( 1250-1382). The process of choosing the next ruler set
the pattern of suq::ession for a long time to come. c Ali, the son of Aybak,
was chosen as successor, but without power, while the mamluks chose
a leader from among themselves. Qutuz, commander of the mamliiks,
was chosen and cAli was retired peacefully. Throughout the previous
century waves of Central Asian nomads had swept into Mesopotamia
and Syria-Turkomans, Saljuks and, finally, the Mongols, who in the
13C conquered all before them. Persia had fallen and in 1258 they
captured Baghdad and massacred the khalif and all his family. They
took AJ,eppo in Januar’y 1260 and three months later entered Damascus; from there making attacks against Ghaza and Hebron. The
mamlliks, led by Baybars, met the Mongols in Syria at cAyn Jalut
(Goliath’s Spring) in September and gained a great victory, the first
major campaign that the Mongols had lost. The cities in Syria rose up
against their conquerors and the Mongols retreated to the N into
Anatolia. Although they harried the N borders of Syria for some time
after, they were never again to threaten Egypt directly.


On his return to Egypt Baybars had Qutuz murdered and was
elected as Sultan. He set about strengthening his position with a series
of military expeditions against” the Crusader and Ayylibid principalities in Syria, the Armenians in Cilicia, the Assassins in SW Asia
and, in the S the Nubians. He used diplomacy as well as belligerency
and established relations with Christian countries on the N coast of the
Mediterranean, even as far W as Aragon. Baybars also legalised his
position in another way. An cAbbasid prince, al-Mustan1?ir, a relative of
the dead khalif, who had fled during the sack of Baghdad, was rescued
from the desert and pronounced khalif by Baybars in 1261. As well as
placing Egypt firmly in the centre of the Sunni sphere, this also gave
him the support of the Sharif of Mecca and thus control of the l:fijaz.
It is important to understand how the Mamliik state was structured. Slaves were purchased by dealers from countries outside the Muslim territories, usually SW
Asia or Europe, given a rudimentary education and brought to the great slave.

Market in Egypt&Syria

Since the majority of them were Turks, mainly
Qipchaqs, Turkish became the language of the Mamh1k state. The slaves were
rebought by the great amirs or the Sultan, who had started their own careers in
the same way. It was the duty of the new owner to have the mamliiks (possessed)
instructed in religion and given military training. After several years, when this
education was completed, the slaves were formally manumitted at a great
ceremony and given a state stipend. They then entered militar}r service, usually
in the train of their former masters, to whom they were intensely loyal, since they
owed their freedom to them. The most promising were then given official
positions in the household, wardrobe, kitchen, stables or treasury, and if they
were successful, advanced in rank and were after some years invested as an amir
(commander). The lowest grade was an Amir of Ten responsible for ten
mamliiks, the next grade was an Amir of Forty, distinguished by having a band
which played before his official dwelling. If of exceptional potential, or great
nerve, the mamliik could reach the highest rank of all, the Amir of One Hundred,
commander of one thousand mamliiks, from which group the great state
functionaries were drawn.
The Sultan had mamliiks of four classes, those purchased by himself, those
purchased by his predecessor, those purchased by an amir and passing on the
latter’s death into his possession, and those manumitted by an amir and entering
into his service. A small proportion of the Sultan’s 2-10,000 mamliiks when they
were manumitted were chosen as Khassikiyyah (intimates) who were specially
favoured by the Sultan and trusted with the most important palace functions.
The most important military officials, Men of the Sword, were the Na.ib
(Viceroy); Atabak (Commander of the Armies), later also called the Amir
al-Kabir (Grand Amir); Amir ~ilah (Controller of the Armaments); Amir Majlis
(Controller of the Council Chamber); Amir Akhiir (Amir of the Horse, in charge
of the Stables); Khazindar (Keeper of the Treasury); Ustadar (Chief Steward);
Dawadar (Secretary); Mihmandar (Royal Host), and the two Heads of Guards, of
the Mamliiks and of the Amirs. There were many lesser positions such as Saqi
(Cup-Bearer); Jamdar (Wardrobe-Keeper); Jashankir (Taster); Jiikandar (PoloStick Keeper), etc. Each of the great amirs maintained his own household with
analagous grades to that of the Sultan. The mamliiks had a complex system of
blazon denoting rank which they displayed on their buildings and possessions
and it is one of the anomalies of mamliik life that incumbents often kept these
lesser titles with great pride when they had been elevated into· the ranks of the
great amirs or even become sultan.
In addition to the marnliiks, who were the elite mounted troops, were the
f:ialqah, the vast army of enlisted free troopers, many of them the sons of previous
marnliiks. Although they had their own officers they were controlled by the
The civil executive, Men of the Pen, were usually drawn from the native
Egyptian population and the most powerful of them was
the wazir, addressed as Sahib, but even he deferred to the amirs in status. The
rest were controllers of various financial agencies for the army, privy funds,
granaries, etc. The Judiciary, consisting of the representatives of the former
schools of law under the authority of the Grand Qa<;fi, and the secular officials,
the surgeons and physicians, were also Egyptians. Another powerful group
waiting in the background for any sign of weakness in the ranks of the amirs were the eunuchs and the slave girls and in the late 14C, during the unstable
reigns of the sons of Sultan al-Na!?ir M~ammad, they achieved great influence.
The children and wives of the mamliiks, and even amirs, had no claim to any of
their fathers’ or husbands’ wealth which after their death was distributed among
the other amirs and new intake of mamliiks. Thus within one generation had
begun their assimilation into the Egyptian population. Very few of the sons of
sultans, although nominated as heirs, had a powerful enough following of
marnliiks to maintain their position, which usually fell to the most powerful
amirs, who often seem to have arisen in pairs, with a resultant contest of strength
for supremacy.


Baybars was followed by his son, Barakah-Khan (1271), who was
deposed in favour of his seven-year-old brother Salamish (1280) but,
in the same year, the atabak Qalawiin assumed the title of Sultan as
well as the reality. He founded a dynasty that was to last 100 years, not
always through the son, occasionally through a bondsman of the
family, but the last sultan of the line, al-l:Iajji II, was his descendant in.

the fifth generation

Qalawiin followed the policies of Baybars,
establishing relations as far away as Ceylon and the East African
coast. He housed his mamliiks in the Citadel and, for this reason, they
were called Burgis (Ar. burg: tower). These mamliiks with other
loyalties were continually at loggerheads with the Balµi mamliiks
from the barracks on Rawdah Island. The earlier mamliik sultans were
drawn from the ranks of the latter but the former eventually prevailed
and the later sultans were all from )this quarter. Qalawiin successfully
attacked the Mongol and Christian states, the latter being left only
with the port of Acre and a small surrounding area. He was followed
by his son, Khalil (1290) who, in 1291 captured Acre and razed the
Crusaders’ castles. The other Crusader towns capitulated and the
Crusaders retreated to Cyprus.