Sati Beg (c. 1300–after 1342)

views updated

Sati Beg (c. 1300–after 1342)

Il-Khanid queen of Persia. Reigned 1338–1339; born around 1300; died after 1342; niece of Mahmud Ghazan (1295–1304), Il-Khan; daughter of Oljeitu, an Il-Khan; sister of Abu Said; married Choban (a military amir, died); married Arpa Ke'un (died 1336); married Sulaiman; children: (first marriage) daughters Baghdad Khatun and Sorghan Shira.

Sati Beg, a Mongol descended from Genghis Khan, was the niece of Mahmud Ghazan, daughter of Oljeitu, and sister of Abu Said. Her family ruled the much-troubled kingdom of Persia, which was centered in the modern state of Iran, but also included parts of what are now Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Mongol control of Persia came as a result of two invasions: Genghis Khan led the earlier and more destructive of these in 1220–21, while Hulegu Khan (Genghis' grandson) followed up with a second expedition in 1256. Initially, Hulegu planned to base himself in Persia as he pursued additional conquests farther west; it was his dream to create a Mongol empire stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to China. This dream, however, never materialized because of the successful resistance offered by the Mamluks, the Muslim masters of Egypt. For over 50 years, the Mongols struggled with the Mamluks (primarily in Syria), a conflict which debilitated Persia. The empire had suffered greatly with the coming of the Mongols, and constant warfare hindered any kind of recovery.

When it became obvious that the tide of Mongol conquest in the west had about run its course, it was decided that the Mongol state should be somewhat decentralized in order to permit the vast empire's localized problems to be faced regionally. The Great Khan ruling in China continued to be recognized as the supreme Mongol authority, but he no longer claimed direct rule over Persia. Instead, the so called Il-Khans came to govern that chaotic region (initially from their capital at Tabriz) as deputies of the Great Khan. These rulers—all the descendants of Genghis and Hulegu Khan—faced a difficult situation because of foreign wars and domestic unrest. Domestically, Persia was afflicted by two major problems. The first of these was religious: the Persia which the Mongols had conquered was Islamic (if torn between the Sunni and Shiite sects), although significant numbers of Buddhists, Christians and Jews lived within its boundaries. The Mongols, however, were initially pagans whose rule was not legitimate in the eyes of the Islamic majority. Hence, there was a crisis concerning the rule of law, with the only real justification for Mongol rule being "might makes right." A second major cause of discontent was taxation, which remained very high under the Mongols in order to pay for the Il-Khanate's many wars.

The greatest of the Il-Khans was Mahmud Ghazan (1295–1304), who began an accommodation with the majority of his subjects by converting to Islam. This helped to consolidate his religious and legal position and went a long way toward justifying Mongol rule to his non-Mongol subjects. Ghazan also did more than any of his Mongol predecessors to put a cap on taxation, to foster economic growth, and to constrain the arrogance of his kingdom's military aristocracy. Ghazan, however, died when he was only 33. He was succeeded by his brother, Khar-Banda, who adopted the throne name of Oljeitu ("Fortunate One"). Oljeitu attempted to further Ghazan's reforms but without as much success. This was due mostly to his primary interests which were more cultural and intellectual than his brother's. In a more peaceful time, Oljeitu may have been a greater king, but as things stood his dedication to the arts allowed others to assert more political and military autonomy than was good for his realm.

Oljeitu was also young (36) when he died in 1316. Unfortunately, his son and heir, Abu Said, was only 12 at the time of his accession. As a result, many chieftains sought personal advantage in rebelling against the new Il-Khan. Fortunately for Abu Said, however, others sought advantage in the defense of his authority. Chief among the latter was the military amir named Choban, a very capable figure with a large family which he put to work in Abu Said's interests. In 1319, Choban helped Abu Said to win a major victory against a rebellious coalition, and he became the Il-Khan's most trusted servant, a position which was publicly ratified by his marriage to Oljeitu's daughter (and Abu Said's sister) Sati Beg. The couple had two daughters, Baghdad Khatun and Sorghan Shira . Choban was much older than Sati Beg and already had several adult sons.

Thereafter, Choban saw to the entrenchment of his family's influence by the appointment of his sons to powerful positions: in particular, Temur Tash became the viceroy of Rum (Persian Anatolia) and Dimashq Khwaja became the viceroy of Azerbaijan. Despite the extent of Choban's influence, a serious break between him and Abu Said began in 1325. The first cause for this was the growing arrogance and dissolution of Dimashq Khwaja, who had begun to usurp the powers traditionally held by the Il-Khan's vizier. This ambition and the swagger with which it was displayed insulted the now adult Abu Said. A second problem between Abu Said and Choban arose when the Il-Khan became obsessed with Choban and Sati Beg's daughter Baghdad Khatun, who was already married. This did not deter Abu Said, who reportedly invoked an ancient tradition to the effect that the sovereign could claim any woman he wished, regardless of her current marital status. Choban, however, did what he could to douse Abu Said's passion, but his attempt to put some geographical distance between Abu Said and Baghdad Khatun only frustrated the Il-Khan and further inflamed his passion.

