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Al-Makrizi as a Witness against an Era: Details about the Big Criminals of the Year 825 A.H. – 1

Al-Makrizi as a Witness against an Era: Details about the Big Criminals of the Year 825 A.H. – 1



Published in May 6, 2020

Translated by : Ahmed Fathy





Firstly: the arrangement of the big criminals in order:

 Al-Makrizi writes the following about the beginning of 825 A.H.: (...This year began while the sultan of Egypt, the Levant, and Hejaz was Al-Saleh Nasser-Eddine Mohamed Ibn Al-Dhahir Tatar, under the guardianship of the big prince Barsbay Al-Diqmaqi who managed the affairs of the State along with the big prince Tarbay the high military leader. The scribe and reader of letters in the royal palace was prince Soodin Ibn Abdel-Rahman; the prince who kept arms and weapon was prince Baybagha; prince Qajaq headed the higher council;...; the grand vizier was Taj-Eddine Abdel-Razik; the governor of Greater Cairo was prince Azbek; the secretary in the royal palace was Alam-Eddine Ibn Dawood; the private treasurer of the sultan was Badr-Eddine Hassan Ibn Nasralla; the treasurer of the State was prince Arghon Shah; the supreme judge of the Al-Shafei doctrine was Walley-Eddine Ahmad Al-Iraqi, and the rest of the four supreme judges were the same like the year before. The governor of the rural regions of Upper Egypt was prince Aqja; the governor or Alexandria was prince Fares; the governor-general of the Levantine region was prince Tanbak; the governor of Aleppo was prince Taghribirdi, who was very rebellious and quarrelsome, and the governor of Tripoli was prince...; the governor of Hama was prince...; the governor of Safad was prince Einal;...Groups of desert-Arabs raided many villages in Upper Egypt, causing much corruption, damage, and destruction...). We note the following points.

1- Al-Makrizi does not mention the Cairo-based Abbasid caliph in the above passage; maybe he despised him because he gave 'legitimacy' and benediction in the last year, 824 A.H., for three sultans: the child-sultan who was the son of Al-Moayyad Sheikh, the sultan Tatar, and the child-sultan who was the son of Tatar. Of course, the Cairo-based Abbasid caliph did the same for sultan Barsbay who was enthroned in 825 A.H. 

2- In 825 A.H., Barsbay ascended the throne as sultan; this is why many changes occurred within high-rank positions; mainly, Tarbay was removed/dismissed and imprisoned though he shared with Barsbay the title (the big prince) which meant being guardians to a child-sultan (i.e., the son of Tatar). Of course, while seeking to become the new sultan, Barsbay had to get rid of Tarbay his rival within the struggle of the big criminals for reaching power.   

3- Al-Makrizi does not mention three names of the three supreme judges who kept their posts from the previous year 824 A.H.; he mentions only the new Al-Shafei supreme judge who succeeded the dead supreme judge Al-Balkini who was given the title (Sheikh Al-Eslam) or 'sheikh of Islam' as per the Sunnite-Sufi myths dominant at the time.  


Secondly: during the month of Muharram:

News of the struggle for power:

1- (...On the 13th day of this month, news came about the governor of Aleppo, prince Taghribirdi, who fled the city after a military struggle which occurred between him and the governor of Tripoli prince...who received a formal letter from the royal palace Cairo to be appointed as the new governor of Aleppo instead of the rebellious and quarrelsome prince Taghribirdi who was defeated eventually; the new governor controlled Aleppo, and for days, drums of victory were heard in the royal palace in Cairo...). Of course, this was done as per the directions of the governor-general of the Levant, prince Tanbak, who allied himself to Barsbay.

2- (...On the 19th day of this month, the governor of the rural regions of Upper Egypt, prince Aqja, died and his post was assumed by prince Al-Jamaly...).

3- (...On the 23rd day of this month, the caravan of pilgrims returned to Greater Cairo led by the military leader and prince Tamar Al-Youssefy, and the pilgrims praised him much for his protecting them and his good manners; he grew so popular in Greater Cairo until Barsbay had him arrested on the 28th day of the same month...). Of course, Barsbay arrested any possible rivals who may seek the throne while relying on their popularity.

4- (...During this month, prince Qarmash who was a military leader with one thousand soldiers under his command was arrested and imprisoned in Damietta; prince Yashbak was given the position and the estates of prince Qarmash...). Of course, the Mameluke defense minister (or higher military leader) had under him princes who led groups of 1000 soldiers; within the struggle for power/authority, some of such leaders were dismissed and some were promoted; those who lost their posts and ranks lost also their estates and possessions and in some cases, they lost also their lives as they were put to death in prisons. This was typical at the time within the struggle for power among the criminals.

