Why did Ali ad-Din, Emperor of Khwarzm, Transoxiana and Khursan, get on a fishing boat and sail west in the winter of 1220?

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Ala ad-Din Muhammad II was the Emperor of the Khwarezm empire from 1200-1220. At the time of the Emperor's reign, the Mongol Empire was coming into its own, spanning the width of Eurasia. The charismatic and fierce Genghis Khan ruled his empire through violent conquests.

Although both Genghis Khan and Ala-ad-Din Muhammad II sent emissaries between their two territories, political relations soon became strained due to the Otrar incident. In the summer of 2018, Genghis Khan sent a delegation of more than 400 people in a caravan of about 500 camels for a trade mission in Otrar.

Unfortunately, the governor of Otrar, Ghaiyr Khan Inalchuq, suspected the emissaries of being spies for Genghis Khan. Without a second thought, he had the trade delegation executed and their goods confiscated. Genghis Khan sent another envoy to demand the extradition of the governor of Otrar. Ala ad-Din Muhammad II refused to hand Inalchuq over. To make matters worse, historians tell us that the Shah himself had members of the special envoy executed. Genghis Khan, hardly a patient man in the best of circumstances, was outraged. He prepared for war.

The siege of Bukhara was the start of Genghis Khan's mission to overwhelm and wipe out the Khwarezm dynasty. With more than 150,000 soldiers at his disposal, Genghis Khan set out. He left the siege of Otrar to his two sons, Chagatai and Ogedei. Khan himself set out to oversee the siege of Bukhara. With the fall of poorly defended Bukhara, Genghis Khan set the Khwarezmi capital of Samarkand in his sights. After executing the governor of Otrar, Chagatai and Ogedei joined their father in bringing Samarkand to its knees. Ala ad-Din Muhammad tried to push back hard but his military was in no condition to battle the supremely trained Mongol war machine.

With Samarkand in Mongol hands, the Shah, with a small band of his most loyal supporters, fled west in a fishing boat to a small island in the Caspian Sea. He died there in December 1220. Despite the efforts of Genghis Khan's best generals, Subotai and Jebe, the Shah managed to escape Mongol clutches. He died in relative obscurity on the island. Some historians speculate that the dangerous journey, the possible contraction of pneumonia during that perilous journey, and the loss of his Empire might have contributed to the Shah's demise. Either way, the Mongol invasion of the Khwarezmi cities are considered one of the bloodiest massacres in all of history. Genghis Khan's revenge was brutal, swift, and merciless.

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