Egypt: History - Bahri Mameluke Period

Bahri (River) Mameluke Period

Bahari Mamlukes Rulers:

  • Sultan Ezz Eddin Aybak (1250-1257)

  • Sultan Nur Eddin ben Aybak (1257-1259)

  • Sultan Muzafar Seif Eddin Qutuz (1259-1260)

  • Sultan Zahir Rukn Eddin Bybars (1260-1277)

  • Sultan Said Nasser Eddin Baraka (1277-1279)

  • Sultan Adel Badr Eddin Salamish (1279)

  • Sultan Mansour Seif Eddin Qalawoon (1279-1290)

  • Sultan Ashraf Salah Eddin Khalil (1290-1293)

  • Sultan Nasser Mohamed Ben Qalawoon (first time) (1293-1294)

  • Sultan Adel Zeen Eddin Katubgha (1294-1296)

  • Sultan Mansour Hossam Eddin Lagin (1296-1298)

  • Sultan Nasser Mohamed Ben Qalawoon (second time) (1298-1309)

  • Sultan Muzafar Rukn Eddin Bybars (1309)

  • Sultan Nasser Mohamed Ben Qalawoon (third time) (1309-1340)

  • Sultan Mansour Seif Eddin Ben Mohamed (1340-1341)

  • Sultan Ashraf Alladin Ben Mohamed (1341-1342)

  • Sultan Nasser Shahab El-Dein Ben Mohamed (1342)

  • Sultan Saleh Emad Eddin Ben Mohamed (1342-1345)

  • Sultan Kamil Seif Eddin Ben Mohamed (1345-1346)

  • Sultan Muzafar Zein Eddin Ben Mohamed (1346-1347)

  • Sultan Nasser Hassan Ben Mohamed (first time)(1347-1351)

  • Sultan Salah Eddin Saleh Ben Mohamed (1351-1354)

  • Sultan Nasser Hassan Ben Mohamed (second time) (1354-1361)

  • Sultan Salah Eddin Mohamed Ben Hagi (1361-1363)

  • Sultan Ashraf Zeen Eddin Ben Hassan (1363-1376)

  • Sultan Mansour Aladin Ben Shaban (1376-1381)

  • Sultan Salih Zeen Edin Hagi (1381-1382)

Named for their barracks on Roda Island, the Bahri Mamelukes defended the Islamic empire from the Mongols, who in 1258 swept through Persia and captured Baghdad, massacring the khalif and nearly all his family. In 1260, they took Aleppo and Damascus and were launching attacks into the rest of Syria. The Mamelukes were successful in keeping the Mongols out of Egypt. They were saved from the same fate that struck Damascus in the form of Houlagou, the grandson of Genghis Khan. He had made the blood run in the streets of Damascus. In Damascus the Christians had become allies of the Mongols. Houlagou sent a letter by way of four ambassadors to Sultan Moustafa Koutouz that there was no escape from the Mongol forces. Koutouz had all of the ambassadors killed and their heads hung up on the Bab Zuweila. At the end of the year 1260, the Egyptian Mameluke General Emir Zahir Baybars halted the horde at Ayn Jalut (Goliath's Spring), handing the Asians their first defeat. When their Syrian possessions rebelled, the Mongols retreated to Anatolia.

After his return to Cairo, the victorious General Baybars had the current sultan murdered. He had gone to Koutouz to ask for one of the women that had been captured in the war. The favor was granted and Baybars kissed Koutouz's hand in thanks. This was the signal for the assassins to cut off the sultan's head. Baybars then took control of the Citadel and continued fighting the Mongols in Syria and beat them twice. Baybars was born in Mongol Russia in the town of Kipchak. As a child, he had been bought in Damascus at a very cheap price because he had one eye that was covered by a cataract. He had a strong voice, a violent temper and had an insatiable vigor and energy. This is probably what drove him to finally become sultan. He ruled Cairo for seventeen years and his courts were very elaborate and rich. All of his ministers and employees were paid very good salaries and many had to be in attendance whenever he was holding court.

Any of Baybars emirs would have gladly killed Baybars if they had been given the chance. However, Baybars loved to be in several places at the same time and so no one was ever quite certain when he would show up and where. This pretty much stopped any plans to get rid of him. He did rebuild the canals, fortifications and shipyards in Egypt, which were all essential to the public works and the efficient functioning. Because Baybars was so successful abroad, Egypt prospered and so did its people, especially his partners. He was a religious man and ordered all the taverns and brothels closed and ran the European prostitutes out of the city.

