for his light cavalry
to attack without such losses. This novel attack was the first use of
such weapons in the west as a form of tactical artillery. While the
stonethrowers were clearing the path to cross the main bridge, Subutai
had supervised construction of a temporary, emergency bridge downriver
to outflank the Hungarians. These tactics were new to the forces he
faced in Europe and the steppe, and they were unprepared to meet them.

Subutai was also well known for incorporating conquered peoples into
his forces, especially engineers, who brought specialized skills. He
turned the gathering of intelligence and planning in advance into a
fine art. For instance, he used spies to gather information on the Russian principalities, the Poles, and the Hungarians
at least a year before the attacks on each. He tailored his strategy to
the foe he faced, altering his tactics according to the opponents, the
terrain, and the weather. He emphasized the use of light cavalry in his
army, and made sure that his troops were both mobile and

During the European campaigns, the once trim Subutai was so heavy
that horses could not easily bear his weight. But he was so valued on
the battlefield that Batu Khan had him carried to the field in a cart
or wagon. Unlike European or Japanese armies, which valued personal
valor in a commander above all else, the Mongols valued strategic
ability and the skill to make tactical adjustments in the heat of
battle above all else in their leaders. Whereas western commanders like
Richard the Lionheart
literally rode to battle at the head of his men, Subutai and Batu Khan
sat on a hill, far from the engagement, where they could direct the
flow of battle with flags. This was one reason among many that Subutai
was never defeated, nor were any of the Khans he advised.

It should further be noted that Subutai was 65 years old during the
European campaign, an incredible age in that era for a military
commander. It is also significant that the Mongols, who valued light
cavalry and speed, burdened themselves with a cart carrying their

[First campaigns in the West

Genghis Khan sent Subutai to hunt down the Merkits. Subutai defeated
them along the Chu River in 1216 and again in 1219 in Wild Kipchaq
territory. Mohammad II of Khwarizm attacked Subutai shortly afterwards
along the Irghiz. Subutai held him off after a stiff battle and a piece
of deception. Genghis Khan led the Mongol army westwards in late 1219
to attack Khwarizm. Subutai commanded the advance guard of the main
column. With 70000 or so armed men, the Mongol army was far stronger
than anything Mohammad II could hope to field. He attempted to save
himself by fleeing into central Persia. Genghis Khan sent Subutai and
Chepe with 10000 men to hunt him down. Mohammad eluded capture, but he
fell ill and died in early 1221. Subutai spent part of the winter in
Azerbaijan. Here he conceived the idea of circling the Caspian Sea to
fall on the rear of the Wild Kipchaqs. After a police action in Persia
and a raid into Georgia, the Mongols cut across the Caucasus Mountains
during the winter to get around the Derbent Pass. By means of underhand
diplomacy, Subutai defeated the Alans and Don Kipchaqs in detail. He
crushed a Rus army along the Kalka (31 May 1223), but a raid into Volga
Bulgar territory ended with a defeat. Subutai received reinforcements
and subsequently subjected the Wild Kipchaqs and the Kanglis. Finally,
he rejoined Genghis Khan as the Mongol army was making its way back

Against Xia and Jin

Subutai played a key part in the campaign against Xia in 1226. In
1227 he conquered the Jin districts along the upper Wei River. The
Mongol operations were interrupted by the death of Genghis Khan.
Genghis Khan was succeeded by his son Ögedei.
In 1230-1231, Ögedei personally led the main Mongol army against the
Jin (in Central China), but the attempt to break into the plains of
Honan ended in failure after Subutai was defeated at Shan-ch’e-hui. The
Mongols besieged and took Fengxiang, a secondary target. In 1231-1232
the Mongols made another attempt. This time Sübe’etei was able to
outmanoeuvre the Jin armies. The Mongols won decisive victories at
Sanfeng (9 February 1232), Yangyi (24 February 1232), and T’ieh’ling (1
March 1232). Ögedei and the main Mongol army returned to Mongolia,
leaving Subutai with a small force to complete the conquest of Honan.
Subutai found it difficult to take the large cities and needed almost 2
more years to finally eliminate the Jin. He made an alliance with Song
to get help to complete the job. It did not take the Song long to fall
out with the Mongols. Two Song armies seized Kaifeng and Loyang during
the summer of 1234. The Mongols returned and drove off the Song.

