Emma B. Hawkins

title.none: Winter and Levanoni, eds., The Mamluks (Emma B. Hawkins)

identifier.other: baj9928.0608.017 06.08.17

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Emma B. Hawkins, Lamar University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Winter, Michael and Amalia Levanoni, eds. The Mamluks in Egyptian and Syrian Politics and Society. Series: The Medieval Mediterranean, vol. 51. Leiden: Brill, 2004. Pp. xxii, 450. $182.00 90-04-13286-4. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.08.17

Winter, Michael and Amalia Levanoni, eds. The Mamluks in Egyptian and Syrian Politics and Society. Series: The Medieval Mediterranean, vol. 51. Leiden: Brill, 2004. Pp. xxii, 450. $182.00 90-04-13286-4. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Emma B. Hawkins
Lamar University

Comprised of nineteen papers delivered at an international conference conducted at the Universities of Haifa and Tel-Aviv in May 2000, The Mamluks in Egyptian and Syrian Politics and Society extends coverage beyond the strictly Egyptian associations examined in an earlier Mamluk symposium held in 1994, to include Syrian aspects. Indeed, parts four and seven dedicate five chapters to Syrian connections. So, too, does chapter two of the first part. For libraries, personal as well as those of educational institutions, and individuals interested in medieval life around the Mediterranean, especially Middle Eastern and Islamic cultures, the book also constitutes volume 51 of the series The Medieval Mediterranean: Peoples, Economies and Cultures, 400-1500. The articles collected between the bright blue hard-back covers, including an article by each of the editors (Michael Winter and Amalia Levanoni), are the products of research conducted by Mamluk and/or Islamic scholars, mostly educators from Universities in America, Belgium, Britain, Israel, and Provence.

Since the scope of coverage is so broad in geography (Egypt and Syria and points in between), time (from the establishment of Mamluk rule in 1250 to the end of the eighteenth century when direct Ottoman rule of Egypt ceased), and subject matter (any topic relating to either politics or society), comprehensive coverage of either a particular view or any single facet of life is not possible. Topics range from architecture (the red mosque at Safed and the architectural significance of houses constructed in an urban context); through economy, the function of "silver dirhams" in the Mamluk monetary system (222); weaponry, the importance of gunpowder and firearms; an attack on the abuse of divorce oaths; to the hostile symbolic relationship between Mamluks and Bedouins in Ottoman Egypt.

Very wisely placed, a thorough yet succinct definition of "Mamluk" is furnished by Hanna Taragan in the very first chapter (9). Though initially derived as a means of supplying warriors, the Mamluk system evolved from a primarily military structure to include politics and all other aspects of society. Naturally, many of the chapters concentrate on issues connected to a single area of interest. Chapter two emphasizes both the treachery and loyalty of two Mamluk commanders and a civilian leader during the invasion and occupation of Damascus in 1300 by a Mongol army under the leadership of Ilkhan Ghazan. Chapter five, the lengthiest in the book, describes and discusses the "new pattern of Mamluk factionalism" that developed during the Circassian period, 1382-1517. To safeguard (rather than "safegard" on page 83) his position and rule, the sultan instituted the new practice of separating the command-level, senior Mamluks who were experienced as well as older veterans who had not grown up in their own Mamluk households, from the rank-and-file Mamluk, the "julban", the new warriors who had been purchased and trained during the sultan's own rule. Chapter seven focuses on the governance of Jerusalem, Mamluk rather than civilian, for twenty-eight years (1468- 95) during the reign of sultan Qaytbay, as recorded by the contemporary scholar and historian of Jerusalem, Mujir al-Din al- Ulaymi. Chapter fourteen examines the "last functioning Mamluk system in history", located in Syria (after an absence of 250 years) not Egypt, in Acre (in Sidon) not Cairo, and under the direction of Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar, not a sultan but, rather, a refugee Mamluk from Egypt (319).

