How an Untimely Death Saved Europe From Annihilation

The Mongols were a season and a funeral away from devastating Western Europe

Grant Piper


The Battle of Blue Waters (Orlenov / CC BY-SA 4.0)

In 1241CE, the Mongol armies had passed through Poland and entered Hungary. The mounted armies of Ögedei Khan were cutting through Eastern Europe with little resistance. In their wake they destroyed towns and villages, ate and torched crops and left a string of bodies stretching into the Middle East. The Hungarians, Austrians and Germans watched helplessly as the insatiable force advanced towards their vulnerable positions.

After winning a string of battles in the summer and fall of 1241 against the bulk of the Hungarian and Wallachian defenders the way was clear for the Mongols to continue their advance into the heart of Europe.

As 1241 drew to a close, Subutai Khan, leader of the European invasion force, began planning the armies next moves. Come spring of 1242, plans were put together for an attack on Vienna and a general invasion of German held lands. Scouting parties were sent out to begin laying the groundwork for the coming campaign and began pillaging outlying villages around Vienna. It seemed as though nothing would stop the Mongol advance.

As the temperatures dropped Subutai ordered his soldiers to march across the frozen Danube and take up camps in preparation for a massive spring offensive.

Then, just as the calendar was about to turn over, the Mongol armies began to withdraw. Something had happened, and it saved Europe.

Death of a Great Khan

A Yuan portrait of Ögedei Khan (Public domain)

Ögedei Khan was the son of the great Genghis Khan and had been tapped to rule his massive empire in the wake of his death. Ögedei Khan had reigned since 1229 overseeing massive new conquests and wealth as the armies of his father continued their unstoppable march west. Then, suddenly, in December of 1241, he died.

Reports circulated that he had died on a binge drinking expedition with one of his hunting partners. He was only 56 years old. The news of his death stopped the Mongol army in its tracks.



Grant Piper

Professional writer. Amateur historian. Husband, father, Christian.