IN THE LEVANT
The MAMLUK SULTANATE (
Arabic : سلطنة المماليك
Salṭanat al-Mamālīk) was a medieval realm spanning
Egypt , the
Levant , and
Hejaz . It lasted from the overthrow of the Ayyubid
dynasty until the Ottoman conquest of
Egypt in 1517. Historians have
traditionally broken the era of Mamlūk rule into two periods—one
covering 1250–1382, the other, 1382–1517. Western historians call
the former the "Baḥrī " period and the latter the "Burjī " due to
the political dominance of the regimes known by these names during the
respective eras. Contemporary Muslim historians refer to the same
divisions as the "Turkish " and "Circassian " periods in order to
stress the change in the ethnic origins of the majority of Mamlūks.
The Mamlūk state reached its height under Turkic rule with Arabic
culture and then fell into a prolonged phase of decline under the
Circassians. The sultanate's ruling caste was composed of
soldiers of predominantly Cuman -
Crimea ), Circassian,
Oghuz Turks and Georgian slave origin. While Mamluks
were purchased, their status was above ordinary slaves, who were not
allowed to carry weapons or perform certain tasks.
considered to be "true lords", with social status above citizens of
Egypt. Though it declined towards the end of its existence, at its
height the sultanate represented the zenith of medieval Egyptian and
Levantine political, economic, and cultural glory in the Islamic era.
* 1 Name
* 2 History
* 2.1 Origins
* 2.2 Rise to power
* 2.2.1 Conflict with the Ayyubids
* 2.2.2 Factional power struggles
* 2.3 Bahri rule
* 2.3.1 Reign of Baybars
* 2.3.2 Early Qalawuni period
* 2.3.3 Third reign of an-Nasir Muhammad
* 2.3.4 End of the Bahri regime
* 2.4 Burji rule
* 2.4.1 Reign of
* 2.4.2 Crises and restoration of state power
* 2.4.3 Reign of
* 2.5 Fall
* 3 Society
* 3.1 Language
* 3.2 Religion
* 3.2.1 Muslim community
* 3.2.2 Christian and Jewish communities
Bedouin relationship with the state
* 4 Government
* 4.1 Authority of the sultan
* 4.2 Role of the caliph
* 4.3 Military and administrative hierarchy
* 5 Economy
* 5.1 Iqtaʿ system
* 5.2 Agriculture
* 5.3 Trade and industry
* 6 List of sultans
* 7 See also
* 8 References
* 9 Bibliography
* 9.1 Primary sources
The term MAMLUK SULTANATE is a modern historiographical term.
Arabic sources for the period of the Bahri
Mamluks refer to the
dynasty as the STATE/REALM OF THE TURKS (
Arabic : دولة
الاتراك, Dawlat al-Atrāk; دولة الترك, Dawlat
al-Turk; الدولة التركية, al-Dawla al-Turkiyya). Other
official names used were STATE OF THE CIRCASSIANS (دولة
الجراكسة, Dawlat al-Jarākisa). A variant thereof (دولة
التركية الجراكسية, al-Dawla al-Turkiyya al-Jarkasiyya)
emphasized the fact that the
Circassians were Turkish-speaking.
Some misconception names include “the Baḥrī Sultanate/period”
DAWLAT AL-BAḥRIYYA ( الدولة البحرية) and the “Burjī
Sultanate/period” AL-DAWLA AL-BURIJYYA ( الدولة
البرجية) these were rarely used by medieval
but are currently used as sub-periods of the
The term MONGOL STATE (الدولة المغولية, al-Dawla
al-Mughuliyya) was used during
Sultan al-Adil Kitbugha 's rule, who
was of Mongol extraction.
During Baybars al-Jāshankīr ’s reign the state was known as
AL-DAWLA AL-BURIJYYA (الدولة البرجية) which meant the
“Burjī Sultanate/period”, when in fact he was a ruler during the
Baḥrī Sultanate/period but was of Circassian extraction that
dominated in Burjī Sultanate/period. DAWLATāL QALāWūN( دولة
قلاوون) or DAWLAT BANī QALāWūN ( دولة بني
قلاوون) which means "Qalāwūnī State/Dynasty" which have ruled
for hundred years between 1279 and 1382. AL-DAWLA AL-ẒāHIRIYYA
(الدولة الظاهرية) which meant "Ẓāhirī state/dynasty"
which is the dynasty of
Baibars and his two sons al-Said Barakah and
Solamish . This dynasty have ruled consecutively for 19 years.
Mamluk nobleman from
The mamluk was an "owned slave", distinguished from the garya and
ghulam, or household slaves. After thorough training in various fields
such as martial arts, court etiquette and Islamic sciences, these
slaves were freed. However, they were still expected to remain loyal
to their master and serve his household.
Mamluks had formed a part of
the state or military apparatus in
Egypt since at least the
9th century, during the Tulunid period.
Mamluk regiments constituted
the backbone of Egypt's military under Ayyubid rule in the late 12th
and early 13th centuries, beginning with
Saladin who replaced
the Fatimids ' African infantry with mamluks. Each Ayyubid sultan and
high-ranking emir had a private mamluk corps. Most of the mamluks in
the Ayyubids' service were ethnic Kipchak Turks from Central Asia,
who, upon entering service, were converted to
Sunni Islam and taught
Arabic . They were highly committed to their masters, who they often
referred to as "father", and were in turn treated more as kinsmen than
as slaves by their masters.
Sultan as-Salih Ayyub (r. 1240–49), the
last of the Ayyubid sultans, had acquired some 1,000 mamluks (some of
them free-born) from Syria,
Egypt and the
Arabian Peninsula by 1229,
while serving as na'ib (viceroy) of
Egypt during the absence of his
Sultan al-Kamil . These mamluks became known as the
"Salihiyyah" (singular "Salihi"). A
Mamluk training with a
lance, early 16th century
As-Salih became sultan of
Egypt in 1240, and upon his accession to
the Ayyubid throne, he manumitted and promoted large numbers of his
original and newly recruited mamluks on the condition that they remain
in his service. To provision his mamluks, as-Salih forcibly seized
the iqtaʿat (fiefs; singular iqtaʿ) of his predecessors' emirs.
As-Salih sought to create a paramilitary apparatus in
Egypt loyal to
him, and his aggressive recruitment and promotion of mamluks led
contemporaries to view
Egypt as "Salihi-ridden", according to
historian Winslow William Clifford. Despite his close relationship
with his mamluks, tensions existed between as-Salih and the
Salihiyyah, and a number of Salihi mamluks were imprisoned or exiled
throughout as-Salih's reign. While historian Stephen Humphreys
asserts that the Salihiyyah's increasing dominance of the state did
not personally threaten as-Salih due to their fidelity to him,
Clifford believes the Salihiyyah developed an autonomy within the
state that fell short of such loyalty. Opposition among the
Salihiyyah to as-Salih rose when the latter ordered the assassination
of his brother Abu Bakr al-Adil in 1249, a task which many of the
Salihiyyah were affronted by and rejected; four of the Salihiyyah
ultimately agreed to execute the controversial operation.
RISE TO POWER
Conflict With The Ayyubids
Tensions between as-Salih and his mamluks came to a head later in
Louis IX of France 's forces captured
Damietta in their bid
Egypt during the
Seventh Crusade . As-Salih believed
Damietta should not have been evacuated and was rumored to have
threatened punitive action against the
Damietta garrison. The rumor,
accentuated by the execution of civilian notables who evacuated
Damietta, provoked a mutiny by the garrison of his camp in al-Mansurah
, which included numerous Salihi mamluks. The situation was calmed
after the intervention of the atabeg al-askar (commander of the
military), Fakhr ad-Din ibn Shaykh al-Shuyukh.
As the Crusaders advanced, as-Salih died and was succeeded by his son
al-Muazzam Turanshah , who was in al-Jazira at the time. Initially,
the Salihiyyah welcomed Turanshah's succession, with many greeting him
and requesting confirmation of their administrative posts and iqtaʿ
assignments at his arrival to the Egyptian frontier. However,
Turanshah sought to challenge the dominance of the Salihiyyah in the
paramilitary apparatus by promoting his Kurdish retinue from al-Jazira
Syria as a counterweight to the predominantly Turkic Salihiyyah.
Before Turanshah could arrive at the front, the Bahriyyah, a junior
regiment of the Salihiyyah, defeated the Crusaders at the Battle of
al-Mansurah and captured Louis, effectively ending the crusade.
Turanshah proceeded to place his own entourage and mamluks, known as
the "Mu'azzamiyah", in positions of authority to the detriment of
Salihi interests. On 2 May 1250, a group of disgruntled Salihi
officers had Turanshah assassinated at his camp in Fariskur.
According to Humphreys, as-Salih's frequent wars against his Ayyubid
relatives likely voided the Salihiyyah's loyalty to other members of
the Ayyubid dynasty. Nonetheless, the Salihiyyah were careful not to
depict the assassination of Turanshah as an assault against Ayyubid
legitimacy, but rather an act against a deviant of the Muslim polity.
Moreover, an electoral college dominated by the Salihiyyah convened to
choose a successor to Turanshah among the Ayyubid emirs, with opinion
largely split between an-Nasir Yusuf of
Damascus and al-Mughith Umar
of al-Karak . Ultimately, however, consensus settled on as-Salih's
Shajar ad-Durr .
