Mamluk Sultanate (Cairo)

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For other uses of the word Mamluk, see Mamluk. For the dynasty in Delhi, see Mamluk Sultanate (Delhi)
Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt
سلطنة المماليك
Sulṭanat Misr al-Mamālīk




Mamluk Egyptian Flag

Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt, c. 1279.
Capital Cairo
Languages Arabic (Egyptian and Classical)[1]
Turkic (Oghuz and Cuman-Kipchak)[1]
Religion Sunni Islam
Government Monarchy
 •  1250 Shajar al-Durr
 •  1250–1257 Izz al-Din Aybak
 •  1260–1277 Baibars
 •  1516–1517 Tuman bay II
 •  Murder of Turanshah 2 May 1250
 •  Second Ottoman–Mamluk War 22 January 1517
Today part of

The Mamluk Sultanate (Turkish: Memlük Sultanlığı, Arabic: سلطنة المماليكSulṭanat 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,” because of the political dominance of the regiments known by these names during the respective times. The contemporary Muslim historians referred to the same divisions as the “Turkish[3][4][5][6][7][8][9] and “Circassian” periods, in order to call attention to the change in ethnic origin of the majority of Mamlūks.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10]

Mamlūk state reached its height under the Turkish rule and then fell into a prolonged phase of decline under the Circassians.[3][10][11] The sultanate's ruling caste was composed of Mamluks, soldiers of predominantly Cuman-Kipchaks (from Crimea),[12] Circassian, Abkhazian,[13] Oghuz Turks[14] and Georgian slave origin.[15][16] While Mamluks were purchased, their status was above ordinary slaves, who were not allowed to carry weapons or perform certain tasks. Mamluks were 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.[17]


The names given to the sultanate were derived from those of the ruling sultan or the dynasty or group he belonged to, such as the Bahri and Burji dynasties.

Modern scholars use dawlat al-mamālīk (Arabic دولة المماليك), which means "the Mamlūk sultanate", but this name is rarely used by the Mamluks themselves.

Some other less historically accurate names include "Baḥrī sultanate/period", dawlat al-baḥriyya (Arabic: الدولة البحرية), and "Burjī sultanate/period", al-dawla al-burijyya (Arabic: الدولة البرجية), as these were rarely used by medieval Mamluk historians, but are currently used as sub-periods of the Mamluk sultanates.

One of the sultanate's official names was dawlat al-atrāk (Arabic: دولة الاتراك)/dawlat al-Turk (Arabic: دولة الترك)/ al-dawla al-turkiyya (Arabic: الدولة التركية) "The state of the Turks".[18] The Arabic sources for the period of the Bahri Mamluks refer to the dynasty as the Dawlat al-Atrak,[19] Dawlat al-Turk or al-Dawla al-Turkiyya.[20]

Other official names used were dawlat al-jarākisa(Arabic: دولة الجراكسة), which means "the period of the Circassians", knowing that most of the Burji Mamluks were of Circassian origin.

Al-dawla al-turkiyya al-jarkasiyya (Arabic: دولة التركية الجراكسية) is a name that indicates both a linguistic and an ethnic affiliation of the ruling sultans, its meaning being "state of Turkish-speaking Circassians".

Al-dawla al-Ẓāhiriyya (Arabic: الدولة البحرية), which means "Ẓāhirī state/dynasty". This name is derived from the dynasty of Sultan Baibars, known as "al-Malik al-Zahir", "the conquering king", and his two sons, Al-Said Barakah and Solamish. They ruled for two consecutive decades (1260-1279).

Dawlat al-Qalāwūn (Arabic: دولة قلاوون) or dawlat banī Qalāwūn (Arabic: دولة بني قلاوون), which means "Qalāwūnī dynasty", is a name derived from Sultan Qalawun's. Qalawun's dynasty ruled for over one hundred years, between 1279 and 1382.

Al-dawla al-mughuliyya (Arabic: الدولة المغولية), meaning "the Mongol state", was used during Sultan Al-Adil Kitbugha's rule (1294-1296), who was of Mongol extraction.

During Baybars al-Jāshankīr's short reign (1308–1309) the state was known as al-dawla al-burijyya (Arabic: الدولة البرجية), or "the Burjī sultanate/period", when in fact he ruled during the Baḥrī sultanate/period, but was of Circassian extraction, much like the later Burjī sultans.



