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Al-Makrizi as an Eyewitness within the Era of the Big Criminals during the Plague of 833 A.H. – 2

Al-Makrizi as an Eyewitness within the Era of the Big Criminals during the Plague of 833 A.H. – 2  


Published in April 16, 2020

Translated by: Ahmed Fathy


Continuing from the previous article: Fifthly: the month of Jamady Awwal, 833 A.H.:

6- (...On the 26th day of this month, all of the Alexandrian merchants were summoned by the sultan Barsbay and they entered into the palace once they reached Greater Cairo; they received the decree of never to sell goods coming from India like hot pepper and other spices to any European merchants, on the pain of death; this was because the sultan monopolized trading in such goods which reached Jeddah first before being shipped to Egypt and then transported through the River Nile to Alexandria; the sultan imposed exorbitant prices on European merchants for the same spices sold in Greater Cairo at lower prices; so as not to lose the European merchants in Alexandria who were his customers, the sultan imposed on the Alexandrian merchants never to sell the same goods to them; later on, when the European merchants left the port of Alexandria, the sultan bought all spices from the Alexandrian merchants at a very cheap price; they never dared to protest, or else, their goods will be wasted...). The cupidity of Barsbay was never stopped by the plague of 833 A.H.; Barsbay was known for his monopoly of the eastern trade since goods from India reached Jeddah (which is located in the Hejaz region, in Arabia, controlled at the time by the Mameluke sultanate); the greedy sultan Barsbay never allowed anyone to lessen his profits; he even threatened the merchants of Alexandria, after bringing them to his palace in Cairo, and then forced them to sell their goods to him at cheaper prices after he made the deal he desired with the European merchants.  

7- (...When the Muhtasib, who was a Mameluke prince loyal to the sultan Barsbay, tried to force merchants of Greater Cairo to buy sugar, confiscated by the sultan, at exorbitant prices, many merchants and shopkeepers closed their shops to avoid meeting with the Muhtasib; this caused a grave trouble to the people of Greater Cairo since they could not buy any medicine and cures during the plague...). So, Barsbay who monopolized the trade of sugar made his Muhtasib (i.e., inspector of markets) force merchants of Greater Cairo to buy sugar at a very high price, and they had to close their shops to avoid being forced to do so; since shopkeepers were also apothecaries at the time, no one could find any medicine during the plight of the plague; this was the 'contribution' made by Barsbay to fight the plague!   

8- (...Swift and sudden death because of the plague occurred a lot this month; many people died of the plague within one hour of being infected; most deaths were infants and youths as well as male and female slaves; the least number of deaths was among women and men; at least 200 persons died every day in Al-Fustat district in Greater Cairo; at least 300 persons died every day in the suburbs of the capital; this is not to mention persons who died and their names were never registered by the department of inheritance because they were poor and had no assets or money left to anyone...At least 100 persons died of the plague in Alexandria and 9000 persons died this month in the cities of Lower-Egypt governorates. Mameluke employees who counted the deceased persons as per the funeral prayers and services noticed that the actual numbers surpassed all statistics announced earlier...). Of course, the plague killed weaker persons such as children and youths and non-Egyptian (fe)male slaves who had weaker immunity; adults of both sexes survived because they had a measure of immunity and strength since they survived a previous wave of the plague. Of course, no statistics were 100% accurate; Al-Makrizi never mentions the death rates in Upper-Egypt governorates and villages and those of Lower-Egypt villages and rural areas. This means no one cared to count the number of victims; the focus was on counting and registering the names of the rich victims who died of the plague so that the sultan Barsbay would have the lion's share of the inheritance money they left!     

9- (...In the last ten days of this month, many fish and crocodiles in the River Nile and in the lakes died and floated on the surface of the water from Greater Cairo to the cities of Damietta and Rosetta; many people caught them and found them very red in the color of blood; this drove people to infer that they may have died of the plague in their turn; many wolves and deer were also found dead in the desert between Greater Cairo and Suez...News came that the plague spread also in Europe...). This means the plague increased among wild animals and fresh-water creatures; crocodiles spread in the River Nile at the time even in Cairo and the Nile Delta (and until before the High Dam was built in the 1960s); the plague reached from the Levantine region to Europe.

10- (...On the last day of this month, 2100 persons died of the plague in Greater Cairo as per the counting of funeral prayers and services inside mosques; yet, the inheritance department registered only the names of about 400 rich deceased persons; for instance, 70 persons died in the Cairene district of Boulaq, but the inheritance department registered only the names of 12 rich men; at least 200 persons died and people performed funeral prayers for their souls at the Khanqah (i.e., Sufi religious institution) built by the sultan Al-Nasser Ibn Qalawun in the district of Sariaqos, in Cairo, and 600 persons died in the villages and hamlets of Al-Menoufiyya and Al-Qalyubiyya governorates in Lower Egypt, the nearest governorates to Greater Cairo...). So, Al-Makrizi writes the number of victims as per the news he received, and he shows the difference between such statistics and the numbers of those dead rich ones recorded by the inheritance department of the Mameluke authorities; of course, we should bear in mind that many people never notified the authorities about their dead ones to prevent the big criminals (Mameluke military rulers + judges/clergymen) from stealing the greater part of inheritance money left by the deceased persons.

