ABAQA (or ABAḠA, “paternal uncle” in Mongolian; ABĀQĀ in Persian and Arabic), eldest son and first successor of the Il-khan Hülegü (Hūlāgū). He was born of Yesüṇčin Ḵātūn in Jomādā I, 631/February, 1234 in Mongolia, and accompanied his father on his great expedition to the west. At the outbreak of war with Berke of the Golden Horde around 659-60/1261-62, he was sent eastwards, according to the Armenian chronicler Kirakos (tr. E. Dulaurier, “Les Mongols d’après les historiens arméniens,” JA, 5e série, 11, 1858, p. 505), in order to collaborate with the Čaḡatay prince Alḡu, and is subsequently found at the time of Hülegü’s death in Rabīʿ II, 663/February, 1265 as governor of Khorasan and Māzandarān. Summoned back to Azerbaijan, he was elected to the khanate, after a half-hearted attempt by his younger brother Yošmut to secure his own succession, and enthroned on 3 Ramażān/19 June on the shores of the Čaḡan Naʾur, the present-day Tuzlu Göl near Arāk. Confirmation by his suzerain, the Great Khan Qubilai in China, did not arrive until 669/1270, whereupon Abaqa underwent a second enthronement in the same locality.

Abaqa inherited his father’s struggle with the neighboring powers. Following a victory by Yošmut over the invading forces of the Golden Horde under Noḡai late in 663/1265, he crossed the Kor, but retired on Berke’s own approach. For a time the two armies confronted each other across the river until Berke’s troops withdrew northwards on his sudden death. Peace was shortly made with the new khan of the Golden Horde, Mengü Temür (Mangū Tīmūr), and there were no further incursions from this quarter until the reign of Abaqa’s son Argūn. The respite was necessary, since Abaqa was now faced with a war on his eastern frontier. At a date which is given by Rašīd-al-dīn as 668/1269, but which may have been somewhat earlier. Baraq, the ruler of the Čaḡatay khanate, invaded Khorasan and defeated an army sent against him under Il-khan’s brother Tübšin. Before he could meet this fresh menace, Abaqa had to deal with Baraq’s relative Tegüder (Tagūdār), who had accompanied Hülegü to Iran as commander of a Čaḡatay contingent and now tried to desert with his forces by way of the Caucasus. Only after Tegüder’s capture did Abaqa move east, routing Baraq’s army in a grimly fought engagement near Herat on 1 Ḏu’l-ḥeǰǰa 668/22 July 1270. Baraq died soon after his return to Turkestan, and the Il-khan took advantage of the ensuing upheavals to send, at the instigation of a renegade Čaḡatay officer, an army which sacked Bokhara in 670/1272-73. Even thereafter, however, the eastern provinces were subject to periodic raids by the Negüderis (q.v.; Negūdārīs), or Qaraʾunas (q.v.) as they are sometimes called in the sources, who launched a particularly audacious invasion in Fārs in 676-77/1278 and were only temporarily cowed by an expedition to Khorasan under Abaqa in person in the following year. At any rate, Vaṣṣāf, reporting a raid on Kermān in 680/1281-82, says that the inhabitants of Fārs lived in fear of such depradations every winter until the end of Arḡun’s reign (Bombay ed., p. 203).

