About MMS-II

Mamlukisation of the Mamluk Sultanate II
Historiography, Political Order and State Formation in 15th-Century Egypt and Syria


(ERC-Consolidator Grant Project, 2017-21)

This project offers the first comprehensive survey and collective historical interpretation of the diverse and voluminous range of Arabic historiographical texts that were produced in the Syro-Egyptian Mamluk sultanate between 1410 and 1470 and that have continued to define historical imaginations to this very day.

The main research question of this project concerns an understanding of the particular relationships between this historiographical material and the regularly changing social orders that were produced by and around the different sultans and their courts reigning and ruling from Cairo in the decades between 1410 and 1470. The main hypothesis of the project is that of the invention of a tradition of one political order, a cultural process captured by the neologism ‘Mamlukisation’ and referring to the construction of a particular social memory of one, longstanding and continuous sultanate of military slaves (mamlūks) that connects and explains a socio-culturally fragmented 15th-century present through the memory of a shared and glorious 13th- and 14th- century past. MMS-II claims that this social memory of the Mamluk state was discursively produced and reproduced in various forms that include contemporary claims to historical truth.

MMS-II has the following specific objectives.

  1. reference database of metadata for the production, reproduction and consumption of all Arabic historiographical texts from the period 1410-1470. (joint venture with the development of MPP/Islamic History Open Data Platform)
  2. The in-depth contextualised study of particular sets of these texts, deconstructing their structures and meanings through historicising narratological and social semiotic methodologies.(see ‘Selected 15th century authors’ for further details)
  3. The identification and exploration of the political vocabularies that were deployed in these texts, as signifiers of a particular political discourse that informed these texts and that, at the same time, materialized through them.

This ERC Consolidator Grant project runs from January 2017 to December 2021.


Consult and/or download the detailed project text.

Selected 15th century authors

al- ʻAynī, Badr al-Dīn Maḥmūd b. Aḥmad (1361-1451) by Dr. Clément Onimus

Badr al-Dīn Maḥmūd b. Aḥmad al-‘Aynī (762-855/1361-1451) was one of the prominent historians and jurists of Egypt during the 15thCentury. Born in ‘Ayn Tāb (now Gaziantep), in South-East Anatolia, in 762/1361, al-‘Aynī – also called al-‘Ayntābī – grew up in a jurist family, his father Aḥmad being the qāḍī of the city. After studying in ‘Ayn Tāb and Aleppo, he arrived in Cairo where he obtained a position as servant at the madrasa al-Ẓāhirīya that had just been founded by Sultan Barqūq. His fluency in both Arabic and Turkish allowed him to benefit from the patronage of the court and military. Thanks to this active association with the Sultanate in Cairo and its elites, he was appointed to several offices and became a rival of al-Maqrīzī for the position of market inspector (muḥtasib) of Cairo. He wrote several panegyrics for most of the sultans who reigned during the first half of the 15thcentury, and he was particularly close to Sultan Barsbāy (r. 825-841/1422-1438) for whom he used to translate his Arabic chronicle of Islamic history in Turkish. Barsbāy appointed him Ḥanafī Chief Qāḍī in 829/1426, which was one of the highest positions someone like al-ʿAynī could expect. He kept this position for most of the reign of Barsbāy, until the enthronement of Sultan Jaqmaq (r. 842-857/1438-1453), who gradually dismissed him from all his offices. Because of this disgrace and his impoverishment, he was allegedly forced to sell all of his belongings, including his books. He died at the age of 90, in 855/1451. Al-‘Aynī is mostly famous as a scholar of law, and particularly as a specialist of ḥadīthand fiqh. His major work, ‘Umdat al-qārī, provoked a long academic controversy with the Shāfi‘ī Chief Qāḍī Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī. As a historian, he wrote two successive chronicles, the Taʾrīkh al-badrand the ‘Iqd al-jumān fī taʾrīkh ahl al-zamān, which ishis main chronicle and a 20-volume rewritten version of the Taʾrīkh al-badr; a summary of this second chronicle is also known. My research mainly deals with al-ʿAynī’s commitment in the politics of theCairo Sultanate and the evolution of the way he wrote history.

Ibn Ḥajar al-ʻAsqalānī, Aḥmad b. ʻAlī (1372-1449) by Dr. Zacharie Mochtarie de Pierrepont

Shihāb al-Dīn Abu l-Faḍl Aḥmad b. Nūr al-Dīn ʽAlī b. Muḥammad b. ʽAlī b. Aḥmad al-ʽAsqalānī, known as Ibn Ḥajar, was a famous religious scholar and historian born in Cairo in 773/1372. Son of a merchant family on his mother’s side and a famous Shāfiʽī bayt al-ʽilmon his father’s side, he occupied a vast number of positions as mudarrisin various institutions of Cairo and was appointed many times as qāḍī al-quḍātof the Shāfiʽī school in Egypt, for a total of 23 years. His reputation in ḥadīṯ studies in the Cairo sultanate was unparalleled when he died in his native city in 852/1449. He was remembered as a man of knowledge, wealth and influence, both socially and scholarly.

But he was also renowned for his works in the genre of Ta’rīkh, which were already common references for 15th-century historians and which are still largely used in today’s historical research. Yet, although most of these historiographical works have been discussed before, they have not been analyzed per se. Their structures, their goals, their narratological and contextual frameworks, the cultural and political production of memory and history they helped inform and create, have not been subject to a specific analysis, nor the ways and the purposes in and for which they were designed.

My research project particularly focuses on these questions, through three of these works: the Durar al-kāmina fī aʿyān al-miʾa al-thāmina, a biographical dictionary focusing on 8th/14th century characters, written between 830/1426 and 837/1434 ; the Dhayl al-durar al-kāmina, the “supplement” of the Durar, another biographical dictionary focused on the characters deceased between 801/1398 and 832/1429, written in 832/1429; the Inbāʽ al-ghumr bi-abnāʼ al-ʽumr, an annalistic chronicle covering a period between the years 773/1372 and 850/1446, completed during al-Ẓāhir Jaqmaq’s rule.

This research draws particular attention to historiographical works as coherent systems of meanings and understood in their own social and discursive contextual framework.

Ibn ʿArabshāh, Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. ʿAbd Allāh by Dr. Mustafa Banister

Litterateur, religious scholar, chancery scribe, and historian. Although he donned these many caps later in life, the young Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad b. ‘Arabshāh (d. 854/1450)would never be the same again after his hometown of Damascus was sacked and he was taken prisoner by Tamerlane in 1400. He devoted the next twenty-two years of his life to learning Islamic sciences and seeking out masters in the courts and capitals of pre-modern Muslim West Asia: Samarqand, Khita, Khwarazm, Urganj, Astrakhan, Saray, and Bursa. In 825/1422, he returned to the lands under the control of the Cairo sultanate, ultimately settling in Damascus and trying to re-establish himself in existing social structures.  He benefitted from a patronage relationship with the scholar ‘Alā’ al-Dīn al-Bukhārī who relocated to Damascus in 832/1429. After al-Bukhārī’s death in 841/1438, Ibn ‘Arabshāh focused on creating several works of ‘adab and historiography that helped enhance his reputation. Frequent trips between Cairo and Damascus brought him into the orbit of other well-connected fifteenth century scholars among the civilian elite including Ibn Ḥajar, al-Maqrīzī, Ibn Taghrībirdī, and al-Sakhāwī.

Limiting my focus to Ibn ‘Arabshāh’s historiographical output during the 1430s and 1440s, at least three of his known works fall under the scope of the MMS-II project. My text corpus includes: Ibn ‘Arabshāh’s biography of Tamerlane, Ajā’ib al-Maqdūr fī Nawā’ib Tīmūr; as well as a panegyrical work dedicated to the sultan Jaqmaq, Al-Taʾlīf al-Ṭāhir fī Shiyam al-Malik al-Ẓāhir al-Qāʾim bi-Nuṣrat al-Ḥaqq Abī Saʿīd Jaqmaq. A third text, the Fākihat al-khulafāʼ wa-mufākahat al-ẓurafāʼ, while typically considered a work of ‘animal fables’ straddles a number of genres including Fürstenspiegel, versified rhetoric, and historical writing. The themes explored by Ibn ‘Arabshāh’s works demonstrate the author’s desire to shape society through texts aimed at advising those in power, defining what it meant to be a “just ruler”, and positioning himself at the heart of ideal governance in a way that represented the complete antithesis to his narrative reconstructions of the reign and rule of Tamerlane.

Ibn Taghrībirdī,  Abu l-Maḥāsin Jamāl al-Dīn Yūsuf (812/1409-874/1470) by Dr. Rihab Ben Othmen

Ibn Taghr Birdī was a fifteenth-century Mamluk historian. He was born in the prestigious palace of Manjak al-Yūsufī in Cairo. His father Taghrībirdī al-Yashbughāwī al-Ẓāhirī, a former mamluk of sultan Barqūq, was consecutively appointed as the commander in chief of the Egyptian armies in 810/1407 then the governor of Damascus in 813/1410. After his death in 815/1412 the young Yūsuf was brought up by his sister who married the chief judge Muḥammad b. al-ʿAdīm al-Ḥanafī (d. 819/1416) then the chief judge ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Bulqīnī al-Shāfiʿī (d. 824/1421). Raised within notable scholarly families he received a thorough grounding in the religious and literary disciplines. He studied under renown scholars and litterateurs like Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī (d. 852/1449) , Ibn ʿArabshāh (d.854/1450) and many others. Meanwhile, he gained mastery of the military arts and entered, through his father’s comrades from the Ẓāhirīya Mamluks, the fascinating world of the Mamluk court. Promptly gripped by al-ʿAynī’s achievements in Barsbāy’s court, he developed a keen interest in History. An art that he cultivated with the great masters of his time such as Taqiyy al-Dīn al-Maqrīzī(d. 845/1442).

