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Na'ib al-Saltana ("Viceroy") of Syria
Reign 1312–1340
Predecessor Sayf al-Din Kipchak
Successor Yilbugha al-Nasiri
Died May 1340
Alexandria, Egypt
Burial Damascus, Syria
Spouse Khawand Sutaytah bint Sayf al-Din Kawkabay al-Mansuri
Issue Ali
Full name
Sayf ad-Din Tankiz al-Husami an-Nasiri
Dynasty Bahri
Religion Sunni Islam

Sayf ad-Din Tankiz ibn Abdullah al-Husami an-Nasiri better known simply as Tankiz (Arabic: تنكيز‎‎) (died May 1340) was the Damascus-based na'ib al-saltana (viceroy) of Syria from 1312 to 1340 during the reign of the Bahri Mamluk sultan an-Nasir Muhammad.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

According to a Mamluk-era biographer of Tankiz, Khalil ibn Aybak as-Safadi, Tankiz was brought to Cairo as a young child by a man named al-Khwajah Alaa al-Din al-Siwasi.[2] The name tankiz was the Arabic version of the Turkish word teniz, meaning "sea".[3] Tankiz was raised in Cairo and was later bought by Sultan Husam al-Din al-Lajin in 1296, becoming a mamluk in his service until January 1299, when Lajin was killed.[4] Following Lajin's death, Tankiz became a bodyguard (khassakiya) of Sultan an-Nasir Muhammad in 1299.[3] In December 1299, Tankiz participated in the Battle of Wadi al-Khazandar between the Mamluks and the Mongol Ilkhanate and the latter's allies.[2] Sometime during an-Nasir Muhammad's second reign (January 1299–March 1309), Tankiz was made an amir ashara (emir of ten mamluk horsemen).[3] During these years, Tankiz studied the hadiths of Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim and was tutored by several Mamluk ulama (Muslim scholars).[5]

Because of his initial tenure with Lajin, Tankiz was a relative outsider when he became part of an-Nasir Muhammad's inner circle of mamluks.[4] Nonetheless, Tankiz became one of the sultan's closest friends.[6][7] In 1309, when an-Nasir Muhammad went into voluntary exile at al-Karak in Transjordan after he was toppled by Baybars al-Jashnakir, Tankiz accompanied him until an-Nasir Muhammad left to take back the sultanate in 1310.[8] According to historian Stephan Conermann, while Tankiz and an-Nasir Muhammad were posted at al-Karak, an-Nasir Muhammad sent Tankiz "on some dangerous missions" to Syria, which he executed successfully.[3] Thus, when an-Nasir Muhammad regained the sultanate later that year, Tankiz was given the rank of amir tabalkhanah.[9] On an-Nasir Muhammad's instructions, Tankiz was then trained how to govern by Arghun an-Nasiri, the na'ib as-saltana (viceroy) of Egypt.[9][5]

Viceroy of Syria[edit]

An inscription on Tankiziyya Madrasa in Jerusalem bearing the symbol of Tankiz

Tankiz was appointed viceroy of Syria (na'ib al-saltana al-sham) by an-Nasir Muhammad in August 1312.[3] His quick ascent to this post was a rare occurrence because he did undergo the stages of promotion that traditionally preceded the appointment.[9] He also held the additional title al-kafil al-mamalik al-shamiyya, which translates as "supreme governor of the noble provinces of Damascus."[7] Tankiz had been very close with the sultan and his appointment was in line with other provincial and sub-provincial appointments of umara (plural form of emir) in an-Nasir Muhammad's inner circle.[7] By 1314 Tankiz had gained unprecedented rule over the Levant.[10][11] The governors of its sub-provinces (nuwabb),[10] including Homs, Hama,[12] Tripoli, Aleppo and Safad,[10] were officially under his authority, to the extent that any letter the lower-level governors sent to the sultan would have to be inspected first by Tankiz himself; if he disagreed with a letter's content, he would have it returned to its sender.[11]

In 1315, Tankiz was dispatched by an-Nasir Muhammad as the supreme commander of Egyptian and Syrian mamluk regiments in an offensive to capture the Mongol-allied fortress of Malatya in Anatolia. Tankiz led his army dressed in the clothes of a king and "on his horse, all was gold, even his hunting drum," according to Mamluk-era chronicler Ibn Sasra.[13] Tankiz managed to conquer Malatya and successfully embarked on a number of raids against nearby Lesser Armenia, which was also allied with the Mongols.[3]