Shajar ad-Durr ensured the Salihiyyah's dominance of the paramilitary
elite, and ushered in a process of establishing patronage and kinship
ties with the Salihiyyah. In particular, she cultivated close ties
with the Jamdari (pl. Jamdariyyah) and Bahri (pl. "Bahriyyah")
elements of the Salihiyyah, by distributing to them iqtaʿ and other
benefits. The Bahriyya were named after the
Arabic word bahr, meaning
"sea" or "large river", because their barracks was located on the Nile
River island of Rawda. They were mostly drawn from among the Cumans
Kipchaks who controlled the steppes north of the
Black Sea . Shajar
al-Durr's efforts and the lingering desire among the military in Egypt
to maintain the Ayyubid state was made evident when the Salihi mamluk
and atabeg al-askar,
Aybak , attempted to claim the sultanate, but was
prevented from monopolizing power by the army and the Bahriyyah and
Jamdariyyah, which asserted that only an Ayyubid could exercise
sultanic authority. The Bahriyyah compelled
Aybak to share power
with al-Ashraf Musa , a grandson of
Factional Power Struggles
Aybak was one of the oldest of the Salihi mamluks and a senior member
of as-Salih's inner circle, despite only being an emir awsat
(middle-ranked emir). He served as the principal bulwark against the
more junior Bahri and Jamdari elements of the Salihiyyah, and his
promotion to atabeg al-askar was met by Bahri rioting in Cairo, the
first of many examples of intra-Salihi tensions surrounding Aybak's
ascendancy. The Bahriyyah and Jamdariyyah were represented by their
patron, Faris ad-Din Aktay , a principal organizer of Turanshah's
assassination and the recipient of Fakhr ad-Din's large estate by
Shajar al-Durr; the latter saw Aktay as a counterweight to Aybak.
Aybak moved against the Bahriyyah in 1251 by shutting down their Rawda
headquarters in a bid to sap Aktay's power base.
Aybak was still
unable to promote his own mamluks, known as the "Mu'izziyah", to
senior posts until 1252. That year, he managed to dispatch Aktay to
Egypt to suppress an
Arab uprising. Instead of isolating Aktay
as was Aybak's intention, the assignment allowed Aktay to impose
extortionate taxes in Upper
Egypt and provide him the personal funds
to finance his patronage of the Bahriyyah. In 1254,
Aybak had his
Mu'izzi mamluks assassinate Aktay in the Citadel of
Aybak proceeded to purge those in his retinue and in the
Salihiyyah who he believed were disloyal to him, causing a temporary
exodus of Bahri mamluks, most of whom settled in Gaza , but also in
Egypt and Syria. The purge led to a dearth of military support
for Aybak, which in turn led to Aybak's recruitment of new supporters
from among the army in
Egypt and the Turkic Nasiri and Azizi mamluks
from Syria, who had defected from their Ayyubid masters, namely
an-Nasir Yusuf, and moved to
Egypt in 1250. The Syrian mamluks were
led by their patron Jamal ad-Din Aydughdi and were assigned most of
the iqtaʿ of Aktay and his allies. However, Aydughdi's growing
Aybak view him as a threat. After
Aybak learned that
Aydughdi was plotting to topple him and recognize an-Nasir Yusuf as
Ayyubid sultan, which would likely leave Aydughdi in virtual control
Aybak had Aydughdi imprisoned in
Alexandria in 1254 or 1255.
Meanwhile, the Bahriyya faction in Gaza commanded by Baybars sought
to enlist their services with an-Nasir Yusuf. In an attempt to
dislodge Aybak, the Bahriyyah petitioned an-Nasir Yusuf to claim the
Ayyubid throne and invade Egypt, but an-Nasir Yusuf initially refused.
However, in 1256, he dispatched a Bahri-led expedition to Egypt, but
no battle occurred when
Aybak met an-Nasir Yusuf's army.
assassinated on 10 April 1257, possibly on the orders of Shajar
al-Durr, who was assassinated a week later. Their deaths left a
relative power vacuum in Egypt, with Aybak's teenage son, al-Mansur
Ali, as heir to the sultanate. While al-Mansur Ali was sultan, the
Egypt was Aybak's former close aide, Sayf ad-Din
who also had hostile relations with the Salihiyyah, including the
By the time of Aybak's death, the Bahriyyah had entered the service
of al-Mughith Umar of al-Karak, who agreed to invade
Egypt and claim
the Ayyubid sultanate, but al-Mughith's small Bahri-dominated invading
force was routed at the frontier with
Egypt in November. The
Bahriyyah and al-Mughith launched a second expedition in 1258, but
were again defeated. The Bahriyyah subsequently raided areas around
Syria, threatening an-Nasir Yusuf's power in Damascus. After a first
attempt to defeat the Bahriyyah near Gaza failed, an-Nasir Yusuf
launched a second expedition against them with al-Mansur Muhammad II
Hama , resulting in a Bahriyyah defeat at
Jericho . An-Nasir Yusuf
proceeded to besiege al-Mughith and the Bahriyyah at al-Karak, but the
growing threat of a Mongol invasion of
Syria ultimately led to a
reconciliation between an-Nasir Yusuf and al-Mughith, and Baybars'
defection to the former.
Qutuz deposed al-Mansur Ali in 1259.
Afterward, he purged and/or arrested the Mu'izziyah and any Bahri
mamluks he could locate in
Egypt in a bid to eliminate dissent towards
his rule. The surviving Mu'izzi and Bahri mamluks made their way to
Gaza, where Baybars had created a virtual shadow state in opposition
Mamluk lancers, early 16th century (etching by Daniel
While various mamluk factions competed for control of
Mongols under the command of
Hulagu Khan had sacked Baghdad
, the intellectual and spiritual center of the Islamic world, in 1258,
and proceeded westward, capturing
military reinforcements to his erstwhile enemy an-Nasir Yusuf in
Syria, and reconciled with the Bahriyyah, including Baybars, who was
allowed to return to Egypt, to face the common Mongol threat. Hulagu
sent emissaries to
Qutuz in Cairo, demanding submission to Mongol
Qutuz had the emissaries killed, an act which historian Joseph
Cummins called the "worst possible insult to the Mongol throne".
Qutuz then prepared Cairo's defenses to ward off the Mongols'
threatened invasion of Egypt, but after hearing news that Hulagu
Syria to claim the Mongol throne,
preparations for the conquest of Syria. He mobilized a force of some
120,000 soldiers and gained the support of his main
Mamluks entered Palestine to confront the Mongol army that Hulagu
left behind under the command of
Kitbuqa . In September 1260, the two
sides met in the plains south of
Nazareth in a major confrontation
known as the
Battle of Ain Jalut .
Qutuz had some of his cavalry
units hide in the hills around Ain Jalut (Goliath's Spring), while
directing Baybars's forces to advance past Ain Jalut against Kitbuqa's
Mongols. In the ensuing half-hour clash, Baybars' men feigned a
retreat and were pursued by Kitbuqa. The latter's forces fell into a
Mamluk trap once they reached the springs of Ain Jalut, with Baybars'
men turning around to confront the
Mongols and Qutuz's units ambushing
Mongols from the hills. The battle ended in a Mongol rout and
Kitbuqa's capture and execution. Afterward, the
Mamluks proceeded to
Damascus and the other Syrian cities taken by the Mongols.
Upon Qutuz's triumphant return to Cairo, he was assassinated in a
Bahri plot. Baybars subsequently assumed power in
Egypt in late 1260,
and established the Bahri
Reign Of Baybars
Baybars rebuilt the Bahriyyah's former headquarters in Rawdah island
Qalawun , one of his most senior associates, in command of it.
In 1263, Baybars deposed al-Mughith of al-Karak based on allegations
of collaborating with the Mongol
Ilkhanate of Persia, and thus
consolidated his authority over Muslim Syria. During his early reign
and through heavy financial expense, Baybars rebuilt and stringently
Mamluk army, which grew from 10,000 cavalry to 40,000,
with a 4,000-strong royal guard at its core. The new force was
rigidly disciplined and highly trained in horsemanship, swordsmanship
Another major component to Baybar's rule was intrastate
communication. To accomplish this, he instituted a postal network that
extended across the cities of
Egypt and Syria. The need for smooth
delivery of correspondence also led to the large scale repair or
construction of roads and bridges along the postal route. Baybars
attempted to institute dynastic rule by assigning his four-year-old
son al-Said Barakah as co-sultan, thereby ending the
of electing a leader, but this effort was ultimately unsuccessful, at
least for his Zahirid household; successful rulership became highly
dependent on Baybars' personal qualities. However, Baybars success in
establishing centralized rule resulted in the consolidation of the
Mamluk Sultanate. Through opening diplomatic channels with the
Mongols, Baybars also sought to stifle a potential alliance between
Mongols and the Christian powers of Europe, while also sowing
divisions between the Mongol
Ilkhanate and the Mongol
Golden Horde .
In addition, his diplomacy was also intended to maintain the flow of
Turkic mamluks from Mongol-held Central Asia. the lion passant
was the heraldic blazon of
Baibars from 1260
With Bahri power in
Egypt and Muslim
Syria consolidated by 1265,
Baybars launched expeditions against the Crusader fortresses
throughout Syria, capturing
Arsuf in 1265, and Halba and
Arqa in 1266.
