Mamluk Sultanate

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Mamluk Sultanate
سلطنة المماليك (

Salṭanat al-Mamālīk (Mamluk Sultanate)
Flags according to the
Extent of the Mamluk Sultanate under Sultan an-Nasir Muhammad
Extent of the Mamluk Sultanate under Sultan
an-Nasir Muhammad
Common languages
Sultanate under ceremonial Caliphate[4]
• 1261
Al-Mustansir (first)
• 1262–1302
Al-Hakim I
• 1406–1414
Abū al-Faḍl Al-Musta'in
• 1508–1516
Al-Mutawakkil III (last)
• 1516–1517
Tuman bay II (last)
• Murder of
Second Ottoman–Mamluk War
22 January 1517
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Abbasid Caliphate
Ayyubid dynasty
Kingdom of Jerusalem
Principality of Antioch
County of Tripoli
Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia
Tahirids (Yemen)
Ottoman Empire
flag Egypt portal

The Mamluk Sultanate (

conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1517. Mamluk history is generally divided into the Turkic or Bahri period (1250–1382) and the Circassian or Burji period (1382–1517), called after the predominant ethnicity or corps of the ruling Mamluks during these respective eras.[5][6][7][8][9]

The first rulers of the sultanate hailed from the mamluk regiments of the Ayyubid sultan

Makuria (Nubia), Cyrenaica, the Hejaz and southern Anatolia. The sultanate then experienced a long period of stability and prosperity during the third reign of al-Nasir Muhammad
(r. 1293–1294, 1299–1309, 1310–1341), before giving way to the internal strife characterizing the succession of his sons, when real power was held by senior emirs.

One such emir, Barquq, overthrew the sultan in 1390, inaugurating Burji rule. Mamluk authority across the empire eroded under his successors due to foreign invasions, tribal rebellions, and natural disasters, and the state entered into a long period of financial distress. Under Sultan Barsbay major efforts were taken to replenish the treasury, particularly monopolization of trade with Europe and tax expeditions into the countryside.


The term 'Mamluk Sultanate' is a modern historiographical term.[10] Arabic sources for the period of the Bahri Mamluks refer to the dynasty as the 'State of the Turks' (Dawlat al-Atrak or Dawlat al-Turk) or 'State of Turkey' (al-Dawla al-Turkiyya).[11][12][10] The other official name was 'State of the Circassians' (Dawlat al-Jarakisa) during Burji rule. A variant thereof (al-Dawla al-Turkiyya al-Jarakisiyya) emphasized the fact that the Circassians were Turkic-speaking.[10]

Mamluk sultans were known as Sultans of Egypt and Syria.




Tulunid and Ikhshidid periods.[14] Mamluk regiments constituted the backbone of Egypt's military under Ayyubid rule in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, beginning with Sultan Saladin (r. 1174–1193) who replaced the Fatimids' black African infantry with mamluks.[15] Each Ayyubid sultan and high-ranking emir had a private mamluk corps.[16] 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.[15] A mamluk was highly committed to his master, to whom he often referred as "father", and was in turn treated more as a kinsman than as a slave.[15] Sultan as-Salih Ayyub (r. 1240–1249), 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 father, Sultan al-Kamil (r. 1218–1238). These mamluks were called the "Salihiyyah" (singular "Salihi") after their master.[17]

Four horsemen taking part in a contest. From 'Manual on the Arts of Horsemanship' by al-Aqsara'i. Cairo, 1366. Chester Beatty Library

As-Salih became sultan of Egypt in 1240, and, upon his accession to the Ayyubid throne, he

iqtaʿat (fiefs; singular iqtaʿ) of his predecessors' emirs.[17] As-Salih sought to create a paramilitary apparatus in Egypt loyal to himself, and his aggressive recruitment and promotion of mamluks led contemporaries to view Egypt as "Salihi-ridden", according to historian Winslow William Clifford.[18] 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.[19] 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 that the Salihiyyah developed an autonomy within the state that fell short of such loyalty.[20] 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 that affronted many of the Salihiyyah and by whom was rejected; four of the Salihiyyah ultimately agreed to execute the controversial operation.[19]

Rise to power

Conflict with the Ayyubids

Tensions between as-Salih Ayyub and his mamluks came to a head later in 1249 when Louis IX of France's forces captured Damietta in their bid to conquer Egypt during the Seventh Crusade.[19] 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.[19] The situation was calmed after the intervention of the atabeg al-askar (commander of the military), Fakhr ad-Din ibn Shaykh al-Shuyukh.[19]

As the Crusaders advanced, as-Salih died and was succeeded by his son al-Muazzam Turanshah,[21] who was in al-Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia) 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.[22] However, Turanshah sought to challenge the dominance of the Salihiyyah in the paramilitary apparatus by promoting his Kurdish retinue from Upper Mesopotamia ("al-Jazira" in Arabic) and the Levant as a counterweight to the predominantly Turkic Salihiyyah.[22]

Prior to Turanshah's arrival at the front facing the French, the Bahriyyah, a junior regiment of the Salihiyyah commanded by Baibars al-Buduqdari, defeated the Crusaders at the Battle of al-Mansurah on 11 February 1250. On 27 February, Turanshah, as new sultan, arrived in Egypt from Hasankeyf, where he had been Emir of Hisn Kayfa since AH 636 (1238/1239 CE), and went straight to al-Mansurah to lead the Egyptian army. On 5 April 1250, covered by the darkness of night, the Crusaders evacuated their camp opposite al-Mansurah and began to flee northward towards Damietta. The Egyptians followed them into the Battle of Fariskur where the Egyptians utterly destroyed the Crusaders on 6 April. King Louis IX and a few of his surviving nobles surrendered and were taken as prisoners, effectively ending the Seventh Crusade.[23]

Turanshah proceeded to place his own entourage and mamluks, known as the "Mu'azzamiyah",[21] in positions of authority to the detriment of Salihi interests. On 2 May 1250,[21] a group of disgruntled Salihi officers had Turanshah assassinated at his camp in Fariskur.[24]

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.