Al-Salih Ayyub (1240–49), the last of the Ayyubid sultans, imported a vast number of slave boys from Central Asia and Caucasus, those who became known as Mamluks.[21] Mamluks, the title which translates to "owned slaves" distinguished this group from garya and ghulam, which referred to 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. The Mamluks, who continued to be called freedmen, were equipped with the most advanced Eastern military technology. Such technology included stirrups and the Turkish re-curved composite bow, which were used to defeat Crusader knights.[21]

Rise to power[edit]

Main article: Bahri dynasty
A Mamluk nobleman from Aleppo.

Mamluk regiments constituted the backbone of the Egyptian military under the Ayyubid Dynasty. Each sultan, and high-ranking emir had his private corps, and the Sultan as-Salih Ayyub (r. 1240–1249) had especially relied on this means to maintaining power. His mamluks, numbering between 800 and 1,000 horsemen, were called the Bahris, after the Arabic word bahr (بحر), meaning sea or large river, because their barracks were located on the island of Rawda in the Nile. They were mostly drawn from among the Cumans-Kipchaks who controlled the steppes north of the Black Sea,[22] and Circassians, Abkhazians and Georgians of the Caucasus region. Mamluks in the empire retained a particularly strong sense of Cuman identity, to the degree that the biography of Sultan Baibars focused on his birth and early years in Desht-i-Kipchak ("Steppe of the Kipchaks"/Cumania). The historian Dimitri Korobeinikov relates how Baibars’ story sums up the tragic fate of many Cumans after the Battle of Kalka River and the Mongol invasion of Europe. Roman Kovalev states that this story can further be seen as a mechanism for the preservation of a collective memory broadly reflecting a sense of Cuman identity in the Mamluk Sultanate.[23]

In 1249 Louis IX of France led a crusade on an invasion of Egypt, capturing Damietta and then proceeding slowly southward. As they advanced, as-Salih Ayyub died and was succeeded by his son al-Muazzam Turanshah, but before Turanshah could arrive at the front, the Bahri mamluks defeated the crusaders at the Battle of Al Mansurah and captured Louis, effectively ending the crusade. Turanshah proceeded to place his own entourage and especially his own mamluks, called Mu`azzamis, in positions of authority to the detriment of Bahri interests. Four weeks after Louis' capture, on May 2, 1250, a group of Bahris assassinated Turanshah.[24]

Wars with Mongols[edit]

Following the death of Turanshah a ten-year period of political instability in Egypt and Syria ensued as various factions competed for control. In 1254, when a rival faction under the leadership of Qutuz became powerful, most of the Bahris fled Cairo and took service with Ayyubid amirs in Syria. Meanwhile, the Mongols under the command of Hulagu invaded the Middle East in force. They sacked Baghdad in 1258 and proceeded westward, capturing Aleppo, and Damascus. Qutuz and the Bahris agreed to put aside their differences to face the common threat. They met a contingent of Mongols at the Battle of Ain Jalut and defeated them. With the Mongol threat temporarily over, rivalries among the mamluks revived, and Baibars, a leading Bahri, assassinated Qutuz and claimed the sultanate.

Change in regime[edit]

Main article: Burji dynasty

By the late fourteenth century, Circassians from the North Caucasus region had become the majority in the Mamluk ranks.[25] In 1377 a revolt broke out in Syria which spread to Egypt, and the government was taken over by the Circassians Barakah and Barquq; in 1382 the last Bahri Sultan Al-Salih Hajji was dethroned, thus ending the Bahri dynasty, and Barquq was proclaimed sultan. Barquq was expelled in 1389 but recaptured Cairo in 1390. Permanently in power he founded what came to be called the Burji dynasty.[26]

Ottomans and the end of the Mamluk Sultanate[edit]

While 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 charged by 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.

After the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514, Selim I attacked the Dulkadirids, an Egyptian vassal, and sent his head to Mamluk Sultan 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 of 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 killed. Syria passed into Turkish possession, who were welcomed in many places as deliverance from the Mamluks.

The 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 retained the Mamluks as an Egyptian ruling class and the Mamluks and the Burji family succeeded in regaining much of their influence, but remained vassals of the Ottomans.