According to historian
Thomas Asbridge , the methods used to capture
Arsuf demonstrated the "Mamluks' grasp of siegecraft and their
overwhelming numerical and technological supremacy". Baybars'
strategy regarding the Crusader fortresses along the Syrian coast was
not to capture and utilize the fortresses, but to destroy them and
thus prevent their potential future use by new waves of Crusaders. In
August 1266, the
Mamluks launched a punitive expedition against the
Armenian Cilician Kingdom for its alliance with the Mongols, laying
waste to numerous to Armenian villages and significantly weakening the
kingdom. At around the same time, Baybars' forces captured
Knights Templar , and shortly after,
Ramla , both cities in
interior Palestine. Unlike the coastal Crusader fortresses, the
Mamluks strengthened and utilized the interior cities as major
garrisons and administrative centers. Campaigns against the Crusaders
continued in 1267, and in the spring of 1268, Baybars' forces captured
Jaffa before conquering the major Crusader fortress of
Antioch on 18
Baybars initiated a more aggressive policy than his predecessors
toward the Christian Nubian kingdom of Makuria on Egypt's southern
border. In 1265, the
Mamluks launched an invasion of northern Makuria,
and forced the Nubian king to become a vassal of the Mamluks. Around
that time, the
Mamluks had conquered the
Red Sea areas of
Dahlak Archipelago , while attempting to extend their control to
Hejaz , the desert regions west of the Nile, and
Cyrenaica . In
1268, the Makurian king, David I, overthrew the Mamluks' vassal and in
1272, raided the
Red Sea port of
Louis IX of France launched the
Eighth Crusade , this time
Tunis with the intention of ultimately invading Egypt.
Louis IX died, allowing the
Mamluks to refocus their efforts
at further conquests of Crusader territories in Syria, including the
County of Tripoli 's
Krak des Chevaliers
Krak des Chevaliers fortress, which Baybars
captured in 1271. Despite an alliance with the
Assassins in 1272, in
July 1273, the Mamluks, who by then determined that the Assassins'
independence was problematic, wrested control of the Assassins'
fortresses in Jabal Ansariyah , including
Masyaf . In 1275, the
Mamluk governor of
Qus , with
Bedouin allies, launched an expedition
against Nubia, defeating David near
Dongola in 1276, and installed
Shakanda as king. This brought the fortresses of
Qasr Ibrim and
Mamluk jurisdiction. The conquest of
Nubia was not
permanent, however, and the process of invading the region and
installing a vassal king would be repeated by Baybars' successors.
Nonetheless, Baybars' initial conquest led the annual expectation of
tribute from the Nubians by the
Mamluks until the Makurian kingdom's
demise in the mid-14th century. In 1277, Baybars launched an
expedition against the Ilkhanids, routing them in
Elbistan in Anatolia
, before ultimately withdrawing to avoid overstretching their forces
and risk being cut off from
Syria by a second, large incoming Ilkhanid
Early Qalawuni Period
In July 1277, Baybars died en route to Damascus, and was succeeded by
Barakah. However, the latter's ineptness precipitated a power
struggle that ended with
Qalawun being elected sultan in November
1279. The Ilkhanids took advantage of the disarray of Baybars'
succession by raiding
Mamluk Syria, before launching a massive
Syria in the autumn of 1281. Qalawun's forces were
significantly outnumbered by the estimated 80,000-strong
Ilkhanid-Armenian-Georgian-Seljuk coalition, but marched north from
Damascus to meet the Ilkhanid army at
Homs . In the 28 October battle
Homs , the
Mamluks routed the Ilkhanids and confirmed Mamluk
dominance in Syria. The defeat of the Ilkhanids allowed
proceed and eliminate the remaining Crusader outposts in Syria. In May
1285, he captured the Marqab fortress and garrisoned it.
Qalawun's early reign was marked by policies that were meant to gain
the support of important societal elements, namely the merchant class,
the Muslim bureaucracy and the religious establishment. Among these
early policies were the elimination of illegal taxes that burdened the
merchant community and extensive building and renovation projects for
Islam's holiest sites, such as the Prophet\'s Mosque in
Medina , the
al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the
Ibrahimi Mosque in
Following the détente with the
Ilkhanate after 1280,
a wide arrest campaign to eliminate internal dissent, imprisoning
dozens of high-ranking emirs in
Egypt and Syria. The détente also
saw a shift in Qalawun's building activities to focus on more secular
and personal purposes, including a large, multi-division hospital
Cairo across from the tomb of as-Salih Ayyub. Construction
of the hospital, a contrast from his
Mamluk predecessors who focused
on establishing madrasas , was done to gain the goodwill of the
public, create a lasting legacy, and secure his spot in the afterlife
. Its location facing as-Salih's tomb was meant demonstrate Qalawun's
lasting connection to his master and to honor the Salihiyyah. While
the Salihi mamluks were typically Kipchak Turks,
mamluk ranks purchasing numerous non-Turks, particularly
forming out of them the Burji regiment. 14th century
illustration from a manuscript of depicting the Battle of Wadi
al-Khazandar , in which the
Mamluks were routed by the Mongol
Qalawun was the last Salihi sultan and following his death in 1290,
his son, al-Ashraf Khalil , drew his legitimacy as a
emphasizing his lineage from Qalawun, thus inaugurating the Qalawuni
period of Bahri rule. Like his two Bahri predecessors, Khalil's main
priorities were organization of the sultanate, defeat of the Crusaders
and the Mongols, incorporation of
Syria into the
Mamluk domain and
preservation of the import of new mamluks and weaponry. With regards
to the latter policy, Baybars had purchased 4,000 mamluks, Qalawun
purchased 6,000–7,000 and by the end of Khalil's reign, there was an
estimated total of 10,000 mamluks in the sultanate. In 1291, Khalil
captured Acre , the last major Crusader fortress in Palestine and thus
Mamluk rule extended across the entirety of Syria.
Khalil's death in 1293 led to period of factional struggle, with
Khalil's prepubescent brother, an-Nasir Muhammad , being overthrown
the following year by a Mongol mamluk of Qalawun, al-Adil Kitbugha ,
who in turn was succeeded by a Greek mamluk of Qalawun, Husam ad-DIn
Lajin . In a bid to consolidate his control,
Lajin attempted to
redistribute iqtaʿat to his supporters.
Lajin was unable to retain
the sultanate and al-Nasir Muhammad was restored to power in 1298,
ruling a fractious realm until being toppled a second time by Baybars
II , a Circassian mamluk of Qalawun, who was known to be more wealthy,
pious and cultured than his immediate predecessors. Early into
an-Nasir Muhammad's second reign, the Ilkhanids, whose leader, Mahmud
Ghazan , had converted to Islam, invaded
Syria and routed a Mamluk
Homs in the
Battle of Wadi al-Khazandar
Battle of Wadi al-Khazandar . However, Ghazan
withdrew most of his troops from
Syria shortly after due to a dearth
in fodder for their numerous horses and the residual Ilkhanid force
retreated in 1300 at the approach of the rebuilt
Mamluk army. A
further Ilkhanid invasion in 1303 was repelled after the Ilkhanid
defeat at the Battle of Marj al-Suffar in the plains south of
Third Reign Of An-Nasir Muhammad
See also: al-Nasir Muhammad
Baybars II ruled for roughly one year before an-Nasir Muhammad became
sultan again in 1310, this time ruling for over three consecutive
decades in a period that is often considered by historians of the
Mamluk period to be the apex of both the Bahri regime specifically and
Mamluk Sultanate in general. To avoid the experiences of his
previous two reigns where the mamluks of
Qalawun and Khalil held sway
and periodically assumed the sultanate, an-Nasir Muhammad launched
efforts to establish a centralized autocracy. Early into his third
reign, in 1310, an-Nasir Muhammad imprisoned, exiled or killed any
Mamluk emirs that supported those who toppled him in the past,
including the Burji mamluks. He then assigned emirates to over thirty
of his own mamluks. Initially, an-Nasir Muhammad left most of his
father's mamluks undisturbed, but in 1311 and 1316, he imprisoned and
executed most of them, and again redistributed emirates to his own
mamluks. By 1316, the number of mamluks was reduced to 2,000.
An-Nasir Muhammad went further in imposing his rule by intervening to
have al-Wathiq succeed
Caliph al-Mustakfi , as well as compelling the
qadi to issue legal rulings that advanced his interests.
The third reign of an-Nasir Muhammad also saw a departure from the
traditions of succession and administrative elevation of his
predecessors since he observed in his first two reigns that such
traditions had been ignored anyway, while sultans were being
assassinated and mamluks were abusing other mamluks in bids for power.
Moreover, an-Nasir Muhammad's being the son of a mamluk instead of a
mamluk himself risked undermining his position among the largely
mamluk elite. This partially explains his purges of the thousands of
mamluks purchased by his predecessors. Amid conditions that stemmed
the flow of mamluks from the Mongol-held lands to the sultanate,
an-Nasir Muhammad resolved to make up for the loss of the purged
mamluks by adopting new methods of training and military and financial
advancement that introduced a great level of permissiveness. This
permissiveness, which manifested in far more relaxed conditions for
new mamluks, encouraged the pursuit of military careers in
aspiring mamluks outside of the country, to the point that parents
would sell their children as mamluks with the belief the children
would enjoy an improved standard of living.
