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The Mameluke Sultan Barsbay from his Childhood in Caucasia until his Becoming among the Big Criminals Featured on the Headlines

The Mameluke Sultan Barsbay from his Childhood in Caucasia until his Becoming among the Big Criminals Featured on the Headlines

 

Published in May 3, 2020

Translated by: Ahmed Fathy

 

Introduction:

1- The methodology of writing historical annals during the Mameluke Era includes that historians would typically begin the events of a given Hijri year (in the month of Muharram) by giving the names of those whom we call as the big criminals: the Abbasid caliph, the Mameluke sultan, the high-rank Mameluke princes/leaders, the governors who ruled regions and cities under or on behalf of the sultan, the four supreme judges, and the rulers/kings of other regions outside the Mameluke sultanate; this is followed by recording the events of each day of the lunar months from Muharram until Zu Al-Hijja; this is followed by mentioning the names of those who died in the same year among the big criminals; the historian may criticize some of them and praise some others; as a historian, Al-Makrizi is no exception to this rule.

2- We have mentioned earlier that the year 824 A.H. was unique since it witnessed four successive Mameluke sultans: the Mameluke sultan Al-Moayyad Sheikh chose Tatar, a low-rank Mameluke prince, and promoted him into a higher rank and then appointed him as the defense minister and guardian of his heir and successor the child Ahmad Ibn Al-Moayyad Sheikh; soon enough, after the death of Al-Moayyad Sheikh, Tatar removed the child-sultan and ascended the throne as the sultan Al-Dhahir Tatar. When he fell ill suddenly, the dying sultan Tatar appointed his son as his successor and heir to the throne under the guardianship of Barsbay; of course, Barsbay removed the child-sultan and ruled as the newly enthroned sultan.

3- We quote what Al-Makrizi has written about the first day of Muharram, 824 A.H., and then analyze it.

 

Firstly: what Al-Makrizi has written about the first day of Muharram, 824 A.H.:

 (...The year 824 began while the caliph of the time was Al-Mo'tadid Abou Al-Fath Dawood Ibn Al-Motawakil Abdullah Mohamed, and the sultan of Egypt, the Levant, and Hejaz was Al-Moayyad Sheikh Abou Al-Nasr Al-Mahmoudy Al-Dhahiry, but he was taken ill. Most of the Egyptian troops of soldiers were in Aleppo along with the higher military leader the prince Altanbugha and a dozen of Mameluke princes along with him including prince Tughan, prince Girbash,...The sultan kept in Greater Cairo the following Mameluke princes: prince Qajqar who kept all arms and weapons, prince Tatar who oversaw the royal palace, prince Tanbak, and prince Moqbil the reader and scribe of the messages sent to or by the sultan. The grand vizier at the time was Badr-Eddine Hassan Ibn Nasralla. the private treasurer of the sultan was a vacant post, as it was held temporarily by the eunuch Mameluke prince Morgan Al-Hindi the treasurer of the State; the overseer of the estates of the sultan was the Mameluke prince Yashbak, and the secretary of the sultan was Kamal-Eddine Mohamed Ibn Al-Barizi. In Greater Cairo, the supreme judge of the Al-Shafei doctrine was the Sheikh Al-Eslam Abdel-Rahman Al-Balkini, the supreme judge of the Al-Hanafy doctrine was Zayn-Eddine Ibn Abdel-Rahman, the supreme judge of the Malik doctrine was Shams-Eddine Al-Bisati, and the supreme judge of the Hanbali doctrine was Alaa-Eddine Ibn Ali. The governor of Alexandria at the time was the prince Nasser-Eddine Ibn Omar Al-Attar; the governor of Gaza was the prince Arqmas; the governor-general of the Levant was the prince Jaqmaq; the governor of Aleppo was the prince Yashbak Al-Yusufi; the governor of Caesarea was the prince Mohamed Bey Ibn Dalghar the Turcoman; the governor of Safad was the prince Qatlubgha; the governor of Tripoli was the prince Al-Zardakash; and the governor of Hama was the prince Aaq Palat. The ruler/emir of Mecca was the honorable Hassan Ibn Ajlan; the ruler/emir of Yathreb was the honorable Aziz Ibn Hayazi. The king of Yemen was Al-Nasser Ahmad Ibn Al-Ashraf Ismail; the king of the East was Shah Rakh Ibn Taymour; the Turkish king of Asia Minor was Mohamed Karshaji Ibn Bayezid Ibn Morad Ibn Othman. At the time, the Muhtasib of Greater Cairo was Ibrahim the son of the vizier Nasser-Eddine Mohamed Ibn Hossam; the governor of Greater Cairo was Baqlamash Ibn Ferri; the governor of the rural region of Upper Egypt was Demerdash; the governor of the rural region of Lower Egypt was Hussein Al-Kordy, who was an often-praised, pious man as per what we have heard...). We analyze such a passage in the points below.