11- Al-Makrizi writes dramatic details in the following lines which require no comments from us.

11/1: (...Death caused by the plague was so common that 18 fishermen who worked by the River Nile in one spot in their boat returned as 4 fishermen since 14 of them died suddenly before they reached the riverbank; when the 4 fishermen were busy digging in the cemetery to bury the dead 14 fishermen, 3 of them fell dead; the remaining fisherman buried the 17 dead fishermen, and once he completed his mission, he fell dead in one of the streets of Greater Cairo; thus, the 18 fishermen who belonged to one family died of the plague on one day...).

11/2: (...News came about 40 men who embarked a ship in the River Nile in Greater Cairo to reach Asyut, a city in Upper Egypt, but before the ship reached Asyut, the 40 men died of the plague...).

11/3: (...A woman who rode a mule led by its owner who rented it for passengers came from the suburbs and once she reached midtown in Cairo, the owner of the mule found out that she died of the plague; he threw her body on a pavement and ran away; in the next day, people had to hastily bury her decaying corpse, and no one knew who she was and who her family was...).

11/4: (...Despite the cold weather, the corpses of those who died of the plague decomposed and decayed swiftly within less than one hour after their death...).


Sixthly: the month of Jamady Akhar, 833 A.H.:


1- (...More deaths occurred because of the plague; on the 2nd day of this month, the number of the coffins of the dead which passed through the gates of the Cairo wall was 1200; more than the triple of that number of died of the plague in the suburbs especially in Boulaq and Al-Husseiniyya,...etc. Yet, the department of inheritance registered only the names of 390 dead rich persons; many people managed not to notify the authorities about their deceased rich relatives because some charitable people contributed many coffins to carry the corpses of the poor deceased persons to the cemeteries and mass graves; this way, some rich inheritors would make such coffins carry their deceased ones without having to register their names in the department of inheritance...).

2- (...Prices of shrouds soared these days and so were the prices needed to buy what ill people needed: sugar, pears, and common purslane; yet, such items failed to cure most of those who were infected by the plague since they died swiftly within an hour or so of contracting the plague...). such cures were known in the medieval era as part of experience in medicinal herbs and fruits among common people at the time; until the 1960s in rural areas in Egypt, common purslane was consumed raw or cooked. Of course, such 'cures' were of no use to treat the victims of the plague since they died swiftly of it.

3- (...Many Mameluke soldiers who lived in the towers near the palace and served the sultan suffered from the plague in their turn; at least 450 soldiers were taken ill every day and more than 50 of them died on a daily basis – to the relief of the people of Greater Cairo since such Mameluke soldiers spread corruption on earth and committed many injustices, acts of violence and thievery, and raped and killed many people...). It seems that the plague had it positive side; most Mameluke soldiers bought and brought by Barsbay died; most of them were real criminals, gangsters, and highwaymen in their original homelands; they typically committed acts of aggression against the weakened Egyptians: murder, rape, robbery, and humiliation; such Jilban Mameluke soldiers of Asian and European origins had no immunity against the plague and died inside the towers of the palace; such towers never prevented their death; the Lord God says the following in the Quran: "Wherever you may be, death will catch up with you, even if you were in fortified towers..." (4:78). Would the military regime generals in Egypt, in the time of Coronavirus in 2020, take heed now and be warned?!  

4- (...Many deaths because of the plague occurred in the cities of Al-Mahalla, Foh, and Belbeis and also in other Lower-Egypt cities and villages, but it was removed from Al-Beheira Governorate and regions around it near Lower Egypt; news came that the plague spread and increased in Upper Egypt...). This means that the plague decreased in locations where its outbreak began; it increased in other regions in Egypt.

5- (...On the 7th day of this month, 1200 persons died and counted within the funeral prayers and services in at least 100 mosques; yet, the department of inheritance registered only 385 names of the deceased rich persons...). Of course, the numbers counted by the department of inheritance lost their credibility as per Al-Makrizi; of course, Al-Makrizi received news only of known mosques; there were thousands of small, less known ones; no one counted the number of times of funeral prayers performed there to maintain accurate statistics of the death rates. This means that the numbers of dead people exceeded the ones professed by both Al-Makrizi and the Mameluke authorities at the time.

6- Al-Makrizi writes the following about later statistics of the victims of the plague.