Under an-Nasir Muhammad, the
Mamluks successfully repelled an
Ilkhanid invasion of
Syria in 1313 and then concluded a peace treaty
Ilkhanate in 1322, bringing a long-lasting end to the
Mamluk-Mongol wars. Following the détente, an-Nasir Muhammad was
able to usher in a period of stability and prosperity in the sultanate
through the enacting of major political, economic and military reforms
that were ultimately intended to ensure his continued rule and
consolidate the Qalawunid-Bahri regime. Concurrent with an-Nasir
Muhammad's reign was the disintegration of the
Ilkhanate into several
smaller dynastic states and the consequent
Mamluk effort to establish
diplomatic and commercial relationships with the new political
An-Nasir Muhammad also attempted to assert permanent Mamluk
control over the Makurian vassal state, launching an invasion in 1316
and installing a Muslim Nubian king, Abdallah Barshambu. The latter
was overthrown by
Kanz al-Dawla , who an-Nasir Muhammad temporarily
ousted in a 1323/24 expedition.
End Of The Bahri Regime
An-Nasir Muhammad died in 1341 and his rule was followed by a
succession of his descendants to the throne in a period marked by
political instability. Most of his successors, except for an-Nasir
Hasan (r. 1347–1351, 1354–1361) and al-Ashraf Sha\'ban (r.
1363–1367), were sultans in name only, with the patrons of the
leading mamluk factions holding actual power. The first of an-Nasir
Muhammad's son to accede to the sultanate was Abu Bakr, who an-Nasir
Muhammad designated as his successor before his death. However,
an-Nasir Muhammad's senior aide,
Qawsun , held real power and
ultimately imprisoned and executed Abu Bakr and had an-Nasir
Muhammad's infant son, al-Ashraf
Kujuk , appointed in his stead. By
January 1342, however,
Kujuk were toppled, and the latter's
half-brother, an-Nasir Ahmad of al-Karak, was declared sultan. Ahmad
relocated to al-Karak and left a deputy to rule on his behalf in
Cairo. This unorthodox move, together with his seclusive and
frivolous behavior and his execution of loyal partisans, ended with
Ahmad's deposition and replacement by his half-brother as-Salih Ismail
in June 1342. Isma'il ruled until his death in August 1345, and was
succeeded by his brother al-Kamil Sha\'ban . The latter was killed in
a mamluk revolt and was succeeded by his brother al-Muzaffar Hajji ,
who was also killed in a mamluk revolt in late 1347.
Following Hajji's death, the senior emirs of an-Nasir Muhammad
hastily appointed another of his sons, the twelve-year-old an-Nasir
Hasan. Coinciding with Hasan's first term, in 1347–1348, the
Bubonic Plague arrived in
Egypt and other plagues followed, causing
mass death in the country, which in turn led to major social and
economic changes in the region. In 1351, Hasan attempted to assert
his executive power and was ousted by the senior emirs, led by Emir
Taz, and replaced with his brother, as-Salih Salih . The emirs
Sirghitmish deposed Salih and restored Hasan in a coup in
1355, after which Hasan gradually purged Taz,
Shaykhu and Sirghitmish
and their mamluks from his administration. Concurrently, Hasan began
recruiting and promoting the awlad al-nas (descendants of mamluks who
did not experience the enslavement/manumission process) in the
military and administration, a process that lasted for the remainder
of the Bahri period. This led to resentment from Hasan's own
mamluks, led by
Yalbugha al-Umari , who killed Hasan in 1361.
Yalbugha became the regent of Hasan's successor and the young son of
the late sultan Hajji, al-Mansur Muhammad. By then, mamluk solidarity
and loyalty to the emirs had dissipated. To restore discipline and
unity within the
Mamluk state and military, Yalbugha applied the
rigorous educational methods used for mamluks during the reigns of
sultans Baybars and Qalawun. In 1365, attempts by the
annex Armenia, which had since replaced Crusader Acre as the Christian
commercial foothold of Asia, were stifled by an invasion of Alexandria
Peter I of Cyprus . The
Mamluks concurrently experienced a
deterioration of their lucrative position in international trade and
the economy of the sultanate declined, further weakening the Bahri
regime. Meanwhile, the perceived harshness of Yalbugha's educational
methods and his refusal to rescind his disciplinary reforms led to a
mamluk backlash. Yalbugha was subsequently killed by his own mamluks
in an uprising in 1366. The rebellious mamluks were supported by
Sultan al-Ashraf Sha'ban, who Yalbugha installed in 1363. Sha'ban was
able to rule as the real power in the sultanate until 1377, when he
was killed by mamluk dissidents on his way to Mecca to perform the
Reign Of Barquq
Sha'ban was succeeded by his seven-year-old son al-Mansur Ali ,
although the oligarchy of the senior emirs held the reins of power.
Among the senior emirs who rose to prominence under Ali was
Barquq , a
Circassian mamluk of Yalbugha who was involved in Sha'ban's
assassination, and Baraka, another of Yalbugha's mamluks. Barquq
was made atabeg al-asakir in 1378, giving him command of the Mamluk
army, which he used to oust Baraka in 1380. Afterward, he managed to
Egypt his father Anas and many of his kinsmen, possibly in
an attempt to establish a power base outside of the Mamluk
establishment. Ali died in May 1381 and was succeeded by his
nine-year-old brother, as-Salih Hajji . However, power was in the
hands of Barquq, as-Salih Hajji's regent;
Barquq tried to succeed Ali
as sultan, but his bid was vetoed by the other senior emirs.
Nonetheless, in the following year,
Barquq toppled as-Salih Hajji with
the backing of Yalbugha's mamluks and assumed the sultanate, adopting
the title of Baybars, "al-Malik az-Zahir".
Damascus 1382 1389
Barquq's accession had been made possible by the support of
Yalbugha's mamluks, whose subsequent rise to power also made Barquq's
position vulnerable. His rule was challenged in
Syria in 1389 during
a revolt by the
Mamluk governor of
Malatya , Mintash, and the governor
of Aleppo, Yalbugha an-Nasiri, who was a former mamluk of both
an-Nasir Hasan and Yalbugha al-Umari. The rebels took over
headed for Egypt, prompting
Barquq to abdicate in favor of as-Salih
Hajji. The alliance between Yalbugha an-Nasiri and Mintash soon fell
apart, however, and factional fighting ensued in
Cairo ending with
Mintash ousting Yalbugha.
Barquq was arrested and exiled to al-Karak
where he was able to rally support for his return to the throne. In
Cairo, Barquq's loyalists took over the citadel and arrested as-Salih
Hajji. This paved the way for Barquq's usurpation of the sultanate
once more in February 1390, firmly establishing the Burji regime.
Barquq solidified his control over the sultanate in 1393, when his
forces killed the major opponent to his rule, Mintash, in Syria.
Barquq's reign saw the mass recruitment of
Circassians (estimated at
5,000 recruits ) into the mamluk ranks and the restoration of the
Mamluk state's authority throughout its realm in the tradition of the
Mamluk sultans, Baybars and Qalawun. A major innovation to this
Barquq was the division of
Egypt into three provinces
(niyabat) similar to the administrative divisions in Syria. The new
Egyptian niyabas were Alexandria,
Asyut . Barquq
instituted this change as a means to better control the Egyptian
countryside from the rising strength of the
Arab tribes. To that end,
Barquq dispatched the Berber Hawwara tribesmen of the Nile Delta to
Egypt to keep the
Arab tribes in check.
During Barquq's reign, in 1387, the
Mamluks were able to force the
Anatolian entity in
Sivas to become a
Mamluk vassal state . Towards
the end of the 14th century, challengers to the
Mamluks emerged in
Anatolia, including the
Ottoman dynasty who absorbed the territory of
the Karamanids in central
Anatolia and installed a vassal as the
leader of the
Dulkadirids in 1399, and the Turkic allies of
the Aq Qoyonlu and Kara Qoyounlu tribes who entered southern and
Anatolia in the same time period.
Barquq entered into a brief
Timur at the Euphrates in 1394, but
during that episode.
Crises And Restoration Of State Power
Barquq died in 1399 and was succeeded by his eleven-year-old son,
an-Nasir Faraj , who was in
Damascus at the time. In that same year,
Timur invaded Syria, sacking
Aleppo before proceeding to sack
Damascus. The latter had been abandoned by Faraj and his late
father's entourage, who left for Cairo.
Timur ended his occupation of
Syria in 1402 to pursue his war against the Ottomans in Anatolia, who
he deemed to be a more dangerous threat to his rule. Faraj was able
to hold onto power during this turbulent period, which in addition to
Timur's devastating raids, the rise of Turkic tribes in Jazira and
attempts by Barquq's emirs to topple Faraj, also saw a famine in Egypt
in 1403, a severe plague in 1405 and a
Bedouin revolt that virtually
ended the Mamluks' hold over Upper
Egypt between 1401 and 1413. Thus,
Mamluk authority throughout the sultanate was significantly eroded,
while the capital
Cairo experienced an economic crisis.
