SULTAN OF THE FALLEN MAMLUK DYNASTY
Mohammad Fazril Bin Mohd Saleh
International Islamic University Malaysia
Phillip K. Hitti in 1937 typified the opinion of scholars of Arabs contemporary with him about the legacy of the Mamluk:
Mamluk Egypt began its history under proud and triumphant rulers who had cleared Syria of the last vestiges of Frankish dominion and had successfully stood between the Mongols and world power. By the end of the period, however, with its military oligarchy, factions among the dominant caste, debased coinage, high taxation, insecurity of life and property, occasional plague and famine and frequent revolts, both Egypt and its dependency Syria were all but ruined.
Based on Hitti’s statement above, I suggest that he tried to draw the cause of the fallen of Mamluk’s dominion during the end reign of their period especially in Egypt and Levant.
One of the most significant figures during this era was Al-Ashraf Qansuh Al-Ghawri (1501-1516 BC) who was the second last ruler of the dynasty prior to Tuman Bey II. Starting from the era prior to his elevation to the autocracy, a skeletal-brief outline of the life and reign of Al-Ashraf Qansuh Al-Ghawri will be presented throughout this paper. This paper consists of five sub-topics excluding the Introduction: Historical Background: Emergence of Mamluk’s Superiority which an effort of reconstructing briefly the major events happened in Mamluk’s chronicles; Qansuh Al-Ghawri: Twilight of Majesty is the skeletal introductory to Qansuh al-Ghawry that outlined the life of the sultan and what has been done by him during his reign; Ottoman-Safavid Dispute: Intrusion of Mamluk’s Territory tries to give a brief picture of the battle of Chaldiran 1514 between the Ottoman Empire and Safawi Empire of Persia which forced the Mamluk to take certain considerations reluctantly; and finally before the conclusion, the end of Al-Ghawry’s reign indicated by his lose at Marj Dabiq as explained in Lose At Marj Dabiq: The Fall of Mamluk Sultanate.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: EMERGENCE OF MAMLUK’S SUPERIORITY
Mamluk Egypt began its history under proud and triumphant rulers who had cleared Syria of the last vestiges of Frankish dominion and had successfully stood between the Mongols and world power. Undeniably, Mamluk was a very able, strong, talented group of troops as the has been acknowledged famously beat back the Mongols at the Battle of Ain Jalut (1260 AD) and fought the Crusaders effectively driving them out from the Levant by 1291 AD and officially in 1302 AD ending the era of the Crusades. From the 8th to the 16th century, Mamluks formed the core of most Muslim armies.
According to The Columbia Encyclopaedia Sixth Edition (2008), Mamluk or Mameluke, which literary means slave in Arabic, is a warrior caste dominant in Egypt and influential in the Middle East for over 700 years. Islamic rulers created this warrior caste by collecting non-Muslim slave boys and training them as cavalry soldiers especially loyal to their owner and each other. They converted to Islam in the course of their training.
In the very beginning, Mamluk was a slave who been trained intensively to be a very able soldier. According to Thomas F. Madden, predominantly, most of these Mamluks were Kipchaks. Kipchaks were a Turkic tribal confederation that originating in the Kimek Khanate that conquered large parts of the Eurasian steppe during the Turkic expansion of the 11th to 12th centuries together with the Cumans. Usually historians divided Mamluk history into two periods based on different dynastic lines: the Bahri Mamluks (1250–1382) of Kipchaks Turkic origin from southern Russia, named after the location of their barracks on the Nile (al-bahr, literally "the sea," a name given to this great river), and the Burji Mamluks (1382–1517) of Caucasian Circassian origin, who were quartered in the citadel (al-burj, literally "the tower"). After receiving instruction in Arabic, the fundamentals of Islam, and the art of warfare, slaves in the royal barracks were manumitted and given responsibilities in the Mamluk hierarchy.
Unlike the Mamluk, local non-mamluk warriors were often more loyal to their tribal sheikhs, their families, or nobles than to the sultan or caliph. If a commander conspired against the ruler, it was often not possible to deal with the conspiracy without causing unrest among the nobility. The mamluk slave-troops were strangers of the lowest possible status who could not conspire against the ruler and who could easily be punished if they caused trouble, making them a great military asset. Nonetheless, the untie nature of the Mamluk was also the factor why they were daring to topple down their master in certain conditions. Under Saladin and the Ayyubids of Egypt, the power of the mamluks increased until they claimed the sultanate in 1250, ruling as the Mamluk Sultanate.
The Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt was established in 1250 AD, after the death of al-Muazzam Turanshah, the descendant of Sultan al-Salih Ayyub, which signified the end of Ayyubid Dynasty. From the first significant figure ruled, Izz al-Din Aybak (r. 1250-1257 AD), the Mamluk Sultanate has became great political importance and was long-lived, lasting from the 9th to the 19th century AD. It lasted under the reign of Tuman Bey II in 1517 after being defeated by the Ottoman forces in the battle of Ridaniya. Culturally, the Mamluk period is known mainly for its achievements in historical writing and in architecture and for an abortive attempt at socio-religious reform. Mamluk historians were prolific chroniclers, biographers, and encyclopaedists; As builders of religious edifices; mosques, schools, monasteries and, above all, tomb, the Mamluks endowed Cairo with some of its most impressive monuments, many of which are still standing; the Mamluk tomb-mosques can be recognized by stone domes whose massiveness is offset by geometrical carvings.
QANSUH AL-GHAWRI: TWILIGHT OF MAJESTY
Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri was among the most significant figures in the history of Egypt’s Mamluk. He was the second last sultan, ruled from 1501 to 1516 BC. He was the one who fought Ottoman Empire in the battle of Marj Dabiq in 1516 BC. He died in the battle field. In 1501, he became sultan in the age of over 60 years. He was a strong man and a shrewed ruler. According to Michael Winter, Al-Ghawri’s reign brought stability to Mamluk’s politics after five tumultuous years and four weak sultans, following the stable period of Qaytbay. Meanwhile, Dean Richardson put Al-Ghawri as:
Sixty years old when he became the penultimate Mamluke sultan in 1500, Qansuh al-Ghuri remained vigorous into his seventies, playing polo, writing poetry and discoursing with sufis – not forgetting the traditional pursuits like building, intrigue and arbitrary justice.”
Inevitably, Al-Ghawri was often compared with Al-Ashraf Qaytbay and was found wanting. Ibn Ilyas, who was the most prolific chronicler during that period described; where Qaytbay was considered “majestic, serene, and dignified, correct in decorum, invariably respected, projecting an aura of majesty”, al-Ghawri is described by Ibn Ilyas as an unjust, stingy and greedy despot. However, Michael Winter backing up al-Ghawri:
He was a bon vivant, cultured and talented, but according to Ibn Ilyas, who certainly represents the public opinion of Cairo, “each year of his reign weighed down on the people like thousand years and his defects outweighed his positive traits.” Yet, it must be remembered that al-Ghawri had to face formidable domestic difficulties and foreign threat. He combined caution with originality and imagination and tried to save the empire.
Before his enthronement, this obscure officer only in passing as a provincial governor who crushed local insurgents and repelled invaders from outside. Al-Ghawri, who took his title from the Ghawr Barracks of Cairo where he was trained, was designated an amir of ten in 1484 BC upon his completion of service in the Ottoman campaign on that year. As Circassian slave, he had served Sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf al-Din Qaytbay; was over forty before he was raised to independence as Emir of ten; and then, rapidly promoted to command of Tarsus, Aleppo and Malatia, he became Emir of a thousand, Chamberlain of the Court, and chief Vizier. During the feuds that erupted the interregnum following Qaytbay’s death, al-Ghawri emerged from the group of contenders for the imperial office. At first he declined the throne; but being pressed by the Emirs, who swore faithful service, he at last consented.
According to almost all scholars of Mamluk history, Qansuh al-Ghawri exhibited little regard for hallowed traditions, military or religious. Carl. F. Petry illustrates situation during the reign of Qansuh Al-Ghawry: “Burden by irremedial bankruptcy and endemic sedition, he initiated the first steps toward innovation since the architects of the Mamluk system founded the regime during thirteen century”.
Nevertheless, al-Ghawri has tried his best to maintain the stability of his government and administration. He was the innovator, but the ‘reviled’ one. Might be, the condition and situation at his particular period enforces him to act and took some considerations in certain manner, made some people reviled him. The sultanic throne was ascended by Al-Asyraf Tuman Bay after the defeat of him by Ottoman Sultan Selim I at the Battle of Marj Dabiq in 1516 CE.
OTTOMAN-SAFAVID DISPUTE: INTRUSION OF MAMLUK’S TERRITORY
This was the incident which gave the route to the fallen of Mamluk Sultanate. Battle of Chaldiran was the first full battle between the armies of the Ottoman and Safavid Empires occurred in 1514 at Chaldiran, in northwestern Persia. The conflict was caused by a number of factors, including Ottoman persecution of its Qizilbash population in Asia Minor, and expansionist goals of both empires into the others' territory. The Ottoman army, en route to battle the Safavids, arrived at the Plains of Chaldiran in August, 1514. The Safavids attacked the next day, and the ensuing battle had significant consequences for both empires.