6/1: (...On the 9th day of this month, the number of those who died of the plague in Greater Cairo and whose relatives performed funeral prayers and services for their sake was 1263 persons; yet, the department of inheritance registered only 385 names of the dead rich persons, males and females; in the grand mosque near the Cairo wall's Al-Nasr gate, the number of the dead people reached 450 persons as per counting the number of times when funeral prayers were performed...). This Mameluke grand mosque near Al-Nasr gate still exists in Old-Cairo district, Egypt, and it still retains its fame.

6/2: (...On the 10th day of this month, the funeral prayers and services were performed for 505 dead persons; the numbers increased in the other 14 grand mosques in other Cairene districts where funeral prayers were performed...).

6/3: (...On the 11th day of this month, the funeral prayers and services were performed for 1246 persons who died of the plague in 11 grand mosques in Greater Cairo and in the suburbs; yet, at least one thousand dead persons were buried without any funeral prayers or services; more than 800 coffins of dead persons got out of the grand mosque near the Cairo wall's Al-Nasr gate and roughly the same number from the grand mosque near the palace; in many mosques, each of the funeral prayers were performed for a group of 40 dead persons simultaneously, and then another group of 40 deceased persons,...etc. By the end of this day, at least 12.300 coffins passed through the gates of the Cairo wall to be buried in cemeteries outside the capital and in the deserts in mass graves...).

7- Al-Makrizi writes about some strange, unusual incidents.

7/1: (...Thousands of Mameluke princes and military leaders died of the plague; some viziers and their sons died of the plague inside hospitals; when coffins there were not enough to cover such numbers of corpses, some were carried in coffins dedicated for charity to carry the poor deceased persons to their burial places...). The only silver lining of the plague was that it never made distinction between weakened common people and the big criminals; both died of it in the same manner; we hope very much that the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 would finish off as many big criminals among the Muhammadans as possible. 

7/2: (...Among the unusual incidents that took place during the plague, about 3000 Sudanese men, women, and male and female children took hiding in the big cemetery outside Greater Cairo so that they would escape death by the plague which swept over the capital; yet, most of such Sudanese people died of the plague within two days; the survived ones left the cemetery in a hurry and settled in Al-Muqattam mount near Greater Cairo; they spent a sleepless night there as they mourned their dead; in the very next day, 30 persons among them died of the plague; while the dead ones were being buried, 18 Sudanese men fell dead as they died of the plague as well...). The Lord God says the following in the Quran: "Say, “The death from which you flee will catch up with you..." (62:8).

7/3: (...One estate in Lower Egypt was inherited in one month by nine Mameluke princes successively, because each one who owned it died of the plague after a brief space of time until all of them died eventually...). The Mamelukes had divided rural regions in Egypt into feudal estates distributed among the sultan, princes, leaders, and soldiers; the estate mentioned in this passage was granted/inherited by nine Mameluke princes, each in his turn, but they died of the plague one after the other. Would the military generals of Egypt's Al-Sisi be warned by death rates resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020?! The earth remains and human beings die and return to dust into the earth; yet, the big criminals (tyrants + clergymen) are heedless of death and of the Hereafter. Glorified and praised be the Lord God Who will inherit the earth and everyone on it on the Last Day. The Lord God says the following in the Quran: "And warn them of the Day of Regret, when the matter will be concluded. Yet they are heedless, and they do not believe. It is We who will inherit the earth and everyone on it, and to Us they will be returned." (19:39-40).

7/4: (...Because most people in Greater Cairo were busy burying the dead and tending the ill ones in hospitals and in houses, the marketplaces suffered lack of purchasers/customers especially the markets of silks and fine garments; the only goods which sold very well were shrouds and coffins; the high demand for them caused their prices to increase but their availability decreased with the passage of time; some poor people had to carry the corpses to their burial places on logs of wood and on empty wooden cages, and sometimes, the corpses were simply carried by hands of men...).

7/5: (...At one time, many people could not bury the dead ones at once; they had to wait beside the corpses for a longer while or spend the night in the cemetery before getting the chance to bury the dead; gravediggers worked day and night to make tombs for the dead of rich families; more often than not, mass graves were dug to bury hundreds of corpses of poor people together. Many dogs ate the limbs of some corpses in mass graves which could barely contain all corpses buried inside them. Many people hired undertakers, carriers, and coffins, and most people had to buy shrouds. The queues of carriers of coffins were so long and closely beside one another at each of the gates of the Cairo wall that one could not see the beginning and the end of each queue in such crowds; this was among the worst gruesome scenes we ever witnessed; mourning was everywhere in the streets and in all houses of the capital...). So, mass graves were filled with corpses to the extent that some limbs of the dead people were not buried properly and dogs consumed them; Al-Makrizi disliked very much being a witness of such a painful and shocking sight as woe and sorrow spread all over Greater Cairo at the time.



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