1- (...The year 824 began...); of course, each Hijri/lunar year begins with the 1st day of the month of Muharram . 

2- (...while the caliph of the time was Al-Mo'tadid Abou Al-Fath Dawood Ibn Al-Motawakil Abdullah Mohamed...).

2/1: Al-Makrizi begins with the highest rank which was the Abbasid caliph, described by him as ''the caliph of the time''; i.e., the caliph of the whole Arab/'Muslim' world at the time and a 'holy' figure! Besides, such a title reflects not only the deification/sanctification of the Cairo-based Abbasid caliph but also the idea that Egypt was the center of the Arab/'Muslim' world since the caliph of the time resided in its capital. This is hardly surprising; at the time, the Cairo-based Abbasid caliph was a deified figure; even some kings in India and other regions sent to him letters and gifts so that he would give his benediction and authorization to them as rulers.   

2/2: Al-Makrizi begins with the Cairo-based Abbasid caliph though he was powerless but was officially number one in the hierarchy since his name is mentioned even before the name of the Mameluke sultan; the Cairo-based Abbasid caliph gave legitimacy to the Mameluke sultans and deputized them to rule after any given sultan would ascend the throne after defeating all power-seeking rivals. Another mission of the Cairo-based Abbasid caliph was to enter into the royal palace with a cortege consisting of supreme judges and high-rank fiqh scholars/sheikhs to congratulate the sultan on the occasion of the beginning of every new Hijri month of the lunar calendar. This means that this Abbasid caliph was a mere servant under the military Mameluke authority; yet, nominally, he was placed before the Mameluke sultan himself. It often happened that sultans would grow angry with the Cairo-based, powerless Abbasid caliph and have him imprisoned; the existence of the powerless but revered Abbasid caliphs in Cairo continued until the Mameluke sultanate collapsed when the Ottoman sultan Selim I conquered Egypt and annexed it as a province to the Ottoman empire; this Ottoman sultan took away from Egypt several treasures and spoils, skilled craftsman, and also the last Abbasid caliph; they were carried swiftly to the Ottoman capital at the time. Of course, the Ottoman sultan had many titles including the title (The Caliph of all Muslims) until the Ottoman caliphate collapsed in 1923 A.D.  

3- (...and the sultan of Egypt, the Levant, and Hejaz was Al-Moayyad Sheikh Abou Al-Nasr Al-Mahmoudy Al-Zahiri, but he was taken ill...).

3/1: The sultan of the Mameluke sultanate ruled three main regions:Egypt, the Levant, and the Hejaz region in Arabia, where Mecca and Yathreb are situated.

3/2: As per the protocol at the time, Al-Makrizi mentions the name of the Mameluke sultan, Al-Moayyad Sheikh, only after mentioning the name of the Cairo-based Abbasid caliph.

4- (..., but he was taken ill. Most of the Egyptian troops of soldiers were in Aleppo along with the higher military leader...The sultan kept in Greater Cairo the following Mameluke princes...). This means that at the time, when the Mameluke sultan Al-Moayyad Sheikh, was ill, the high-rank Mameluke princes were divided into two groups: one leading the troops in Aleppo and one remained in Greater Cairo. Of course, the prince Tatar remained very close to the ill sultan Al-Moayyad Sheikh; this means that Tatar planned carefully to reach the throne after removing the child-sultan, the son of Al-Moayyad Sheikh, since Al-Moayyad Sheikh appointed him as the guardian of his son.  

5- (...The grand vizier at the time was...and the secretary of the sultan was...). These were among the big criminals of the civil wing at the time.

