Öljaitü (Muhammad Khodabandeh)


Öljeitü was an Ilkhanid Dynasty ruler in the 14th century. Initially a baptized Christian, he converted then to Buddhism, then Sunnism and finally to Shiism under the influence of Allama al Hilli.

Öljeitü also known as Muhammad Khodabandeh (محمد خدابنده‎), was the eighth Ilkhanid dynasty ruler from 1304 to 1316 in Tabriz, Iran. His name “Ölziit” means “blessed” in the Mongolian language.

He was the son of the Ilkhan ruler Arghun, brother and successor of Mahmud Ghazan (5th successor of Genghis Khan), and great-grandson of the Ilkhanate founder Hulagu.

Early life

Öljaitü was born as the son of Arghun and his third wife, Keraite Christian Uruk Khatun on 24 March 1282 during his father’s viceroyalty in Khorasan. He was given the name Khar-banda (Mule driver)at birth, raised as Buddhist and later baptised in 1291, receiving the name Nikolya (Nicholas) after Pope Nicholas IV. However, according Tarikh-i Uljaytu (History of Oljeitu), Öljeitu was at first known as “Öljei Buqa”, and then “Temüder”, and finally “Kharbanda”. Various c. Same source also mentions that it rained when he was born, and the delighted Mongols called him by the Mongolian name Öljeitu (Өлзийт), meaning auspicious. He was later converted to Sunni Islam along with his brother Ghazan. Like his brother, he changed his first name to the Islamic name Muhammad.

He participated in battles involving Ghazan’s fight against Baydu. After his brother Ghazan’s accession to throne, he was appointed as viceroy of Khorasan. Despite being appointed heir of Ghazan since 1299, after hearing news of his death he sought to eliminate potential rivals to throne. First such act was taken against Prince Alafrang, son of Gaykhatu. He was killed by an emissary of Öljaitü on 30 May 1304. Another powerful emir, Horqudaq was likewise captured and executed.


He arrived in Ujan plains on 9 July 1304 and was crowned on 19 July 1304. Rashid al-Din wrote that he adopted the name Oljeitu following Yuan emperor Öljeitu Temür enthroned in Dadu. His full regnal title was Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad Khudabanda Öljaitü Sultan. Upon accession, he made several appointments, such Qutluqshah to the post of commander-in-chief of Ilkhanate army, Rashid al-Din and Sa’d al-Din Savaji as his viziers on 22 July 1304. Another appointment was Asil al-Din, son of Nasir al-Din Tusi as his father’s successor to head Maragheh observatory. Another political decision was revoking Kerman from Qutluqkhanid Qutb al-Din Shah Jahan on 21 April same year. Öljaitü appointed his father-in-law and uncle Irinjin to viceroyalty of Anatolia on 27 June 1305.

He received ambassadors from Yuan Dynasty (19 September), Chagatai Khanate (in persons of Chapar, son of Kaidu and Duwa, son of Baraq) and Golden Horde (8 December) same year, establishing an intra-Mongol peace. His reign also saw a wave of migration from Central Asia during in 1306. Certain Borjigid princes, such as Mingqan Ke’un (grandson of Ariq Böke and grandfather of future Arpa Ke’un), Sarban (son of Kaidu), Temür (a descendant of Jochi Qasar) arrived in Khorasan with 30.000 or 50.000 followers.

He undertook an expedition to Herat against Kartid ruler Fakhr al-Din in 1306, but succeeded only briefly, his emir Danishmend was killed during the ambush. He started his second military campaign in June 1307 towards Gilan. It was a success thanks to combines forces of emirs like Sutai, Esen Qutluq, Irinjin, Sevinch, Chupan, Toghan and Mu’min. Despite success, his commander-in-chief Qutluqshah was defeated and killed during campaign, which paved way for Chupan to rise in ranks. Following this, he ordered another campaign against Kartids, this time commanded by late emir Danishmend’s son Bujai. Bujai was successful after a siege from 5 February to 24 June, finally capturing the citadel. A corps of Frank mangonel specialists is known to have accompanied the Ilkhanid army in this conquest.

