Imad al-Din Zengi

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Imad al-Din Zengi
Atabeg of Mosul, Aleppo, Hama and Edessa, Mesopotamia
Imad al-Din Zengi.jpg
Coronation1127, Mosul
PredecessorMahmud II
SuccessorSayf al-Din Ghazi I (in Mosul)
Nur ad-Din (in Aleppo)
DiedSeptember 14, 1146 (aged 61)
Qal'at Ja'bar, Syria
Imad al-Din Atabeg Zengi al-Malik al-Mansur
DynastyZengid dynasty
FatherAq Sunqur al-Hajib

Imad al-Din Zengi (Arabic: عماد الدین زنكي‎; c. 1085 – 14 September 1146), also romanized as Zangi, Zengui, Zenki, and Zanki, was a Turkmen[1] atabeg who ruled Mosul, Aleppo, Hama, and, later, Edessa. He was the namesake of the Zengid dynasty.

Early life[edit]

Zengi's father, Aq Sunqur al-Hajib, governor of Aleppo under Malik-Shah I, was beheaded by Tutush I for treason in 1094. At the time, Zengi was about 10 years old and brought up by Kerbogha, the governor of Mosul.

Zengi against Damascus[edit]

Following the death in 1128 of Toghtekin, atabeg of Damascus, a power vacuum threatened to open Syria to renewed Crusader aggression.[2] Zengi became atabeg of Mosul in 1127 and of Aleppo in 1128, uniting the two cities under his personal rule, and was formally invested as their ruler by the Sultan Mahmud II. Zengi had supported the young sultan against his rival, the caliph al-Mustarshid.

In 1130 Zengi allied with Taj al-Mulk Buri of Damascus against the Crusaders, but this was only a ruse to extend his power; he had Buri's son taken prisoner and seized Hama from him. Zengi also besieged Homs, the governor of which was accompanying him at the time, but could not capture it, so he returned to Mosul, where Buri's son and the other prisoners from Damascus were ransomed for 50,000 dinars. The next year, Zengi agreed to return the 50,000 dinars if Buri would deliver to him Dubais ibn Sadaqa, emir of al-Hilla in Iraq, who had fled to Damascus to escape al-Mustarshid. When an ambassador from the caliph arrived to bring Dubais back, Zengi attacked him and killed some of his retinue; the ambassador returned to Baghdad without Dubais.

Mahmud II died in 1131, setting off a war for the succession. As the Seljuk princes were occupied fighting one another in Persia, Zengi marched on Baghdad to add it to his dominions. He was defeated by the caliph's troops, however, and only escaped thanks to the help of the governor of Tikrit, Najm ad-Din Ayyub, future father of Saladin. Several years later, Zengi would reward the governor with a position in his army, paving the way for Saladin's brilliant career.

In 1134 Zengi became involved in Artuqid affairs, allying with the emir Timurtash (son of Ilghazi) against Timurtash's cousin Da'ud. Zengi's real desires, however, lay to the south, in Damascus. In 1135 Zengi received an appeal for help from Shams-ul-Mulk Isma'il, who had succeeded his father Buri as emir of Damascus, and who was in fear for his life from his own citizenry, who considered him a cruel tyrant. Ismail was willing to surrender the city to Zengi in order to restore peace. None of Ismail's family or advisors wanted this, however, and Isma'il was murdered by his own mother, Zumurrud, to prevent him from turning over the city to Zengi's control. Isma'il was succeeded by his brother Shihab al-Din Mahmud.

Zengi was not discouraged by this turn of events and arrived at Damascus anyway, still intending to seize it. The siege lasted for some time with no success on Zengi's part, so a truce was made and Shahib al-Din's brother Bahram-Shah was given as a hostage. At the same time, news of the siege had reached the caliph and Baghdad, and a messenger was sent with orders for Zengi to leave Damascus and take control of the governance of Iraq. The messenger was ignored, but Zengi gave up the siege, as per the terms of the truce with Shahib al-Din. On the way back to Aleppo, Zengi besieged Homs, whose governor had angered him, and Shahib al-Din responded to the city's call for help by sending Mu'in al-Din Unur to govern it.

