Burgi Mamluks (1382-1517) – Islamic History of Egypt

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Burgi Mamluks (1382-1517) – Islamic History of Egypt

Burgi Mamluks (1382—1517). In 1382 the sultanate was seized by Barquq, a Burgi mamluk from the citadel, and it was the Circassians from this barracks who were to rule Egypt for the next 140 years. But another threat appeared from the E. In Persia, Timur (Tamerlane), an amir of the Khan, had usurped the Khanate and was harrying lands far from Persia, first to the E, but by 1387 his troops were on the borders of Syria. Timur was kept at bay by Barquq, but during the reign of Barquq’s son Farag (1399) he sacked Damascus in 1400. Fortunately Timur turned E again, but in Egypt the campaign had been paid for by heavy taxes and the stable administration was shattered. This was followed in 1403 by famine and plague. Once again the economy started to deteriorate.

After the death of Farag, the open sultanate was filled for six months by the ‘Abbasid khalif, al-Musta’in, who was usurped by Mu’ayyad Shaykh (1412). He pushed back the frontiers in Syria, but at further expense to the economy and the imposition of state trade monopolies. After his death in 1421 there were three sultans within a year, a sign of the great struggles that went on among the amirs for succession, but the next sultan, Barsbay (1422), was a strong character. His relations with the new power in the N, the Ottomans, were generally friendly, although there was trouble in the NE with the Turkomans. Egyptian influence increased and her sea power was supreme in the Eastern Mediterranean while trade expanded in the Indian Ocean. All this, however, was not enough. State monopolies increased and production dropped, raising the cost of living. These trends continued for the next hundred years, though it was a period of relative peace and cultural vitality.

There were few remarkable sultans during this period but Qâyt-bây (1468—1498) was an exception. Under him there was a revival, although his building programmes threw a great burden on the economy. But several vital factors were leading towards a crisis. The Portuguese had found their way into the Indian Ocean providing Europe with a direct route to S Asia and the spice trade and, by the time of Sultan Qansuh al-Ghawri (1501), they were powerful enough to penetrate far into the Red Sea. The Ottomans, under Salim I, were engaged in a war with the Isma’il, Safavid Sultan of Persia. Both sides were casting covetous eyes on the territory of Syria. Qansuh led an army to observe the outcome of the war which the Ottomans won, next turning towards the Mamluk territories in Syria. Qansuh was forced into a battle in August 1516, in which he was severely hampered by the defection to the Ottomans of his governor of Aleppo, Khayrbak. The two armies met at Marj Dabiq but Sultan Qansuh died of a stroke on the battlefield. On the last day of 922 AH/23 Jan. 1517, Sultan Salim, after some initial resistance, was in Cairo. Tuman Bay II. who had been made sultan after the death of Qansuh, offered some opposition but was captured and hung in Cairo. Khayrbak, the former governor of Aleppo, was made Ottoman governor of Egypt. The last khalif, Mutuwakkil III, was sent to Istanbul, returning to Cairo some years later as a private citizen. The rule of the mamluks, it seemed, was finished.

It is one of the anomalies of history that during periods of political turmoil the art of the chronicler flourishes. Egypt was no exception and although it was only one aspect of the great Islamic literary tradition, through these authors the whole history of the Mamluk period is documented. Four exponents were outstanding and between them provide an unbroken chronicle of the Mamluk domination from its rise to its fall, if not through direct observation then through intercourse with eye-witnesses and veterans or use of earlier journals.

The earliest was Abu l-‘Abbas Taqi al-Din Ahmad al—Maqrizi [1364—1442] who had a theological education and became a tutor and administrator. His access to records of an earlier period extend his journal to the rise of the Ayyubids in 1174. The upbringing of Abu l—Mahasin Jamäl al-Din Yusuf ibn Taghribardi (1409—70) was very different. Не was the son of the atabak Amir Taghribardi and was raised the court circle by his sister who was married to the chief qadi, while his cousin Shirin married Sultan Barquq. Thus he was admitted to the greatest houses in the Land and his journals reflect this fact. Lastly Abu l-Barakat Zayn al-Din Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Iyas (1448—1524) was also descended from a mamluk family although of lesser degree and at a greater distance. His humbler training was mainly in administration. The additional importance of his work is that it spans the critical period of the downfall of the Mamluk state and the first years of the Ottoman occupation.

Another magnificent literary product of the period was Alf Laylah wa Laylah -The 1001 Nights. This corpus of stories had been in existence for many centuries and displays diverse origins. At the core are stories from India and Persia translated into Arabic early in the history of Islam. Grafted on to this is a collection of tales from the golden age of Arabic literature during the ‘Abbasid Khalifate of Baghdad. То these the Egyptians added from their own great fund of jokes and folktales, some of which had been in existence since ancient times. All these tales and romances, whatever their origin, were decorated with the appurtenances of mlamluk society and in the 14C were written down much the form in which they are known today.

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