Tankiz went on the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in 1321, after gaining permission from an-Nasir Muhammad.[8] In 1327, Tankiz oversaw the management of awqaf (Islamic endowments) in Damascus.[14] He ordered infrastructural repairs, reduced government workers' salaries and removed superfluous stipends in order that the awqaf conformed with their original purposes.[14] In a major example of his budget cuts, Tankiz had 130 teachers dismissed from the al-Shamiyya al-Juwaniyya Madrasa whose waqf only entitled the institution to 20 teachers.[14] Tankiz compromised with the ulema (Muslim scholars) and agreed that 60 jurists would remain employed by the madrasa (Islamic law college).[14] Tankiz also ordered the eviction of inhabitants living illegally on the grounds of the Umayyad Mosque and ordered them to pay rent for the time that they had lodged there.[14] The payments he exacted from them were used to fund repairs and the redecoration of the mosque.[14] By 1329, the waqf of the Umayyad Mosque had a surplus of 70,000 silver dirhams, which Tankiz ordered to be used for further repairs and marble work. Similar action was undertaken in Hama.[14] From the 1331 onward, Tankiz would take annual trips to meet an-Nasir Muhammad in Egypt (1331–32, 1333, 1334, 1338, 1340). In his 1339 trip, he also visited Upper Egypt.[15]

In 1334 he ordered the Druze ruler of Beirut, Nasir ad-Din al-Husayn, to relocate to the city from the Chouf mountain following a Genoese attack against the city and its Catalan traders.[10] In March 1337, Tankiz had negotiated the release of two emirs of the Cairo Citadel, Tashtamur Akhdar and Qutlubugha al-Fakhri, who had been imprisoned by an-Nasir as a result of an alleged assassination plot.[16] Their imprisonment led to a mass hunger strike by their mamluks and an-Nasir was compelled to have them released to avoid a mutiny.[16] Tashtamur remained in his post while Qutlubugha was transferred to Tankiz's supervision in Syria.[16]

Infrastructural works[edit]

Throughout his rule, Tankiz engaged in several building works, "changing [sic] the face" of Damascus with the new public structures, according to historian Moshe Sharon.[17] Before engaging in architectural work, Tankiz had the city's infrastructure revamped. These projects included the repairing, overhauling and cleaning of the canal systems which supplied water throughout Damascus.[18] The canal system was characterized by two separate underground systems, one of which distributed water from the Barada, Banias and Qanawat rivers, to the city's houses, mosques, schools, hamaams (public bathhouses) and fountains, and another whose purpose was drainage. The work cost 300,000 silver dirhams.[19]

Other projects included various civil planning pursuits that controlled unorganized expansion, particularly in the northern and western parts of the city and the establishment of important streets, bridges and spaces to ease transportation and communication in the district.[18] Although several shops and benches were demolished in the newer outer neighborhoods of the city in order to widen the road networks, the buildings of the old inner city were not affected.[20] These works were spread roughly over a decade.[18]


From the 1330s, an-Nasir Muhammad began to assert his authority over many of his most powerful emirs. Following the execution of a leading emir, Baktamur as-Saqi in 1332, Tankiz, wary of sharing Baktamur's fate, paid a visit to an-Nasir Muhammad who subsequently contented himself that Tankiz was fearful of him. According to medieval Mamluk sources, tensions between Tankiz and an-Nasir in the form of relatively minor quarrels and incidents in the late 1330s led to the eventual downfall of Tankiz in 1340. According to Amalia Levanoni, an author specializing in Mamluk affairs, an-Nasir Muhammad bore "a silent grudge" towards Tankiz when the latter refused three of his requests to release mamluk Juban from imprisonment in Shaubak, in Transjordan.[11]

Tensions grew further when in 1339, Tankiz levied a punitive tax on the Christians of Damascus to fund repairs for property damage resulting from a series of arson attacks that the Christians were alleged to have committed. An-Nasir Muhammad had discouraged Tankiz from imposing the tax to avoid deteriorating already sour relations with the Byzantine Empire, but then ordered the tax revenue to be transferred to the treasury in Egypt, a request Tankiz refused.[21]

Simmering conflict between the two reached its apex in 1339 after Tankiz's request to hunt in Qal'at Ja'bar in northern Syria was rejected by an-Nasir Muhammad. The latter feared that Tankiz would use the hunting trip as a cover to seek asylum with Dhu al-Qadir, chief of the Turkoman tribes of northern Syria who recognized the authority of Tankiz, but not of an-Nasir Muhammad. Tankiz retorted that an-Nasir Muhammad had "lost his mind" and listened only to his young entourage. Moreover, he communicated to an-Nasir Muhammad that he "would have advised him to seat one of his sons [on the throne]" and Tankiz "would run the affairs of the state in his name."[21] With Tankiz being in a strong position to launch a decisive revolt in Syria, an-Nasir Muhammad interpreted his words as a threat to usurp the throne.[21] In an-Nasir Muhammad's view, Tankiz had become too independent of his authority.[4]

An-Nasir Muhammad dispatched Emir Bashtak an-Nasiri and 350 of Bashtak's mamluks to Syria to arrest Tankiz in 1340.[22] Following his capture, Tankiz was brought to Cairo and then imprisoned in Alexandria. He was subsequently executed in May.[23] When his assets were confiscated, they consisted of 36,000 dinars, 1,500,000 silver dirhams, clothing worth 640,000 dinars, palaces, khans, baths and markets in Damascus valued at 2,600,000 silver dirhams, and other properties in Homs, Beirut, and smaller towns valued at 900,000 silver dirhams and 4,200 animals.[24] The confiscated wealth of Tankiz was distributed among the senior emirs.[3] In 1343, two years after an-Nasir Muhammad died, Tankiz's body was brought to Damascus where it was buried in the mausoleum he had built during his rule.[3]

