(1220 - 1332)
On the eastern borders of the Khwarizm Empire a Mongol chieftain by the name of Temujin, later entitled Genghis Khan, was busily consolidating his power. From him the Khwarizm Shah received the following note: "I am the sovereign of the sun-rise, and thou the sovereign of the sun-set. Let there be between us a firm treaty of friendship, amity, and peace and let traders and caravans on both sides come and go, and let the precious products and ordinary commodities which may be in my territory be con-veyed by them into thine, and those in thine into mine." With the notebearer he sent five hundred camels laden with gold, including a nugget of pure gold as big as a camel's neck, silver, silks, furs, sable and other "elegant and ingenious" rarities (Juzjani).
Such riches were just too tempting for the Shah's avaricious bor-der commander. He seized the treasure and, in an attempt to pre-vent news of his perfidious act from reaching the ears of the Khan, killed all those accompanying the caravan. Or so he thought. He had in fact missed one young camel boy who, taking a steam bath, succeeded in escaping through the chimney to return with the fateful news to his master. Furious, Genghis Khan demanded that the Shah turn over the border commander for punishment but the Shah, sublimely confident of his supreme power, answered by returning the Khan's messengers with singed beards. Insult having thus been added to theft and murder, the flood gates opened for one of the most catastrophic episodes recorded in the annals of mankind.
Two hundred thousand Mongols marched west to chastise the Khwarizm Shah in the year 1219. By 1221 Balkh, Herat, the Seistan, Ghazni, Bamiyan and all points in between had fallen before the onslaught and " . . . with one stroke a world which billowed with fertility was laid desolate, and the regions thereof became a desert and the greater part of the living dead and their skins and bones crumbling dust; and the mighty were humbled and immersed in the calamities of perdition." So says Juvaini, an eloquent eye-witness chronicler writing only thirty years later. The ruined citadel of the Shansabani capital in Bamiyan is a poignant, visual monument to the presence of Genghis Khan in Afghanistan. Its name, Shahr-i-Gholghola, "City of Noise," refers to the tumult of that final massacre during which the conqueror fulfilled a vow to kill every man, woman and child, every animal and plant in the valley of Bamiyan.
Recovery was slow. The great irrigation works which had en-abled this land to produce an abundance lay broken and useless, purposely destroyed by Genghis Khan; anarchy so frightened traders that they turned to the sea, and the great cities of the desert and the plain, robbed of their livelihood, became mounds of sand. Only in the rich province of Khurasan was there a return to law and order under an extremely skillful local family, known as the Karts. Appointed Governors by the Mongol Il-Khans of Persia in 1245, they expanded from their capital at Herat to include Kandahar (1281), prominent since the destruction of Bost by Alauddin Ghori, within their realm. When, therefore, they de-clared their independence in 1332 they seemed well on their way toward a long and prosperous reign. The huge bronze cauldron in the courtyard of the great mosque in Herat is a stunning ex-ample of their sophisticated tastes. A new storm was, however, already brewing in Central Asia.
- Afghanistan by Louis Dupree