Perhaps the most fascinating of chapters is chapter four which deals with Frederic Bauden's discovery of an unknown manuscript authored by al-Maqrizi (d. 1441). Though deemed valuable in its own right as the note-book of a famous medieval Egyptian historian, even more amazingly, the folios of the al-Maqrizi note-book were written on "scribbling paper" that had formerly been part of Mamluk chancery documents from the period 1342-45. After careful restoration, Bauden recognized that he had recovered the records that granted a title (amir tablkhana ) and a monetary reward of 450,000 dirhams per year to Baligh b. Yusuf b. Tayyi in exchange for his betrayal of al- Nasir Ahmad (69, 24n) to his younger brother, Imad al-din Abu ad-Fida Isma'il (65), in order to prevent Ahmad from ruling Egypt from al- Karak. Based on information furnished by al-Maqrizi himself, Bauden theorizes that at a time of particular disarray (1389-99) when sultan Barquq was forced to flee Cairo following a revolt of emirs, many documents that had been stored in the chancery were sold as scrap paper to paper merchants by weight. Apparently after the price of paper escalated, al-Maqrizi purchased such "scraps of paper" upon which he made reading notes and some personal works, including the note-book later restored by Bauden (75).

Women receive limited attention. On one hand, Michael Winter devotes a few pages to women as "founders", "administrators", and/or recipients of the benefits offered via "waqfs" (298), and Donald Richards mentions a few women who are named in death notices or inventories of effects. On the other hand, in "The Estate of Al-Khuwand Fatima Al- Khassbakiyya: Royal Spouse, Autonomous Investor", Carl F. Petry focuses entirely upon a solitary woman, Al-Khassbakiyya. Although over half the chapter is spent in listing Fatima's property, eight pages pay tribute to the "sophisticated [female] investor" who turned to profit the limited opportunities open to her under the male- dominated financial and political conditions of the time (284). No mere "bystander", she exercised power by legitimately acquiring and managing charitable trusts called "waqfs", fixed properties that yielded specific income (rents) on a regular basis (285). Her investments included rentable residences, retail shops, agricultural lands and irrigation rights.

In an interesting argument entitled "Gunpowder and Firearms in the Mamluk Sultanate Reconsidered", Robert Irwin challenges some previous conclusions drawn by historians such as David Ayalon and J.R. Partington and the predominant evaluation that the Mamluk Sultanate ultimately was unable to effectively defend itself against the Ottoman and Christian West onslaught because it failed to adopt the new military technology--gunpowder and firearms. Mamluk military leaders were neither knowledgeable nor appreciative of the benefits of artillery, muskets and handguns on the battlefield. Having consulted Western sources that Ayalon did not use, Irwin argues that the Mamluks did resort to firearms when they offered some benefit; however, on a "material and logistical basis" the "clear advantage" just did not often materialize (128), especially in the fifteen and sixteen centuries and at the battles at Marj Dabiq and Raydaniyya in which the Mamluk were defeated (136-37).

Several problems will force readers to pause or backtrack, such as the misleading topic sentence of the long paragraph that begins on page 126 and extends to the top of 127. The author notes first that he will consider "several serious weaknesses" of medieval cannon. Next, he proceeds to handle four such weaknesses. However, the fifth weakness applies to handguns, not cannon; the sixth weakness can apply to any gun (cannon, muskets or handguns) that requires metal balls; number seven seems to be returning to cannon, at least to large guns capable of producing a recoil powerful enough to break a gunner's ribs; and the eighth weakness covers heavy and light guns. The author seems to have either fallen victim to the same terminology trap to which he claims Ayalon and Partington succumbed, that of creating confusion via the "overlapping use" of a word (120), or, rather than cannon, in the topic sentence he intended to use a more general term, an umbrella word to cover all firearms, including the handguns of five and the vague use of "guns" is six through eight. On a lighter note, he does suggest that "early guns were most effective in frightening the horses" rather than guaranteeing military victory (127).

Omitted, misplaced and misspelled words account for most of the editing/printing oversights. For examples, see the omissions of "with" between "together" and "Qipchaq" on the third line of page 32; "be" between the words "to" and "used" on page 120 (sixth line); or "to" between "able" and "loose" on the twelfth line of page 126. On page 330, the first word on line twelve is unnecessary. "Endowments" is misspelled on line twenty-seven of page 157, and "joint" is used instead of "joined" on the last line of page 325. Since yearly dates from the 1400s are mentioned several times in the paragraph, the failure to place the number assigned to footnote fourteen in superscript on page 120 stopped me long enough to determine that I had merely encountered a printing problem and not an incomplete and misplaced date. Overall, this volume provides informative reading about the medieval Mamluk system and should increase understanding of and, perhaps, provoke further thought about the current state of conflict in that region of the world. The articles will probably be of greatest scholarly value to those individuals seeking to clarify or enhance their own arguments via previous research published on some particular aspect of the Mamluk system.