How a Javanese King Defeated a Powerful Mongolian Emperor?
The Mongols were a formidable army and they conquored large parts of the Eurasian landmass while defeating a wide variety of opponents. However, Southeast Asia and maritime operations were always problematical for the Mongols.
In 1293 both these challenges existed in a single campaign, the attack on Java; it was a disaster. It was at the edge of the known world for the Mongols and proved too hard. It is a confusing story and not well covered but illustrative of what happens when a powerful force moves into unfamiliar territory and faces an enemy that fights in a different way.
Why did it occur? Kubilai Khan, a ruler of Mongolian Empire, had sent emissaries to a number of kingdoms and countries requesting tribute and one of these delegations arrived in Java in approximately 1289 at the Singhasari Kingdom, ruled at that time by King Kertanegara. Kertanegara decided that it was impertinent of Kubilai Khan to request tribute so, depending on the sources, he had the Mongol emissaries' faces branded with a hot iron or tattooed and possibly had their ears cut-off in punishments fit for common criminals before sending them back to Yuan China.
The Mongols seemed to view any attack on emissaries as particularly insulting and so Kubilai ordered a punitive expedition be raised against the distant troublesome king.
It took three years to assemble the invasion fleet which included 20 000 to 30 000, possibly predominantly Chinese forces in 1000 ships. There was also a year worth of grain and large amounts of silver. (Paul Michel Munoz in Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and Malay Peninsula quoting unreferenced Yuan sources claims a figure of 100 000, including cavalry.) The command structure was interesting with a Mongol, Shi-pi, a veteran of the war against the Song Chinese in overall command. The ground forces were commanded by a Chinese, Kao Xing - presumably not an easily defeated enemy Chinese general from the recent Mongol campaign against the Song. The naval forces were under a Uighur, named Ikh-Musu, he was probably there for his command experience and not for his maritime skill, although China's most famous
The command structure was interesting with a Mongol, Shi-pi, a veteran of the war against the Song Chinese in overall command. The ground forces were commanded by a Chinese, Kao Xing - presumably not an easily defeated enemy Chinese general from the recent Mongol campaign against the Song. The naval forces were under a Uighur, named Ikh-Musu, he was probably there for his command experience and not for his maritime skill, although China's most famous mariner, Zheng He also hailed from the interior of China.
The fleet departed from southern China and tracked down along what is now modern Vietnam. There is some dispute in the sources as to whether the fleet tried to land in Champa and was rejected (Munoz and Delgado) or whether the fleet headed directly for Java (Man). Man goes further and suggests that Kertanegara had already placed forces in Champa to deal with any fleet and so the decision to avoid that location actually worked in the Mongol's favour.
The Mongol force arrived off Tuban in Java in probably early 1293 although I could not find an exact date. What was clear was that the voyage had been hard and that the army was in a weakened state. Prior to disembarking the Mongol commander sent emissaries to understand what was happening on the land. The emissaries were then informed that Kertanegara was dead, killed by the leader of a Singhasari tribute state, the Adipati of Kediri, Jayakatwang who had become the new power in the area. Kertanegara's son in law, Raden Wijaya, made a deal with the Mongols that if the Mongols assisted him then he would swear allegiance to the Great Khan. This was probably seen as a good outcome for the Mongol commanders.
The fleet traveled to Surabaya and fought a naval engagement with the Javanese fleet that was located there. It is possible that these boats were oar-powered barges that would have looked to come alongside and board a Mongol vessel. After that encounter, the Mongol commander disembarked a large number of his ground forces for a land campaign while the fleet sailed off to Sumatra to seek the submission of the kings there. While this is not far on a map it could have taken the ships a while to complete this task as the winds would have to be favorable. The fleet must have recovered quickly also to be prepared to make this move. The Mongol commander must have been very confident of success or of his new Javanese allies to have allowed the fleet to move away from him. The fleet carried out their tasking well and secured the allegiance of the Sumatra kingdoms as well as royal hostages.
The true ground campaign started with the Mongols heading up the Brantas River valley towards Kediri. Raden Vijaya's forces supposedly targeted isolated Kediri garrisons while the Mongols concentrated on the Kediri armies. Jayakatwang's army was effectively being enveloped by the Mongol Army from the north and the forces of Raden Wijaya from the east. It was not clear how victory was obtained but it appears that Jayakatwang's forces were outnumbered by these two armies and went down fighting in a battle in March 1293. Without an army, Jayakatwang remained in Kediri which was invested by the Mongols and he was captured in his palace on 26 April 1293.
It was after this victory that Raden Wijaya played his master stroke. He convinced Shi-pi that he needed to return to his home district to organize the tribute for the great khan. Some sources say that the Mongol escort of 200 were armed others say they were unarmed. I suspect that they were armed as otherwise they would have to leave their arms somewhere and they were still moving through areas that had been recently fought over. I suspect that the story of the troops being unarmed if indeed it was contemporaneous, was spread to discredit Shi-pi for having fallen into a trap and having not avenged defenceless men on a mission to gain a tribute, a quest the mission had been about all the time.
The Mongol forces commenced a fighting withdrawal north-east to Surabaya. The men boarded the ships and after some deliberation the Mongol force decided that further military action would be counterproductive and so they sailed back to China. The expedition leaders probably had some justification as Kertanegara was dead and the initial insult had been avenged. Kublai Khan did not see it like that and had Shi-pi as well as Kao Xing flogged and a third of their property confiscated, although they were both eventually pardoned. Ikh-musu was rewarded for prevention an outright disaster. The Sumatran hostages were allowed to return home while the Javanese hostages were taken back to China, except for Jayakatwang who was killed by the Mongols during the voyage.
Why were the Mongols defeated?
Was the defeat inevitable? Under the law of probability, the invasion was not looking positive, as the Mongols had suffered defeat or encountered major problems with other expeditions to what is now Southeast Asia and the other major amphibious operations against Japan had ended in failure. The Mongols may have had problems with their bows as they had problems with them in other tropical places. This explanation does not appear promising as the Mongols had fought Jayakatwang's forces already without apparent problems.
Certainly, the Mongols were tricked and perhaps in their weakened state already they were not able to respond adequately. I would also think that given their tiredness and that the environment did not match their mobile tactics, plus the army may not have had many Mongols anyway, they were not well positioned to seize the initiative. That said they apparently did conduct a successful fighting withdrawal as demonstrated by losses of around 3000, which should have been worse given that they were withdrawing from hostile territory harried by Raden Wijaya's forces. It probably shows that the Mongol forces held together well enough to present a disciplined face to the larger army trailing them.
Source : Asianmil.typad.com
Sources and further reading
- Paul Michel Munoz, Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and Malay Peninsula
- John Man, Kublai Khan
- Wikipedia article
- Asia Finest Discussion Forum on the Mongol invasion of Java, Author: Stephen Turnbull
- The Mongols in South-East Asia
- Chams and Khmers - The war barge
- Singhasariat Worldlingo.com