Hello and Welcome to the History of the Copts. Episode 97. Epilogue
As I mentioned in our last episode – The goal here is give a broad overview of the political and social world of the Mamluks.
The Mamluks ruled Egypt – with brief interruptions from 1250 AD – all the way to 1805 AD – A really really long time.
Obviously I won’t attempt to go through everything – and to keep things reasonable – even this overview would end at 1517 AD – when the Ottomans conquered Egypt.
Just know – the Ottomans rule, more or less was theoretical. The Mamluks still ran the show, until Napoleon all but killed them – and Mohammed Ali – finished the job a few years after in 1805 AD.
Now – to understand the Mamluks, there is a passage from Ibn Khaldun, a 15th century philosopher – that perfectly sums up their situation. I am going to quote in full as it does a wonderful job of describing the relationship between ruler and his people
“ When the ['Abbasid] state was drowned in decadence and luxury and donned the garments of calamity and impotence and was overthrown by the heathen Mongols, who abolished the seat of the Caliphate and obliterated the splendor of the lands and made unbelief prevail in place of belief, because the people of the faith, sunk in self-indulgence, preoccupied with pleasure and abandoned to luxury, had become deficient in energy and reluctant to rally in defense, and had stripped off the skin of courage and the emblem of manhood - then, it was God's benevolence that He rescued the faith by reviving its dying breath and restoring the unity of the Muslims in the Egyptian realms, preserving the order and defending the walls of Islam. He did this by sending to the Muslims, from this Turkish nation and from among its great and numerous tribes, rulers to defend them and utterly loyal helpers, who were brought from the House of War to the House of Islam under the rule of slavery, which hides in itself a divine blessing. By means of slavery they learn glory and blessing and are exposed to divine providence; cured by slavery, they enter the Muslim religion with the firm resolve of true believers and yet with nomadic virtues unsullied by debased nature, unadulterated with the filth of pleasure, undefiled by the ways of civilized living, and with their ardor unbroken by the profusion of luxury. The slave merchants bring them to Egypt in batches, like sandgrouse to the watering places, and government buyers have them displayed for inspection and bid for them, raising the price above their value. They do this not in order to subjugate them, but because it intensifies loyalty, increases power, and is conducive to ardent zeal. They choose from each group, according to what they observe of the characteristics of the race and the tribes. Then they place them in a government barracks where they give them good and fair treatment, educate them, have them taught the Qur'an and kept at their religious studies until they have a firm grasp of this. Then they train them in archery and fencing, in horsemanship, in hippodromes, and in thrusting with the lance and striking with the sword until their arms grow strong and their skills become firmly rooted.”
As you can see from Ibn Khaladoun words – The mamluks legitimacy and acceptance by the Muslims – at least the educated elite - rested on really one pillar.
The ability to maintain the status of Islam and defending it from outsiders in the absence of the Caliphate
Unlike all other Islamic dynasties – the Mamluks relied not on lineage to the prophet or any other religious structure to prop up their rule as chosen Imams. Nope – from the beginning to the very end – it was about one thing and one thing alone. Who was the strongest.
They were seen as outsiders – divine helpers as Ibn Khaldun puts it. Nomads meant to carry the sword, so Ibn Khaldoun and his colleagues can pursue other more meaningful things.
They were not supposed to make laws, proclaim religious beliefs, build a just society. You know, like other medieval rulers.
Nope – that was the job of the imams – the religious scholars. Their job was to live and die as warriors. Defending the lands of Islam.
Now – in their vulnerable position as outsiders, a Mamluk state had very little chance of surviving beyond a few years – if it wasn’t for the legend of Ayn Jalut.
A battle – portrayed to this day – as a showdown between the evil pagan mongols against the last standing stronghold of Islam.
A showdown – where Islam was saved from total destruction by the courage and the strength of the Mamluks.
A Battle that cemented their legitimacy and their role in the Islamic world.
And so – we must talk about the Mongols.
Around the year 1206 – a warlord named Temujin – aka Genghis Khan managed to unite the ever-warring Mongol tribes – and built a state, convinced that it had a heavenly decree to conquer the entire world
For the next fifty years, first under Genghis Khan and then, after his death in 1227, under his sons, the Mongols exploded across the face of the Earth.
By 1250 – when we stopped. Their empire stretched from China to Eastern Europe – and from Siberia to Anatolia – crushing everyone in it’s path in the process.
