as-Sikka السكة
The Online Journal of The Islamic Coins Group 
as-Sikka is a peer reviewed publication
ISSN 1496-4414 

  Winter 1999/2000AD / 1420AH Vol. 1.2

 

Foes of the Crusaders, The Mamluks 1248-1290AD, A brief introduction
By Richard Bilak,

 

With the arrival of the Mamluks as a dynasty on the scene, the Crusades were in the endgame of a 200 year old chess match. Beginning in 1248 King Louis IX of France lead the seventh crusade. The choice of target was Egypt which was rapidly being recognized as the richest and most powerful of Muslim provinces known to the Crusaders. This Seventh Crusade ended in the defeat of the French army, but before that, dramatic and history making events had, and were about to take place.

Even before Louis IX adventure in Egypt, the mamluk army of al-Salih Ayyub had been restless. When the dust settled following the seventh crusade, and with the death of Al-Salih Ayyub the Mamluks seized power in Egypt and assassinated his son Turan-Shah in AH648/1252AD. But they had to face a more serious threat than the Crusaders. The unstoppable Mongols, led by Hulagu had occupied Damascus and Aleppo by AH658/1260AD and were marching on Egypt. The two armies met at Ayn Jallout south of Damascus in AH658/1260AD and  in a dramatic turn of events, the Mongols were defeated by the Mamluks of Qutuz. After routing another Mongol attack that resulted in the destruction of Aleppo the Mamluks firmly established themselves in the Levant. The constant threat of the Crusaders was dealt a final blow when in  AH690/1291, the Mamluks crushed them at Acre effectively bringing the Chapter of the Crusades to an end in the Levant.

An interesting aspect of the history of the Crusades is the availability of accounts from both sides of the struggle. Both Francesco Gabrieli (1) and Amin Maalouf (2) address the period from the Muslim point of view. I have chosen to include a short version of the account of the fall of Acre From Gabrielis book below:

 

The Fall of Acre

Abu'l-Fida

"One night during the siege the Franks made a sortie, put the outposts to flight and reached the tents, where they became tangled up in the guy-ropes. One knight fell into the latrine trench. A soldier from one of the Amir's detachments killed him quickly. Our troops turned out in overwhelming numbers and the Franks turned tail and fled back to the city, leaving a number of dead accounted for by the Hama Army. The next morning Al-Malik al-Muzaffar, Lord of Hama, had a number of heads attached to the necks of horses we had captured and presented them to the Sultan al-Malik al-Ashraf."

" The blockade was continually reinforced, until God granted to the attackers victory over the city on Friday 10 Jumada II/17 June 1291. As the Muslims stormed the city some of the citizens took to the sea in boats. Within the city were a number of well fortified towers, and some Franks shut themselves inside them and defended them. The Muslim killed vast numbers of people and gathered immense booty.The Sultan forced all in the towers to surrender, and they submitted to last man,and to the last man were decapitated outside the city walls. At the Sultan's command the city was razed to the ground."

" An amazing coincidence occurred; the Franks seized Acre from Saladin at midday on 17jumada 587 and captured and killed all the Muslims therein; and God in his prescience destined that this year it should be re-conquered at the hand of another Saladin, The Sultan al-Malik al-Ashraf."

"Soon thereafter the Franks gave up the Levant and the well fortified cities were demolished."

Translated literally the term "mamluk" means owned. This does not equated to the slavery we are accustomed to. A mamluk was "acquired" either by purchase or capture. He was then trained as a solider, bodyguard, or gentleman-at-arms. A mamluk was brought up and cared for by his owner. If a mamluk's courage and services to his master were outstanding, the mamluk could be freed. If the mamluk was really gifted he could attain the rank of Amir. Being a mamluk carried no stigma, quite the opposite. They were proud of having served the great princes and lord and thought of themselves as the ruling class of the country (Egypt in this case).

Who were the Mamluk during the Crusader period?

Aybak AH648-655/1250-1257, One of the leading Mamluks of his time, became the newly elected King of Egypt. Married Queen Shajar al-Dur. Aybak put down several challenges to his power and consolidated the government.

Ali I AH655-657/1257-1259AD, The incompetent son of Aybak who was pushed aside by the great general Qutuz.

Qutuz AH657-658/1259-1260AD, The army under his command wiped out the remaining forces of the Ayyubid al-Mughith Umar. Then in a hard fought battle in Syria at Ayn Jalut the Mamluks defeated the Mongols with huge losses. On his way to Cairo, Qutuz was murdered by rival Amirs.

Baybers I AH658-676/1260-1277, Probably one of the greatest rulers in the Islamic world. With his election as Sultan began one of the most glorious periods in Moslem Egypt. First he wiped out the Crusader threat on the Syrian coast. Second, he defeated the Mongols occupying Iraq and Asia Minor. On the home front Baybers handled the affairs of state with skill, wisdom, and energy. His government was just, enlightened, and he was popular with his subjects.

Unfortunately his two sons, Barak Qan AH676-679/1277-1279AD and Salmish AH678/1279AD were unable and incapable of carrying on the family tradition.

Qala'un AH678-689/1279-1290AD, Near the end of 1281, Qala'un too, fought with the Mongols and wiped them out near Hims. Next he finished off what was left of the Crusaders on the Syrian coast. There was nothing left of the Christian forces by the time Qala'un died in 1290.

For the first ten years Mamluk coinage suffered from an identity crisis. The coins looked so similar to Ayyubid coinage that it is referred to as "Pseudo-Ayyubid type". When Baybers was finally established as Sultan in AH658 he authorized new designed for gold and silver.

Baybers I began to mint 3 new designs of coinage. They were:

A. Square in circle type
B. A lion reverse type similar to the trams of Celica
C. A new type with the Lion passant on the reverse

For the next 40 years the design of Mamluk coinage did not change much. The denominations used by the Mamluks where as follows:

Gold Dinar at 4.25 grams. Earlier dinars varied quite a bit in weight and were traded by weight. These were known as Bullion dinars.
Silver Dirhams, The original weight of 2.9 grams was attempted, however inflation and the scarcity of silver at times affected the weight.
Copper Fulus, The workhorse of everyday transactions weighted anywhere from 2.9-4.25 grams and at times was treated as a token coinage.

The mints during this period, 1250-1290AD were Cairo, Alexandria, Damascus, Hamah, and Aleppo. Cairo and Alexandria did the bulk of the gold and silver mintage. Damascus did most of the copper.

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