Shajar ad-Durr.[26]

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.

al-Ashraf Musa, a grandson of Sultan al-Kamil.[28]

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).

Afterward, Aybak proceeded to purge those in his retinue and in the Salihiyyah whom he believed were disloyal to him, causing a temporary exodus of Bahri mamluks, most of whom settled in Gaza, but also in Upper Egypt and Syria.[28][33] 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.[33] 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 ambitions made 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 of Egypt, Aybak had Aydughdi imprisoned in Alexandria in 1254 or 1255.[34]

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.[35] Aybak was assassinated on 10 April 1257,[35] possibly on the orders of Shajar al-Durr,[36] who was assassinated a week later.[35] Their deaths left a relative power vacuum in Egypt, with Aybak's teenage son, al-Mansur Ali, as heir to the sultanate.[35] While al-Mansur Ali was sultan, the strongman in Egypt was Aybak's former close aide, Sayf ad-Din Qutuz,[37] who also had hostile relations with the Salihiyyah, including the Bahri mamluks.[38]

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.

al-Mansur Muhammad II of Hama, resulting in a Bahriyyah defeat at Jericho.[37] 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's defection to the former.[37] 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.[38] The surviving Mu'izzi and Bahri mamluks made their way to Gaza, where Baybars had created a virtual shadow state in opposition to Qutuz.[38]

While various mamluk factions competed for control of Egypt and Syria, the 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 Aleppo and Damascus.[39] Qutuz sent 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.[40] Hulagu sent emissaries to Qutuz in Cairo, demanding submission to Mongol rule. Qutuz had the emissaries killed, an act which historian Joseph Cummins called the "worst possible insult to the Mongol throne".[39] Qutuz then prepared Cairo's defenses to ward off the Mongols' threatened invasion of Egypt, but after hearing news that Hulagu withdrew from Syria to claim the Mongol throne, Qutuz began preparations for the conquest of Syria. He mobilized a force of some 120,000 soldiers and gained the support of his main Mamluk rival, Baybars.[41]

The Mamluks entered Palestine to confront the Mongol army that Hulagu left behind under the command of Kitbuqa.[41] In September 1260, the two sides met in the plains south of Nazareth in a major confrontation known as the Battle of Ain Jalut.[42] 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's 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's men turning around to confront the Mongols and Qutuz's units ambushing the Mongols from the hills.[41] The battle ended in a Mongol rout and Kitbuqa's capture and execution. Afterward, the Mamluks proceeded to recapture Damascus and the other Syrian cities taken by the Mongols.[43] Upon Qutuz's triumphant return to Cairo, he was assassinated in a Bahri plot. Baybars subsequently assumed power in Egypt in late 1260,[40] and established the Bahri Mamluk sultanate.[44]

Bahri rule

Reign of Baybars

Al-Zahiriyah Library in Damascus
Centralisation of power

Baybars rebuilt the Bahriyyah's former headquarters in Rawdah island and put 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.[45] During his early reign and through heavy financial expense, Baybars rebuilt and stringently trained the Mamluk army, which grew from 10,000 cavalry to 40,000, with a 4,000-strong royal guard at its core.[46] The new force was rigidly disciplined and highly trained in horsemanship, swordsmanship and archery.[46]

Baybars attempted to institute dynastic rule by assigning his four-year-old son al-Said Barakah as co-sultan, thereby ending the Mamluk tradition 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[clarification needed].[45] However, Baybars success in establishing centralized rule resulted in the consolidation of the Mamluk Sultanate.[45]

Communication, postal network

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.[45] The need for smooth delivery of correspondence also led to the large scale repair or construction of roads and bridges along the postal route.[45]

Foreign policy

Through opening diplomatic channels with the Mongols, Baybars also sought to stifle a potential alliance between the 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.[45]

Enameled and gilded bottle with the scene of battle. Egypt, late 13th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Military campaigns

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.[47] According to historian Thomas Asbridge, the methods used to capture Arsuf demonstrated the "Mamluks' grasp of siegecraft and their overwhelming numerical and technological supremacy".[48] 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.[48]

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 Safad from the 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.[49] 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 May.[50]

Baybars initiated a more aggressive policy than his predecessors toward the Christian



David in battle at Dongola in 1276, and installed Shakanda as king.[53] This brought the fortress of Qasr Ibrim under Mamluk jurisdiction.[53] 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.[53] 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.[51] Furthermore, the Mamluks also received the submission of king Adur of al-Abwab further south.[56] 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 army.[55]

Early Qalawuni period