Faraj was toppled in 1412 by the Syria-based emirs, Tanam, Jakam,
Nawruz and al-Mu'ayyad Shaykh, who Faraj sent a total of seven
military expeditions against during his reign. The emirs could not
usurp the throne themselves, however, and had
installed; the caliph had the support of the non-Circassian mamluks
and legitimacy with the local population. Six months later, Shakyh
eased al-Musta'in out of power after neutralizing his main rival,
Nawruz, and assumed the sultanate. Shaykh's main goal in office was
restoration of the state's authority within the sultanate, which saw
further plagues in 1415–1417 and 1420. During his reign, Shaykh
reestablished the state's fiscal administration to replenish the
treasury. To that end, his fiscal administrator led tax collection
expeditions that were akin to plundering throughout the sultanate to
compensate for the tax arrears that had accumulated under Faraj's
reign. Shaykh also commissioned and led military expeditions against
the Mamluks' enemies in Anatolia, reasserting the state's influence in
Reign Of Barsbay
Before Shaykh died in 1421, he sought to offset the power of the
Circassian mamluks by importing Turkish mamluks and installing a Turk
as atabeg al-asakir in 1420 to serve as regent for his infant son
Ahmad. However, following his death, a Circassian emir, Tatar,
married Shaykh's widow, ousted the atabeg al-asakir and assumed power.
Tatar died three months into his reign and was succeeded by
another Circassian emir of Barquq, in 1422.
Barsbay pursued an economic policy of establishing state monopolies
over the lucrative trade with Europe, particularly regarding spices,
to the chagrin of the civilian merchants of the sultanate. Moreover,
Red Sea traders to offload their goods at the
Mamluk-held Hejazi port of
Jeddah rather than the Yemeni port of Aden
in order to derive the most financial benefit from the
Red Sea transit
route to Europe.
Barsbay also undertook efforts to better protect the
caravan routes to the
Bedouin raids and the Egyptian
Mediterranean coast from Catalan and Genoese piracy. With regards to
European pirates, he launched campaigns against Cyprus in 1425–1426,
during which the island's king was taken captive, because of his
alleged assistance to the pirates; the large ransoms paid to the
Mamluks by the Cypriots allowed them to mint new gold coinage for the
first time since the 14th century. Barsbay's efforts at
monopolization and trade protection were meant to offset the severe
financial losses of the sultanate's agricultural sector due to the
frequent recurring plagues that took a heavy toll on the farmers.
Barsbay launched military expeditions against the Aq Qoyonlu in 1429
and 1433. The first expedition involved the sacking of
Edessa and the
massacre of its Muslim inhabitants in retaliation for the Aq Qoyonlu's
raids against the Mamluks' Mesopotamian territories. The second
expedition was against the Aq Qoyonlu capital of Amid , which ended
with the Aq Qoyonlu recognizing
Mamluk suzerainty. While the Mamluks
were able to force the
Anatolian beyliks to generally submit to their
hegemony in the region,
Mamluk authority in Upper
Egypt was largely
relegated to the emirs of the Hawwara tribe. The latter had grown
wealthy from their burgeoning trade with central Africa and achieved a
degree of local popularity due to their piety, education and generally
benign treatment of the inhabitants.
While the Ottoman sultan
Bayezid II was engaged in Europe, a new
round of conflict broke out between
Egypt and the
Safavid dynasty in
Persia in 1501. Shah
Ismail I sent an embassy to Venice and Syria
inviting them to join arms and recover the territory taken from them
by the "Porte " (Ottomans). Mameluk Egyptian sultan Al-Ghawri was told
Selim I that he was providing the envoys of the
Safavid Ismail I
safe passage through
Syria on their way to Venice and harboring
refugees. To appease him, Al-Ghawri placed in confinement the Venetian
merchants then in
Syria and Egypt, but after a year released them.
Battle of Chaldiran in 1514,
Selim I attacked the
Dulkadirids , an Egyptian vassal, and sent his head to
Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri . Secure now against Shah Ismail I, in AD
1516 he drew together a great army aiming at conquering Egypt, but to
deceive it he represented his army to further the war against Shah
Ismail I. The war started in 1516 which led to the later incorporation
Egypt and its dependencies in the Ottoman Empire, with Mamluk
cavalry proving no match for the Ottoman artillery and the janissaries
. On August 24, 1516, at the
Battle of Marj Dabiq
Sultan al-Ghawri was
Syria passed into Ottoman Turkish possession, who were
welcomed in many places as deliverance from the Mamluks.
Mamluk Sultanate survived until 1517, when it was conquered by
the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman sultan
Selim I captured
Cairo on January
20, the center of power transferred then to
Constantinople . Although
not in the same form as under the Sultanate, the Ottoman Empire
Mamluks as an Egyptian ruling class and the
the Burji family succeeded in regaining much of their influence, but
remained vassals of the Ottomans.
By the time the
Mamluks took power,
Arabic had already been
established as the language of religion, culture and the bureaucracy
in Egypt, and was widespread among non-Muslim communities there as
well. Arabic's wide use among Muslim and non-Muslim commoners had
likely been motivated by their aspiration to learn the language of the
ruling and scholarly elite. Another contributing factor was the wave
Arab tribal migration to
Egypt and subsequent intermarriage between
Arabs and the indigenous population. The
Mamluks contributed to the
Egypt through their victory over the Mongols
and the Crusaders and the subsequent creation of a Muslim haven in
Syria for Arabic-speaking immigrants from other conquered
Muslim lands. The continuing invasions of
Syria by Mongol armies led
to further waves of Syrian immigrants, including scholars and
artisans, to Egypt.
Arabic was used as the administrative language of the
sultanate, Turkish was the spoken language of the
Mamluk ruling elite.
According to Petry, "the
Mamluks regarded Turkish as their caste's
vehicle of communication, even though they themselves spoke Central
Asian dialects such as Qipjak, or Circassian, a Caucasic language."
According to historian Michael Winter, "Turkishness" was the
distinctive aspect of the
Mamluk ruling elite, for only they knew how
to speak Turkish and had Turkish names. While the
Mamluk elite was
ethnically diverse, those who were not Turkic in origin were
Turkicized nonetheless. As such, the ethnically Circassian mamluks
who gained prominence with the rise of the Burji regime and became the
dominant ethnic element of the government, were educated in the
Turkish language and were considered to be Turks by the
The ruling military elite of the sultanate was exclusive to those of
mamluk background, with rare exceptions. Ethnicity served as a major
factor separating the mostly Turkic or Turkicized
Mamluk elite from
their Arabic-speaking subjects. Ethnic origin was a key component of
an individual mamluk's identity, and ethnic identity manifested itself
through given names, dress, access to administrative positions and was
indicated by a sultan's nisba . The sons of mamluks, known as the
awlad al-nas, did not typically hold positions in the military elite
and instead, were often part of the civilian administration or the
Muslim religious establishment. Among the Bahri sultans and emirs,
there existed a degree of pride of their Kipchak Turkish roots, and
their non-Kipchak usurpers such as sultans Kitbuqa, Baybars II and
Lajin were often de-legitimized in the Bahri-era sources for their
non-Kipchak origins. The
Mamluk elites of the Burji period were also
apparently proud of their Circassian origins.
A wide range of Islamic religious expression existed in
Mamluk era, namely
Sunni Islam and its major madhabs
(schools of thought) and various Sufi orders, but also small
communities of Ismai'li Shia Muslims , particularly in Upper Egypt.
In addition, there was a significant minority of Coptic Christians .
Saladin , the Ayyubids embarked on a program of reviving
Sunni Islam in
Egypt to counter Christianity, which
had been reviving under the religiously benign rule of the Fatimids ,
Ismailism , the branch of Islam of the Fatimid state. Under the
Bahri sultans, the promotion of
Sunni Islam was pursued more
vigorously than under the Ayyubids. The
Mamluks were motivated in
this regard by personal piety or political expediency for Islam was
both an assimilating and unifying factor between the
Mamluks and the
majority of their subjects; the early mamluks had been brought up as
Sunni Muslims and the Muslim faith was the only aspect of life shared
Mamluk ruling elite and its subjects. While the precedent
set by the Ayyubids highly influenced the
Mamluk state's embrace of
Sunni Islam, the circumstances in the Muslim Middle East in the
aftermath of the Crusader and Mongol invasions also left
as the last major Islamic power able to confront the Crusaders and the
Mongols. Thus, the early
Mamluk embrace of
Sunni Islam also stemmed
from the pursuit of a moral unity within their realm based on the
majority views of its subjects.
Mamluks sought to cultivate and utilize Muslim leaders to channel
the religious feelings of the sultanate's Muslim subjects in a manner
that did not disrupt the sultanate's authority. Similar to their
Ayyubid predecessors, the Bahri sultans showed particular favoritism
towards the Shafi\'i madhab, while also promoting the other major
Sunni madhabs, namely the
Hanafi . Baybars ended
the Ayyubid and early
Mamluk tradition of selecting a
as qadi al-qudah (chief judge) and instead had a qadi al-qudah
appointed from each of the four madhabs. This policy change may have
been partly motivated by a desire to accommodate an increasingly
diverse Muslim population whose components had immigrated to Egypt
from regions where other madhabs were prevalent. Ultimately, however,
the diffusion of the post of qadi al-qudah among the four madhabs
Mamluk sultans to act as patrons for each madhab and thus gain
more influence over them. Regardless of the policy change, the
Shafi'i scholars maintained a number of privileges over their
colleagues from the other madhabs.