The 2nd series of Western campaigns

Ögedei decided to send a major part of the army into the western
regions to finally crush the Wild Kipchaqs and Bulgars. Sübe’etei was
tasked to direct the operations (under the overall command of prince
Batu). He defeated Kipchaq leader Bachman on the north side of the
Caspian Sea and next conquered the Volga Bulgars. In late 1237, Subutai
attacked Ryazan and Vladimir-Suzdal, operating with 3 columns
(attacking as the Mongols usually did during the winter). The Rus
forces were defeated in 3 separate engagements and their cities were
taken in quick succession. The Mongols spent the summer of 1238 resting
along the Don. Columns were sent out to subject the various tribes
living in the plains around the Black Sea. In 1239, the Rus state of
Chernigov was defeated and their cities were taken. The Mongols had
made a treaty with Galich-Vladimir, whose prince was therefore taken by
surprise when the Mongols suddenly attacked in December 1240. Kiev,
Vladimir, and other cities were quickly taken. The Mongols were ready
to enter Central Europe. Subutai operated with several separate
detachments, aiming to distract on the flanks, while he dealt with the
main Hungarian army in the center. The Mongols defeated European armies
at Chmielnik (18 March 1241), Kronstadt/Brasov (31 March 1241),
Liegnitz/Wahlstadt (9 April 1241), Mohi (10 April 1241), and
Hermannstadt/Sibiu (10 April 1241). Hungary was overrun. The Mongols
set out for home in 1242, after learning that Ögedei had died.

Attack on central and eastern Europe

The attack on Europe was planned and carried out by Subutai, who
achieved his lasting fame with his victories there. Having devastated
the various Russian Principalities, he sent spies as far as Poland,
Hungary, and even Austria, in preparation for an attack into the
heartland of Europe. Having a clear picture of the European kingdoms,
he brilliantly prepared an attack nominally commanded by Batu Khan and
two other princes of the blood. While Batu Khan, son of Jochi,
was the overall leader, Subutai was the actual commander in the field,
and as such was present in both the northern and southern campaigns
against Kievan Rus'. He also commanded the central column that moved against the Kingdom of Hungary. While Kadan's northern force won the Battle of Liegnitz and Güyük's army triumphed in Transylvania, Subutai was waiting for them on the Hungarian plain.

King Béla IV of Hungary had summoned a council of war at Esztergom, a large and important settlement upriver from Buda and Pest.
As Batu was advancing on Hungary from the northeast, the Hungarian
leadership decided to concentrate their strength at Pest and then head
north to confront the Mongol army. When news of the Hungarian battle
strategy reached the Mongol commanders, they slowly withdrew to the Sajo River,
drawing their enemies on. This was a classic Mongol strategy,
ultimately perfected by Subutai. He prepared a battlefield suitable to
his tactics, and waited for his enemies to blunder in. It was a strong
position, because woods prevented their ranks from being clearly
scouted or seen, while across the river on the plain of Mohi, the
Hungarian army was widely exposed.

Only one day after the smaller army in Poland had won the Battle of Legnica, Subutai launched his attack, thus beginning the Battle of Mohi during the night of April 10, 1241.
At the Mohi, a single division crossed the river in secret to advance
on the Hungarian camp from the southern flank. The main body began to
cross the Sajo by the bridge at Mohi, and continued to attack the
following day. This was met with fierce resistance, so catapults
were used to clear the opposite bank of crossbowmen, as was noted
earlier. When the crossing was completed, the second contingent
attacked from the south.

