Berke Khan (died 1266) (also Birkai; Mongolian: Бэрх хаан) was the ruler of the Ulus of Jochi or golden horde who effectively consolidated the power of the Blue Horde and White Hordes from 1257 to 1266. He succeeded his brother Batu Khan of the Blue Horde (West) and was responsible for the first official establishment of islam in a khanate of the Mongol Empire. He allied with the Egyptian Mamlukes against another Mongol khanate based in Persia, the Ilkhanate.


Berke is a name used by both Turkic peoples and Mongols. "Berkh" literally means "difficult", in the Mongolian language. "Berk" also has many meanings like "solid", "hard", "difficult" and "steep" in Turkic languages.


Berke was one of the sons of Jochi, the eldest son of Genghis Khan, and Sultan Khatun. Berke was present, with several of his brothers, at the inauguration of his uncle Ogedei as Great Khan in 1229.

In 1236, Berke joined his brothers Orda, Sinkur, and Siban and an assortment of cousins under the leadership of Batu Khan. The vast army, comprising some 150,000 soldiers, marched from Siberia and into the territory of the muslim Volga Bulgars and Kipchaks, whom they subdued. Batu and Subotai sent Berke to the country north of the Caucasus to conquer the Kipchaks there. Next they devastated the principalities of Ryazan and Suzdal in 1237, and marched further into Russia. During the winter of 1238-39, Berke defeated the Kipchaks and imprisoned the chief of the Merkits. He afterwards subdued the steppe watered by the Kuma and the Terek.

Berke further served under his brother during the invasion of Europe, fighting at the Battle of the Mohi, where the Hungarian army was decimated. When Ögedei Khan died, and all the princes of the blood were summoned to return to Mongolia to select a Great Khan, Berke and his brothers joined Batu in his bid for power. When that failed, the Kipchak Khanate settled into Russia, and looked east to defend themselves against their cousins.

Conversion to Islam

Berke Khan adopted islam from Boharzi Sufi Sheikh in the city of Bukhara. When he was at Saray-Jük, Berke met a caravan from Bukhara and questioned them about their faith. Berke was converted by Saif ud-Din Dervish, a dervish Sufi from Khwarezm. Sheikh Saifeddin Boharzi (died in 1261) was a pupil of outstanding Khorezm Sufi Nadjm ad-Din Qubro (died in 1220). He chose Bukhara for preaching. Sheikh Boharzi converted golden horde's Khan Berke into islam. Berke persuaded his brother Tukh-timur to convert to islam as well.

In 1248 Batu sent Berke, along with his brother Tukh-timur, to Mongolia in order to install Mongke Khan on the throne of Great Khan. When he arrived, he invited the Chagatai and Ogedeyd families several times. That is why, Berke conducted the kurultai in 1251 and had Mongke enthroned. Berke organized everything under strict conditions.

Assuming the Kipchak Khanate

When Batu died in 1255, he was briefly succeeded by his son Sartak, before Berke assumed leadership in 1257. He was an able ruler and succeeded in maintaining and stabilizing the golden horde, western khanate of Mongol Empire in Russia. During his government, the Mongols finally defeated the rebellion of Danylo of Halych and made a second attack against Lithuania and Poland, led by famous general Burundai (Lublin, Zawichost, Sandomierz, Kraków and Bytom were plundered) in 1259. Also in 1265 there was a raid against Bulgaria and Byzantine Thrace. Michael of Byzantine Empire also sent much valuable fabric to the golden horde as a tribute thereafter.

Berke-Hulagu War

After Berke was converted by the dervish Seiffedin, he became a devout muslim. His conversion resulted in the Blue Horde becoming primarily muslim, although there were still animists and Buddhists among them. Berke had a deadly determination to deal with Hulagu Khan, who had murdered the Caliph Al-Musta'sim, and whose territorial ambitions in Syria and Egypt threatened Berke's fellow muslims.

In the meantime, the Mongols led by Kitbuqa had fallen out with the crusaders holding the coast of Palestine, and the Mamluks were able to ally with them, pass through their territory, and destroy the Mongol army at the Battle of Ain Jalut. Kitbuqa was killed. Palestine and Syria were permanently lost, the border remaining the Tigris for the duration of Hulagu's dynasty. Berke's vow of vengeance against Hulagu had to wait until the latter's return to his lands after the death of Mongke Khan.

Hulagu returned to his lands by 1262, but instead of being able to avenge his defeats, was drawn into civil war with Berke and the Blue Horde. Berke Khan had promised such a defeat in his rage after Hulagu's sack of Bagdad; Berke was a muslim.

muslim Historian Rashid-al-Din Hamadani quoted Berke Khan told his Mongols and muslim subjects, protesting the attack on Baghdad:

"He (Hulagu) has sacked all the cities of the muslims, and has brought about the death of the Caliph. With the help of God I will call him to account for so much innocent blood. " (see The Mongol Warlords, quoting Rashid al Din's record of Berke Khan's pronouncement; this quote is also found in The Mamluk-Ilkhanid War) -- Before his succession, He also complained Batu "We helped Mongke to enthrone. But he forgot who the enemy is or friend is. Now, he is starving the lands of our friend Caliph. It is abject". It is notable that Berke Khan kept his promise, allying himself with the Mamluks, (Berke sought an alliance with the Mamluk sultan Baibars against Hulagu) and when Hulagu returned to his lands in 1262, after the succession was finally settled with Kublai as the last Great Khan, and massed his armies to avenge Ain Jalut and attack the Mamluks, Berke Khan initiated a series of raids in force which drew Hulagu north to meet him. This was the first open conflict between Mongols, and signaled the end of the unified empire.

But the reason of the conflict between Berke and Hulagu was not only religion. It was territory. Mongke khan gave Azerbaijan, which was given to Jochi by Chinghis khan before, to his brother Hulagu. Although, Berke did not like the situation, he was patient till Mongke's death.

Finally, in 1262 the conflict turned into open war. Hulagu Khan suffered severe defeat in an attempted invasion north of the Caucasus in 1263. Hulagu's forces were crushed at the Terek river by Berke's nephew Nogai, forcing Hulagu into retreat; he died in 1265. Also Chagatai khan Alghu invaded Khwarizm and annexed golden horde lands. Jochid army tried to halt his advance unsuccessfully.

Berke also supported Great Khan claimant Ariq Boke, and he minted coins in the name of Ariq Boke. Yet, Kublai defeated Ariq Boke by 1264. Kublai called both Hulagu and Berke to discuss about Ariq Boke's matter. However, both of them noted that they could not come to the Kurultai at the moment, and the new Kurultai was never held.


As Berke sought to cross the Kura river to attack Hulagu's son, Abaqa Khan, he fell ill and died sometime between 1266 and 1267. He was succeeded by his grandnephew, Mengu-Timur. The policy of alliance with the Mamluks, and containment of the Il-Khanate, was continued by Mengu-Timur. Many historians are in agreement that the intervention by Berke against Hulagu saved the remainder of the "Holy Land", including Mecca and Jerusalem, from the same fate as Baghdad.

Last update 20-06-2012

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