Mamluk independence from the Ottomans[edit]

In 1768, Sultan Ali Bey Al-Kabir declared independence from the Ottomans. However, the Ottomans crushed the movement and retained their position after his defeat. By this time new slave recruits were introduced from the Caucasus.

Napoleon defeated Mamluk troops in the Battle of the Pyramids when he attacked Egypt in 1798 and drove them to Upper Egypt. The Mamluks still used their cavalry charge tactics, changed only by the addition of muskets.

After the departure of French troops in 1801, Mamluks continued their struggle for independence, this time against the Ottoman Empire and Great Britain. In 1803, Mamluk leaders Ibrahim Bey and Usman Beg wrote a letter to the Russian consul-general and asked him to act as a mediator with the Sultan to allow them to negotiate for a cease-fire, and a return to their homeland Georgia.[citation needed] The Russian ambassador in Istanbul categorically refused to mediate because the Russian government was afraid of allowing Mamluks to return to Georgia, where a strong national liberation movement was on the rise which might have been encouraged by a Mamluk return.

In 1805, the population of Cairo rebelled. This was an excellent opportunity for the Mamluks to seize power, but internal tension and betrayal prevented them from exploiting this opportunity. In 1806, the Mamluks defeated the Turkish forces several times,[citation needed] and in June the rival parties concluded a peace treaty by which Muhammad Ali, who had been appointed as governor of Egypt on March 26, 1806, was to be removed and the state authority in Egypt returned to the Mamluks. However, they were again unable to capitalize on the opportunity due to conflicts between the clans; Muhammad Ali kept his authority.

End of Mamluk power in Egypt[edit]

Muhammad Ali knew that eventually he would have to deal with the Mamluks if he ever wanted to control Egypt. They were still the feudal owners of Egypt and their land was still the source of wealth and power. The constant strain on sustaining the military manpower necessary to defend the Mamluks' system from the Europeans would eventually weaken them to the point of collapse, and he felt that the Mamluk power must therefore be replaced.[27]

On March 1, 1811, Muhammad Ali invited all of the leading Mamluks to his palace to celebrate the declaration of war against the forces of Ibn Saud in Arabia. Between 600 and 700 Mamluks paraded in Cairo. Near the Al-Azab gates, in a narrow road down from Mukatam Hill, Muhammad Ali's forces ambushed and killed almost all in what came to be known as the Massacre of the Citadel. According to period reports, only one Mamluk, whose name is given variously as Amim (also Emin or Amyn), or Hashjukur (a Besleney), survived when he forced his horse to leap from the walls of the citadel, killing it in the fall.[28]

During the following week, hundreds of Mamluks were killed throughout Egypt; in the citadel of Cairo alone more than 1,000 were killed. Throughout Egypt an estimated 3,000 Mamluks and their relatives were killed.

Despite these attempts by Muhammad Ali to defeat the Mamluks in Egypt, a party of them escaped and fled south into what is now Sudan. In 1811, these Mamluks established a state at Dunqulah in the Sennar as a base for their slave trading. In 1820, the sultan of Sennar informed Muhammad Ali that he was unable to comply with a demand to expel the Mamluks. In response, the pasha sent 4,000 troops to invade Sudan, clear it of Mamluks, and reclaim it for Egypt. The pasha's forces received the submission of the kashif,[disambiguation needed] dispersed the Dunqulah Mamluks, conquered Kordofan, and accepted Sennar's surrender from the last Funj sultan, Badi VII.

The Mamluk households[edit]

The mamluks were organized into households under the leadership of an ustad. Mamluks had intense loyalty to their ustad and to their comrades in the regiment. The loyalty of a mamluk to his comrades was called khushdashiya (Arabic: خشداشية‎).

