Bahri Mamlüks (1250-1382) – Islamic History of Egypt


Bahri Mamlüks (1250-1382) – Islamic History of Egypt


Bahri Mamlùks (1250—1382). The process of choosing the next ruler set the pattern of succession for a long time to come. ‘Ali, the son of Aybak, was chosen as successor, but without power, while the mamluks chose a leader from among themselves. Qutuz, commander of the mamluks, was chosen and ‘Ali was retired peacefully. Throughout the previous century waves of Central Asian nomads had swept into Mesopotamia and Syria Turkomans, Saljuks and, finally, the Mongols, who in the 13C conquered all before them. Persia had fallen and in 1258 they captured Baghdad and massacred the khalif and all his family. They took Aleppo in January 1260 and three months later entered Damascus; from there making attacks against Ghaza and Hebron. The mamluks, led by Baybars, met the Mongols in Syria at ‘Ayn Jalüt (Goliath’s Spring) in September and gained a great victory, the first major campaign that the Mongols had lost. The cities in Syria rose up against their conquerors and the Mongols retreated to the N into Anatolia. Although they harried the N borders of Syria for some time after, they were never again to threaten Egypt directly.

On his return to Egypt Baybars had Qutuz murdered and was elected as Sultan. He set about strengthening his position with a series of military expeditions against the Crusader and Ayyubid principalities in Syria, the Armenians in Cilicia, the Assassins in SW Asia and, in the S the Nubians. He used diplomacy as well as belligerency and established relations with Christian countries on the N coast of the Mediterranean, even as far W as Aragon. Baybars also legalised his position in another way. An ‘Abbasid prince, al-Mustansir, a relative of the dead khalif, who had fled during the sack of Baghdad, was rescued from the desert and pronounced khalîf by Baybars in 1261. As well as placing Egypt firmly in the centre of the Sunni sphere, this also gave him the support of the Sharif of M’ecca and thus control of the Hijaz.

It is important to understand how the Mamluk state was structured. Slaves were purchased by dealers from countries outside the Muslim territories, usually SW Asia or Europe, given a rudimentary education and brought to the great slave

markets in Egypt and Syria. Since the majority of them were Turks, mainly Qipchaqs, Turkish became the language of the Mamli’ik state. The slaves were rebought by the great amirs or the Sultan, who had started their own careers in the same way. It was the duty of the new owner to have the mamluks (possessed) instructed in religion and given military training. After several years, when this education was completed, the slaves were formally manumitted at a great ceremony and given a state stipend. They then entered military service, usually in the train of their former masters, to whom they were intensely loyal, since they owed their freedom to them, The most promising were then given official positions in the household, wardrobe, kitchen, stables or treasury, and if they were successful, advanced in rank and were after some years invested as an amir (commander), The lowest grade was an Amir of Ten responsible for ten mamluks, the next grade was an Amir of Forty, distinguished by having a band which played before his official dwelling. If of exceptional potential, or great nerve, the mamluk could reach the highest rank of all, the Amir of One Hundred, commander of one thousand mamluks, from which group the great state functionaries were drawn.

Mamluk Ranks (Symbols)

The Sultan had mamluks of four classes, those purchased by himself, those purchased by his predecessor, those purchased by an amir and passing on the latter’s death into his possession, and those manumitted by an amir and entering into his service. A small proportion of the Sultan’s 2—10,000 mamli’iks when they were manumitted were chosen as Khassikiyyah (intimates) who were specially favoured by the Sultan and trusted with the most important palace functions. The most important military officials, Men of the Sword, were the Na’ib (Viceroy); Atabak (Commander of the Armies), later also called the Amir al—Kabir (Grand Amir); Amir Silah (Controller of the Armaments); Amir Majlis (Controller of the Council Chamber); Amir Akhùr (Amir of the Horse, in charge of the Stables); Khazindar (Keeper of the Treasury); Ustadar (Chief Steward); Dawadar (Secretary); Mihmandar (Royal Host), and the two Heads of Guards, of the Mamluks and of the Amirs. There were many lesser positions such as Saqi (Cup—Bearer); Jamdar (Wardrobe—Keeper); Jashankir (Taster); Jukandar (Polo- Stick Keeper), etc. Each of the great amirs maintained his own household with analagous grades to that of the Sultan. The mamluks had a complex system of blazon denoting rank which they displayed on their buildings and possessions and it is one of the anomalies of mamli’ik life that incumbents often kept these lesser titles with great pride when they had been elevated into the ranks of the great amirs or even become sultan.