During sultan Jaqmaq’s rule he started writing his main works: al-Manhal al-Ṣāfī wa al-Mustawfī baʿd al-Wāfī, a biographical dictionary devoted to Sultans, notable amīrs and scholars; Ḥawādith al-Duhūr fī Madā al-Ayyām wa al-Shuhūr, a continuation of  his master’s chronicle al-Sulūand his famed History of Egypt known as al-Nujūm al-Zāhira fī Mulūk Miṣr wa-l-Qāhira, which was originally dedicated to that sultan’s son Muḥammad. These monumental compilations were followed up later with several abridgements (mukhtaṣarāt) such as al-Dalīl al-Shāfī ʿala al-Manhal al-Ṣāfīal-Kawākib al-Bāhira min al-Nujūm al-Zāhira, Mawrid al-Laṭāfa fī man Waliya’l-Salṭana wa’l-khilāfa and al-Bishāra fī Takmilat al-Ishāra, a supplement to al-Dhahabī’s Ishāra.  A prolific historian and writer, his original and quite detailed accounts on the Mamluk elite, on courtly life and political struggles earned him the wide recognition as the vivid interest of modern scholars, for whom he was arguably “the Memorialist of the Mamluk Sultanate”. Of his numerous works, three will be studied within the framework of the MMS-II project: al-Manhal al-Ṣāfī;Ḥawādith al-Duhūr and al-Nujūm al-Zāhira. Therein, a focal consideration will be given to his identity claims and authorial self-fashioning, to his narrative strategies and to his court-centered assumptions of political order.

al-Biqāʿī, Burhān al-Dīn Abū al-Ḥasan Ibrāhīm b. ʿUmar (1406-1480) by Dr. Kenneth Goudie

Burhān al-Dīn al-Biqāʿī(809/1406–885/1480) was a fifteenth-century Qurʾān exegete and historian active in Cairo. Originally from the village of Khirbat Rūḥā in the Anti-Lebanon mountains, he moved at a young age to Damascus before settling in Cairo, where he became a student of Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī(d. 852/1449). Through the patronage of Ibn Ḥajar, al-Biqāʿī was appointed the personal tutor of Sultan Jaqmaq and the resident Qurʾān exegete at the Ẓāhir Mosque; he later became a confidante of Sultan Īnāl, and was closely associated with his court. He is best known to modern scholarship for his embroilment in three controversies, which were respectively on the use of the Bible in Qurʾān exegesis, the poetry of Ibn al-Fāriḍ, and the theodicy of al-Ghazālī: these three controversies defined the downward trajectory of his later career from 868/1464 until his death in 885/1480.

Although primarily active in the field of Qurʾān exegesis, al-Biqāʿī also wrote a number of historical works, of which two are of particular interest in the context of MMS-II: his chronicle, the Iẓhār al-ʿaṣr li-asrār ahl al-ʿaṣr, and his biographical dictionary ʿUnwān al-zamān bi-tarājim al-shuyūkh walaqrān. The Iẓhār al-ʿaṣrespecially reveals al-Biqāʿī to be a skilled raconteur: interspersed amongst his accounts of political events are salacious gossip, anecdotes, and even considerable autobiographical information. His ʿUnwān al-zamān includes an autobiography which, when coupled with the autobiographical material in the Iẓhār al-ʿaṣr, provides us with a distinctly personal insight into and interpretation of the history of the fifteenth century.


Project corpus

Egypt/Cairo: 18 authors / 59 texts

Generation 1 (born ca. pre-1390)

  • al-Maqrīzī (1365-1442)
  • al-ʿAynī (1361-1451)
  • Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī (1372-1449)
  • Ibn ʿArabshāh (1389-1450)
  • Ibn Nāhiḍ (1356-1438)
  • al-Qalqashandī (1355-1418)
  • Ibn Ḥijja al-Ḥamawī (1366-1434)

Generation 2 (born ca. post-1390)

  • Ibn Taghrībirdī(1411-1470)
  • al-Ẓāhirī (1410-1468)
  • al-Biqāʿī (1406-1480)
  • Ibn Quṭlūbughā (1399-1474)
  • al-Banbī  (1386-1474)
  • Ibn Bahādur (d. 1473)
  • al-Maqdisī/al-Qudsī (1416-1483)
  • al-Saḥmāwī (d. 1463)
  • al-Qalqashandī (1395-1471)
  • al-Ghazzī (1408-1460)
  • Ibn Ḥatlab al-Ghazzī (d. 1455)

Syria: 8 authors / 9 texts

Generation 1:

  • Ibn Buḥtur (d. 1436)
  • Ibn Qāḍī Shuhba (1377-1448)
  • Ibn Khaṭīb al-Nāṣirīya (1372-1439)
  • al-Bāʿūnī (1376-1466)

Generation 2:

  • Ibn al-Shiḥna (1402-1485)
  • Ibn Khaṭīb al-Nāṣiriyyah (d.1456)
  • Ibn Qāḍī Shuhba (1400-1470)
  • Ibn Abī ʿUdhayba (1416-1452)

Hijaz, Jazīra…: 5 authors / 14 texts

Generation 1

  • al-Fāsī  (1373-1429)
  •  al-Shaybī (d. 1433)
  • al-Ṣāghānī (d. 1450)

Generation 2

  • Ibn Fahd (1409-1480)
  • al-Ḥusaynī (d. 1470)