The result was complete panic, and, to ensure that the Hungarians did not fight to the last man, the Mongols
left an obvious gap in their encirclement. This was one of Subutai's
classic tricks, to create a tactical situation which appeared to be
favorable to the enemy, but which was anything but. The Mongols had
already incurred heavier than usual casualities as the Hungarian
crossbowmen had done considerable damage to the Mongol cavalry. Subutai
did not want a battle where the massed crossbowmen, supported by
mounted Knights, stood firm and fought to the death against his army.
He far preferred to let them retreat, where he would be able to have
them picked off at will. The inviting gap in the Mongol lines was an
invitation to flee, which would leave the Knights and crossbowmen
spread out all over the countryside, (as they were led to a swamp,
which was poor footing for horses, and hard going for infantry), and
easy pickings for the disciplined Mongols. As Subutai had planned, the
fleeing Hungarians poured through this apparent hole in the Mongol
lines, which led to a swampy area. When the Hungarian knights split up,
the Mongol archers picked them off at will, and it was later noted that
corpses littered the countryside over the space of a two day journey.
Two archbishops and three bishops were killed at the Sajo, plus 40,000
fighting men. At one stroke, the bulk of Hungarian fighting men were
totally destroyed, with relatively minimal causalities to the Mongols,
reportedly less than 1,000 men. [3]

By late 1241, Subutai was discussing plans to invade the Holy Roman Empire, when the news came of the death of Ögedei Khan. The Mongols
withdrew, as the Princes of the blood were required to do, as was
Subutai, to Mongolia. As noted previously, only the death of the Great
Khan prevented the attack on the remainder of Europe.

Some historians say he was called back to the capital of the Mongol Empire after Genghis Khan began to fear his power—but this is contradicted by him being in continuous command of Mongol armies from the time of Genghis Khan himself, almost up to the time of Subutai's death in 1248. He also invaded Kievan Rus', Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary with Batu Khan.

Mongolian histories say that Subutai died by 1248 at the ripe old age of 72.

Last years

Subutai was removed from commanding the European invasions by Guyuk
Khan after his ascension to the Khanate, but placed in charge of the
campaign against the Song in 1246, at 70 years old. Most historians
believe this transfer was not to deinerate the generalship of Subutai
during the European campaigns - indeed, it was the opposite. Guyuk had
no love for Batu, and wanted the best of the Mongol Generals elsewhere,
and not available to Batu if the feud between the two came to open war.
Subutai campaigned against the Song in 1246-1247. He then returned to
Mongolia where he died in 1248.

External links

  • Subedei the Warrior
  • References

  • Allsen, T.T., Prelude to the Western Campaigns: Mongol Military
    Operations in Volga-Ural Region 1217-1237, Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi
    3 (p.5-24), 1983
  • Amitai-Preiss, Reuven. (1998). The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-52290-0
  • Boyle, John Andrew, History of the World Conqueror, Manchester, 1958
  • de Rachewiltz, Igor, In the Service of the Khan: Eminent
    personalities of the early Mongol-Yuan period (1200-1300), Wiesbaden,
  • de Rachewiltz, Igor, The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century, Brill, 2004
  • Gabriel, Richard A., Genghis Khan's Greatest General: Subotai the Valiant. University of Oklahoma Press (March 30, 2006). ISBN 0806137347.
  • Morgan, David (1990) The Mongols. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-17563-6
  • Nicolle, David, (1998). The Mongol Warlords Brockhampton Press.
  • Reagan, Geoffry, (1992). The Guinness Book of Decisive Battles . Canopy Books, NY.
  • Saunders, J. J. (1971). The History of the Mongol Conquests, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. ISBN 0-8122-1766-7
  • Sicker, Martin (2000). The Islamic World in Ascendancy: From the Arab Conquests to the Siege of Vienna, Praeger Publishers.
  • Soucek, Svatopluk (2000). A History of Inner Asia. Cambridge University Press.
  • Strakosch-Grassmann, Einfall der Mongolen in Mittel-Europa 1241-1242, Innsbruck, 1893
  • Thackston, W.M., Rashiduddin Fazlullah’s Jamiʻuʾt-tawarikh
    (Compendium of Chronicles), Harvard University, Department of Near
    Eastern Languages and Civilizations, 1998-99
  • Yuan Shih (120 and 121), http://www.yifan.net/yihe/novels/history/yuanssl/yuas.html

This page was last modified 20:59, 9 July 2007.All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License. (See Copyrights for details.) Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Taken from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subutai

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