Ghīyāth al-Dīn Muḥammad Khudābanda (Arabic: غیاث الدین محمد خدابنده), known as Öljeitü, Oljeitu or Uljeitu (b. 680/1281 - d. 716/1316), was an Ilkhanid ruler in Iran who changed his religious sect several times. He was the first one who recognized Shiism as the official religious sect in Iran. He minted coins and delivered sermons in the names of Shiite Imams (a).
The Dome of Soltaniyeh, the mausoleum of Oljeitu
|Full Name||Ghīyāth al-Dīn Muḥammad Khudābanda|
|Well-known Relatives||Ghazan Khan|
|Place of Residence||Khorasan, Baghdad|
|Poisoned by 'Izz al-Din Ibrahim|
|Burial Place||The Dome of Soltaniyeh at Soltaniyeh, Iran|
|Known for||Recognizing Shiism for the first time as the official religious sect in Iran|
|Notable roles||A Ilkhanid king|
|Activities||Minting coins and delivering sermons in the names of Shiite Imams (a)|
According to the book, Tarikh-i Oljeitu (History of Oljeitu), Oljeitu was at first known as "Oljei-Buqa", and then "Matmodar", and finally "Kharbanda".
Edgar Blochet, who has edited part of Jami' al-tawarikh, believes that the word, "Kharbanda", is another form of the Mongol word, "Khurbanda" or "Qurbanda", which means the third (the third son). According to Rashid al-Din Fadl Allah, in order to avoid the unpleasant connotation of this name (which in Persian means: servant of donkey), he appealed to Abjad numerals and extracted the meaning, "special shadow of the creator", from it. However, when Kharbanda was enthroned, he was called "Oljeitu" (combination of two Mongol words: "Oljei" which means happiness, and "Tu" which is a possession suffix. Thus, "Oljeitu" means the possessor of happiness or auspicious). He then came to be known as the King Muhammad Khudabanda (where "Khudabanda" in Persian means the servant of God).
Oljeitu and his brother, Ghazan Khan, were appointed by their father as rulers of Khorasan in 682/1283. Amir Nowruz served as their Atabeg. During the rule of Ghazan (694-702/1294-1302), Oljeitu was, according to the Ilkhanid tradition, appointed as the ruler of Khorasan as a crown prince. He showed his competence by suppressing the rioting rulers of Turk and rival Mongol princes.
After the death of Ghazan in Shawwal, 703 (May 1304), Oljeitu killed two of his possible rivals before announcing the death of the Ilkhan. Oljeitu was enthroned on Dhu l-Hijja 15, 703 (July 19, 1304). He kept Sa'd al-Din and Rashid al-Din Fadl Allah in their ministerial positions, and appointed Qutlugh Shah as the Emir of Emirs (Amir al-Umara').
Oljeitu died in Soltaniyeh at the age of 36. His death is said to be caused by a poison given to him by 'Izz al-Din Ibrahim, the son of Khwaja Rashid al-Din, at his father's command. Khwaja and his son were executed on the basis of this accusation. Oljeitu's corpse was buried in a resting place in Qaleh (Soltaniyeh) which was built at his own command. According to his will, his son, Abu Sa'id, succeeded him.
Oljeitu was not much engaged with battles and suppression of riots during his reign. Thus, he continued the reforms began by Ghazan Khan before him in the bureaucratical system which was considered as a milestone in the history of the Ilkhanid dynasty.
Since the beginning of his reign, Oljeitu ordered that all Yassa (laws) issued by his brother, Ghazan, be protected against any distortions. He also appointed Rashid al-Din Fadl Allah, the well-known vizier of Ghazan who was in charge of the reforms, in his government.
After the death of Kublai Khan, the senior Mongol Khan, in 693/1294, the monopoly of the Khanate over the realm of different tribes of Mongol rulers was undermined. Soon after the reign of Oljeitu, the envoys of some Mongol rulers went to him and pledged that they will avoid quarrels with one another and that commercial caravans could freely move throughout the whole Mongol territories.
Concern for Science
The book, Tarikh-i Wassaf, refers to a school known as "Sayyara" (portable school) which was invented by Rashid al-Din and Taj al-Din, Oljeitu's viziers. Whenever Oljeitu went on a travel, tents were installed in which a group of scholars and scientists taught, including Nizam al-Din 'Abd al-Malik, 'Abd al-Rahman Hakim Tustari, al-'Allama al-Hilli, and his son, al-Muhaqqiq al-Hilli.
Some well-known historians and authors lived during the reign of Oljeitu. Abu l-Qasim 'Abd Allah b. 'Ali al-Kashani served in Oljeitu's palace. He wrote the book, History of Oljeitu, about the life and kingdom of Oljeitu. Rashid al-Din Fadl Allah, the well-known historian and scholar of the period, wrote the second volume of his Jami' al-tawarikh (comprehensive history) in the name of Oljeitu. The author of Tarikh-i Wassaf also dedicated his book to Oljeitu.
