The early thirteenth century – around the time that King John was forced to sign Magna Carta in England – saw central and eastern Europe facing the terrifying armies of the Mongolian empire. In an astonishing advance, the Mongols had expanded their realms across Asia and the Russian steppe and now menaced Europe and the Middle East.
The entry of the Mongols created a whole new dynamic in to medieval politics. Islam, seemingly unstoppable in north Africa and the Middle East was now reeling from these incursions. Baghdad, capital of the muslim world, would be destroyed in 1258 (some say a million killed) and the last caliph kicked to death by Mongol soldiers who wrapped him in a rug first before bringing their heels down on the hapless ruler. This event is seen as being the end of the golden age of Islamic intellectual advancement and the beginning of a darker phase.
Christians hoped that the Mongolian forces could be won over to the Christian banner – as there were Christians among the Mongols, converted centuries before by the followers of the heretical eastern bishop Nestorius. But the Mongols were not to be torn away from their shamanistic practices. However, contact continued between Christian rulers and the Mongols with the crusader states often enjoying tense but good relations with the new arrivals.
However, not all Christians found an accommodation with the Mongols. In 1241, Mongol forces moved in to the realms of the King of Hungary – a major power in eastern Europe. They came in three directions through Poland, Transylvania and a headlong onslaught in to the centre of Hungary.
The Battle of Mohi saw the King of Hungary, Bela IV, various nobles and a Templar master ride out to meet the Mongols. According to the contemporary accounts, the sheer size of the Mongol army horrified the Templar and his associates.
In the first encounters, the Mongols apparently took heavy losses but as the battle turned against the Hungarians, King Bela fled to warn the rest of Europe that were in big trouble. The Templars, though, true to form – fought on and were duly slaughtered including the aforementioned master.