Architectural legacy[edit]

Part of the Tankiziyya Madrasa in Jerusalem

Throughout his rule, Tankiz embarked on several architectural projects. In Damascus alone nearly 40 public institutions, including mosques and schools, were constructed or restored either under the direct orders of Tankis or by various princes, judges and wealthy merchants.[18]

Between 1318-19 he commissioned a restoration of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. In 1328 he ordered the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to be renovated. The latter project was completed in 1331. A few months after, in 1332, Tankiz had the mihrab of the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron restored. Glass mosaics that previously existed in those structures (most dated from the Umayyad period) and had since worn down were given specific attention by Tankiz. Additionally, new mosaic decorations were added to the prayer niches of the mosques. Most surviving examples of glass mosaics from the Mamluk era could be traced back to Tankiz's architectural activities.[1]

Tankiz also ordered the building of the Tankiziyya, a madrasa (Islamic religious school) named after him, in Jerusalem during his rule.[1] The Tankiziyya served three purposes: an Islamic law school, a school for the muhadditun (experts in hadith,) and as a home for a community of Sufis. There were a set of rules regulating when and where each of the three separate groups would meet for daily recitations of the Qur'an and prayers for the founder of the madrasa, Tankiz, and his descendants as well as the ruling sultan.[25]

In honor of his wife Khawand Sutayta bint Kawkabay al-Mansuri, Tankiz built a twin-domed mausoleum for her in Damascus called al-Turba al-Kawkab'iyya which was completed five months after her death in 1330.[26] As a fulfillment of her will, a mosque and a hospice for women were added alongside her tomb. That same year Tankiz endowed a charitable foundation and madrasa at Bab al-Silsila (neighborhood adjacent to the Temple Mount) in Jerusalem which also contained a women's hospice.[27] The concept of the "hanging madrasa"—which entailed that part or all of the interior be built atop a portico or a series of arches—was first applied by Tankiz for the madrasa at Bab al-Silsila.[28]


Tankiz was married to a Khawand Sutayta bint Sayf al-Din Kawkabay al-Mansuri.[29] She died in Tankiz's Damascus home in mid-1330 and five months later a domed mausoleum was built over her tomb by Tankiz. Khawand Sutayta had also ordered that a mosque and women's hospice be constructed adjacent to her mausoleum.[30] The closeness between Tankiz and an-Nasir Muhammad was highlighted between the intermarriage of their offspring. Tankiz arranged the marriage of his daughter Qutlughmalik to an-Nasir Muhammad. In 1338, Qutlughmalik gave birth to as-Salih Salih, who later became sultan in 1342–1345.[8] Also in 1338, two of Tankiz's sons married two of an-Nasir Muhammad's daughters from another of the latter's wives.[6][11] Of Tankiz's sons, Ali was granted an emirate in 1331 and Muhammad and Ahmad became emirs, during Tankiz's rule and with an-Nasir Muhammad's blessing.[31]


  1. ^ a b c Flood 1997, p. 68.
  2. ^ a b Conermann 2008, p. 7.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Conermann 2008, p. 5.
  4. ^ a b c Steenbergen 2001, p. 459.
  5. ^ a b Conermann 2008, p. 8.
  6. ^ a b Sharon 2009, p. 98.
  7. ^ a b c Levanoni 1995, p. 29.
  8. ^ a b c Williams 1994, p. 61.
  9. ^ a b c Kenney 2009, p. 10.
  10. ^ a b c d Harris 2012, p. 75.
  11. ^ a b c d Levanoni 1995, p. 70.
  12. ^ Kenney 2009, p. 21.
  13. ^ Kenney 2009, p. 11.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Lapidus 1984, p. 75.
  15. ^ Berkes, p. 208.
  16. ^ a b c Levanoni 1995, p. 64.
  17. ^ Sharon 2009, p. 99.
  18. ^ a b c d Lapidus 1984, p. 22.
  19. ^ Lapidus 1984, p. 70.
  20. ^ Lapidus 1984, p. 72.
  21. ^ a b c Levanoni 1995, p. 71.
  22. ^ Levanoni 1995, p. 67.
  23. ^ Sharon 2009, p. 89.
  24. ^ Lapidus 1984, p. 50.
  25. ^ Pahlitzsch 2001, pp. 340–341.
  26. ^ Flood 1997, p. 89.
  27. ^ Flood 1997, p. 91.
  28. ^ Flood 1997, p. 95.
  29. ^ Flood 1997, p. 89.
  30. ^ Flood 1997, p. 91.
  31. ^ Levanoni 1995, p. 48.