According to historical accounts, Oljeitu was particularly concerned with constructions in his territory. He continued the constructions of his brother, Ghazan, and supported artists. An important construction project by Oljeitu was the development and expansion of the city, Soltaniyeh. Glorious buildings, such as a mosque, a hospital, and a school, were constructed in this city at his command.
The first and the most important military invasion by Oljeitu occurred in 706/1306 against rioting rulers of Gilan. They had not yet complied with the Ilkhanid government for 50 years because they were protected by high mountains, dense groves, and impassable roads. After a vigorous invasion on the area, Oljeitu forced them to comply with him. Since then, Gilan paid taxes to the Ilkhanids.
After the battle of Gilan, the conditions in the eastern Ilkhanid territories extremely agitated Oljeitu, since Malik Fakhr al-Din Kurt, who had a history of a quarrel with Oljeitu, had not yet expressed his loyalty to the Ilkhan. Thus, the Ilkhan sent an army there. In the meanwhile, Fakhr al-Din died and his surrogate, Muhammad Sam, surrendered.
Late in the period of Oljeitu's reign, provinces in the eastern, western, and southern Ilkhanid territory were in chaos which agitated the Ilkhan. The skirmishes in the east began when the Ilkhan tried to expand his power near Shapurqan (Uspurqan) on the side of the Indus River by exploiting the domestic disputes among Nikudaris. With the permission of Oljeitu and the aids by the army of Khorasan, Timur Gurkani defeated Dawud Khwaja Amir Nikudari, forcing them to move to the other side of Amu Darya in 712/1312.
During this time, 'Izz al-Din b. Jamal al-Din Ibrahim al-Sawahili, the agent of Fars, gave an enormous amount of money to the Ilkhan and then confiscated people's property in Shiraz, rebelling against the Ilkhanate. He soon escaped from the Ilkhanid army and went to Hormuz. A year later, Qaramanids rioted against the Ilkhan and established an autonomous government in Konya and Malatya for a short time until they were suppressed by Amir Chupan.
The relationship between Oljeitu and the Golden Horde or Altin Ordyn in the Steppe of Kipchaks (Cumania) was friendly at first. However, Uzbek Khan, the successor of Tuqta, reasserted the earlier claims of Altin Ordyn Khans according to which Arran and Azerbaijan were parts of their territory. In particular, late in Oljeitu's life, his relationship with the Khan of the Golden Horde fell into serious troubles. In 715/1315, Baba Ogul from the Golden Horde took refuge to Oljeitu after plundering Khwarezm, and thus, there emerged a distrust between the Persian and the Uzbek Ilkhans. However, Baba Ogul was finally killed at the command of Oljeitu and thus, his relationship with the Uzbek improved.
Relationship with Egyptian Mamluks
The greatest enemy of the Persian Ilkhans in this period were Mamluks. Early in his reign, Oljeitu tried to establish friendly relationships with them. According to Tarikh-i Wassaf, he wrote a letter to them containing promises and threats. This resulted in the failure of Nuqta, the Khan of the Golden Horde, to encourage the Egyptian king to invade the Ilkhanid territory.
The only invasion of Oljeitu on the Mamluks occurred in 712/1312 when Malik al-Nasir Muhammad b. Qalawun began to kill his opponents and Qarasunqur, the ruler of Damascus, Jamal al-Din Afram, the ruler of Aleppo and some other rulers of Syria took refuge to Oljeitu, encouraging him to invade Syria. According to Persian sources, Oljeitu attacked Rahaba, conquered its castle, and then returned to Baghdad. But according to Abu l-Fada, who was the ruler of Hama at the time, Oljeitu abandoned the siege of the castle after one month because of the resistance and the famine.
Relationship with European Christians
Since the beginning of their reign, Persian Ilkhans tried to ally with Christian kings of Europe in order to counter the Egyptian Mamluks. Oljeitu followed the approach of his father, Arghun, and his brother, Ghazan.
Early in his reign, Oljeitu sent two envoys to Pope Clement V, Philippe le Bel, the French king, and Edward II of England. In his letter to Philippe le Bel, the Ilkhan asked him to join him against their common enemy, the Mamluks of Egypt. There is no information about Philippe le Bel's reply to the letter. Edward II, the king of England, wrote two letters back to the Ilkhan in 707/1307. Pope Clement V wrote a letter to Oljeitu on Ramadan 6, 707 (March 1, 1308), asking him to provide horses and foods for Christian warriors as they enter Armenia and aid them with 100,000 cavalries to conquer the holy land. The letters show that the Christian European leaders had no idea of the circumstances in the east, and in particular, the Persian Ilkhanids and their religious tendencies, for they thought that Oljeitu was a Christian trying to propagate Christianity, while he considered himself as a Muslim and even accused Egyptian Muslims of laxity with respect to their faith. He ordered the murder of 3 monks in Tabriz and Erzincan in 714/1314. However, Oljeitu's alliance with European Christian governments never came to reality.
