Did Egypt Mamluks really defeat the Mongols?

500 years agoThe end of the Mamluk rule in Egypt

"Tuman, with his loyal Mamluks and the whole population who remained devoted to him, defended to the utmost what was left of the once powerful state of the caliphs on Egyptian soil. The conquest of Cairo cost rivers of blood for three days."

The events of January 23, 1517 are well known from the sources. The Mamluks were defeated by the Ottoman army. Its last ruler was publicly humiliated and executed on the orders of Sultan Selim.

"Tuman, who had defended his rule and honor so tenaciously, had Selim ride a donkey through the main streets of Cairo and then put the rope around his neck at a gate of the city."

Former slaves seized power

The system of military slaves, the "taken possession", in Arabic: "mamluk", goes back to the 9th century. The Caliph in Baghdad bought young Turks and Caucasians for his bodyguards who received a strict military education. By converting to Islam, the loyal Mamluks were able to gain their freedom.

Several times in Islamic history, the former slaves themselves seized power - including in the middle of the 13th century in Egypt and Syria - just at the time when Mongolian cavalry hordes from the Far East were shaking the foundations of the Islamic world.

"In Cairo and the rest of Egypt, calls were made to participate in the holy war for the cause of God and in defense of the prophet," relates the Arab historian al-Maqrizi.

Battle between Mongols and Mamluks in 1260

The Mongols had overrun western Asia. Baghdad fell in 1258. The last caliph of the glorious Abbasid dynasty in Iraq was killed and the capital of the Islamic world devastated. When the Mongols moved further west, the Mamluks opposed them. In 1260 there was a decisive battle in Palestine.

"When the two armies collided, one wing of the sultan's army got into disarray and was partially worn out. When that happened, the sultan took off his helmet, threw it on the ground and shouted with all his might: 'Islam!' Then he rushed straight to the enemy with those who stood by him. God granted him the victory. "

The advance of the Mongols, previously considered invincible, was halted. The Turkish Mamluks were now considered to be the saviors of the Islamic world. The Arabs, formerly their masters, were grateful. For generations, the Mamluks benefited from their high reputation among the local population. And another circumstance came towards them.

Vying for the favor of the subjects

After the fall of Baghdad, the caliphate was vacant. The Mamluks took advantage of this and installed a relative of the last Abbasid in Cairo as an Arab caliph. The still young rule of the Mamluks was thus also legitimized by Islam.

The Turkish foreign rulers, who often spoke only poorly Arabic, vied for the favor of their Muslim subjects. Some Mamluks posed as strict Sunni zealots to prove their orthodoxy. A decree of Malik as-Salih from the 14th century to tame the Jews and Christians makes this clear.

"They are not allowed to be like Muslims, but rather have to put on different blue and yellow clothing; they are not allowed to gird themselves with a sword or ride horses or mules, but only donkeys in the side seat. They have to ring their bells softly, and their voices are not allowed in their churches too much uplifting. "

At the beginning of the 16th century, upheavals were emerging in the Islamic world that had global causes. The Portuguese discovered the sea route to India. Egypt lost its position as a trade hub between Europe and Southeast Asia. Mismanagement caused crises and bloody rivalries broke out between the Mamluk factions. The Mamluks also underestimated the Ottomans' pursuit of territorial expansion.

Over 250 years of reign in Syria and Egypt

The Mamluks ruled Syria and Egypt for 250 years. In 1517 their rule came to an end, with them the old Arab caliphate. As loyal vassals of the Egyptian sultans in Constantinople, Mamluk elites had great influence in Egypt until the 19th century.