Mamluk Sultanate (Cairo)

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Mamluk Sultanate

سلطنة المماليك
Sultanat al-Mamalik
Flag of Mamluk Sultanate
Mamluk Flag according to the Catalan Atlas.
Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt (green), c. 1279.
Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt (green), c. 1279.
Common languagesArabic, Kipchak Turkic[1]
• 1250-1257
Izz al-Din Aybak
• 1516-1517
Tuman bay II
• Turanshah's death
• Battle of Ridaniya
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Ayyubid dynasty
Ottoman Empire

The Mamluk Sultanate was a regime composed of mamluks who ruled Egypt and Syria from the mid-1200s to the early 1500s. By the time of the fall of the Ayyubids, most Mamluks were Kipchak Turks.[2] 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 freeborn Egyptians.


Rise to power

Mamluk regiments constituted the backbone of the late Ayyubid military. Each sultan and high-ranking amir 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 Kipchak Turks who controlled the steppes north of the Black Sea.[3]

In 1249 Louis IX 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-Mu`azzam 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 2 May 1250, a group of Bahris assassinated Turanshah.[4]

Wars with Mongols and Crusaders

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 Hulegu 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 `Ayn Jalut and defeated them. With the Mongol threat temporarily over, rivalries among the mamluks revived, and Baybars, a leading Bahri, assassinated Qutuz and claimed the sultanate.

The Fourteenth Century

Change in Regime

The Fifteenth Century

End of Independence

The Neo-Mamluks

Government and Society

The Mamluk Households

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.

The Ulama

Art and Architecture

As part of their chosen role as defenders of Islamic orthodoxy, the Mamluks sponsored numerous religious buildings, including mosques, madrasas and khanqahs. Though some construction took place in the provinces, the vast bulk of these projects took place in the capital.[5] Many Mamluk buildings in Cairo survive until today, particularly in the district of Old Cairo.


  1. ^ Kennedy, Hugh N. The Historiography of Islamic Egypt (C. 950-1800). Brill Academic Publishers, 2001. [1]
  2. ^ Isichei, Elizabeth (1997). A History of African Societies to 1870. Cambridge University Press. p. 192.
  3. ^ David Ayalon, "Bahriyya", in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed.
  4. ^ Robert Irwin, The Middle East in the Middle Ages, 19-21
  5. ^ "Mamluks" in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed.