When we talk about the permeation of violence, we talk about situations where the social/cultural structure provides the foundation for certain circumstances, whereby individuals are able to use force, the ultimate arbitrator of manipulation, to achieve some sort of gain. Late Mamluk society seems to be the embodiment of the previous sentence whereby violence not only becomes common place but, compared to previous Islamic Empires before which had relatively been stable, the specific factors which cause violence are endemic. With no mediation to counter this, due to political and social structures, things become incredibly violent on an individual legal basis, and via collective action. The end product is an implicit, normative, standard of acceptable violence that becomes embedded in Late Medieval Mamluk Society. Different elements of violence become commonplace, culminating in gang warfare, vendettas, usurpations and murders which, though decrease at times, don’t stop until the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517. The forms of violence that permeates themselves is paradoxical; on the one hand with a lack of legitimate outlet, violence was the norm, on the other this was focused and organised by upper echelons of society, such as the Mamluks themselves. The main reason for this seems to be the monopoly of force attained by the Mamluk regime, but the lack of political institutions from the previous Islamic Empires, coinciding with Mamluk succession being an legitimisation unto itself, created a void whereby the only those who was the strongest and obtained undisputable power, through power itself, could rule. This had a knock-on effect on the lower echelons of society whereby the political system, and lack of means to voice concerns, led to collective violence. These are factors that explain why Late Medieval Mamluk society was so violent and, more specifically, the forms violence took.

Please note, the chronicles for cases of violence are as follows: Jamal al-Din ibn Taghribirdi (1411-1469), Hawadith al-Duhur fi Mada al-Ayyam wa-al-Shuhur; Ibn al-Jawhari al-Sayrafi (1416-1495), Inba al-Hasr bi-Abna al-‘Asr; Abd al-Basit ibn Khalil al-Malati (1400-1514), al-Rawd al-Basim fi Hawadith al-‘Umr wa-al-Tarajim; Ibn Iyas (1448-1524), Bada’i’ al-Zuhur fi Waqa’i’ al-Duhur.  

1. Environmental factors that contributed to violence in Mamluk society
Excluding violence itself in this section, the acceleration of violence, where it had once been absent, is highly complemented by the external conditions the Mamluk Sultanate had no control over. Even if there had been violence before, external factors whether it be the black death, economic downturn etc, accelerated it. Though difficulties seem to have began the moment the Mamluks took political power, they dramatically increased onwards.

When the Mamluks took power, with the disposition of Al-Ashraf the last Ayyubid Sultan, various crises continue and don’t seem to end until the end of the Mamluk Sultanate itself. This is not to say there aren’t some lulls in the crises. The period between 1312-1422 witnessed some forms of economic and political stability, however this was not without major crisis points. The Mongols invaded Syria, and proceeded to destroy Aleppo. Most of Damascus was pillaged and burned, the population systematically slaughtered, with a heavy financial toll of 3,600,000 dirhems being extolled.[1] Constant raiding and pirating by Crusaders would cause the Mamluks to demolish the fortifications and infrastructure of ports along Syria and Palestine, to deny the Crusaders any kind of foothold; though this did have the intended effect it drastically reduced the means in which trade could perpetuate itself.[2] With many ports being a shadow of their former selves, with examples like Beirut, being the only major port in Syria, showed that the web of trade would divert from this point onwards.[3] Loses due to the black death throughout the Mamluk regime become apparent in systematically decreasing manpower and therefore manufacturing, and agricultural output (something which the Mamluk economy had based itself on to provide some value in relation to coinage). This had an effect of the loss of goods such as textiles, silks, sugars, glass, soaps,[4] which had been established in the trading road between Alexandria and Damascus. Records illustrate reoccurring plagues, some examples being in 1348,[5] 1429, 1430 and 1460,[6] though the magnitude of 1429 as a great plague is apparent, resulting in the death of one hundred thousand people, twice the number in lower Egypt.[7] With this in mind, the sheer loss of manpower resulted in a decrease of patronage from the upper echelons of Mamluk society and therefore a lack of luxury goods, something that had been a major export from Damascus.

Various crises could be mediated effectively. Policies of low taxation when necessary, public construction works like religious, educational and philanthropic institutions, and the presence of the Mamluks themselves in places like Aleppo and Damascus, could legitimise the regime, show investment in public works and attract investment and labour to these places, as the Mamluks were the main consumers, as well as provide endowments to religious classes through the building of charities, mosques, schools and convents, providing permanent employment to builders and furnishers. Between 1260 and 1311-12, an estimated 43 institutions are recorded to have been built or restored.[8] The increased wealth also came with aid to provide stability through Waqf, endowments of funds for religious or philanthropic institutions; this succeeded in grants of land whereby political support could be secured and wealth would stay in the same geographical location.[9] This could, to an extent, succeed in stabilising both the value of coinage, labour and also provide some safety for trading; with the Crusaders and Mongols defeated by 1300, different crises that presented themselves could be combated at some level of effectiveness.