6- (...In Greater Cairo, the supreme judge of the Al-Shafei doctrine was the Sheikh Al-Eslam Abdel-Rahman Al-Balkini, the supreme judge of the Al-Hanafy doctrine was Zayn-Eddine Ibn Abdel-Rahman, the supreme judge of the Malik doctrine was Shams-Eddine Al-Bisati, and the supreme judge of the Hanbali doctrine was Alaa-Eddine Ibn Ali...). These were among the big criminals of the religious wing at the time.

7- (...The governor of Alexandria at the time was the prince...the ruler/emir of Yathreb was the honorable...).

7/1: After mentioning the names of the four supreme judges, the names of the governors/deputies of the Mameluke sultan are mentioned.

7/2: Of course, the Mamelukes divided their State/sultanate into regions for their governors to rule in the name of the Mameluke sultans; sometimes, major cities had their own deputies/governors as per the importance of any given city; for instance, Alexandria, in Egypt, had its own governor as it was exposed to the threat of the maritime attacks by the Crusaders; the same applies to Gaza; yet, Damascus was not so important at the time to have its own governor; the cities mentioned by Al-Makrizi as having their governors seemed at the time to be important cities for any commercial or strategic reasons; of course, governors of the Levantine cities submitted to the authority of the governor-general of the Levant. Of course, Mecca and Yathreb were ruled by local emirs (who claimed being among descendants of Ali and Fatima: the nephew and daughter of Muhammad, respectively) who submitted to the Mameluke authority.

8- (...The king of Yemen was Al-Nasser Ahmad Ibn Al-Ashraf Ismail; the king of the East was Shah Rakh Ibn Taymour; the Turkish king of Asia Minor was Mohamed Karshaji Ibn Bayezid Ibn Morad Ibn Othman...). Coming next in the list are the names of kings of other regions near the Mameluke sultanate; by the way, the Turkish/Ottoman sultan mentioned here reached power in 816 A.H. until removed from the throne and replaced by Morad II in the middle of 824 A.H., the same year about which Al-Makrizi has written the above passage.

9- (...the Muhtasib of Greater Cairo was...as per what we have heard...). These big criminals are mentioned by the end of the list of names.

 

Secondly: Barsbay is not mentioned in the list of the big criminals in the above-quoted passage:

 Barsbay who became the Mameluke sultan a year later, in 825 A.H., is not mentioned in this list; this means that he was not among the major Mameluke leaders/princes in 824 A.H. This question arises: Where was Barsbay during the events of 824 A.H.? We trace his mention in the events of 824 A.H., recorded by Al-Makrizi, in the following points. 

1- (...On the 11th day of Shabaan, news came about prince Tatar as he sent prince Barsbay, the governor of Tripoli, with military troops from Aleppo to another Levantine city, Safad, along with the judge Badr-Eddine Ibn Mohamed...This made the defeated prince Jaqmaq surrender and he obeyed the prince Barsbay and went along with him to Damascus along with prince Tughan and other princes; once they reached Damascus, the governor-general of the Levant, prince Tanbak, arrested such princes. Prince Tatar reached Aleppo with his troops and then moved towards Damascus; he commanded that prince Jaqmaq was to be put to death; he banished prince Tughan to Jerusalem without appointing him in any post...Prince Tatar was bent on removing the child-sultan, the son of the late sultan Al-Moayyad Sheikh, who ruled for seven months and twenty days, and prince Tatar appointed himself as the new sultan on the 29th of Shabaan...). Within his endeavors to seek being enthroned as sultan, Tatar typically got rid of his rivals and he replaced them with his allies. This is why he appointed Barsbay as a governor of Tripoli in the Levant instead of its former governor hated by Tatar; Jaqmaq was the most powerful Mameluke figure in the Levantine region; Tatar had to get rid of him; Jaqmaq previously had Barsbay imprisoned in a castle in Damascus; he was released upon commands of Tatar; Barsbay hated Jaqmaq and sought revenge; Tatar assumed that Jaqmaq was an arch-enemy and a power-seeking rival. We tend to think that since Tatar trusted Barsbay, Barsbay must have advised him to put Jaqmaq to death once Jaqmaq surrendered after being defeated. This was not typical within the struggle for the throne during the Mameluke Era. This means that Barsbay intentionally planned to get rid of his own arch-enemy: Jaqmaq. This also means that Barsbay, as a low-rank prince, planned carefully to be very close to Tatar and to help him became the new sultan (i.e., the highest degree of big criminals) to pave the way for his own promotion; this also means that since Tatar died suddenly months later, Barsbay may have had him poisoned so that Barsbay can ascend the throne of the Mameluke sultanate. Tatar trusted Barsbay very much; he made him the guardian of his son and heir. Of course, months later after the death of Tatar, Barsbay removed the child-sultan, the son of Tatar, and appointed himself as the new sultan in 825 A.H.       