Using both belligerence and diplomacy, he controlled the crusading Christians along the north coast of the Mediterranean. He installed the Abbasid Prince al-Mustansir as khalif at Cairo, thereby moving the Sunni religious center to Egypt and gaining control of of the Hajaz and Mecca. The khalif remained a figurehead while the Mameluke sultans continued to rule the remnants of the Islamic Empire. Baybars died when he was fifty years old. He had intended to poison Malik Kaher, who was a rival prince. Baybars had poisoned Kaher's drink, but Kaher cleverly switched their glasses. It took thirteen days for Baybars to die an agonizing death. After Baybar's death, his sons were quickly deposed and one of Baybar's generals, Qalawun was elected as sultan.

Qalawun had been a slave of al Salih. Qalawun had been bought for one thousand gold dinars and was known as "the Thousand Man". He was also from Kipchak and was said to have been a handsome man. One of his sons, Malik Salih, died of dysentery and Qalawun was heartbroken. He ordered court mourning in which no one was to change their clothes or cut their hair until Qalawun said so.

Qalawun, who founded a dynasty that lasted a hundred years, continued Baybar's policies. He kept both the Mongols and Christians at bay and made treaties with Emperor Rudolph of Hapsburg as well as other European princes. He continued the building program initiated by Baybars, contributing a hospital as well as a mosque and mausoleum that still stand in Cairo, monuments to the pinnacle of Mameluke architecture. The building complex that he had built is called the Shari' Muiz and was built between 1284 - 1285. Qalawun bought Circassian rather than Turkish Mamelukes and housed them in the great circular keep in the Citadel. Qalawun was followed by his son Khalil in 1290, who captured the Christian port of Acre, razed the Crusaders' castles and drove them to Cyprus.

Muhammad al-Nasir succeeded his brother Khalil, but owing to his age (nine) and internal dissension, the Amir Lagim ruled Egypt in his name. Lagim took part in the murder of Sultan al Khalil, who was Qalawun's son. Lagim was murdered in 1299. Nasir regained control in 1298, only to flee in 1309 before the power of Baybars II. When Nasir returned in 1310, he had Baybars II put to death. Al Nasir was even more of a builder than his father was. He also had a cataract on one of his eyes like his father. He ruled absolutely and brutally and kept the rival Mamelukes under his thumb completely.

Externally, his reign was marked by security and prosperity. He made treaties with the Mongols and strengthened ties with Europe. Trade flourished, and Egypt's borders remained unchallenged. Toward his amirs, however, he was distrustful and capricious, either loading them with rich gifts or ordering their execution. During Nasir's reign, there were demonstrations against the Christians, however these demonstrations may have been against Nasir himself. He had used Christian advisers who made taxes and laws almost unbearable to the people. Naturally the Christians became the scapegoats. Fires began to fire up over Cairo. It was obvious that a group of arsonists were involved and the city began to burn. A Christian was caught in Baybar's mosque with a pot of oil ready to light it. The Christian and some monks were tortured until they admitted to lighting the fires. A Melchite convent in Mukattam was destroyed and four monks were burned to death. Suddenly the entire city hated the Christians and demonstrations started. Stores were closed and two hundred Moslems were arrested. All two hundred of these people were hanged at Bab Zuweila and in the vicinity. The Christians were not executed but they were made to ride around the city backwards on their donkeys and wear blue turbans and bells on their necks. Nasir's respect from the people of Cairo had diminished greatly.

Cairo did flourish during this time due to the trading that came through the port here. Trade with Venice had just begun as Venice was establishing itself on the mainland of Italy. Nasir had a canal dug between Alexandria and the Nile in 1311 as an indication of the importance of the trade in the Mediterranean. This canal took one hundred thousand men to dig. Nasir taxed everything that was sold. The city seemed to thrive during his reign, but after his death it sank from civil wars, famine and plague, known as the Black Death of Europe. Nasir died in 1341.

Turmoil continued under his sons and relatives, who were in general ineffectual or incompetent. The only one of his ten sons that ruled after Nasir and managed to leave anything behind is Hasan. He built what is still possibly the most impressive madrasa in Cairo, which is the Mosque of Sultan Hassan. The madrasa-mosque is considered to be the finest existing monument in Egyptian architecture. The body of Hasan lies in a marble tomb inside the mosque.

None of Nasir's sons reigned for long. The Mameluke emirs kept murdering the sultans as one faction would become more superior than another. Lacking strong sultans to control them, the Bahri (river) and Burgi (Tower) Mamelukes were continually at loggerheads, using their local wars as excuses to plunder the civilian populations. In 1382 a Circassian slave, Barkuq, took the throne and control of Egypt shifted to the Burgi Mamelukes.

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Last Updated: June 20th, 2011