Another important event of 1307 was completion of Jami al-Tawarikh by Rashid al-Din on 14 April 1307. Later in 1307, a revolt broke in Kurdistan under leadership of certain Musa, who claimed to be Mahdi. Uprising was shortly defeated. Another religious revolt, this time by 10.000 strong Christians, broke in Irbil. Despite Mar Yahballaha’s best efforts to avert the impending doom, the citadel was at last taken after a siege by Ilkhanate troops and Kurdish tribesmen on 1 July 1310, and all the defenders were massacred, including many of the Assyrian inhabitants of the lower town.

An important change in administration happened in 1312 when Öljaitü’s vizier Sa’d al-Din Savaji was arrested on charges of corruption and executed on 20 February 1312. He was soon replaced by Taj al-Din Ali Shah who would head the Ilkhanate civil administration till 1323. Another victim of purge was Taj al-Din Avaji, a follower of Sa’d al-Din. Öljaitü also finally launched a last campaign against the Mamluks same, in which he was unsuccessful, though he reportedly briefly took Damascus. It was when Mamluk emirs, former governor of Aleppo—Shams al-Din Qara Sonqur and governor of Tripoli—al-Afram defected to Öljaitü. Despite extradition requests from Egypt, ilkhan invested Qara Sonqur (now under new name—Aq Sonqur) with governorate of Maragheh and al-Afram with Hamadan. Qara Sonqur was later given Oljath—daughter of Abaqa Khan on 17 January 1314.

Meanwhile relations between other Mongol realms were getting heated. The new khan of Golden Horde, Ozbeg sent an emissary to Öljaitü, renewing his claims to Azerbaijan on 13 October 1312. Öljaitü also supported the latter during Chagatai-Yuan war in 1314, annexing Southern Afghanistan after expelling Qara’unas. After repelling Chagatai armies, he appointed his son Abu Sa’id to govern Khorasan and Mazandaran in 1315 with Uyghur noble Amir Sevinch as his guardian. Another descendant of Jochi Qasar, Baba Oghul arrived from Central Asia same year, pillaging Khwarazm on his way, causing much disturbance.Upon protests of Golden Horde emissaries, Öljaitü had to execute Baba, claiming he was not informed such unauthorized acts.

Öljaitü’s reign is also remembered for a brief effort of Ilkhanid invasion of Hijaz. Humaydah ibn Abi Numayy, arrived at Ilkhanate court in 1315, ilkhan on his part provided Humaydah an army of several thousand Mongols and Arabs under the command of Sayyid Talib al-Dilqandi to bring the Hijaz under Ilkhanid control. He also planned to exhume the bodies of the caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar from their graves in Medina. However, soon after the expedition passed Basra, they received news of ilkhan’s death, and a large part of the army deserted. The remainder – three hundred Mongols and four hundred Arabs – were crushed by a horde of four thousand Bedouin led Muhammad ibn Isa (brother of Muhanna ibn Isa) in March 1317.


He died in Soltaniyeh on 17 December 1316, having reigned for twelve years and nine months. Afterwards, Rashid al-Din Hamadani was accused of having caused his death by poisoning and was executed. Oljeitu was succeeded by his son Abu Sa’id.


Öljaitü had been professing Buddhism, Christianity and Islam throughout his life. After succeeding his brother, Öljeitu became influenced by Shi’a theologians Al-Hilli and Maitham Al Bahrani. Although another source indicates he converted to Islam through the persuasions of his wife. Upon Al-Hilli’s death, Oljeitu transferred his teacher’s remains from Baghdad to a domed shrine he built in Soltaniyeh. Later, alienated by the factional strife between the Hanafis and the Shafis, Oljeitu changed his sect to Shi’a Islam in 1310. At some point, he even considered converting to Tengriism in early 1310.


He oversaw the end of construction of city of Soltaniyeh on Qongqur-Oleng plains in 1306. In 1309, Öljeitu founded a Dar al-Sayyedah (“Sayyed’s lodge”) in Shiraz, Iran, and endowed it with an income of 10,000 Dinars a year. His tomb in Soltaniyeh, 300 km west of Tehran, remains the best-known monument of Ilkhanid Persia. According to Ruy González de Clavijo, his body was later exhumed by Miran Shah.