The stability, fluctuating within the 14th Century, would only be temporary. The effect of the black death would prove a continuous issue in manpower, agricultural output and fiscal exploitation by heavy taxes. Seizure of the Sultanate by the Circassian Mamluk faction was the cause of multiple civil wars  with multiple rounds of successions in 1382, 1387-88, 1399 and 1403-1422.[10] Disunited with the additional material cost of the conflict, the Mongol invasion of Syria by Timurlane in 1499 had resulted in the massacre of the inhabitants and then the conquest of Damascus. In the resulting sack, the city was systematically taxed on everyone with four million dinars being raised to satisfy the conqueror, the city being pillaged and burned and all valuables of those who fled being annexed. In addition, thousands of prisoners, young boys and girls, skilled workman and scholars were forcefully relocated to Samarkland.[11] The effect of this was drastic because the output of skilled labour had now been re-located, completely diminishing manufactured goods and any prospect of a revived trading network. The trading network which had existed had all but been irreparably damaged. There was enormous loss in revenue and various goods such as luxury pottery, the product of patronage from the upper echelons of society, was all but non-existent. Revenue was raised by high taxes that went to the Mamluk themselves to sustain military upkeep in campaigns, leading to impoverishment. Famine and food shortages became frequent in 1394, 1396, 1402-1405, 1410 and 1416 which drove the price of food up by 20 percent,[12] which was compounded by hyperinflation due to the influx of copper and debasement of silver currency, which continued from 1405-1406 to 1412.[13] Christian Piracy proved to be reoccurring problem from Genoa and Cyprus, culminating in the conquest of Cyprus in 1426, though this only solved issues in the short-term and piracy resumed within the next 50 years. Eventually, due to the inadequacy of the Mamluks to operate with a navy, both in the Mediterranean and Red Sea, until it’s end, this would result in financial extortion to alleviate the cost of campaigning. The effect of the near destruction of Damascus by the Mongols resulted in the constant raiding, pillaging and destruction of economic communities, whether towns or villages, by Bedouin and Turkic tribes in Lower Egypt, Syria and Southern Anatolia, draining the output of the Empire more. Constant infighting eventually led to political collapse and then Ottoman Conquest, which saved much of the Mamluk economy from further damage.

2. The conditions underlying violence in the Late Medieval Period
These reasons, superficially, may seem not be valid and one may justifiably ask the question why do these factors matter? For the factors which contribute to the standards of violence being permeated, whether implicitly or explicitly, can largely be attributed to levels of both economic poverty and availability of resources for the Mamluks themselves, as well promotions and various forms of financial, social and sexual gains. In the male-dominated hierarchy of the Mamluk Sultanate where all perpetrators of violence, at least on a explicit level, were male, the link between poverty the increase of violence, and it’s tolerance on a socio-economic level, becomes not only apparent but normalised. The economic conditions within Mamluk Sultanate’s time, and it’s acceleration in the 14th and 15th Centuries, and the levels, and modes, of violence are no coincidence. The conditions at this time lead away from estates of the amirs to the Mamluks being paid a fix salary, which in times of economic crises could have difficulty in keeping up with inflation. In short, the Mamluks became salarymen for whatever faction of their patron they were under. Coinciding with the shortage of goods, this could affect the dynamics of status and availability of resources to go with that status, as well as sexual partners. Some cases illustrated later will highlight theses in more detail, showing that the Mamluks, as a monopoly of force who could push their power around almost at will.

2.1 Individualised Violence
The Late Mamluk period was renowned for its era of violence, both politically and on an individualised level. This would focus an absence of collective violence, say mob or gang violence, which will be explained in the next section. With the uncertainty of reigning, most Sultans feared usurpation by being killed at the hands of rival emirs, via strangulation or slaughter, while still having to co-operate with them, and put on the look of public welfare via establishing public works.[14] The position of Sultan was the undisputable figurehead of strength at the top of the political ladder, however the difficulty of this was summarised by the constant need to retain legitimacy in an often precarious environment. Though Sultans such as Baybars (1260-1277) and Al-Nasir (1293-1294, 1299-1309 and 1310-1341) were able to reign for long periods of time due to monopolising force, shrewdness, intelligent political decisions and legitimacy through public works, these are the exception; the majority of Sultans didn’t last long, being usurped through assassinations or coups. Even in the case, for example, of Baybars, whose reign was considered long and prestigious, his end came at the hands of poisoning, so even the most explicitly strong Sultans could find their demise through implicit means. The form of constant usurpation is unique to the system of legitimacy the Mamluks established after the usurpation of the Ayubbid Sultanate, which had sought legitimacy through Primogeniture. If a Sultan had a child or the succeeding Sultan was a child, they would be removed from office (and in some cases having gained experienced in the Mamluk political game, would seize the throne again once they grew older), therefore making inheritance untenable. In a system where positions weren’t inherited and, instead, were granted or earned through merit, the system of inheritance was unlikely to sustain itself anyway. Therefore, the Mamluk Sultanate found itself in a position where it held the monopoly of power in society, yet was unable to provide a clear succession system; the military institution had become the effective mode of governing and tried to incorporate that within a political system.

With this in mind, the Mamluk political system developed not as a system that enforced a monopoly of violence for legitimacy, but saw power itself as de facto the form of legitimacy. When usurpations happened, they were done with little in the way of subtlety due to the dependence of strength.[15] In 1250, a group of Bahri Mamluks, dissatisfied with the Auyubid Sultan al-Mu’azzam Turanshah, due to frustration and threats levelled against them by him, decided to assassinate him. After a failed assassination in his tent, Turanshah took refuge in a tower which was set on fire and when he emerged, he was shot with arrows. Finally he was chased to a river and finished off with swords. In the resulting succession, the Sultan’s wife married the amir Aybak who, after four years of manoeuvring and plotting, lured his rival Aqtay (who had secured the restoration of al-Ashraf Musa, a boy of six at the time who was a bridge between sultans, and a split between Bahri and non-Bahri amirs) into “consultations” before Aybak’s Mamluks cut him down with swords, cut off his head and threw it down from the citadel. Aybak’s reign was then ended when his wife, Shajar al-Durr, hearing she was going to be displaced, had her servants strangle him. She was later murdered by the servants of her mother in law who beat her to death with wooden clogs.[16] Sultan Lajin, in 1298, was assassinated while playing chess. In 1347, Gurlu, an emir who had manipulated political events for the young Sultans, was killed while praying.[17] The reliance of legitimacy through violence and strength created a precarious environment for all those involved.

To outsiders, especially the learned Ulama, this would prove to be a moral dilemma, how could the monopoly of force in society also perpetuate it? Especially with a class who faced no repercussions when doing so? “How is the conduct of those who bear responsibility for guaranteeing rule of law itself subjected to the dictates of said law? No temporal authority can force them to do so since nothing but God’s sanction stands over them”.[18] The answer is any circumstance that befell the Sultan was seen from a Moral standpoint. If power seemed to be the only form of legitimacy, therefore there was no longer any breakdown of authority, as much as simply reinstating it. Violent acts were attributed to moral conduct as compensation for the lack of power the Ulama held, with the opinion that the rulers were pursuing worldly pursuits which was an act of vanity. For example, Al-Maqrizi writes of a private Mamluk who wanted a slave girl from amir Aqbay al-Turantay but after disagreement, the Mamluk was beaten and, after trying to complain to the Sultan, was ignored. The injustice faced by the private Mamluk is that of his conduct, almost like a karma.[19] In another case, the plot of Ali Bay is preceded one week before a drunken party which in Al-Maqrizi’s eyes is scandalous.[20] With this in mind, conclusions to the Sultan’s rule is inherently linked with the moral compass of the ruler: of course the Sultan was assassinated, they acted immorally and, with their own vanity in the material world, their demise was inevitable. This formed a theory within Islamic political thought called the “circle of Justice,” that stipulated a morally upright ruler, with strength, competence and sound economic policies, would rule successfully. Not doing this would result in the end of their rule:[21]

The world is a garden for the state to master.
The state is power supported by the law.
The law is policy administered by the king.
The king is a shepherd supported by the army.
The army are assistants provided for by taxation.
Taxation is sustenance gathered by subjects.
Subjects are slaves provided for by justice.
Justice is that by which the rectitude of the world subsists[22]

In an individualised environment, though surrounded by piers, the execution displayed the point of legitimacy and therefore needed to be conducted in a specific manner that was recognisable to everyone there. This is evident by the definition of assassination, at the time, falling within the lines of “to take by surprise and kill him”, this differs from the execution term qatl (killing) which is mentioned less often in the chronicles. For example, the Mamluks enjoyment of hunting could provide the opportunity for assassination in front of piers, in a manner which legitimised the assassin. In 1293, Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil was assassinated by disaffected amirs led by Baydara. The type of assassination seems to be relatively common with the first blows being struck to disable to person, and then a final one to kill them, rather than an outright lethal blow to end the person’s life. Al-Marqrizi describes:

The two rushed him with their swords (the amirs Baydara and Laijin). He (Baydara) struck him on his hand and cut it off, then a second time and disabled his shoulder. Then the amir Lajin got to him and shouted at Baydara, “Whoever would be King of Egypt and Syria should strike a blow like this!” and he struck him on the shoulder a blow which severed it.[23]

When the amir al-Shuja’i was jumped by rival mamluks of Kitbugha, the first blow was to the hands and then the second cut his head from his body.[24] Some killings seem to have been prolonged with a lack of will to lethally end the assassination in one blow. Al-Nasir Faraj surrendered to amirs and was given a pledge of safety by the Caliph, however the pledge was made “inoperative” by some complacent judges. He received a reception of several amirs and executioners. Realising they had come to assassinate him, he defending himself:

He (Faraj) defended himself. Two of the men jumped him and, after they had wounded him in several places, they threw him to the ground. At this point one of the two young assassins went at his neck with his dagger, and then he strangled him. By now he was wounded in five places. When he thought he was finished off, he stood up. (But) his heart was still beating, and he strangled him a second time. This time he was more certain he had died, and he left him, but then he moved again. So he went at him a third time and cut his arteries with his dagger.[25]

One would question why, if this was an assassination, there was resilience to inflict a paramount lethal blow and end the affair once and for all. Psychologically, this may have been hesitance to kill a fellow mamluk and therefore a more passive approach was used:[26] the assassin had the opportunity to use the dagger but chose strangulation and then, when that didn’t work, finally cut the victim’s arteries. Other executions were strangulation by bow string (considered an honourable death), drowning or bisection so this also could have been the factor of spectacle, which will be explained in the next paragraph.

The spectacle of the act when in front of piers was also represented by how violence was venerated through Jeaques Lacan’s term jouissance, which describes enjoyment and excess by forms of traumatic entertainment. For example, in 1294, when amir al-Shuja’i was murdered by rival Mamluks, he was decapitated and his head was paraded through the streets of Cairo on a lance. Enjoyment was received by the houses of Coptic secretaries, who beat his face with slippers and pissed coins on his head due to his history of exhortation. Violence in this case is seen as excessive but only in the sense that the Coptics were stealing the Muslim’s observer’s sense of jouissance.[27] Jouissance played a part in emotional outlets, whether joyous or sad, the main point of reference was the spectacle itself and at times the standards elicited could seem to have little limit in the face of the spectacle itself. Baydara, a person subject to execution in the jouissance style was executed thus:

Then they took him to the amir Kitbugha. When the Ashrafi mamluks saw him, they cut him to pieces with their swords. Then they split open his belly and pulled out his liver, and each one of the mamluks cut off a piece and ate it-due to the severity of their grief for their master al-Ashraf Khalil. Then the amir Kitbugha cut off his head and put it on a lance. He sent it back to Cairo where it was paraded and finally hung on the door of his house[28]

 Amir Ahmad ibn Baydamur, a native of Cairo who was considered liked by everyone, was crucified and then circuited around the city, much to the grieving of family and friends; [29] the monopoly of violence ensured that no family member would approach close to the crucifixion and, at the same time, set implicit norms of violence within society as it created a framework of standards which the population themselves could see.

2.1.1 Social, political, economic and sexual factors as an outlier for violence
The position of males in regards to each other is distinguished by a matter of factors, the more important being status, the resources that come with status, competition for females and their selectiveness of choosing a male within the system (especially in that it’s largely determined by the selective sexual nature that’s expressed by women by fancying good providers).[30] This can be the basis of competition especially as the stakes get higher and therefore the risk, and intensity, that come with higher status becomes apparent, ergo effecting the behaviour of men. Even in the Mamluk regard where positions weren’t inherited, this was an outlier for persistency. 

The sexual part is somewhat paradoxical, on the one hand the women chosen were slaves but on the other, they were under the protection of a master and, in some ways, that means their selectiveness was chosen for them. Al-Maqrizi’s account of the private mamluk, who was beaten by amir Aqbay al-Turantay for wanting a slave girl, shows this exclusivity in an arena where men competed for women but, due to restrictions and the less resources for the Mamluks as time went on, this could escalate to violence. This could blur the distinction between resources economically, socially and sexually in terms of standing. The sullying of honour in the Mamluk social game could have severe repercussions, with little punishment for the perpetrator. In December 1471 to January 1472, an officer’s son in Rajab stabbed a woman in the stomach with a dagger who owed him an indemnity. It’s not specified what the status of the woman was but the person who committed the act was recorded to openly walk the streets, openly brandishing his bloodied dagger with no concealment. No punishment is mentioned.[31] The case for males seems to differ from homicides for females. Shajar al-Durr, having her servants strangle Aybak, and her later murder by the mother in law, who ordered her servants to beat her to death with wooden clogs, shows involvement which is implicit and non-direct. In a system where women were supposedly excluded, acts of violence were committed albeit not in a conventional manner.

Violence as a means of enforcing status was perpetrated both with Mamluk violence on individuals close to the Mamluk system and on civilians, with hesitance by Sultans to punish perpetrators. This was part of a wider engagement of factional disputes. These were set as a precedent by multiple factors. Situations of theft and homicide were often focal points when it came to military personnel,[32] whereas cases for homicides with civilians revolved around indentured persons murdering their masters, military personnel engaging in assaults against peers or civilian subordinates, factional quarrels, long-term vendettas, rioting and pillaging.[33] The difference between these were military personnel was less likely to be prosecuted and cases were often closed to spectators or civil jurists with little mention of legal aftermath. The precarious position the Sultan found himself in and the potential popularity, or dangerous reputation, of certain Mamluk members meant such actions were unfeasible (for fear of repercussion). In 1469, a Hanbali deputy judge was assassinated by a groom and his Mamluk patron in Rabi’. Al-Sayrafi, though informative about civilian cases, merely stated that the Sultan ordered an inquiry with no further details.[34] In 1470 in Muharram, a sultani mamluk shot an arrow into a rival during a drunken brawl and Sultan Qaytbay, due to his insecure political position and intolerance of factional disputes, ordered the man cut in half. However he ignored a jurists assassination in another case which may have instigated a riot; in the first case the act of punishment may have had the intention of appeasing the deceased mamluk’s comrades.[35] Qansuh al-Ghawri’s reign could be said to have indifference towards any homicide; he presided over the fatal beating of a boatman by amir Arizmak al-Nashif, due to the boatman refusing to pay a debt. Ibn Iyas states that Al-Ghawri ignored the case and dismissed it, paying the mariner’s son a small indemnity.[36] Other cases include an assault upon the Sultan’s postmaster going unsolved,[37] the murder of a valet of al-Ghawri’s nephew,[38] and the murder of Sultan al-Ashraf Tumanbay’s apprentice.[39] A case to note is the strangulation by the Sultan’s second chamberlain of his executive adjutant in a drunken dispute; the case was suspended and when one of Tumanbay’s couriers also committed homicide, the case was dismissed as no one testified against him, despite the act having been committed in broad daylight; this case is an interesting one for status, for it displays the status of Tumanbay’s courier through violence, which compelled people not to testify against him for fear of repercussion, similar to how this occurs in modern gang violence. Also, the re-direction to the civil court over this matter seems to be an act of Al-Ghawri not wanting to cause discontent among his nephew, due to his nephew’s popularity.[40]

The high competitiveness of the Mamluk system, with the initial system of wealth being inheritance by land, meant status was articulated through violence to achieve this, with little repercussions. An institution filled with young men who were taught violence created these foundations. Recruits waiting for an Iqta assignment shows in one case that, in the late 15th Century, during prayer as an elderly veteran Mamluk ascended to the citadel, he was assaulted by three recruits, being stabbed in the belly, his slave also being assassinated. The motive seems to have been a demand of his allotment. The veteran recovered but was then assassinated at the hands of the same recruits and in the end, the Sultan bestowed the allotment to them.[41] Ibn Iyas records the following:

During the Sultan’s absence, one of his mamluk recruits intended to buy grain from a ship on the Nile shore… He could locate no porter to transport it, so he apprehended a peasant from Upper Egypt with a donkey and sack. The mamluk seized the donkey and sack but the farmer refused to give them up. The mamluk struck him a violent blow to the head, causing the blood to flow. The farmer fell into the river, fainted and drowned. Thereupon, the populace assaulted the mamluk and conveyed him to the house of the dawadar, viceroy of the absence (tumanbay). There, he was put in irons and sent to the wali who imprisoned him to await the Sultan’s return. When the mamluk’s comrades learned of this, they marched upon the dawadar’s house. They found him away repairing the Fayd causeway damaged by flood. The comrades were told that this mamluk who had commited murder had been sent by the dawadar to the wali. A large number of recruits then descended from the barracks and proceeded to the wali’s residence, released the mamluk…. and threatened to arson the structure. The Dawadar thus dropped the charge of homicide and tension subsided.[42]

The case presents an absolvement of responsibility, the emphasis on status which the Mamluk political arena created and how this competitive arena for status could be pressure points to illicit violence. With little punishment Mamluks could literally get away with murder.

The antithesis to this point would be unless there was some precedent set of reinforcing one’s status, why not a superiors? Or the Sultan’s? Cases arise where soiling the reputation of the superiors can result in punishments being dealt. In 1470, a Mamluk was flogged and imprisoned for punching a prefect. He was summoned in shackles and fined 18,000 dinars. This was interceded, but it was clear that the act seemed to have been seen as blatant disregard with striking a superior. Some acts could be responded to with force, such as that of Qaytbay who, at the beginning of his reign, responded to acts with public floggings.[43] In a street brawl, during the aftermath of a revolt, during which black slaves attacked civilians, the prefect ordered their lashing and dismemberment.[44] However, if we are to go into this territory, we would have to diminish the earlier points, when in fact this precedent could be translucent. The Sultan could issue punishments if violent acts sullied his honour but this could reverberate further actions from those surrounding the guilty individual, creating a ripple effect.[45] This can be seen in an example of gang violence which occurred on July/August 1511. An eminent figure, belonging to Qaytbay’s widow was watching what appeared to be a mock battle between street gangs from a rooftop. Two hundred observers had crowded onto the roof, including his son, and a band of Mamluks attacked them, during which, the roof collapsed. According to the chronicle, seventeen people died and many were injured. Despite this, no reprimand was mentioned against the Mamluks themselves. It was only after al-Ghawri’s death did Tumanbay enforce a policy of strict reprisals to stop full-scale riots. When full-scale riots did break out, the reaction by the Sultan seems to be to pay for the damages incurred but no further action to be taken on the rioters themselves. In 1510, a riot broke out in Muharram, causing 20,000 dinars worth of damage from 570 pilfered shops due to a delay in meat rations, and refusal to pay a bonus by al-Ghawri. The recruits apprehended several senior amirs and forced them to negotiate with the Sultan. When the Sultan refused, the recruits plundered Cairo’s markets.[46] The recruits who had a monopoly of force at the time could bypass the consequences of punishment, even by the highest figure.

2.2 Communal violence
The previous section does not point to communal action; especially in regards to rioting, violence between gangs etc. This can be derived from the actual structure of Late Medieval Mamluk cities which, in times of crises’ and chaos, could be lacking in any form of co-operation between different quarters. The case, for example, in Medieval Europe is one of synergised co-operation depending on the system. Different systems, whether Feudal, Gavelkind (where the deceased person’s land is divided among all male heirs) were part of a system of social dependencies whether to lords, princes, nobles etc, which was reciprocal in turn. Guilds weren’t just corporate organisations for different professions, they regulated working conditions and voiced collective concerns. This could mediate concerns or, at least, put violence within certain frameworks of standards that had to be abided by if the individual were to be socially accepted.[47] In regards the Mamluk Sultanate, representation lacked any form for organisation. Though there were social institutions like guilds and fraternities, these provided no outlet for stratas of society to voice their concerns, whether peasants, civilians or educated scholars. Institutions were centralised but were wholly dependent on the bureaucrats who governed these cities with authority being attributed to the Sultan, the result being that protest by the “mob” could exacerbate anger and turn action into violence. Underneath the amirs who were leased land under the Iqta system, little was done to voice concerns. In fact, the only thing stopping a complete overthrow of the system was the perception that the Sultan was absolved of responsibility. The Ulama (learned men in the Islamic world in litigation, legal judging, theology, grammar etc) could negotiate with crowds, being chosen as spokesmen and petitions could be drawn however these did not need to be listened to.[48] Other factors could play into situations based on external factors as mentioned earlier. The deprivation of resources the Mamluk Sultanate found itself in, under no fault of its own, resulted in the exacerbation of violence which, community wise, could be mutual, and result in cartels, consisting of outlaws, being hired. The constant downturn and wars also stimulated communal violence in rural environments as deprivation led to less monopoly of force by the Mamluks, and therefore raiding and pillaging by nomad and semi-nomad tribes around the empire. The two later factors can be seen as derivative reasons for overall diminishing Mamluk strength.

In the rural environment, failures by the Mamluks could resurrect the idea that the “slave army” did not maintain the legitimacy to rule over, what had been, Caliphate lands, although this seems to have happened the moment the Mamluks seized political power. Armed resistance becomes the resort and, though there are periods of stability, this still persisted. in 1252, an armed uprising happened in direct confrontation to the Mamluk seizure of power, with 12,000 Arab cavalrymen preventing the collection of taxes, the premise being that the Arab tribes were the true legitimate inheritors of the land.[49] This would happen again in 1298-1299 which was brutally suppressed,[50] but would arise again in 1349 with the outbreak of the black death, and only be crushed in 1354.[51] The situation of these tribes, like those in Syria and Palestine, being able to do so would be based on the privilege of armed service, both from the tribesmen and the peasants themselves.[52] This would indicate the complex social function of the tribes, showing that these weren’t necessarily nomadic tribes but instead were communities that associated themselves with the values of the tribes they derived from, with Bedoiun tribes being semi-seditary and living in hamlets.[53] The social ties are made more complex by the fact, as well as armed, the Arab tribes would have guarded, and possibly harassed, Christian hadar villages.[54] Coinciding with remote villages being harassed anyway by Arabs or Berbers, relations could fluctuate between cordial and hostile.[55] It’s no wonder that when these uprisings did happen, the peasants associated with these tribes would rise up as well. Such violence was responded by maximum force by the Mamluks themselves, since the actions committed caused a challenge to Mamluk legitimacy. Al-Nuwayri comments:

They resorted to highway robbery….. They defied the authority of the local governors, and prevented the payment of agricultural kharaj taxes……They armed themselves and released all prisoners incarcerated in jails. Seeing that, the amirs called upon the qadis and the jurists, and asked their opinion on the permissibility of waging battle against (the urban), and the (jurists) gave a fatwa to that effect.[56]

What caused further obligation to act was the mirroring of the political structure of the Mamluks, by the tribes that revolted, and the participation of the peasantry in this regard only legitimised that political structure further.[57] However, even after the revolt was put down, the situation, as it has been in individual cases, was contingent upon economic welfare. After thousands of Arabs were killed, al-Nuwayri states the Mamluks took 1,600 captives who cultivated the land and released them as there was no one else to sustain it.[58] The attempt to neutralise rowdy tribesmen concluded with the attempt to disarm the population; in 1354  the Sultan decreed that no fallah should ride a horse or carry a weapon and in 1301, a earlier mission confiscated all the horses of the fallahs and badw. However, this would not last long and the necessity to have these communities as autonomous created a contradiction that would last until the Mamluk Sultanate ended.[59]

Urban environments were environments where the Mamluk state was centralised, but not enough to serve it’s civilians. Despite centralised government, local authority retained representation when it came to guarding the values and the wellbeing of society.[60] With authority, and the precedent for legitimacy being subjected to the individual local ruler, policies could either be co-operative or antagonistic towards the population. Concerns could be channelled through the Ulama in the form of litigation, or through ceremonies for the Sultan to receive petitions, but there was no guarantee that this would be successful.  This, coinciding with the lack of outlet by the lower echelons of society would mean violence was used to express grievances, which served to express a complex form of social relationships to meet needs and demands. This could lead to, for example, Market inspectors being stoned or beaten and officials being scapegoated in times of crises, especially when corruption and price fixing were evident (a common practice in the Mamluk Sultanate). In 1439-1440, commoners raided the Damascus governor’s house and stoned his Mamluks, due to price fixing sheep. The crowd attacked the governor until they were talked down by a judge and their concerns were reproved. At the end of the fourteenth century, the population, enraged at the administrator and broker Ibn al-Nashu, killed him.[61] In Aleppo in 1448 villagers petitioned due to exploitation by the governor, who had them beaten and paraded as an example. The common people reacted by violently trying to rescue them, many being killed, and according to one source, drove the governor out of the city.[62] Cases like this could show the taking of life was justified to preserve the life of the common people; activities like these weren’t spontaneous, they were the subject of voicing concerns for communities and the displaying their interests.[63]

With the perspective that the Sultan was not held responsible for any wrong doing, there was the justification of violent action but at the same time without it being an inherent threat to the political establishment itself, so it is no wonder such communal violence was not punished by the Mamluks. Indeed, a lot of the violent acts were stated too be as an act of loyalty towards the Sultan.[64] With this in mind, the decreasing monopoly of force the Mamluks held and the decline of the Mamluks as a reliable institution resulted in the appearance of organised gangs, often supplemented by the Mamluks themselves. This provides a mediation point where the gap between the “mob” and the political establishment becomes filled. As Mamluk power diminishes, organised gangs appear which consist of outlaws, called the Zu’ar (meaning “lacking in wealth”, “lacking in virtue”, “thin-haired”, but also could be linked to the word for Syrian militia). These were hired outlaws who controlled the city wearers, for example, in Damascus.[65] The modern equivalent can be seen as gangs within a cartel which, like in the Mamluk case, consisted of young men whose organisation and paramilitary nature could threaten the establishment. What’s more, they seemed to be integral to the city itself as the people in the Zu’ar were part of the city and had professions, but within the Zu’ar itself they were lead by a kabirs or chiefs. They often had control outside of the city walls and in the surrounding villages. The demographic seems to have been commoners but could also be joined by individuals of the Ulama.[66] It can be a mistake to assume that the Zu’ar came out of the nowhere as a means to fill in a gap of authority, the rise was due to the Mamluk Sultan himself, who in the 15th Century began hiring non-Mamluks consisting of outlaws and black slaves.[67] It’s with this that the Zu’ar become legitimised within both the military system and urban society. They served in providing relief but also in generating, controlling and serving violence, also representing their city quarter against abuse from officials or tax collectors. In 1498-1499, they attacked agents of the Mamluk chamberlain and killed over thirty people in Al-Salihiyya, including the police chief, and more than a hundred men in the city (this particular act was incited and bribed by the Ulama itself).[68] Once the Zu’ar existed, it was incredibly difficult to dislodge them and the autonomy provided meant they could exhort or collect money from the local population, but that could be seen as a necessity when the Zu’ar decided to organise resistance and barricade streets. An interesting example stands out: the Zu’ar of al-Salihiyya came with their chief al-Jamus to meet the new governor and passing through the Maydan al-Hasa quarter, abused several residents. The governors used this opportunity to order the Zu’ar be disintegrated as an opportunity to impose heavy taxes. The quarters however met them with protests and swore to resist. A crowd from al-Shaghur attacked soldiers and other Zu’ar attended. Armed, they fought the Mamluks and finally the governor send qadis and the Sheikh of Islam to parley. The Zu’ar negotiated separately to the shiekhs of the quarter, testifying to their recognition.[69] However, this is not to say the Zu’ar were united in solidarity, and like any cartels, were hostile to each other and competed for resources and status; factional battles occurred in 1488, 1496-1497 and 1488.[70] After all, the Zu’ar were formed on the basis of outlaws and with the Mamluk arming and financing as their authority declined, this only served to legitimise their status in society.