Mamluks also embraced the various Sufi orders that existed in the
Sufism was widespread in
Egypt by the 13th century, and
the Shadhiliyyah was the most popular Sufi order. The Shadhiliyyah
lacked an institutional structure and was flexible in its religious
thought, allowing it to easily adapt to its local environment. It
incorporated Sunni Islamic piety with its basis in the Qur\'an and
hadith , Sufi mysticism, and elements of popular religion such as
sainthood, ziyarat (visitation) to the tombs of saintly or religious
individuals, and dhikr (invocation of God). Other Sufi orders with
large numbers of adherents were the Rifa\'iyyah and Badawiyyah .
Mamluks patronized the Sunni ulama through appointments to
government office, they patronized the Sufis by funding zawiyas (Sufi
lodges). On the other end of the spectrum of Sunni religious
expression were the teachings of the
Ibn Taymiyyah ,
which emphasized stringent moral rigor based on literal
interpretations of the
Qur'an and the
Sunnah , and a deep hostility to
the aspects of mysticism and popular religious innovations promoted by
the various Sufi orders. While
Ibn Taymiyyah was not a typical
representative of Sunni orthodoxy in the sultanate, he was the most
prominent Muslim scholar of the
Mamluk era and was arrested numerous
times by the
Mamluk government for his religious teachings, which are
still influential in the modern-day Muslim world. Ibn Taymiyyah's
doctrines were regarded as being heretic by the Sunni establishment
patronized by the Mamluks.
Christian And Jewish Communities
Christians and Jews in the sultanate were governed by the dual
authority of their respective religious institutions and the sultan.
The authority of the former extended to many of the everyday aspects
of Christian and Jewish life and was not restricted to the religious
practices of the two respective communities. The
often under the official banner of the
Pact of Umar which gave
Christians and Jews dhimmi (protected peoples) status, ultimately
determined the taxes that Christians and Jews paid to the sultanate,
including the jizyah (poll tax), whether a house of worship could be
constructed and the public appearance of Christians and Jews. Jews
generally fared better than Christians, and the latter experienced
more difficulty under
Mamluk rule than under previous Muslim powers.
The association of Christians with the Mongols, due to the latter's
use of Armenian and Georgian Christian auxiliaries, the attempted
alliance between the
Mongols and the Crusader powers, and the massacre
of Muslim communities and the sparing of Christians in cities captured
by the Mongols, may have contributed to rising anti-Christian
sentiments in the
Mamluk era. The manifestations of anti-Christian
hostility were mostly spearheaded at the popular level rather than
under the direction of
Mamluk sultans. The main source of popular
hostility was resentment at the privileged positions many Christians
held in the
The Coptic decline in
Egypt occurred under the Bahri sultans and
accelerated further under the Burji regime. There were several
instances of Egyptian Muslim protests against the wealth of Coptic
Christians and their employment with the state, and both Muslim and
Christian rioters burned down each other's houses of worship in times
of intercommunal tensions. As a result of popular pressure, Coptic
Christians had their employment in the bureaucracy terminated at least
nine times between the late 13th and mid-15th centuries, and on one
occasion, in 1301, the government ordered the closure of all churches.
Coptic bureaucrats would often be restored to their positions after
the moment of tension passed. Many Coptic Christians decided to
convert to Islam or at least adopt the outward expressions of Muslim
faith to protect their employment, avoid jizyah taxation and avoid
official measures against them. The 14th century saw a large wave of
Coptic conversions to Islam, and by the end of the
Mamluk period, the
ratio of Muslims to Christians in
Egypt may have risen to 10:1.
In Syria, the
Mamluks uprooted the local Maronite and Greek Orthodox
Christians from the coastal areas as a means to prevent their
potential contact with European powers. The
Maronite Church was
especially suspected by the
Mamluks of collaboration with the
Europeans due to the high degree of relations between the Maronite
Church and the papacy in Rome and the Christian European powers,
particularly Cyprus. The Greek Orthodox Church experienced a decline
Mamluk destruction of its spiritual center, Antioch, and
the Timurid destruction of
Damascus in 1400. The Syriac
Christians also experienced a significant decline in
Syria due to
intra-communal disputes over patriarchal succession and the
destruction of church institutions by the Timurids and local Kurdish
Mamluks brought about a similar decline of the Armenian
Orthodox Church after their capture of the Armenian Cilician Kingdom
in 1374, in addition to the raids of the Timurids in 1386 and the
conflict between the Timurids and the nomadic Turkmen Aq Qoyunlu and
Kara Qoyonlu tribal confederations in Cilicia.
BEDOUIN RELATIONSHIP WITH THE STATE
Bedouin tribes served as a reserve force in the
Mamluk military .
Under the third reign of an-Nasir Muhammad in particular, the Bedouin
tribes, particularly those of Syria, such as the
Al Fadl , were
strengthened and integrated into the economy as well.
were also a major source of the
Arabian horses .
Qalawun purchased horses from the
Barqa (Cyrenaica), which
were inexpensive but of high quality, while an-Nasir Muhammad spent
extravagant sums for horses from numerous
Bedouin sources, including
Iraq and Bahrayn .
Sultans Baybars and Qalawun, and the Syrian viceroys of an-Nasir
Muhammad during his first two reigns, emirs Salar and Baybars II, were
averse to granting
Bedouin sheikhs iqtaʿat, and when they did, the
iqtaʿat were of low quality. However, during an-Nasir Muhammad's
third reign, the
Al Fadl were granted high-quality iqtaʿat in
abundance, strengthening the tribe to become the most powerful among
Bedouin of the
Syrian Desert region. Beyond his personal
admiration of the Bedouin, an-Nasir Muhammad's motivation for
distributing iqtaʿat to Al Fadl, especially under the leadership of
Muhanna ibn Isa , was to prevent them from defecting to the Ilkhanate,
which their leaders had done frequently in the first half of the 14th
century. Competition over iqtaʿat and the post of amir al-ʿarab
Bedouin tribes of Syria, particularly the Al Fadl, led to
conflict and rebellion among the two tribes and other Bedouin, leading
to mass bloodshed in
Syria in the aftermath of an-Nasir Muhammad's
Mamluk leadership in Syria, weakened by the losses of the
Black Plague, was unable to quell the
Bedouin through military
expeditions, so they resolved to assassinate the sheikhs of the
tribes. including those of Upper
Egypt . The
Al Fadl tribe eventually
lost favor, while the
Bedouin tribes of al-Karak were strengthened by
the later Bahri sultans.
In Egypt, the Mamluks, particularly during an-Nasir Muhammad's third
reign, had a similar relationship with the
Bedouin as in Syria. The
'Isa Ibn Hasan al-Hajjan tribe became powerful in the country after
being assigned massive iqtaʿat. The tribe remained strong after
an-Nasir Muhammad's death, but frequently rebelled against the
succeeding Bahri sultans, but were restored each time, before its
sheikh was finally executed as a rebel in 1353. In Sharqiya in Lower
Egypt , the Tha'laba tribes were charged with overseeing the postal
routes, but they were often unreliable in this regard and ultimately
joined the Al A'id tribes during their raids.
Bedouin tribal wars
frequently disrupted trade and travel in Upper Egypt, and caused the
destruction of cultivated lands and sugar processing plants. In the
Bedouin tribes in Upper Egypt, namely the rival Arak
and Banu Hilal, became the de facto rulers of the region, forcing the
Mamluks to rely on them for tax collection. The
ultimately purged from Upper and Lower
Egypt by the campaigns of Emir
Shaykhu in 1353.
Mamluks did not significantly alter the administrative, legal and
economic systems that they inherited from the Ayyubid state. The
Mamluk territorial domain was virtually the same as that of the
Ayyubid state i.e. Egypt,
Hijaz . However, unlike the
collective sovereignty of the Ayyubids where territory was divided
among members of the royal family, the
Mamluk state was unitary.
Under certain Ayyubid sultans,
Egypt had paramountcy over the Syrian
provinces, but under the
Mamluks this paramountcy was consistent and
Cairo remained the capital of the sultanate and its social,
economic and administrative center, with the
Cairo Citadel serving as
the sultan's headquarters.
The foundation of
Mamluk organization and factional unity was based
on the principles of khushdashiyya, defined by historian Amalia
Levanoni as "the fostering of a common bond between mamluks who
belonged to the household of a single master and their loyalty towards
him." Khushdashiyya was likewise a crucial component of a sultan\'s
authority and power.
AUTHORITY OF THE SULTAN
Mamluk sultan was the ultimate authority, while he delegated
power to provincial governors known as nuwwab as-saltana (deputy
sultans, sing. na'ib as-saltana). Generally, the vice-regent of Egypt
was the most senior na'ib, followed by the governor of Damascus, then
Aleppo, then the governors of al-Karak, Safad, Tripoli,
Homs and Hama.