Six years later – 1256. Their assault on the Middle East started – led by a certain Hulegu, the brother of the Khan Monkgke – Gegnhis Khan grandson.
In two years, Baghadad fell and was razed to the ground with 30,000 Muslims slaughtered in the wake of the conquest.
A year later – the Mongolian horde crossed the Euphrates and entered Syria – where for the last decade – the land was devastated by a succession of the Khwarzemians, Mamluk and Ayybuids Amirs fighting – and even Mamluk factional fighting
Aleppo was captured – with the aid of the Crusader kingdom of Antioch – and also razed to the ground
The rest of Syria – truly terrified of a fate similar to Baghadad and Aleppo – surrendered
And Damascus – where Salah el Din body was put to rest, was taken without a fight.
This sort of carnage and humiliation was exactly what the illegitimate Mamluk warlords needed to establish themselves.
The warlord running Egypt – Qutuz – took the opportunity and eliminated a young ayybuid prince who was kept around as a puppet
Similarly - another warlord in Syria – Baybars, took the opportunity and negotiated a working arrangement with Qutuz – where both looked forward to the day they get to eliminate the other. But, saw a benefit in using the fear of the Mongols in their advantage.
And truth be told – they had plenty of reasons to think they can stop the horde.
First- Baghadad and Aleppo had no army – not anything like the Mamluks anyway.
Second – and this is much more important. The Khan died in 1260 Ad- and his brother, took the vast majority of the army with him back to Mongolia to figure out the succession
And so – they were not facing the same army that steamrolled everyone – nope, rather a tiny fraction of that army
To their credit, the Mamluks knew war – and constantly used every trick in the book to gain advantage on their enemies
So – they didn’t wait in Egypt until the succession of the Khan is figured out – Nope - Qutuz and Baybars immediately set out to Palestine. To defeat the Mongols while they were distracted.
And so – the legend of Aun Jalut took place – where the Mamluks stopped the tide of the Mongols and saved Islam from total destruction
And I say legend – because on the ground. The quote unquote “Mongolian” army that was defeated was really a token force – and had its entire left wing was made up from Muslim allies.
Nonetheless, like all great moments of history. All what matters was what was remembered, not what had actually happened.
In the aftermath of the battle, Qutuz and Baybars took control of Damascus and Aleppo before deciding to call it a day and return back to Egypt
On their way back, Baybars asked Qutuz to take a slave girl. When Qutuz agreed, Baybars approached to kiss his hands
A ruse designed to immobilize him – while another Mamluk stabs him from the back.
And – so, 10 years after the death of Najm el Din, the last Sultan of Egypt and Syria. We get a new one, Baybars.
He ruled for 17 years – where he built a lot of the foundational structures of Mamluk state.
With the Mongols never really coming back in force- busy with their own infighting.
Those foundational structure were – a honed military machine – with up to 40,000 soldiers ready at all time.
A one-generation nobility – where elite Mamluks rose by sheer will, but their children ended well-off, but never part of that military elite
A state of constant warfare – either against the Crusaders – until Acre fell in 1291 and they were no longer European colonies in Palestine
Or Monglian Persia
Or – if all else failed against each other.
And – lastly – locally, a system of Iqta3at – literally parts. Where lands were parced out from the Sultan to other Mamluks. Each with own little fiefdom to do with it as they wished.
Only answering to Cairo via supplying men for war and annual tribute, taxes if you want to call it that – nothing more.
When that Mamluk died – his land was confiscated and given to another. Enforcing, the one generation nobility
In the civil realm – the Mamluk – as the Ayybuids, and the fatimids before them employed Copts widely but with a twist
Where – at some point, the forced their conversion to Islam to ensure their loyalty.
The sources speak of many Copts in the government in the age of the Mamluks – but, almost of all of them were converts – no longer Christian
Similarly – when it came to religious policy. The Mamluks as outsiders felt that it was necessary for them to display at least a façade of religious zeal.
And so, Sunni Orthodoxy reigned supreme –
The pro-typical imam of the period is a certain Ibn Taymiyya – perhaps the most intolerant and extreme religious scholar of Islam
These factors – meant that the age of the Mamluks really decimated the Christian population in Egypt
A dark and a long tunnel.