The consequence of Zu’ar prominence in Late Medieval Mamluk society, was the Mamluk’s inability to dislodge them as they became imbedded within the military and social sphere, making removal almost impossible. In a civil war in 1497-1498, the Mamluk’s were eager to exploit city tensions, leading to bloodshed and pillaging; it was only with the arrival of troops from Egypt and the new governor, Kurtbay, who dispersed the Zu’ar and forbade them to bare arms. With a failed attempt to raise auxiliaries from the urban citizens, many of them fleeing rather than being conscripted, arms were begrudgingly given back to the Zu’ar.[71] With the discretion of the law given to local authority, coinciding with corruption and heavy taxation, this could do little to stop violence from occurring. In 1501, a man was killed and robbed of his horse in the Mazzaz quarter. Several days later, the governor imposed a murder tax there. The justification seemed to be the blood money would be collected from the inhabitants when a person was murdered.[72] This originated from the theory of the Hanafi School of law called compurgation and, according to Joseph Schacht is explained thus: “If the body of a person is found who has obviously been killed, the inhabitants of the quarter, the owner of the house and his ‘aq’la must swear fifty oaths that they have not killed him and do not know who has killed him. They thereby become free from liability to qis’a’s but must as aq’la pay the blood money” and seems to have been some sort of means to punish without taking direct action to combat murder.[73]In short, the quarter was made legally responsible by having to pay financially for the crime of an individual within the community; the result was failure. The Chronicle of Ibn Tulun states, “at the end of this month incidents of murder occurred many times because of the absence of the governor, and his deputy again imposed the penalty for the reason of murder, which was oppressive to the people.”[74] The greed of the local governor to use blood money to impose heavy taxes would prove to have horrible repercussions. In 1504 in Rabi when a bailiff of the governor went to the Maydan al-Hasa Quarter to exact the penalty because its inhabitants killed his colleague, his colleagues were attacked and killed on their way. The next day, the inhabitants stoned those who tried to bury the dead. An effort by the governor was made to pursue to the killer but, the Zu’ar on the side of the civilians, made this impossible.[75] The introduction of the Zu’ar by the Mamluks had resulted in the challenging to their monopoly of force, and had cost them financially as well.

Conclusion
Looking at violence within the Late Mamluk period, several themes emerge. Factors that go beyond the control of the Mamluk Sultanate, be it diminishing trade, the black death or military conflict provided the basis for violence, in a system where status was paramount and authority depended on legitimisation through power itself. This would have several repercussion which would accelerate violent conduct in the Empire. The precariousness of the political system pitied factions against each other with little legal consequence, until one faction came out of the conflict with undisputed dominance of the system. This would leave the Sultan in the precarious position at all times, unless they could play the brutal political game shrewdly, and would especially be apparent if there was a consequence of reprisal if the individual committing the act was punished. The situation was linked the military system, whereby a large amount of young males who competed to achieve status, resources and women would lead to violent acts as the economy of the Mamluk Sultanate deteriorated.

Outside of the Mamluks themselves, the decrease in authority had a detrimental effect in the rural and urban environments of the Empire. Rurally, as soon as the Mamluks gained power there were constant revolts from tribes who did not recognise the legitimacy of the regime and, due to the tribal system and in styling themselves politically similar, were able to attract a large amount of peasants to their cause. However, though these were crushed, the economic situation saw no reprisal other than disarming the tribes which did not work long term. In the Urban environment, authority being given to local officials, coinciding with the decrease of the Mamluk military’s power, meant an investment in other military entities such as outlaws, who eventually became the Zu’ar. This proved to unseat the Mamluks from financial power as the Zu’ar were able to become autonomous cartels, integral to the city quarters in representing and exhorting the population, who could enact and direct communal violence, killing officials and refusing to pay taxes. With this in mind, the violence in Late Medieval Mamluk society can be seen in tandem with the Mamluks existing as a political institution, and could only increase as the Empire deteriorated.


[1] M. Lapidus, Ira, Muslim Cities in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1984), pp. 13-15

[2] Albrecht Fuess “Rotting Ships and Razed Harbors: The Nava Policy of the Mamluks” in Mamluk Studies Review V, (Chicago: Middle East Documentation Center, 2001) pp. 45-71

[3] M. Lapidus, p. 25

[4] Christ, Georg, Trading Conflicts: Venetian Merchants and Mamluk Officials in Late Medieval Alexandria (Leiden: Brill, 2012) pp. 19-20.

[5] Alazzam, Isa Mahmoud; Alazzam, Sobhi Mahmoud & Al-Mazyid, Khalid Mahmoud “Plague, Epidemics and Their Social and Economic Impaact on the Egyptian Society during the Mameluke Period (648/1250 AD-923 Hegira/1517 AD) in Asian Culture and History, Vol. 5, No. 2; (Richmond: Canadian Center of Science and Education, 2013), p. 97-94

[6] Borsch, Stuart and Sabraa, Tarek “Plague Morality in Late Medieval Cairo: Quantifying the Plague Outbreaks of 833/1430 and 864/1460″ in Mamluks Studies Review XIX (Chicago: The University of Chicago, Middle East Documentation Center, 2005) pp. 115 – 129

[7] Ibid

[8] M. Lapidus. p. 14

[9] Ibid p. 18

[10] Ibid p. 26

[11] Ibid p. 27

[12] Ibid, p. 31

[13] Ibid. pp. 31-32

[14] Stanley Lane-Poole, A History of Egypt in the Middle Ages (London, 1901), pp. 246-247.

[15] Beaumont, Daniel, “Political Violence and Ideology in Mamluk Society”, in Mamluk Studies Review VIII (1), (The University of Chicago: Middle East Documentation Center, 2004) p. 202

[16] Al-Marqrizi, Al-Suluk li-ma’rifat Duqal al Muluk (Cairo, 1956-1958), 1:2:390; Ibn Taghribridi, Nujum, 7:10-12; Ibn Iywas, Bada’i’ al-Zuhur fi Waqa’i’ al-Duhur (Cairo, 1972), 1:1:291

[17] Baniel Beaumont, p. 207

[18] Carl F. Petry, “Quis Costodiet Custodes?” Revisited: The prosecution of Crime in the Late Mamluk Sultanate”, in Mamluk Studies Review III, (The University of Chicago: Middle East Documentation Center, 1999), p. 13

[19] Al-Maqrizi, Suluk, 3:2:903

[20] Ibid, 902.