In Hama, the
Mamluks had permitted the Ayyubids to continue to govern
until 1341 (its popular governor in 1320, Abu\'l Fida , was granted
the title sultan by
Sultan an-Nasir Muhammad), but otherwise the
nuwwab of the provinces were
A consistent accession process occurred with every new
It more or less involved the election of a sultan by a counsel of
emirs and mamluks (who would give him an oath of loyalty ), the
sultan's assumption of the monarchical title al-malik, a
state-organized procession through
Cairo at the head of which was the
sultan, and the reading of the sultan's name in the khutbah (Friday
prayer sermon). The process was not formalized and the electoral body
was never defined, but typically consisted of the emirs and mamluks of
Mamluk faction held sway; usurpations of the throne by rival
factions were relatively common. Despite the electoral nature of
accession, dynastic succession was nonetheless a reality at times,
particularly during the Bahri regime, where Baybars' sons Barakah and
Solamish succeeded him, before
Qalawun usurped the throne and was
thereafter succeeded by four generations of direct descendants, with
occasional interruptions. The frequency of hereditary rule was much
less frequent during the Burji regime. Nonetheless, with rare
exception, the Burji sultans were all linked to the regime's founder
Barquq through blood or mamluk affiliation. The accession of blood
relatives to the sultanate was often the result of the decision or
indecision of senior
Mamluk emirs or the will of the preceding sultan.
The latter situation applied to the sultans Baybars, Qalawun, the
latter's son, an-Nasir Muhammad and Barquq, who formally arranged for
one or more of their sons to succeed them. More often than not, the
sons of sultans were elected by the senior emirs with the ultimate
intention that they serve as convenient figureheads presiding over an
oligarchy of the emirs.
Mamluk emirs viewed the sultan more as a peer whom they
entrusted with ultimate authority and as a benefactor whom they
expected would guarantee their salaries and monopoly on the military.
When emirs felt the sultan was not ensuring their benefits, disruptive
riots, coup plots or delays to calls for service were all likely
scenarios. Often, the practical restrictions on a sultan's power came
from his own khushdashiyyah or from other emirs, with whom there was
constant tension, particularly in times of peace with external
enemies. According to Holt, the factious nature of emirs who were not
the sultan's khushdashiyyah derived from the primary loyalty of emirs
and mamluks to their own ustadh (master) before the sultan. However,
emirs who were part of the sultan's khushdashiyyah also rebelled at
times, particularly the governors of
Syria who formed power bases out
of their territory. Typically, the faction most loyal to the sultan
were the Royal Mamluks, particularly those mamluks whom the sultan had
personally recruited and manumitted. This was in contrast to the
qaranis, who were those in the Royal Mamluks' ranks who had been
recruited by a sultan's predecessors and thus lacked khushdashiyyah
bonds with the sultan. The qaranis occasionally constituted a hostile
faction to a sultan, such as in the case of
Sultan as-Salih Ayyub and
the Qalawuni successors of an-Nasir Muhammad.
The sultan was the head of state and among his powers and
responsibilities were issuing and enforcing specific legal orders and
general rules, making the decision to go to war, levying taxes for
armed campaigns, ensuring the proportionate distribution of food
supplies throughout the sultanate and, in some cases, overseeing the
investigation and punishment of alleged criminals. A
Mamluk sultan or
his appointees led the annual
Hajj pilgrimage caravans from
Damascus in the capacity of amir al-hajj (commander of the Hajj
caravan). Starting with Qalawun, the
Mamluks also monopolized the
tradition of providing the annual decorated covering of the
Kaaba , in
addition to patronizing Jerusalem's
Dome of the Rock . Another
prerogative, at least of the early Bahri sultans, was to import as
many mamluks as possible into the sultanate, preferring those who
originated from the territories of the Mongols. However, the Mamluks'
enemies, such as the Mongol powers and their Muslim vassals, the
Armenians and the Crusaders, successfully disrupted the flow of
mamluks into the sultanate. Unable to meet the military's need for
new mamluks, the sultans often resorted to turning Ilkhanid deserters
or prisoners of war into soldiers, sometimes while the war the
prisoners were captured in was still ongoing.
ROLE OF THE CALIPH
To legitimize their rule, the
Mamluks presented themselves as the
defenders of Islam, and, beginning with Baybars, sought the
confirmation of their executive authority from a caliph . The Ayyubids
had owed their allegiance to the
Abbasid Caliphate , but the latter
was destroyed when
Caliph al-Musta\'sim was killed by the
the Abbasid capital Baghdad was sacked in 1258. Three years later,
Baybars reestablished the caliphate as an institution by confirming a
member of the Abbasid family, al-Mustansir , as caliph, who in turn
confirmed Baybars as sultan. In addition, the caliph declared the
sultan's legitimate authority over the lands of
Diyarbakir , the
Yemen and any territory
conquered from the Crusaders or
Mongols . Al-Mustansir's Abbasid
successors continued in their official capacity as caliphs, but
virtually held no power in the
Mamluk government. The brief reign of
Caliph al-Musta\'in as sultan in 1412 was an anomaly. In an anecdotal
testament to the caliph's lack of real authority, a group of
rebellious mamluks responded to
Sultan Lajin's presentation of the
Caliph al-Hakim 's decree asserting Lajin's authority with the
following comment, recorded by
Ibn Taghribirdi : "Stupid fellow. For
God's sake—who pays any heed to the caliph now?"
MILITARY AND ADMINISTRATIVE HIERARCHY
Mamluk sultans were products of the military hierarchy, entry
into which was virtually restricted to mamluks, i.e. those soldiers
who were imported while young slaves. However, the sons of mamluks
could enter and rise high within the ranks of the military hierarchy,
but typically did not enter military service. Instead, many entered
into mercantile, scholastic or other civilian careers. The army
Baybars inherited consisted of Kurdish and Turkic tribesmen, refugees
from the various Ayyubid armies of
Syria and other troops from armies
dispersed by the Mongols. Following the Battle of Ain Jalut, Baybars
restructured the army into three components: the Royal Mamluk
regiment, the soldiers of the emirs, and the halqa (non-mamluk
soldiers). The Royal Mamluks, who were under the direct command of
the sultan, were the highest-ranking body within the army, entry into
which was exclusive. The Royal
Mamluks were virtually the private
corps of the sultan. The lower-ranking emirs also had their own corps,
which were akin to private armies. The soldiers of the emirs were
directly commanded by the emirs, but could be mobilized by the sultan
when needed. As emirs were promoted, the number of soldiers in their
corps increased, and when rival emirs challenged each other's
authority, they would often utilize their respective forces, leading
to major disruptions of civilian life. The halqa had inferior status
to the mamluk regiments. It had its own administrative structure and
was under the direct command of the sultan. The halqa regiments
declined in the 14th century when professional non-mamluk soldiers
generally stopped joining the force.
The Ayyubid army had lacked a clear and permanent hierarchical system
and one of Baybars' early reforms was creating a military hierarchy.
To that end, he began the system of assigning emirs ranks of ten,
forty and one hundred, with the particular number indicating how many
mounted mamluk troops were assigned to an emir's command. In
addition, an emir of one hundred could be assigned one thousand
mounted troops during battle. Baybars instituted uniformity within
the army and put an end to the previous improvised nature of the
various Ayyubid military forces of
Egypt and Syria. To bring further
uniformity to the military, Baybars and
Qalawun standardized the
undefined Ayyubid policies regarding the distribution of iqtaʿat to
emirs. The reformation of iqtaʿ distribution created a clear link
between an emir's rank and the size of his iqtaʿ. For example, an
emir of forty would be given an iqtaʿ a third of the size of an emir
of one hundred's iqtaʿ. Baybars also began biweekly inspections of
the troops to verify that sultanic orders were carried out, in
addition to the periodic inspections in which he would distribute new
weaponry to the mamluk troops. Starting with the reign of Qalawun,
the sultan and the military administration maintained lists of all
emirs throughout the sultanate and defined their roles as part of the
right or left flanks of the army should they be mobilized for war.
Gradually, as mamluks increasingly filled administrative and courtier
posts within the state,
Mamluk innovations to the Ayyubid hierarchy
were developed. The offices of ustadar (majordomo ), hajib
(chamberlain), emir jandar and khazindar (treasurer), which existed
during the Ayyubid period, were preserved, but Baybars established the
additional offices of dawadar, emir akhur, ru'us al-nawab and emir
majlis. The administrative offices were largely ceremonial posts and
were closely connected to various elements of the military hierarchy.
The ustadar (from the
Arabic ustadh al-dar, "master of the house")
was the chief of staff of the sultan, responsible for organizing the
royal court's daily activities, managing the personal budget of the
sultan and supervising all of the buildings of the
Cairo Citadel and
its staff. The ustadar was often referred to as the ustadar al-aliyah
(grand master of the house) to distinguish from ustadar saghirs
(lesser majordomos) whose authority was subordinate to the ustadar
al-aliyah and who oversaw specific aspects of the court and citadel,
such as the sultan's treasury, private property and the kitchens of
Mamluk emirs also had their own ustadars. The office of
ustadar al-aliyah became a powerful post beginning in the late 14th
century, particularly so under sultans
Barquq and an-Nasir Faraj,
who transferred the responsibilities of the special bureau for their
mamluks to the authority of the ustadar, thus turning the latter into
the sultanate's chief financial official.