2- (...On the 3rd day of Ramadan, the sultan Tatar promoted the prince Barsbay and appointed him as the secretary inside the royal palace instead of the former secretary who died...). This means that Barsbay managed to become very close to Tatar who trusted him since he helped him to become the sultan after the removal of the child-sultan, the son of Al-Moayyad Sheikh.

3- Tatar was taken ill very suddenly and his ailment increased in Zu Al-Hijja, 824 A.H.: (...This month began while the ailment of the sultan Tatar increased; rumors spread about his imminent death...On the 2nd day of Zu Al-Hijja, the sultan Tatar brought into the royal palace the Abbasid caliph, the four supreme judges, all Mameluke princes, and high-rank employees...They became witnesses, within an official ceremony, within the decree of the ill sultan Tatar to appoint his son, prince Mohamed, as his heir and successor to the throne, under the guardianship of princes Barsbay, Tarbay, and Janbak...All attendees in such a gathering swore fealty to the heir...). Hence, when Tatar died, the three guardians (of course, both Tarbay and Janbak were older and higher in rank than Barsbay) ruled the sultanate nominally headed by the child-sultan Mohamed Ibn Tatar.  

4- The child-sultan Mohamed Ibn Tatar was enthroned within legitimacy as per the decree of his late father, but this was like an interim period until the struggle among major Mameluke princes would end: they were divided into two rival groups headed by Janbak and Barsbay (as for Tarbay, he joined the group of the allies of Barsbay); of course, Barsbay at the time controlled and lived in the royal palace. This is what Al-Makrizi has written about appointing the child Mohamed Ibn Tatar as sultan: (...At the age of ten years, and once his father the sultan Tatar died, he was appointed as sultan and he assumed the throne as per the decree of his late father made within an official ceremony in the royal palace. On the 4th day of Zu Al-Hijja, 824 A.H., all princes gathered in the palace to attend the coronation ceremony and to swear fealty to the new sultan; yet, prince Janbak did not attend; he was summoned, but he refused to show up; yet, many princes came to him in his mansion and convinced him to attend; once he attended, the ceremony began; the child-sultan Mohamed Ibn Tatar was given the title Al-Saleh; criers/callers roamed the streets of Greater Cairo to urge people to pray for the late sultan and also to hail and pray for the new sultan...Prince Janbak and his allies among the Mameluke princes remained in his mansion; prince Barsbay remained in the palace along his allies among the Mameluke princes...Both parties seemed ready and eager to fight...).

5- Of course, the struggle ended by the victory of Barsbay who managed to deceive Janbak; Barsbay became the only man fit or qualified to become the new Mameluke sultan; he was ready to remove the child-sultan without expecting any objection from any of the high-rank Mameluke princes. Al-Makrizi writes the following: (...Many Mameluke soldiers led by prince Janbak received stones thrown at them from the walls of the royal palace; many people in Greater Cairo feared that an armed strife would occur soon and remained indoors; the gates of the palace were closed; drums of war were heard everywhere; many soldiers in full armor and other Mameluke princes joined prince Tarbay who went to the mansion of prince Janbak and blamed him for not going out for the Greater Bairam prayers; he was convinced to join them; they marched along with the princes Tarbay and Janbak and once both the princes Janbak and his chief ally Yashbak entered into the mansion of Tarbay, he closed its gates while they remained inside; hence, Tarbay, who allied himself to Barsbay, managed to deceive them and both were taken prisoners later on inside the dungeons of the royal palace...).