In addition to the mamluks, who were the elite mounted troops, were the Halqah, the vast army of enlisted free troopers, many of them the sons of previous mamluks. Although they had their own officers they were controlled by the amirs.

The civil executive, Men of the Pen, were usually drawn from the native Egyptian population and the most powerful of them was the wazir, addressed as Sahib, but even he deferred to the amirs in status. The rest were controllers of various financial agencies for the army. privy funds, granaries, etc. The Judiciary, consisting of the representatives of the former schools of law under the authority of the Grand Qadi, and the secular officials, the surgeons and physicians, were also Egyptians. Another powerful group waiting in the background for any sign of weakness in the ranks of the amirs were the eunuchs and the slave girls and in the late 14C, during the unstable . reigns of the sons of Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad, they achieved great influence.

The children and wives of the mamli’iks, and even amirs, had no claim to any of their fathers’ or husbands’ wealth which after their death was distributed among the other amirs and new intake of mamluks. Thus within one generation had begun their assimilation into the Egyptian population. Very few of the sons of sultans, although nominated as heirs, had a powerful enough following of mamluks to maintain their position, which usually fell to the most powerful amirs, who often seem to have arisen in pairs, with a resultant contest of strength for supremacy.

Baybars was followed by his son, Barakah-Khan (1277), who was deposed in favour of his seven-year-old brother Salamish (1280) but, in the same year, the atabak Qalawün assumed the title of Sultan as well as the reality. He founded a dynasty that was to last 100 years, not always through the son, occasionally through a bondsman of the family, but the last sultan of the line, al-Hajji II, was his descendant in the fifth generation’ Qalawun followed the policies of Baybars, establishing relations as far away as Ceylon and the East African coast. He housed his mamluks in the Citadel and, for this reason, they were called Burgis (Ar. burg: tower). These mamluks with other loyalties were continually at loggerheads with the Bahri mamluks from the barracks on Rawdah Island. The earlier mamluk sultans were drawn from the ranks of the latter but the former eventually prevailed and the later sultans were all from )this quarter. Qalawun successfully attacked the Mongol and Christian states, the latter being left only with the port of Acre and a small surrounding area. He was followed by his son, Khalil (1290) who, in 1291 captured Acre and razed the Crusaders’ castles. The other Crusader towns capitulated and the Crusaders retreated to Cyprus.

Al-Nasir Muhammad (1294), another of Qalawun’s sons, became sultan, his reign lasting until 1340 with several short usurpations by Amirs Kitbugha (1295), Lajin (1297) and Baybars II al-Jashankir (1309). Despite this, his long reign was marked by security and prosperity for Egypt. Political and economic ties were strengthened with European states and treaties made with the Mongol states.

In the 40 years following the death of Sult. al-Nasir Muhammad there was a series of eleven sultans, all his sons or relatives. They were mostly ineffectual, incompetent, or unbalanced, and of the two who did show some ability for government Isma’l (1342) died of grief after the execution of his brothers Ahmad I and Kujuk, while al-Hasan (1345 and 1347) was imprisoned and probably murdered. The power was in the hands of the amirs who indulged in ferocious internecine conflicts. But external relations during this period were tranquil with trade flourishing and virtually no enemies to threaten the borders.


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