Mamluk Wool Carpet, Egypt, circa 1500-1550
Mamluk economy essentially consisted of two spheres: the state
economy, which was organized along the lines of an elite household and
was controlled by a virtual caste government headed by the sultan, and
the free market economy, which was the domain of society in general
and which was associated with the native inhabitants in contrast to
the ethnically foreign origins of the
Mamluk ruling elite. The
Mamluks introduced greater centralization over the economy by
organizing the state bureaucracy, particularly in
Aleppo already had organized bureaucracies), and the
hierarchy and its associated iqtaʿ system. In
Egypt in particular,
the Nile River's centralizing influence also contributed to Mamluk
centralization over the region. The
Mamluks used the same currency
system as the Ayyubids, which consisted of gold dinars , silver
dirhams and copper fulus . In general, the monetary system during the
Mamluk period was highly unstable due to frequent monetary changes
enacted by various sultans. Increased circulation of copper coins and
the increased use of copper in dirhams often led to inflation.
Mamluks created an administrative body called the hisbah to
supervise the market, with a muhtasib (inspector-general) in charge of
the body. There were four muhtasibs based in Cairo, Alexandria,
al-Fustat and Lower Egypt. The muhtasib in
Cairo was the most senior
of the four and his position was akin to that of a finance minister.
The role of a muhtasib was to inspect weights and measures and the
quality of goods, maintain legal trade, and to remain vigilant of
price gouging. Typically, a qadi or Muslim scholar would occupy the
post, but in the 15th century,
Mamluk emirs began to be appointed as
muhtasibs in an effort to compensate emirs during cash shortages or as
a result of the gradual shift of the muhtasib's role from the legal
realm to one of enforcement.
The iqtaʿ system was inherited from the Ayyubids and further
organized under the
Mamluks to fit their military needs. Iqtaʿat
were a central component of the
Mamluk power structure. The iqtaʿ of
the Muslims differed from the European concept of fiefs in that iqtaʿ
represented a right to collect revenue from a fixed territory and was
accorded to an officer (emir) as income and as a financial source to
provision his soldiers. However, prior to the Mamluks' rise, there
was a growing tendency of iqtaʿ holders to treat their iqtaʿ as
personal property, which they passed down to their descendants. The
Mamluks effectively put an end to this tendency, with the exception of
some areas, namely in Mount
Lebanon , where longtime
holders, who became part of the halqa, were able to resist the
abolition of their hereditary iqtaʿat. In the
Mamluk era, the iqtaʿ
was an emir's principal source of income, and starting in 1337,
Mamluk iqtaʿ holders would lease or sell rights to their iqtaʿat to
non-mamluks in order to derive greater revenues. By 1343, the
practice was common and by 1347, the sale of iqta'at became taxed.
The revenues emanating from the iqtaʿ also served as a more stable
source of income than other methods the
Mamluks sometimes employed,
including tax hikes, the sale of administrative posts and extortion of
the population. According to historian J. van Steenbergen,
The iqtaʿ system was fundamental in assuring a legitimized,
controlled and guaranteed access to the resources of the Syro-Egyptian
realm to an upper level of
Mamluk society that was primarily military
in form and organization. As such it was a fundamental feature of
Mamluk society, on the one hand giving way to a military hierarchy
that crystallized into an even more developed economic hierarchy and
that had substantial economic interests in society at large; on the
other hand, it deeply characterized the realm's economic and social
development, its agriculture, grain trade, and rural demography in
The system largely consisted of land assignments from the state in
return for military services. Land was assessed by the periodic rawk
(cadastral survey ), which consisted of a survey of land parcels
(measured by feddan units), assessment of land quality and the annual
estimated tax revenue of the parcels, and classification of a parcel's
legal status as waqf (trust) or iqtaʿ. The rawk surveys organized
the iqtaʿ system and the first rawk was carried out in 1298 under
Sultan Lajin. A second and final rawk was completed in 1315 under
Sultan an-Nasir Muhammad and influenced political and economic
developments of the
Mamluk Sultanate until its fall in the early 16th
Over time, the iqtaʿ system was expanded, and increasingly larger
areas of kharaj (taxable lands) were appropriated as iqtaʿ lands in
order to meet the fiscal needs of the
Mamluk military institution,
namely payment of
Mamluk officers and their subordinates. The Mamluk
state resolved to increase allotments by dispersing an individual
emir's iqtaʿat over several provinces and for brief terms. However,
this led to a situation where the iqtaʿ holders neglected the
administrative oversight, maintenance and infrastructure of their
iqtaʿat, while concentrating solely on collecting revenues, thereby
resulting in less productivity of the iqtaʿat.
Agriculture was the primary source of revenue in the
Agricultural products were the main exports of
Mamluk Egypt, Syria
and Palestine. Moreover, the major industries of sugar and textile
production were also dependent on agricultural products, namely sugar
cane and cotton, respectively. Every agricultural commodity was taxed
by the state, with the sultan's treasury taking the largest share of
the revenues; emirs and major private brokers followed. An emir's main
source of income were the agricultural products of his iqtaʿ, and
with those revenues, he was able to fund his private corps.
Mamluk centralization over agricultural production was more
thorough than in
Syria and Palestine for a number of reasons. Among
them was that virtually all agriculture in
Egypt depended on an
irrigation single source, the Nile, and the measures and rights to
irrigation were determined by the river's flooding, whereas in Syria
and Palestine, there were multiple sources of mostly rain-fed
irrigation, and measures and rights were thus determined at the local
level. Centralization over
Syria and Palestine was also more
complicated than in
Egypt due to the diversity of those regions'
geography and the frequent invasions of the Syro-Palestinian
territories. The state's role in Syro-Palestinian agriculture was
restricted to the fiscal administration and to the irrigation networks
and other aspects of rural infrastructure. Although the level of
centralization not as high as in Egypt, the
Mamluks did impose enough
control over the Syrian economy to derive revenues from
benefited the sultanate and contributed to the defense of its realm.
Furthermore, the maintenance of the
Mamluk army in
Syria relied on the
state's control over Syrian agricultural revenues.
Among the responsibilities of a
Mamluk provincial or district
governor were repopulating depopulated areas to foster agricultural
production, protecting the lands from
Bedouin raids, increasing
productivity in barren lands (likely through the upkeep and expansion
of existing irrigation networks), and devoting special attention to
the cultivation of the more arable low-lying regions. In order to
ensure that rural life was undisturbed by
Bedouin raiding, which could
halt agricultural work or damage crops and agrarian infrastructure and
thus decrease revenues, the
Mamluks attempted to prevent Bedouin
armament and confiscate existing weapons from them.
TRADE AND INDUSTRY
Syria played a central transit role in international trade
Middle Ages . Early into their rule, the
Mamluks sought to
expand their role in foreign trade, and to this end Baybars signed a
commercial treaty with
Genoa , while
Qalawun signed a similar
Ceylon . By the 15th century, internal upheaval as a
Mamluk power struggles, diminishing iqtaʿ revenues as a
result of plagues, and the encroachment of abandoned farmlands by
Bedouin tribes led to a financial crisis in the sultanate. To make up
for these losses, the
Mamluks applied a three-pronged approach:
taxation of the urban middle classes, increasing the production and
sale of cotton and sugar to Europe, and taking advantage of their
transit position in the trade between the Far East and Europe. The
latter proved to be the most profitable method and was done by
cultivating trade relationships with Venetia ,
and increasing taxes on commodities. Thus, during the 15th century,
the long-established trade between Europe and the Islamic world began
to make up a significant part of the sultanate's revenues as the
Mamluks imposed taxes on the merchants who operated or passed through
the sultanate's ports.
Egypt was a major producer of textiles and a supplier of raw
materials for Western Europe. However, the frequent outbreaks of the
Black Plague led to a decline in the
Mamluk territories' production of
goods such as textiles, silk products, sugar, glass, soaps, and paper,
which coincided with the Europeans' increasing production of these
goods. Trade continued nonetheless and despite papal restrictions on
trade with the Muslims during the Crusades. Mediterranean trade was
dominated by spices, such as pepper, muscat nuts and flowers, cloves
and cinnamon, as well as medicinal drugs and indigo. These goods
India , and
Southeast Asia and made their way
to Europe via the
Mamluk ports of
Syria and Egypt. These ports were
frequented by European merchants, who in turn sold gold and silver
ducats and bullions , silk, wool and linen fabrics, furs, wax, honey
Sultan Barsbay, a state monopoly was established on luxury
goods, namely spices, in which the state set prices and collected a
percentage of profits. To that end, in 1387,
direct control over Alexandria, the principal Egyptian commercial
port, thereby transferring the tax revenues of the port to the
sultan's personal treasury (diwan al-khass) instead of the imperial
treasury which was linked with the military's iqtaʿ system.
Furthermore, in 1429, he ordered that the spice trade to Europe be
Cairo before goods reached Alexandria, thus
attempting to end the direct transportation of spices from the Red Sea
to Alexandria. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries the
Portuguese Empire 's expansion into Africa and Asia began to
significantly decrease the revenues of the Mamluk-Venetian monopoly on
the trans-Mediterranean trade. This contributed to and coincided with
the fall of the sultanate.
LIST OF SULTANS
List of Mamluk sultans
Timeline of the Turkic peoples (500–1300)
List of Turkic dynasties and countries
Egypt in the
List of Sunni Muslim dynasties
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* ^ A B C D E F Northrup, ed. Petry 1998, p. 267.
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* ^ A B C D Britannica, p. 116.
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