The most immediately noticeable factor in the battle was the absolute superiority of the Ottoman army over the Safavids. With many more years - centuries, in fact - of military experience behind them, the Ottomans' 100,000 troops swiftly defeated the Safavids' 40,000. The battle also showcased the effectiveness of new forms of weaponry. The Ottomans, the first Islamic empire to employ artillery in warfare, brought Janissaries armed with muskets, as well as 200 cannons, 100 mortars, and other field artillery to Chaldiran. The Persians, meanwhile, who had no modern weaponry, used the old tactics of cavalry archers. They were soundly defeated. Shah Ismail withdrew his troops after suffering heavy casualties, and the Ottoman Sultan, Selim I, did not pursue him. Selim then marched into Tabriz, the Safavid capital, although his near-mutinous army, who wanted to return home, kept him from staying and taking any more Persian territory.
For The Applied History Research Group of University of Calgary, the outcome at Chaldiran had many consequences. Perhaps most significantly, it established the border between the two empires, which remains the border between Turkey and Iran today. With the establishment of that border, Tabriz became a frontier city, uncomfortably close to the Ottoman enemy. That consideration would be a major factor in the decision to move the Safavid capital to Qazwin, in the mid-16th century and finally to Isfahan, in central Persia, in 1598. Domestically, Ismail's image in the eyes of his followers was also severely damaged by the Safavid defeat at Chaldiran. The Qizilbash believed deeply in the shah's divinity, and they had trouble reconciling the defeat with their previous view of the shah as invincible. Ismail weathered this crisis, however. A more serious loss of faith in the shah would likely have caused the collapse of the empire, which did not happen. Ismail's father and grandfather had both been killed in battle, and he invoked that fact in persuading his people that he was still a capable and divine leader, despite the defeat at Chaldiran. Personally, however, Ismail was devastated by this, his first defeat, and went into virtual mourning. He never again led his troops into battle personally.
By far the most significant factor in the battle was the Ottoman use of artillery. Without it, military historians have asserted that the battle could have gone either way. The Ottomans had used firepower in warfare since they were introduced to the weapons from Europe in the early 15th century. The Persians had used artillery in small battles with local foes, but had never done so on a large scale by the time of Chaldiran in 1514. Still, the Safavids could have matched the Ottoman firepower had they chosen to do so. They opted against it, however, because they believed that the new weaponry was cowardly, and they had faith in the effectiveness of their cavalry. The Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt held similar views, and they were also defeated by Ottoman firepower three years after Chaldiran.
LOSE AT MARJ DABIQ: THE FALL OF MAMLUK SULTANATE
Throughout the 15th century, Mamluk Syria continued to decline, while a new power was growing to the north, that of the Ottoman Turkish sultanate in Asia Minor. Having occupied Constantinople and the Balkans, it began to look southward. The Ottoman Sultan Selim I had just vanquished the Persians at the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514. He then redeployed against the Mamluk, who ruled in Syria and Egypt, in order to complete the Ottoman conquest of the Middle East. The war transformed the Ottoman Empire from a realm at the margin of Islamic lands, mainly located in Anatolia and the Balkans, to a huge Empire encompassing the traditional lands of Islam, including the historical cities of Mecca, Cairo, Damascus and Aleppo. It continued to be ruled however from Constantinople.
The relationship between the Ottomans and the Mamluks had long been adversarial: both states vied for control of the spice trade, and the Ottomans aspired to eventually taking control of the Holy Cities of Islam. An earlier conflict, the Ottoman-Mamluk War (1485-1491) had led to a stalemate. The war consisted of several battles. The Mamluk army was rather traditional, mainly consisting in cavalry using bows and arrows, whereas the Ottoman army, and especially the Janissaries, was quite modern, using arquebus. The Mamluks remained proud in their tradition and tended to disregard the usage of firearms. However, according to Prof. Ataullah Bogdan Kopanski, the Mamluks were upholding the notion that it is forbidden using fire against Muslims, but it is permissible to use fire for the infidels. This might be true as mamluks at that time have had the capability using their special muskets.
In 1516 Sultan Selim I defeated the Mamluks in the Battle of Marj Dabiq and occupied the whole of Syria. The Ottomans first captured the city of Diyarbekir in southeastern Anatolia. The Battle of Marj Dabiq (24 August 1516) was decisive, in which Sultan Qansuh al-Ghawri was killed. Syria fell under the rule of the Ottomans with this single battle. Although parts of Syria enjoyed some local autonomy, the area as a whole remained for 400 years an integral section of the Ottoman Empire. It was divided into provinces, each under a governor.