Oljeitu had friendly relationships with Andronikos II, the Eastern Roman Emperor. In order to protect his territory against the invasions of the Turkmens in Asia Minor and Cilicia, the emperor allied with the Perisan Ilkhan, and married his sister, Maryam, to him. In order to counter the Turkish rulers of Anatolia, Olkeitu sent 30,000 soldiers to the western borders of Asia Minor. However, the Turks gradually expanded their territory.
When he was a child, Oljeitu was baptized by his Christian mother, Uruk Khatun, and was named Nikolya after Pope Nicolas IV. However, he later converted to Buddhism. When his brother, Ghazan Khan, converted to Islam, he also converted to Islam while he was the crown prince and the ruler of Khorasan. Like his brother, he chose the Hanafi sect.
Tendency to the Shafi'i Sect
Late in his life, Ghazan Khan visited the Shrine of Imam 'Ali (a) in Najaf where he converted to Shiism. He ordered that sermons be delivered in the name of Ahl al-Bayt (a). However, after the death of Ghazan and the enthronement of Oljeitu, the Hanafis forced the new Ilkhan to mint coins and deliver sermons in the name of the Rashidun Caliphs. Since then, different Islamic sects tried to make Oljeitu convert to their respective religious denomination. In the meanwhile, Khwaja Rashid al-Din, who was a Shafi'i, appointed Nizam al-Din 'Abd al-Malik al-Maraghi al-Shafi'i as the Judiciary of the Persian Territory, and Oljeitu converted to the Shafi'i sect when he saw that Nizam al-Din was superior to the scholars of other sects in their debates. Since then, disputes among Islamic sects intensified, especially between the Hanafis and the Shafi'is. Some Mongol rulers threatened the Ilkhan that they would abandon Islam and return to their ancestral religion. But Oljeitu insisted on his religious tendency.
Conversion to Shiism and the Recognition of Shiism as the Official Sect
Amir Turumtas and Taj al-Din Awaji (Awi), a Shiite scholar, encouraged Oljeitu to convert to Shiism. Eventually in 709/1309, Oljeitu officially converted to Shiism when he went to Baghdad. During his reign, Shiism turned into the official religious sect throughout Iran for the first time. He is the first Imami king who tried to widely propagate Shiism.
After conversion to Shiism, Oljeitu ordered in 709/1309 that coins be minted and sermons be delivered in the names of Shiite Imams, instead of the Rashidun Caliphs. Al-'Allama al-Hilli, the greatest Shiite scholar of the time, visited the Ilkhan and accompanied him since then. He dedicated two of his books, Minhaj al-kirama and Nahj al-haqq, to the king.
However, since the whole Ilkhanid government was founded upon the Sunni Islam, and many Sunni Muslims had infiltrated the state, Oljeitu's religious policies faced a great deal of oppositions. He was finally forced to withdraw from his policies, although he remained loyal to Shiism. According to Ibn Batuta, people of important provinces, such as Baghdad, Azerbaijan, Isfahan, and Shiraz, strongly resisted the Ilkhan's order to change the sermon. Two years later, in 711/1311, when Taj al-Din Awaji and his son were killed at the command of Oljeitu with the accusation of cooperation with the vizier, Khwaja Sa'd al-Din, the Shiite power in the Ilkhanid government began to diminish.
In the last days of his life, Oljeitu ordered that coins be minted and sermons be delivered in the names of the Rashidun Caliphs. He threatened people who resisted his order. According to authors of the Great Islamic Encyclopedia, this order implies that Oljeitu abandoned Shiism at the end of his life and reconverted to the Sunni Islam. Some people reject such an implication, believing that he remained a Shi'a until the end of his life.
Iranian historians have praised Oljeitu's commitment to the rulings of the Shari'a and his efforts to propagate Islam. They maintain that his palace was a place of gathering for scholars, scientists, people of literature, and philosophers. However, Egyptian historians believe that he was a rafidi, accusing him of corruption and acts of atrocity.
He was very strict on Christians and Jews. A Nestorian Patriarch who thought Oljeitu would welcome him like his brother, Ghazan, was surprised when he was ignored by Oljeitu. Since then, Muslims began to persecute Nestorians.
Oljeitu's resting place has survived until today. It counts as one of the best-known historical monuments of Iran under the Dome of Soltaniyeh. Moreover, he constructed the city, Oljeitu Sultan in Mughan and a second capital in the foothills of the Mount Behistun whose ruins still survive under the Steppe of Cham Jamal.
Sources of Research
The most important source about Oljeitu is the book, Tarikh-i Oljeitu (history of Oljeitu), by Abu l-Qasim Kashani, a historian contemporary with Oljeitu. This counts as the main source for later historians, especially Hafiz Abru in Jami' al-tawarikh. Tarikh-i Wassaf also counts as an independent and significant source along with Tarikh-i Oljeitu. Among the Arab historians, the accounts of Ibn Dawadari, an Egyptian historian contemporary with the Ilkhanids, is remarkable.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from اولجایتو in Farsi WikiShia.