6- We notice here that the name of Barsbay is featured on the headlines of the history written by Al-Makrizi about the beginning of 825 A.H.: (...The year 825 began while...the sultan of Egypt, the Levant, and Hejaz was Al-Saleh Mohamed Ibn Tatar Al-Dhahiry, under the guardianship of the big prince Barsbay Al-Diqmaqi and the higher military leader prince Tarbay). Thus, Barsbay has joined the list of names of the big criminals at the time.

7- (...On the 6th day of Rabei Akhar, the governor-general of the Levantine region was allowed to continue in his position by the prince Barsbay the guardian of the child-sultan Mohamed Ibn Tatar; he approved of the decision of the prince Barsbay to remove the child-sultan and to rule as sultan instead; hence, on the 8th day of Rabei Akhar, the child-sultan Al-Saleh Mohamed Ibn Tatar was dethroned; the duration of his reign was four months and three days...).

8- Al-Makrizi writes the following about the sultan Barsbay: (...The new sultan was Al-Ashraf Barsbay Al-Diqmaqi Al-Dhahiry the Circassian; shortly before his being enthroned as sultan, Barsbay devised a plan to imprison prince Tarbay who helped him in his efforts to ascend to power; the imprisonment of the prince Tarbay was approved of earlier by the governor-general of the Levant...The official coronation ceremony was attended by the Abbasid caliph, the four supreme judges, and all Mameluke princes as well as all viziers, courtiers, statesmen, and high-rank officials; all of them swore fealty to the sultan Barsbay on the 8th day of Rabei Akhar, 825 A.H., and the criers/callers roamed the streets of Greater Cairo to announce the good news and to urge people to hail and pray for the new sultan...).

9- Al-Makrizi draws a moral lesson here; Al-Moayyad Sheikh, within his struggle to reach power and ascend the throne, made Tatar draw nearer and closer to him though Tatar was a low-rank Mameluke prince; he promoted Tatar and made him the guardian of his own son; soon enough after the death of Al-Moayyad Sheikh, Tatar removed the child-sultan, the son of Al-Moayyad Sheikh, from the throne and got enthroned as the new sultan. Within his efforts to consolidate his power and fortify his position as sultan, Tatar made Barsbay draw nearer and closer to him though Barsbay was a low-rank Mameluke prince; he promoted Barsbay and made him the guardian of his own son (along with a second guardian, Tarbay the higher military leader of the Mameluke troops, and a third guardian: Janbak); soon enough after the death of the sultan Tatar (or his murder by poison?) after a short-lived ailment, Barsbay removed the child-sultan, the son of Tatar, from the throne and got enthroned as the new sultan after he had Tarbay imprisoned. Al-Makrizi writes the following: (...Readers who are possessed with reason should draw a moral lesson from such events; the sultan Al-Moayyad Sheikh nurtured, promoted, and helped prince Tatar who was a low-rank Mameluke and a weak one who previously fled from the wrath of the sultan Al-Nasser Farag; sooner than expected, prince Tatar became the most important Mameluke prince in Egypt and also the guardian of the child-sultan, Ahmad Ibn Al-Moayyad Sheikh, but prince Tatar removed him from the throne and became the sultan. The sultan Tatar sent this removed child-sultan and his mother to solitary confinement in a chamber in the royal palace. When the sultan Tatar was about to die, he made prince Barsbay – who was one of his relatives – the guardian of his son and heir along with other two guardians: the prince Janbak and the prince Tarbay who was the higher military leader. Before that, the sultan Tatar nurtured, promoted, and helped prince Barsbay though he was a minor and low-rank prince in Damascus who had no ambitions at all except keeping his post; the sultan Tatar made prince Barsbay the most important Mameluke prince in Egypt; prince Barsbay removed the child-sultan, Al-Saleh Mohamed Ibn Tatar, and ruled instead of him as caliph; Barsbay thus imitated his master Tatar and followed his footsteps; when the sultan Tatar had some of the governors/princes of the Levant arrested, and when prince Tarbay was arrested in Egypt, and only the governor-general of the Levant; i.e., Barsbay, remained free, Tatar sent a letter for him, telling him to choose between remaining the governor-general of the Levant or to replace the imprisoned prince Tarbay in Egypt by assuming his post in Cairo; of course, Barsbay chose to come to Egypt to fill in the post left vacant by the dismissed and imprisoned prince Tarbay, who later on was released from prison, but Barsbay seized the chance to draw nearer to the sultan Tatar. Few months after the death of the sultan Tatar, Barsbay became the sultan after he removed the child-sultan, Al-Saleh Mohamed Ibn Tatar, and sent him along with his mother to solitary confinement in a chamber in the royal palace; indeed, those who commit evil pay for it...).  