The collapse of the sultanate fully happened under the reign of the successor of Qansuh al-Ghawri, Tuman Bey II in 1517 after being defeated by the Ottoman forces in the battle of Ridaniya. Ottoman Empire conquered the whole Egypt and Levant until 1798. The conquest of the Mamluk Empire would also open up the territories of Africa to the Ottomans. During the 16th century, Ottoman power would expand further west of Cairo, along the coasts of Northern Africa. The corsair Hayreddin Barbarossa established a base in Algeria, and later accomplished the Conquest of Tunis in 1534. Cairo would remain in Ottoman hands until the 1798 French conquest of Egypt, when Napoleon I claimed to eliminate the Mamluks.
Undeniably, the twilight of majesty: Sultan Al-Asyraf Qansuh Al-Ghawri was a significant figure in the history of Mamluk. He brought the legacy of the Mamluks, even though he was accused to make some inappropriate changes during his reign which drove their empire to decline.
Nonetheless, as been mentioned before in this paper, “al-Ghawri has tried his best to maintain the stability of his government and administration. He was the innovator, but the ‘reviled’ one. Might be, the condition and situation at his particular period enforces him to act and took some considerations in certain manner, made some people reviled him.”
His defeat in the Battle of Marj Dabiq 1516 was the indicator for the fallen of Mamluk empire which has lasted for about 10 centuries. However, the legacy, bravery and spirit of the Mamluks remained and inherited by Muslims throughout the ages.
Madden, Thomas F. (2005), Crusades the Illustrated History. 1st ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.
Petry, Carl F. (1994), Protectors or Praetorians? The Last Mamluk Sultans amd Egypt’s Waning As A Great Power, New York: State University
__________ . (1998), The Cambridge History of Egypt Vol. 1, Great Brittain: Cambridge University Press.
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“Battle of Chāldirān.” (2011). In Encyclopedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/104688/Battle-of-Chaldiran
“Battle of Chaldiran”, The Islamic World to 1600, The University of Calgary (1998), The Applied History Research Group, http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/islam/empires/safavid/chaldiran.html
“Cairo” by Andre Raymond p.189 (http:// books.google.com/books?id=tdLALt9AbQQC& pg=PA189)
Firearms: a global history to 1700 by Kenneth Warren Chase (http://books.google.com/ books?id=esnWJkYRCJ4C& pg=PA104)
“Mamluk”, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. (16 December 2011)
"Mamluk", The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (December 18, 2011). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Mamluk.html
"Mamlūk." Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 2011. Web. 19 Dec. 2011.
“Syria” (2011). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/578856/Syria
 Carl F. Petry (1994), Protectors or Praetorians? The Last Mamluk Sultans amd Egypt’s Waning As A Great Power, New York: State University, p. 1.
 “Mamluk”, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. (16 December 2011) http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?oldid=465552350
 "Mamluk", The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (December 18, 2011). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Mamluk.html
Madden, Thomas F. Crusades the Illustrated History. 1st ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan P, 2005. 159
 Yalman, Suzan. "The Art of the Mamluk Period (1250–1517)". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/maml/hd_maml.htm (October 2001)
 "Mamlūk." Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 2011. Web. 19 Dec. 2011.
 Carl F. Petry (1998), The Cambridge History of Egypt Vol. 1, Great Brittain: Cambridge University Press, p. 494.
 Dan Richardson (2003), Rough Guide to Egypt, UK: Rough Guide, p. 149.
 Carl F. Petry (1998), p. 494.
 Carl F. Petry (1994), p. 20.
 Al-Ashraf Qansuh Al-Ghawry, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?oldid=461252208
 Ibid., p. 284.
 Ibid., p. 20.
 “Battle of Chāldirān.” (2011). In Encyclopedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/104688/Battle-of-Chaldiran
 “Battle of Chaldiran”, The Islamic World to 1600, The University of Calgary (1998), The Applied History Research Group, http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/islam/empires/safavid/chaldiran.html
 The Cambridge history of Egypt by M. W. Daly, Carl F. Petry p.498ff (http://books.google.com/ books?id=i0KYzOISv_4C& pg=PA498)
 Firearms: a global history to 1700 by Kenneth Warren Chase p.104 (http://books.google.com/ books?id=esnWJkYRCJ4C& pg=PA104)
 Prof. Kopanski several times raising this weirdness of mamluks in his lecture. Perhaps, the conflicts happened between Muslim great empire during that time cannot be seen simplistically. Rather, it was complex and complicated.
 “Syria” (2011). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/578856/Syria
 “Cairo” by Andre Raymond p.189 (http:// books.google.com/books?id=tdLALt9AbQQC& pg=PA189)
 Ibid., p. 20.