Right away – With Aqtay in 1250 AD – his wazir was pressured to convert to Islam and then preceded to try and get his favorite monk ordained Patriarch
None of the bishops participated – But, he pushed the ordination anyway with no bishops
One of Awlad Al A’asal – al-Amjad organized his colleagues and picked another monk – a scholar named Ghuybrial
After – a tense standoff – the convert Wazir faction won and his favorite monk was ordained as Athanasius the Third
When he died, 11 years later – the same story happened again. Al-Amjad and his colleagues picked Ghuybrial and ordained him with the approval of the bishops
But, The sultan wazir, one Baha' al-Din ibn Hanna, - probably a convert from the name, although hard to say definitively - was happy to accept a bribe of five thousand dinars
And remove Ghuybrial – pushing another candidate. John the seventh
Five years later- in the reign of Baybars – the Patriarchy was asked to contribute the massive sum of fifty thousand denars – to support his war effort
When John said he can’t do it. He was removed and Ghuybrial was brought back
But he too – said he can’t do it. So, he after a brief reign, he was deposed – and John was brought back
Serving as the Patriarch until 1293.
You see – from 1250 AD to 1517 – there was a total 18 patriarchs who left very little in terms of materials to work with.
We know though, that in that period – the hand of the mamluks was consistently heavy – removing and bringing whom they wished
The Patriarch was simply a cash transfer point – between the Christians and the government.
If he failed at his job – another one can be brought easily
And if truth be told – the Mamluks age brought other challenges than government interventions in picking the Patriarch
In 1301 – the government decreed that all churches be closed.
In 1321 – a massive country wide movement against Christians erupted – with open lynching and wide-spread church destruction – at least 60 per surviving eyewitness accounts
In 1347 – the bubonic plague arrived in Egypt – perhaps killing as much as one third of the total population and coming back 20 times in a 200 year span of our overview
In 1354 – another anti-Christian riots took place – a moment where a lot of scholars point to as the where the Coptic population of Egypt dipped below 10% with plague followed up with a massive conversion wave
As the history of the Patriarchs puts it
“many afflictions came upon the Christians: some were killed and some burned; they nailed some and paraded them on camels; they forced them to wear blue turbans”
A French noble visited Cairo in 1395 – and noted that the Patriarch at the time – a certain Mathew was “very good and charitable person, not only as it is reputed, but as he demonstrates in a definite manner by feeding a thousand or more poor people every day”
Who – just happened to end up being jailed three different times by the Mamluks – probably for feeding the poor instead of giving them the money
During his time – in an obscure incidence. Christians were rounded up and executed by the government.
Al- Maqrizi – a Muslim historians briefly mentions something similar – quote
“a party of men and women came to Cairo and mentioned that they had apostatized from Islam, that before [becoming Muslims] they had been Christians, and that by their apostasy they desired to be brought near to Christ through the shedding of their blood. They were offered Islam several times, but they did not accept it, and said: "We have come to be purified and brought near to the Lord Christ."
Mathew’s biography, the only substantial biography of this period – contains 49 of their names. For the world to remember them.
A fitting end for our Podcast – to not forget their sacrifice.
Here are the names.
The monk - Ya'qub Abu Muqaytif
Three nuns – his spiritual daughters
Iliyya from the People of Durunkah
Sidrak and Fadl from the monastery of St. Anthony
Arasniyus al Habashi
The priest Quzman al-Kharraz
The priest Abu Faraj
The priest Rufa’il
The priest Yuhanna from the people of Tukh
The latin priest – not given a name
Four latin priests from Jerusalem
The monk Musa and his six companions
Hadid from Giza who refused to convert as his grandfather had done
Nasr and Abu Ishaq – two teenagers from Misr
Yaiqub and Yuhanna from Sunbat
Bulus from Bani Khasib
Furayj and Mikhail from Tanan
The priest Ya’qub who converted but returned the next day and was martyred
The monks Mansur and Da’ud who died after refused to convert
Ibrahim al Suryani – a monk who converted and came back
Isa the Armenian
Abu al faraj al banna from al-Maqs
Ghubruyal from Huw
Ibrahim from Shubra
Ya’qub from al-Manawat
Jirjis Ibn al-Rahibah
Thank you for listening – farewell for the last time.
The History of the Patriarchs by" multiple
The Coptic Encyclopedia by" Aziz S. Atiya (editor)
The Cambridge History of Egypt, Vol. 1: Islamic Egypt, 640-1517 by" Carl F. Petry (Editor)
The Coptic Papacy in Islamic Egypt, 641–1517: The Popes of Egypt by" Mark Swanson
The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land by" Thomas Asbridge
Coptic Identity and Ayyubid Politics in Egypt, 1218-1250 by" Kurt J. Werthmuller