The Ayyubids (1171-1252) – Islamic History of Egypt

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The Ayyubids (1171-1252) – Islamic History of Egypt

The Ayyubids (1171—1252). Salah al-Dín, having consolidated his position in Egypt, turned his attention to Syria. After several engagements with the Christians, by 1183 it was his and he was ready to unleash the Jihad (Holy War). He led many successful expeditions culminating in the capture of Jerusalem in 1187. This provoked the Third Crusade, led by Barbarossa accompanied by Richard I of England. Salah al-Din died peacefully in Damascus in 1 193, his father Ayyub giving his name to the dynasty that was to follow him and, although his Syrian territories broke up into petty principalities after his death, Egypt remained firm. He had instituted great cultural change within Egypt, which was once more brought into direct contact with the central Muslim lands. The Shi’i faction was eradicated and madrasahs, schools of orthodox religious teaching, were built. A new social order was introduced and it was a period of growth and prosperity. With expanding relations Egypt became a great centre of Islamic scholarship. Salah al-Din also refortified Cairo, building a great citadel and enclosing the city in immense walls.

‘Adil I, Salah al-Din’s brother, became Sultan in 1199 and recovered the Syrian possessions. He was very capable, as was his son and ‘successor, al-Kamil I (1218). The Christians, realising that Egypt was the key to their advance in the East, initiated the Fifth Crusade specifically with the intention of invading it (the Fourth had ended with the sacking of Constantinople). The Crusaders captured Damietta in 1219 and advanced to Mansfirah where they entrenched but were driven out in 1221. For the next twenty years there were many battles and treaties with _the Crusader states in Palestine. Al-Kamil was succeeded by al-Adil II (1238) and subsequently by Ayyub (1240) who built up an immense army of Turkish slaves (mamluks), mainly Qipchaqs brought from the region to the north of the Black Sea, and installed them in a great citadel on Rawdah Island in the Nile near Cairo from whence they were called Bahris (bahr; river).

The Sixth Crusade was launched, led by the French king Louis IX, again aimed at subduing Egypt. Damietta was captured from the sea in June 1249 and by December the Crusaders had seized Mansurah. Stalemate was reached and the situation dragged on until April 1250,

by which time the Christians were in a sorry state. They decided to retreat and it was no great challenge for the Egyptians to capture the army, including King Louis himself. The latter was kept prisoner in Mansurah and only released after the payment of a colossal ransom. At this point occurred one of the most extraordinary episodes in Egyptian history, suffice it to state here that Ayyùb had died in 1249 and his wife Shajar al-Durr, concealing the fact for some time, ruled in his place while Ayyub’s son, Turan Shah, returned from Syria. Shortly after his arrival he alienated the mamluks and was murdered in 1250, with his stepmother’s approval, by a group of them led by Baybars. Shajar al-Durr was proclaimed sultan but was forced by circumstances to marry the chief mamluk, Aybak, However, he also gained the enmity of his wife and was murdered in April 1259. Three days later Shajar al-Durr herself was murdered.

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