News of strange occurrences:

1- (...During this month, a man named sheikh Saad, who was known to be a Sufi poor man who received charity from people and taught children the Quran in return for little wages, came to the Al-Azhar mosque and donated for charity a large sum of money: 300 dinars in gold and 4500 dirhams; people were astonished that such a man had such a great deal of money...). It was never typical to find a Sufi beggar and sheikh who donated charity for the students of Al-Azhar who, at the time, lived off the Waqfs (i.e., religious endowments) donated by charitable people who volunteered to provide the means to spend on Al-Azhar; during the Mameluke Era, the money spent on Al-Azhar did not come from national Waqfs dedicated by Mameluke princes and sultans who desired to protect their money and their children's money. Within national Waqfs created by them to spend on mosques and madrassas (religious schools), the princes and sultans appointed sheikhs, teachers/tutors, and employees and they bring students/pupils as well.     

2- (...Strange cold weather struck the Hooran region in the Levant and caused the spread of frogs beetles, and scorpions all over this region and its palaces...).


Thirdly: during the month of Saffar:

News of the struggle for power:

1- (...On the 2nd day of this month, the prince Aytmash Al-Khodary got arrested and dismissed; after he lost his post and rank, he was banished to Jerusalem...).

2- (...During this month, rivalry and animosity increased between princes Barsbay and Tarbay; at one time, prince Tarbay declared his intention to roam Giza for fun for several days, but rumors spread until the end of this month that a major fight would take place in Greater Cairo between the troops of both princes...). This means that Tarbay left the royal palace and went to Giza while pretending to go on a pleasant journey for his own amusement; in fact, he was mobilizing his allies and supporters.

News of corruption and destruction:

1- (...On the 18th day of this month, many exchangers and moneylenders were gathered in the stables of the royal palace as they were summoned to examine the weights of all coins of dirhams and dinars; prices for all coins kept changing in the following weeks; this changeable values of money caused much trouble in sales within markets and in trade and in rents and wages...most people in Greater Cairo lost a great deal of money...). This means that the Mameluke State manipulated and changed the prices of the coins/currency to steal more money from the helpless people.

2- (...During this month, cattle were scarce and people could not find mutton meat in markets...).

3- (...Many desert-Arabs became highwaymen who attacked travellers in Upper Egypt and raided many villages and towns where they looted and burned them down as well; as a result, many crops were scarce; many rich Upper Egyptians had to buy food items and crops shipped to them from Greater Cairo since most Upper Egyptian rural areas were ruined; for weeks on end, no peasants dared to plant anything or to care for the farms and stretches of land; many villages and towns were deserted; cattle were scarce since they were mostly stolen; poverty and misery struck almost everyone in Upper Egypt; they consumed little food; yet, the injustice of governors was indescribable there; people began to fear that Upper Egypt would have no inhabitants in the near future...). The Mamelukes and the desert-Arabs (or Bedouins) struggled and vied for stealing as much money as possible from the peasants in the Egyptian villages and rural areas in Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt; this resulted in the ruin/destruction of Upper Egypt in particular since it is very far from the Egyptian capital (i.e., Greater Cairo); some raiding tribes of the Bedouins or desert-Arabs settled in Upper Egypt.


Fourthly: during the month of Rabei Awwal:

News of the struggle for power:

1- (...On the 2nd day of this month, prince Tarbay returned from his excursion in Giza...). In fact, Barsbay sent his solemn promises to Tarbay that he would be safe if he would return to the royal palace; this was a trap to arrest and imprison Tarbay, of course; meanwhile, all allies and supporters of Tarbay were arrested and imprisoned by Barsbay in the dungeon of the palace.

2- (...On the 3rd day of this month, prince Barsbay had prince Soodin, among other princes and military leaders, arrested and imprisoned for their allying themselves to prince Tarbay; fear and rumors spread in Greater Cairo about more arrests among Mameluke leaders and princes; their soldiers became ready to fight any time; the remaining allies of prince Tarbay warned him against entering into the royal palace controlled by prince Barsbay; he never accepted their pieces of advice and their warning; he told them that prince Barsbay promised him safety and security and that he was not a treacherous man; in fact, years before, prince Tarbay had higher rank and better military prowess since the era of the sultan Barqoq; eventually, prince Tarbay felt he must support and ally himself to prince Barsbay; he helped him deceive, entrap, and arrest prince Janbak, who was the main rival of prince Barsbay, and since prince Tarbay rendered this great service to prince Barsbay, he felt that prince Barsbay would reward him and never betray him; this was why prince Tarbay went on horseback towards the royal palace, in peace, and settled in his chamber there; yet, he was sieged suddenly by prince Barsbay and his soldiers; prince Barsbay issued his command to have prince Tarbay arrested at once; prince Tarbay drew his sword to defend himself, but in vain; after a short fight with swords between him and prince Barsbay, the soldiers attacked prince Tarbay and were about to chop off one of his arms, the luck prince Tarbay avoided their blows, but he got wounded and had to surrender himself; he was taken into the dungeon of the royal palace as a prisoner. Tumult occurred inside the royal palace as some soldiers sided with prince Barsbay and some others bemoaned the treachery and the entrapment suffered by prince Tarbay. Yet, hours later, everyone submitted to prince Barsbay; no one moved to help and save prince Tarbay; in the very next day, after dressing the wound of prince Tarbay, he was moved in chains to another prison in Alexandria...Criers and callers were sent by prince Barsbay to roam the streets of Greater Cairo to urge people never to interfere and never to talk about any struggle or spread any rumors; they were also told that they should feel safe and secure in the streets and in markets since peace is restored at last...).