10- Al-Makrizi mentions the following about the beginning of 826 A.H.: (...This year began while the sultan of Egypt, the Levant, and Hejaz was Al-Ashraf Barsbay Al-Diqmaqi Al-Dhahiry...). Eventually, Barsbay reached the ranks of the biggest among the big criminals!

11- The sultan Barsbay remained enthroned until he died, after a long period of painful ailment, in Zu Al-Hijja, 841 A.H.

 

Lastly:

1- Al-Makrizi mentions the following about Barsbay in the deaths of 841 A.H.: (...The Mameluke sultan Al-Ashraf Barsbay Al-Diqmaqi Al-Dhahiry died on Saturday, 13th of Zu Al-Hijja, at the age of sixty. His father was a very poor, lowly man in his country; he sent his son, Barsbay, as an apprentice to a blacksmith; when the father of Barsbay died, his mother re-married; the step-father of Barsbay sold him into slavery to a Jewish man; Barsbay served this Jew for a long while and he imbibed the traits and manners of this Jew who eventually sold him to join the Mamelukes of the prince Diqmaq who, when he became the governor of Malta, gave Barsbay along with other Mameluke soldiers as a gift for the sultan Barqoq. This sultan made Barsbay join the ranks of the Burji Mameluke soldiers who lived in the towers near the royal palace; the sultan Barqoq freed Barsbay and gave him gifts and horses after he made him a leader/prince; when the sultan Al-Nasser Farag was enthroned, Barsbay was sent to the Levant where he served prince Nowruz and then prince Sheikh; when the sultan Al-Nasser Farag was assassinated, the newly appointed sultan who succeeded him, Al-Moayyad Sheikh, brought Barsbay, among other leaders of his troops, into Egypt; Barsbay became a governor of the rural region in Upper Egypt; Barsbay was later on appointed as the governor of Tripoli, in the Levant, but the sultan Al-Moayyad Sheikh later dismissed him and had him imprisoned in a castle in the Levant; yet, months later, the sultan Al-Moayyad Sheikh released Barsbay and appointed him as the governor of another Levantine city. Once the sultan Al-Moayyad Sheikh died, the prince Jaqmaq, the governor-general of the Levant, imprisoned Barsbay. Prince Tatar released Barsbay and promoted him when he came to the Levant, and he brought Barsbay to Greater Cairo to work in the palace after Tatar became the sultan after he removed the child-sultan, the son of Al-Moayyad Sheikh, from the throne. When the sultan Tatar died, Barsbay who was the guardian of the child-sultan, Mohamed Ibn Tatar, managed to defeat all throne-seeking rivals and he removed the child-sultan from the throne and ruled instead as the sultan of Egypt, the Levant, and Hejaz. The sultan Barsbay was feared by most Mameluke princes and high-rank employees, and they served him faithfully until he died. There were no major wars during the reign of the sultan Barsbay inside the borders of the sultanate...The bad traits of the sultan Barsbay included greed, stinginess, cowardice, cruelty, moodiness, and committing grave injustices more often than not; he was always suspicious of everyone around him, and he hated and despised his subjects in Egypt; he changed his mind a lot and never had a permanent stance regarding anything or anyone; his reign included news of plight and destruction which reached unprecedented levels in both Egypt and the Levant at the times of the plague and the famines; common people grew poorer during his reign; many people hated the sultan Barsbay as he never punished cruel, unjust governors and rulers...In general, the sultan Barsbay managed always to have his way regarding almost everything, and he vanquished his enemies all the time; all people sighed in relief when he died; may the holy Name of the Eternal King and Omnipotent Lord God be glorified...).

2- Barsbay was born and raised in Caucasia, the region from which most Jilban Mamelukes came; this is why the Burji Mamelukes were named as the Circassian Mamelukes. Had Barsbay remained in his native country, he would never have been mentioned in history books and he would never have been among the big criminals featured on the headlines.

 

 

 


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