Abaqa’s initiatives against his other principal enemies, the Mamluks of Egypt, who had been steadily gaining ground in Syria, were less successful, perhaps in part because characterized by less energy that he displayed in the east. He refrained from sending troops for the relief of Antioch, which had been a client state since its submission to Hülegü and which now fell in 666/1268 to the Mamluk sultan Baybars, and similarly failed to avenge an Egyptian invasion of Armenia (Cilicia) in 667/1269, when the crown prince Leon, son of the Il-khans’ faithful vassal Haṭʿum I (q.v.), was carried off into captivity. Abaqa’s apparent unresponsiveness to these disasters may have been due to his absorption with the threat from the Čaḡatays at this time. Nevertheless, the army he actually dispatched against the Mamluk stronghold of Bīra on the Euphrates was defeated at al-Raḥba in 671/1272. For much of his reign the Il-khan was endeavoring to arrange joint military action with the Franks of Western Europe against the common enemy. In letters addressed to Pope Clement IV in 1267 and 1268, of which only the second has come down to us (see E. Tisserant, “Une lettre de l’Il-khan de Perse Abaga addressée en 1268 au Pape Clément IV,” Le Muséon 59, 1946, pp. 547-56), he suggested that the Frankish armies should rendezvous with those of his father-in-law, the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus, while the Mongols advanced from the east, and that the Mamluks be thus subjected to a two-pronged attack. The proposed collaboration, however, came to nothing. The crusade of St. Louis in 668/1270 was diverted to Tunis, where the French king met his death, and the force Abaqa sent into northern Syria in 669/1271 was too small to cooperate effectively with the army of prince Edward (later Edward I) of England during his stay in Palestine. The Il-khan’s envoys appeared at the Council of Lyons in 1274, and he sent two further embassies to the west in 1276 and 1277, but without tangible results. Meanwhile, Baybars had again attacked Armenia in 673/1275, and two years later, at the invitation of the parvāna Moʿīn-al-dīn Soleymān (q.v.), had invaded Asia Minor (Rūm), routing the Mongol army of occupation at Abolostān (Albostān) in 17 Ḏu’l-qaʿda 675/23 April 1277. Abaqa arrived at the head of a relieving army only after the Mamluk’s withdrawal, and vented his anger on his lukewarm Saljuq allies, whose territories were now ravaged by the Mongols. It was not until the end of his reign that the Il-khan was roused to launch a major expedition into Syria, sending an army of some four thousand men under his brother Mengü Temür. But on 15 Raǰab 680/30 October 1281 it suffered near Ḥomṣ a crushing defeat which was due as much, it seems, to the prince’s inexperience and poor generalship as to the prowess of the Mamluks. Abaqa was prevented from avenging this humiliation by his death a few months later.

Internally, Abaqa’s task was to consolidate the hold on Iran established by his father, at whose death the Mongols controlled in practical terms only the northern regions of the country and exercised a vague suzerainty over the south and east. Even in the north, however, Abaqa had to suppress a band of Ismaʿilis who seized the former Assassin stronghold of Gerdkūh in 670/1271. It was perhaps in order to extend Mongol influence in the south that he married his ill-starred brother Mengü Temür to the Salḡūrī princess Ābeš, ruler of Fārs, on whose death in 685/1286-87 the province was to pass under the Il-khan’s direct rule. But in Khorasan Abaqa was able to make little headway against the semi-independent Kortids (q.v.) of Herat, whose malek, the wily Šams-al-dīn I, had compromised himself by his attitude towards Baraq’s invading forces and was lured to court and poisoned in 676/1278. In fact, under Abaqa, just as in his father’s reign, the Mongols’ power base continued to be pasturelands of the northwest. On his accession, he established his capital in Tabrīz, where in most years he spent the summers; the winter months he tended to pass in Māzandaran.

The features generally associated with a steppe-based military regime dominating large areas of sedentary culture, together with the depredations made by other Mongol powers on the eastern provinces, render it unlikely that Iran recovered substantially under Abaqa’s rule from the devastation that had accompanied Hülegü’s invasion. For the whole of the reign the office of ṣāḥeb-dīvān was held by Šams-al-dīn Moḥammad Jovaynī (q.v.), who survived numerous attempts to undermine Abaqa’s favor towards him. Of these the most persistent were made by one Maǰd-al-molk, who in 679/1280 almost succeeded in encompassing the downfall of the ṣāḥeb-dīvān and at the time of the Il-khan’s death had secured the arrest of his brother, the historian ʿAlāʾ-al-dīn Jovaynī (q.v.), on the charge of embezzlement during his governship of Baghdad. Both brothers are known to have enacted measures for the rehabilitation of Iraq, and must therefore receive at least partial credit for the small improvement which, if Rašīd-al-dīn is to be believed, the country underwent prior to the reforms of Abaqa’s grandson Ḡazan around the turn of the century.