2/1: The rank of Barsbay was lower than that of Tarbay; Tarbay felt that Barsbay, who was an inferior when compared with Tarbay, would be grateful to him for helping him; he never thought of Barsbay as capable of treachery; yet, Barsbay was keen on getting rid of all those whose ranks were above him as they were power-seeking rivals who stood as obstacles on his way to ascend the throne. Barsbay was keen to draw nearer to himself those who had lower ranks than his own. That Tarbay thought well of Barsbay and underestimated his might and cunning resulted in his entering into the royal palace while believing he was safe and that his own allies and supporters filled the palace and would certainly protect him. this did not happen; Tarbay was attacked, arrested, and imprisoned.

2/2: Al-Makrizi draws a lesson here and addresses it to his readers: (...Those endowed with reasonable minds should draw a moral lesson from such events: prince Barsbay managed to deceive, entrap, enchain, and imprison princes Janbak and Tarbay; both men underestimated the might of their rival, prince Barsbay, and both were too arrogant to listen to the pieces of advice of their allies and supporters; people in Greater Cairo feared the rumors spread for several days about a major fight which would be witnessed in the streets of the capital; luckily, it did not occur; the faults and arrogance of the defeated princes helped the victorious prince Barsbay to avoid a war...In fact, each soul is repaid as per its own deeds...).

3- (...During this month, prince Soodin was banished to Damietta; prince Nasser-Eddine was sent to the Levant to carry a message to the governor-general as prince Barsbay needed him in Cairo...a decree was issued to bring back from Jerusalem the banished prince Aytmash Al-Khodary...). Thus, Barsbay got rid of Soodin by banishing him; Barsbay sent for his ally, the governor-general of the Levant, to assist him in the preparation to remove the child-sultan M. Ibn Tatar so that Barsbay would be enthroned as the new Mameluke sultan.

4- (...On the 23rd day of this month, prince Aytmash Al-Khodary came from Jerusalem but until now he never left his mansion in Cairo...).

News of corruption and destruction:

1- (...On the 15th day of this month, the eunuch prince Morgan Al-Hindi, who at the time managed the seraglio of the royal palace, was arrested and handed over to the prince Arghon Shah, the treasurer of the State, who squeezed large sums of money out of him...). This means that after his dismissal, his money was confiscated by his being threatened with torture; more money came as a large bribe was paid for the vacant post.

2- (...On the 22nd of this month, the eunuch Kafur Al-Shalaby was promoted as the prince who would manage the seraglio after he paid a large sum of money to have this post...).


Fifthly: during the month of Rabei Akhar:

News of the struggle for power:

1- (...On the 6th day of this month, prince Tanbak, the governor-general of the Levantine region, reached Greater Cairo and was welcomed into the royal palace by the princes, viziers, and statesmen; he was given some gifts and rich garments; he was allowed to keep his prestigious post in the Levant; he was consulted regarding the intention of prince Barsbay to remove the child-sultan, Mohamed Ibn Tatar, and becoming the new sultan; he readily agreed and blessed and supported his plan...). This plan was executed two days later. This means that his agreement was given in return for his keeping his post as the governor-general of the Levant; he allied himself to Barsbay from the very beginning; Barsbay had to make sure prince Tanbak would not revolt and seek to rule the Levant independently.

2- (...On the 8th day of this month, Al-Saleh Mohamed Ibn Tatar was removed from the throne; his reign lasted for four months and three days...). On the very next day, having got rid of all rivals, Barsbay introduced major changes in many high-rank positions.

3- (...the prince who kept arms and weapon, prince Baybagha, was promoted as the high military leader of all Mameluke troops instead of the imprisoned prince Tarbay; the post left vacant by prince Baybagha was granted to prince Qajaq who left his position as the head of the higher council; this position was granted to prince Aqubgha Al-Timrazi, who was formerly a leader of a group of 1000 soldiers. Prince Hassan Al-Kordy remained in his post as the governor of rural regions of Lower Egypt...Each man who got promoted or permitted to keep his post was given a richly embroidered garment indicating the post which he assumed...Many of princes and military leaders who were imprisoned in the dungeon of the royal palace were released...).