Mamluks' sons did not enter the ranks of the mamluks, and tended to blend in with the wider society. The ranks of the Mamluks were always replenished by importing fresh slaves from abroad.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kennedy, Hugh N. (2001). The Historiography of Islamic Egypt: (c. 950–1800). BRILL. p. 69. ISBN 9789004117945. 
  2. ^ Fischel, Walter Joseph (1967). Ibn Khaldun in Egypt: His Public Functions and His Historical Research (1382–1406). University of California Press. p. 72. ISBN 9780520004146. 
  3. ^ a b c "Mamluk | Islamic dynasty". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2015-11-13. 
  4. ^ a b "Egypt - The Mamluks, 1250-1517". Retrieved 2015-11-13. 
  5. ^ a b "The Mamluk Sultans of Egypt". Retrieved 2015-11-13. 
  6. ^ a b Setton, Kenneth M. (1969). The Later Crusades, 1189-1311. Wisconsin, USA: Univ of Wisconsin Press. p. 757. ISBN 978-0-299-04844-0. 
  7. ^ a b Levanoni, Amalia (1995). A Turning Point in Mamluk History: The Third Reign of Al-Nasir Muhammad Ibn Qalawun (1310-1341). Israel: Brill Academic Pub. p. 17. ISBN 9004101829. 
  8. ^ a b Hillenbrand, Carole (2007). Turkish Myth and Muslim Symbol: The Battle of Manzikert. Edinburg: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 164–165. ISBN 9780748625727. 
  9. ^ a b "Egypt under the Caliphate and Ottoman Rule (646 to 1800)". Retrieved 2015-11-13. 
  10. ^ a b "Mamluk". 
  11. ^ "The Economic Decline of Circassian Mamluks in Egypt - Open Access Library". Retrieved 2015-11-13. 
  12. ^ H. B. Paksoy, Central Asian Monuments, p. 32,
  13. ^ Jane Hathaway, The Politics of Households in Ottoman Egypt: The Rise of the Qazdaglis. Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 104, Online
  14. ^ İslam Ansiklopedisi, Volume: 24, Page: 442, Online
  15. ^ Mikaberidze, Alexander. "The Georgian Mameluks in Egypt". 
  16. ^ Isichei, Elizabeth (1997). A History of African Societies to 1870. Cambridge University Press. p. 192. 
  17. ^ Perry, Glenn E. (2004). The History of Egypt. ABC-CLIO. pp. 51–52. ISBN 9780313058424. 
  18. ^ Nicolle, David (2014). "Mamluk ‘Askari 1250–1517", p. 4.
  19. ^ The name Atrak (الأتراك) is a Arabic plural form of the word Turk.
  20. ^ "The Cambridge History of Egypt", Volume 1, (1998) p. 250.
  21. ^ a b Rodenbeck, Max. Cairo the City Victorious. pp. 72–73. 
  22. ^ Ayalon, David. "Bahriyya", in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed. 
  23. ^ "The" Other Europe in the Middle Ages: Avars, Bulgars, Khazars and Cumans, edited by Florin Curta, Roman Kovalev, p. 9.
  24. ^ Irwin, Robert. The Middle East in the Middle Ages. pp. 19–21. 
  25. ^ McGregor, Andrew James (2006). A Military History of Modern Egypt: From the Ottoman Conquest to the Ramadan War. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 15. ISBN 9780275986018. By the late fourteenth century Circassians from the north Caucasus region had become the majority in the Mamluk ranks. 
  26. ^ Al-Maqrizi, pp. 140–142/vol.5
  27. ^ Abu-Lughod, Janet L. (1991). Before European Hegemony, The World System A.D. 1250–1350. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 213. 
  28. ^ For the use of the name Amim, see Giovanni Finati, Narrative of the Life and Adventure of Giovanni Finati native of Ferrara, 1830; for Hashjukur, Mustafa Mahir, Marks of the Caucasian Tribes and Some Stories and Notable Events Related to Their Leaders, Tamga 177, Boulaq, Cairo, 1892.



  • Abu al-Fida, The Concise History of Humanity
  • Al-Maqrizi, Al Selouk Leme'refatt Dewall al-Melouk, Dar al-kotob, 1997.
  • Idem in English: Bohn, Henry G., The Road to Knowledge of the Return of Kings, Chronicles of the Crusades, AMS Press, 1969.
  • Al-Maqrizi, al-Mawaiz wa al-'i'tibar bi dhikr al-khitat wa al-'athar, Matabat aladab, Cairo 1996, ISBN 977-241-175-X
  • Idem in French: Bouriant, Urbain, Description topographique et historique de l'Egypte, Paris 1895.
  • Ibn Taghribirdi, al-Nujum al-Zahirah Fi Milook Misr wa al-Qahirah, al-Hay'ah al-Misreyah 1968
  • Idem in English: History of Egypt, by Yusef. William Popper, translator Abu L-Mahasin ibn Taghri Birdi, University of California Press 1954.