[21] T. Darling, Linda, “Medieval Egyptian Society and the Concept of the Circle of Justice”, in Mamluk Studies Review (1) X, (The University of Chicago: Middle East Documentation Center, 2006)

[22] This version of the circle comes from The Counsels of Alexander, presented to the Timurid prince Baysunghur, reproduced and translated by Thomas W. Lentsz and Glenn D. Lowry, Timur and the Princely Vision: Persian Art and Culture in the Fifteenth Century (Washington, 1989), p. 12

[23] Ibn Taghribirdi, Nujum, 8:46

[24] Ibid

[25] Al-Maqrizi, Suluk, 4:1:224.

[26] The resilience for soldiers to kill one another is well documented, especially in the 20th Century. See Samuel Lyman Marshall Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command  (University of Oklahoma Press: Oklahoma, 2012)

[27] Daniel Beaumont, p. 207

[28] Ibn Iyas, Bada’i’ al-Zuhur, 1:1:375, II. 8 -13

[29] Ibn Sasra, A Chronicle of Damascus, 1389-1397, ed. and trans. William M. Brinner (Berkeley, 1963), pp. 139-142.

[30] The factors indicating both sexual taste and male ability in relation to that are evident in Azar Gat, War in Human Civilisation (OUP: Oxford, 2006), pp. 58-61, 416 and David M. Buss, The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating (Basic Books: New York, 2000) pp. 209-11

[31] Inba, 379, line 4

[32] “Disruptive ‘Others’ as Depicted in Chronicles of the Late Mamluk Period,” paper presented at a conference on The Historiography of Islamic Egypt convened by the Department of Madiaeval History at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, 27-31 August 1997, and scheduled for publication in a volume of its proceedings.

[33] Carl F. Petry, p. 15

[34] Inba, 149, line 2

[35] Inba, 379, line 4

[36] Bada’I’, 4: 115, line 7

[37] Baba’I’, 4: 115, line 21

[38] Bada’I’ 4: 168, line 9

[39] Bada’I’ 4: 179, line 18

[40] Bada’i’, 4: 107, line 11

[41] Bada’i’, 4: 107, line 11.

[42] Bada’i’, 5: 50, line 12.

[43] Rawd, ” fol. 178b, line 15; Hawadith, 650, line 7; “Rawd,” fol. 186b, line 14

[44] Rawd,” fol. 186b, line 24.

[45] Daniel Beaumont, p.30

[46] Bada’i’ 4: 177, line 8

[47] For an interesting cases concerning this in the Medieval and Early Modern Period, see Hillay Zmora The Feud In Early Modern Germany (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2011), Richard W. Kaeuper, Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1999), Julius R. Ruff Violence in Early Modern Europe 1500-1800 (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2011) and Bran Sandberg, Noble Culture and Civil Conflict in Early Modern France (John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, 2010)

[48] M. Lapidus, p. 143.

[49] Ypssef Rapoport, “Invisible peasants, Marauding Nomads: Taxation, Tribalism and Rebellion in Mamluk Egypt in Mamluk Studies Review VIII (2), (The University of Chicago: Middle East Documentation Center, 2004), p. 1

[50] Al-Maqrizi, Sulik, 1: 914, 920; Shihab al-Din Ahmad al-Nuwayri, Nihayat al-Arab fi fununal-Adab (cairo, 1923), 30:333; al-‘Ayni, ‘Iqd al-Juman, 4:174-77; Ibn Taghribirdi, Al-Nujum al-Zahirahfi muluk misr wa-al-Qahirah  (cairo, 1929-72), 8: 149-53

[51] Al-Maqrizi, Suluk, 2:770, 820, 839, 859, 896, 908-20

[52] A. N. Poliak, “Les revoltes populaires en Egypt a l’epoque des Mamelouks et leur causes economiques,”, Revue des etudes islamiques 8 (1934): 251-73

[53] Ibid.

[54] Qalawun’s memorandum to Kitbugha, dated 1281, specifically prohibits the urban from carrying weapons of any kind when travelling from village to village (Sato, State and Rural Society, 113, citing Ibn al-Furat, Tarikh Ibn al-Furat, ed. C. Zurayq (Beruit, 1936-1942), 7:196-200.

[55] P. M. Holt, “Al-Fayyum,” The Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd ed., 2:872-73

[56] Al-Nuwayri, Nihayat al Arab, 30:333, cited in al-Maqrizi, Sukuk, 1:920.

[57] Al-Maqrizi, Suluk, 1:922, 1. 14

[58] Al-Maqrizi, Suluk, 1:922, 1. 14.

[59] Al-Marqrizi, Suluk, 1:914

[60] M. Lapidus, p. 143

[61] Ibid, pp. 146-147

[62] Ibid, p. 150.

[63] M. Lapidus, pp. 146-147

[64] Ibid

[65] Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-Arab (Cairo, 1300-7), 5:411-412.

[66] Miura Toru, “Arab Society in Damascus as the Mamluk Era Was Ending”, in in Mamluk Studies Review X (1), (The University of Chicago: Middle East Documentation Center, 2006) p. 160

[67] Ibid

[68] M. Lapidus, Ira, p. 155-156

[69] Ibid, p. 156

[70] Ibid, p. 157-158

[71] Ibid, p. 160

[72] Al-Busrawi, Tarikh al-Busrawi, 179

[73] Joseph Schacht, An Introduction To Islamic Law (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 2002), p. 184.

[74] Ibn Tulun, Mufakahat, 1:317; idem, I’lam, 209

[75] Ibn Tulun, Mufakahat, pp. 279-280.

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