Conflict with the Crusaders and Byzantines[edit]

In 1137 Zengi besieged Homs again, but Mu'in al-Din successfully defended it. In response, Damascus allied with the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem against him. That year, Zengi laid siege to a Crusader fortress during the battle of Ba'rin and quickly crushed the army of Jerusalem. King Fulk of Jerusalem agreed to surrender and was allowed to flee with his surviving troops. Zengi, realizing that this new expedition against Damascus was bound to fail, made peace with Shahib al-Din, just in time to be confronted at Aleppo by an army sent by the Byzantine Emperor John II Comnenus. The Emperor had recently brought the Crusader Principality of Antioch under Byzantine control, and had allied himself with Joscelin II of Edessa and Raymond of Antioch. Facing a combined Byzantine/crusader threat, Zengi mobilized his forces and recruited assistance from other Muslim leaders. In April 1138 the armies of the Byzantine emperor and the crusader princes laid siege to Shaizar, but they were turned back by Zengi's forces a month later.

In May 1138 Zengi came to an agreement with Damascus. He married Zumurrud Khatun, the same woman who had murdered her son Ismail, and received Homs as her dowry. In July 1139 Zumurrud's surviving son, Shihab al-Din, was assassinated, and Zengi marched on Damascus to take possession of the city. The Damascenes, united under Mu'in al-Din Unur, acting as regent for Shihab al-Din's successor Jamal al-Din, once again allied with Jerusalem to repel Zengi. Zengi also besieged Jamal al-Din's former possession of Baalbek, and Mu'in al-Din was in charge of its defenses as well. Zengi obtained its surrender in response to a promise of safe passage; he did not honor it.[3] He granted the territory to his lieutenant Najm al-Din Ayyub, father of Saladin.[3] After Zengi abandoned his siege of Damascus, Jamal al-Din died of a disease and was succeeded by his son Mujir al-Din, with Mu'in al-Din remaining as regent.

Mu'in al-Din signed a new peace treaty with Jerusalem for their mutual protection against Zengi. While Mu'in al-Din and the crusaders joined together to besiege Banias in 1140, Zengi once more laid siege to Damascus, but quickly abandoned it again. There were no major engagements between the crusaders, Damascus, and Zengi for the next few years, but Zengi in the meantime campaigned in the north and captured Ashib and the Armenian fortress of Hizan.

In 1144, Zengi began the siege of Edessa against the crusader County of Edessa, the weakest and least Latinized crusader state, and captured it on December 24, 1144, after a siege of four months. This event led to the Second Crusade, and later Muslim chroniclers noted it as the start of the jihad against the Crusader states.

Death and legacy[edit]

Zengi continued his attempts to take Damascus in 1145, but he was assassinated by a Frankish slave named Yarankash in September 1146, after the atabeg drunkenly threatened him with punishment for drinking from his goblet.[4] Zengi was the founder of the eponymous Zengid dynasty. In Mosul he was succeeded by his eldest son Sayf al-Din Ghazi I, and in Aleppo he was succeeded by his second son Nur al-Din. When Sayf died in 1149, he was succeeded in Mosul by a third son Qutb al-Din Mawdud.

According to Crusader legend, Zengi's mother was Ida of Austria (mother of Leopold III of Austria), who had supposedly been captured during the Crusade of 1101 and placed in a harem. She was 46 in 1101, Zengi was born in 1085, and his father died in 1094 so this is not possible.

Zengi was courageous, strong in leadership and a very skilled warrior according to all of the Muslim chroniclers of his day.

Unlike Saladin at Jerusalem in 1187, Zengi did not keep his word to protect his captives at Baalbek in 1139. According to Ibn al-‘Adim, Zengi "had sworn to the people of the citadel with strong oaths and on the Qur’an and divorcing (his wives). When they came down from the citadel he betrayed them, flayed its governor and hanged the rest.”[5]

According to Ibn 'al-Adim:

The atebeg was violent, powerful, awe-inspiring and liable to attack suddenly… When he rode, the troops use to walk behind him as if they were between two threads, out of fear they would trample over crops, and nobody out of fear dared to trample on a single stem (of them) nor march his horse on them… If anyone transgressed, he was crucified. He (Zengi) used to say: "It does not happen that there is more than one tyrant (meaning himself) at one time."[6]


  1. ^ El-Azhari, Taef (2016). "The early career of Zengi, 1084 to 1127. The Turkmen influence.". Zengi and the Muslim Response to the Crusades. London and New York: Routledge. p. 10. This chapter is concerned with Zengi's early career and upbringing, his Turkmen background...
  2. ^ Gabrieli 1969: 41
  3. ^ a b EI (1913), p. 543.
  4. ^ Maalouf, Crusades Through Arab Eyes, pg.138
  5. ^ Maalouf, Crusades Through Arab Eyes, pg.138. Also, Ibn Wasil, Mufarrij al-Kurub, p. 86
  6. ^ Ibn al-‘Adim, Zubda, vol. 2, p. 471


Regnal titles
Preceded by Emir of Mosul
Succeeded by