In 1326, a threat to Persia's eastern frontier sent Choban into the field on military business. While he was away from court, the arrogance of Dimashq Khwaja so embittered Abu Said that the Il-Khan had Choban's son executed, perhaps on trumped-up charges. Knowing that this was tantamount to declaring war against his powerful amir, Abu Said was ready to free himself of Choban's influence and to begin to rule independently. The struggle between the realm's two most important figures initially split the loyalties of its military class. During his return to the west for a showdown with Abu Said, however, Choban made the mistake of allowing his army to pillage much of the Persian countryside, a blunder which undoubtedly played a role in the desertion of a significant portion of his army on the eve of his would-be confrontation with Abu Said. Thus weakened, Choban retreated to the east, in the hope that he could rally the support he needed to avenge the death of his son. As he prepared for civil war, Choban sent Sati Beg and their child Sorghan Shira back to her brother Abu Said. A second assault against Abu Said never materialized, for Choban was captured by an ally of Abu Said and put to death. Thereafter, Temur Tash fled to Egypt where he was kept as a possible weapon against Persia until the political climate changed, and he, too, was executed. As a demonstration that it was his will which had carried the day, Abu Said married his niece Baghdad Khatun.

With Choban's fall, Abu Said began to rule for himself in earnest, although it was not until 1329 that he reduced the last major domestic threat to his authority. Even then, foreign enemies still existed. In 1335, Abu Said was on his way to deal with a raid led by one Oz Beg, when he was poisoned. Ironically, his murderer was Baghdad Khatun, who was jealous of a younger rival for Abu Said's affections. Heaping irony upon irony, this rival was her niece, Dil-Shad Khatun, the daughter of the same Dimashq Khwaja whom Abu Said had put to death.

Because Abu Said was the last of his direct line, when it came time for the Mongols to select a new Il-Khan they turned to a collateral branch of the ruling family. A majority supported Arpa Ke'un, who attempted to consolidate his control of the throne by marrying Sati Beg. Even with this marriage, however, Arpa Ke'un was unable to win unanimous support for his elevation and his short reign was beset by unrest: in 1336, his governor of Baghdad, Ali Padshah, joined in the disquiet, captured Arpa Ke'un, and had him executed. This murder made Sati Beg twice widowed and unleashed a general civil war which continued into 1338.

In that year, two power-brokers emerged as Persia's most important warlords: Hasan Buzurg (the husband from whom Abu Said had stolen Baghdad Khatun and thus the one-time son-in-law of Choban); and Hasan Kuchak (the son of Temur Tash and thus the grandson of Choban). Each of these rivals sought to be the power behind the throne of some puppet Il-Khan, whose only qualification for the office was that he or she was a descendant of Genghis Khan. Initially, Hasan Buzurg put forward a child named Muhammed as his claimant, but Hasan Kuchak captured and executed him. At the same time, Hasan Kuchak put forward Sati Beg as his choice for Il-Khan, a post she nominally held in 1338–39. The kingdom was too polarized, however, for Sati Beg ever to exert any real authority. To counter Hasan Kuchak's move, Hasan Buzurg next supported one Togha Temur but abandoned him thanks to a ruse devised by Hasan Kuchak. In a letter, Hasan Kuchak proposed the marriage of Sati Beg to Togha Temur, then he let the letter fall into the hands of Hasan Buzurg. Hasan Buzurg's next candidate was Jahan Temur, a move which was popular enough to induce Hasan Kuchak to depose Sati Beg in favor of one Sulaiman, whom Hasan Kuchak then forced Sati Beg to marry.

The two Hasans met in a battle in 1340 to decide the fate of the kingdom. Hasan Kuchak won this engagement, forcing Hasan Buzurg to flee to Baghdad where he jettisoned Jahan Temur and successfully established a new dynasty which severed Iraq, Kurdistan and Azerbaijan from the rest of Persia. As for Hasan Kuchak, he was murdered by his wife shortly after his victory. Sulaiman survived the death of Hasan Kuchak but was deposed, probably in 1342, by Kuchak's brother. Thereafter, Sati Beg and her last husband fall out of the historical record.

William Greenwalt , Associate Professor of Classical History, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California