Christian sources speak highly of Abaqa’s favor towards the Eastern churches, and it is true that during his last two years the links between the court and the Nestorian hierarchy, which had weakened since the deaths of Hülegü and Doquz Ḵātūn, were established on a stronger footing. Abaqa himself confirmed in his office in 680/1281 the newly elected Catholicos Mar Yabalaha III (q.v.), with whom he was clearly on good terms. But Abaqa’s Christian sympathies should not be exaggerated. The diplomatic exchanges with Western Europe, of which he was admittedly the initiator, were inspired chiefly by the need to obtain allies against the Mamluks. Nor does his Byzantine wife Maria (known as Despīna Ḵātūn), who had been intended originally for Hülegü, appear to have enjoyed the influence wielded by Doquz Ḵātūn during the previous reign. The evidence suggests, in fact, that Abaqa had by no means abandoned his ancestral shamanism and that he inclined at least as strongly as his father towards the Buddhist faith.

Abaqa died at Hamadān on Ḏu’l-ḥeǰǰa 680/1 April 1282 in a state of delirium tremens induced by a bout of heavy drinking, to which, like the majority of Mongol rulers, he was prone; Šams-al-dīn Jovaynī was subsequently accused of poisoning him. Rašīd-al-dīn tells the story that Abaqa had gone out to answer a call of nature and was disturbed by an apparition in the form of a large black bird. He called out to his attendants to shoot arrows at it, but they saw nothing, whereupon the Il-khan suddenly collapsed and died. He was buried, like his father, on the island of Šāhī in Lake Reżāʾīya. Both his two sons, Arḡun and Gaiḵatu (q.v.), were later to ascend the throne in turn, but his immediate successor was his brother Tegüder, who had adopted Islam and assumed the name of Aḥmad (see Aḥmad Tegüder).


The principal sources are Rašīd-al-dīn, ed. A. A. ʿAlīzāda and tr. A. K. Arends, Džami-at-tavarikh III, Baku, 1957, text pp. 95-164, tr. pp. 65-99; also ed. K. Jahn, Taʾrīḫ-i-Mubārak-i-Gāzānī. Geschichte der Ilḫāne Abāġa bis Gaiḫātū(1265-1295), ‘s-Gravenhage, 1957, (Central Asiatic Studies 2), text pp. 3-42.

Vaṣṣāf, Taǰzīat al-amṣār wa tazǰīat al-aʿṣār, lithog. ed., Bombay, 1269/1853, pp.52-105; also ed. and tr. J. von Hammer-Purgstall, Geschichte Wassaf’s I (all published), Vienna, 1856, text pp. 102-215, tr. pp. 86-201.

Bar Hebraeus, Chronicon Syriacum, ed. and tr. E. A. Wallis Budge, The Chronography of Gregory Abu’l Faraj....commonly known as Bar Hebraeus, Oxford and London, 1932, I, pp. 445-66.

Of the secondary authorities, H. Spuler, Mongolen4, pp. 667-77 et passim, and J. A. Boyle, “Dynastic and Political History of the Il-Khans,” Camb. Hist. Iran V, pp. 353-64 et passim, have now replaced the older accounts of D’Ohsson and Sir Henry Howorth. However, the relevant chapter in the latter’s History of the Mongols from the 9th to the 19th Centuries, London, 1876-88, III, pp. 218-84, remains the most detailed survey of Abaqa’s reign. See also ʿAbbās Eqbāl, Tāʾrīḵ-e mofaṣṣal-e Īrān, 2nd ed., I, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962, pp. 200-21.

For Abaqa’s relations with Western Europe, see Burkhard Roberg, “Die Tartaren auf dem 2. Konzil von Lyon 1274,” Annuarium Historiae Conciliorum 5, 1973, pp. 278-98, and Boyle, “The Il-Khans of Persia and the Princes of Europe,” Central Asiatic Journal 20, 1976, pp. 29-31.

Chinese material, finally, relating to Abaqa’s contacts with his suzerain Qubilai, is translated in Paul Pelliot, Notes on Marco Polo, Paris, 1959-63, I, pp. 4-5. See also Il-khans.

(Peter Jackson)

Originally Published: December 15, 1982

Last Updated: July 13, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 1, pp. 61-63

Cite this entry:

Peter Jackson, “Abaqa,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/1, pp. 61-63; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abaqa (accessed on 10 January 2014).