4- (... On the 14th of this month, prince Tanbak, the governor-general of the Levant, was allowed to return to the Levant; many statesmen, princes, and viziers saw him off as his procession and caravan was leaving Greater Cairo; each of them gave him several gifts: horses, expensive garments,...etc. ...). This ceremony of seeing off and offering gifts to the governor-general of the Levant was done after he fulfilled his mission by supporting Barsbay in his being enthroned as the new sultan.

News of strange occurrences: what Barsbay did after he became the Mameluke sultan:

 (...The first decree issued by the sultan Barsbay was to stop all people from prostrating to the sultan and from kissing he ground under his feet; this practice was done for many sultans and caliphs before; it was introduced by the very first Fatimid caliph in Egypt, Al-Moezz, who built both Cairo and Al-Azhar. For many centuries, those leaders, viziers, princes, scribes, employees, Mamelukes, governors, and even messengers of other kings and rulers when granted an audience with the sultan or caliph, they had to prostrate to him and to kiss the ground under his feet; this applied to all other people except for judges, supreme judges, clergymen/sheikhs, fiqh scholars, and honorable emirs of Hejaz who descended from Hassan and Hussein, the sons of Ali Ibn Abou Talib, as this exception was done to honor them. They had only to kiss the hand of the caliph or sultan. One would wish that the decree of sultan Barsbay of stopping such bad practice would continue after his death; in fact, it returned once more as per the decrees of other sultans who succeeded the sultan Barsbay...). The Fatimid Shiite theocracy, within which caliphs/sultans were deified frankly and explicitly, introduced this tradition of prostrating before rulers and kissing the ground under their feet; this went on within later eras (i.e., the Ayyubid and the Mameluke eras); people also prostrated to the letters sent by sultans; Barsbay annulled such a pagan tradition during his reign; yet, this polytheistic tradition returned with a vengeance after the death of Barsbay.   

News of corruption and destruction:

1- (...On the 2nd day of this month, the imprisoned eunuch prince Morgan Al-Hindi was released; he was bailed by paying 20 thousand dinars and his promising to pay another 10 thousand dinars days later; this was guaranteed by a group of his friends who signed the bailing document...). This release was in return for a bribe.

2- (...On the 25th day of this month, prince Soodin was given a sum of money to execute the project of digging a canal of water in Alexandria; yet, he could not execute this project...). This means he failed in this mission and the only success was in spreading more corruption and ruin in Egypt.

3- (...During this month, dry lands increased in the farms and orchards of the Levantine regions of Hooran, Jerusalem, Kerak, Al-Ramla, and Gaza as rain never poured down; many peasants and villagers deserted their villages and towns because of the scarcity of water and lack of crops; they settled in Aleppo, Hama, and Damascus and also in coastal cities in the Levant which had abundance of water because of heavy rain...Glorified be Allah the Omnipotent Lord...).

4- (...During this month, ruin and destruction increased in Upper Egypt because of much raids and fights; the number of highwaymen increased and people lived in abject poverty and lack of security...).

5- (...No taxes could be collected from towns and villages of Upper Egypt...The Mameluke governor of Qos, a city in Upper Egypt, was murdered by raiders who attacked his procession...). Such raiders were, no doubt, Bedouins or desert-Arabs.

6- (... Long before the reign of the sultan Barsbay, the charity hospital built by the late sultan Al-Moayyad Sheikh, near his mosque and Waqfs which carried his name, for the sake of the penniless ill people was confiscated and all ill people inside it were expelled; it was turned into a tavern and an inn which offered wine, hash, and harlots to customers who spent the night, and as stable was built for horses of any travelers especially messengers who carried massages to the sultan from kings and rulers of the East...Later on, this tavern-brothel was cleaned and purified, as per the commands of the sultan Barsbay, and turned into a mosque adjacent to the one built by the late sultan Al-Moayyad Sheikh...). This story exemplifies the features of corruption within Waqfs in the State ruled by the big criminals. During the Mameluke Era, it often happened that a mosque was turned into a tavern-brothel and that a tavern-brothel was turned into a mosque; more details about that topic are mentioned in our encyclopedia of Mameluke Sufism published on our website.

7- (...The mosque, madrassa, and mansions built by the late sultan Al-Moayyad Sheikh were ruined and neglected, remaining for a while dilapidated and about to collapse; the children of this late sultan were expelled from such institutions and from the mansions; yet, such buildings were inhabited later on by Sufi men who came from the East to settle in Egypt...).


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