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Carved stone inscription of Jalal al-Din Khwarazm-Shāh


British Museum

British Museum

Jalal al-Din Khwarazm-Shāh (died 1231) inherited an empire covering parts of eastern Iran, Transoxania and Afghanistan. He came to the throne during the invasion of Transoxiana by the Mongol ruler, Ghenghis Khan in 1220. This stone may commemorate a stage in a military campaign, carried out towards the end of Jalal al-Din's life during the winter of 1230-31, in eastern Turkey, north-west Iran, and Azarbaijan. It has been signed by the stone-cutter Mahmud b. Muhammad, known as Rashid, who was also a jeweller and a seal-cutter. Rashid was from the distant city of Nishapur in eastern Iran, and may have travelled westward across Iran in order to flee the impending Mongol invasions.

The Khwarazm-Shāhs ruled Khwarazm, north-west of Transoxania, from the late eleventh century, first as provincial governors for the Seljuk emperors, and later as an independent dynasty ruling central and eastern Iran, Transoxania, and much of Afghanistan. In spite of the size of this empire, the Khwarazm-Shāh cAla' al-Din Muhammad II (the father of Jalal al-Din) was not able to provide a significant resistance to Ghenghis Khan, when he led the huge Mongol cavalry force through the Islamic world from 1219 to 1223, devastating many great cities en route. The Khwarazm-Shāh was forced to flee westward, and died later in exile on an island in the Caspian Sea. Jalal al-Din was able to maintain some military resistance to the Mongols, and was even victorious in several battles against contingents of the Mongol army, though not against Ghenghis Khan himself.

The thirteenth-century Iranian historian Juvaini describes how Ghenghis Khan's army cornered Jalal al-Din's troops on the banks of the Indus river: in the face of imminent defeat, Jalal al-Din ordered all his treasures to be dumped into the raging river, then dived into the river himself, and escaped. Amazed, Ghenghis marvelled at his audacity, stopped his soldiers from continuing the chase, and remarked to his sons, 'Such a son must a father have'.

Ghenghis Khan's return to Mongolia in 1223, and death in 1227, meant that the main Mongol army withdrew from the Islamic world. A Mongol force did return to Iran in 1250s, however, led by Ghenghis Khan's grandson Hūlāgū, who established the Mongols as a resident ruling power over Iran, Iraq and much of Anatolia, until 1335.

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  • Title: Carved stone inscription of Jalal al-Din Khwarazm-Shāh
  • Date Created: 1230/1231
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 29.00cm; Width: 50.00cm; Thickness: 32.00cm; Weight: 35.00kg; Weight: 42.50kg (with mount)
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: carved; engraved
  • Subject: arch/gateway; architectural feature
  • Registration number: 1990,0612.1
  • Place: Found/Acquired Iran
  • Period/culture: Islamic
  • Material: stone
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Axia


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