The fort or citadel built by the Mamluk sultan Qait Bey. It is on the location of the former lighthouse in Alexandria, Egypt
The dynasty was formed by an aristocracy of white slaves, mamluks. The Mamluk slaves had by definition limited rights to transfer positions and wealth to children, in order to prevent the dangers of hereditary dynasties. But with the establishment of the Mamluk dynasty of Egypt, this and other rules were bent, and many Mamluk sultans were children of former sultans.
The Mamluks rose to power from having become the strongest and best-organized organization in Egypt under the Ayyubid sultan. The last of these sultans, as-Salih, had over a decade bought large quantities of slaves from foreign lands in order to protect his own position. When he died, the Mamluks had his heir murdered and transferred power to their own ranks through the Ayyubid sultan’s last wife, Shajar ad-Durr, who married the Mamluk general Aybak.
It took the Mamluks only a decade to formalize power, of which the re-establishment of the caliphate in Cairo was part of the legitimization process.
The dynasties through Mamluk history, Bahri and Burji, took their names from the quarters where the troops that seized power had been stationed.
At its largest, the Mamluks included the three most important religious cities of Islam: Mecca, Madina, and Jerusalem. But the real cultural, hence theological, capital of the Mamluk era was still Cairo.
Among the main achievements of the Mamluk period was the development of historical writing, but the time did not allow serious deviations from the standard religious science, which affected Ibn Taimiya and his attempts to cleanse Islam of superstition and foreign accretions. As Baghdad had been razed by the Mongols only a few years after the beginning of their era, Cairo was also the economic capital of the Muslim world.
The Mamluks never managed to develop a clear system of who should take over the sultan’s throne, when the old sultan died.
The fundamental rule of no transferring of power to children was broken numerous times in the Bahri period. In general, it was a power that decided who should become a new sultan, allowing much destructive friction between Mamluk groups. But the principle remained that the sultan always came from the same group, first Bahri, then Burji.
Some sultans did however succeed in taming frictions and were able to establish stable state structures. This stability was always in jeopardy when the sultan died.
The golden age of the Mamluk period lasted from 1250 until 1350. This was a period of relatively good living standards, good relations with foreign powers, and peaceful relations between peoples inside the state. The next 170 years or so was a period of setbacks, economic problems, military defeats, and loss of territory.
The Mamluks did not disappear when their dynasty was replaced by Ottoman suzerainty in 1517. They stayed on as the leading class in the Egyptian society, and from the 17th century, they won back actual power in the country and would keep this for about 200 years more. Even though this period, they were replenished by purchase from slave markets.
8th century: Turks are recruited to armies in the Middle East and North Africa. Most of these were enslaved, and rulers buying them usually preferred slaves from distant countries, in order to be able to break their original loyalties.
1240’s: The Ayyubid sultan Salih buys large numbers of slaves from the Black Sea region, in order to strengthen his Mamluk army.
1250: The Mamluks general use their strong position in the Egyptian state to replace the Ayyubid sultan with one of their own: Aybak marries the wife of the last sultan.
1260: Baybars 1 becomes sultan, and builds the fundamental structures of the Mamluk state.
1261: Mamluk sultan Baybars 1 brings the uncle of the last Baghdad caliph to Cairo, and makes him a new caliph, but without any political power.
1291: The Mamluk army defeats the last rest of the Christian crusader states in the Middle East.
1323: The Mamluks conclude a peace treaty with the Mongols.
1340: With the death of sultan Nasir, a long period of conflicts over the throne follows. Over the next 21 years, 9 of his sons fight to overpower. Through this period the fabrics of Mamluk rule are partly destroyed, and the power passes slowly to the troop commanders.
1348: The Black Plague kills a large part of the population in the Mamluk state, and destroys the strength of the state. The reduction of the population made the state vulnerable to neighbor warlords.
1381: A Mamluk commander of the Burji camp usurps the sultan throne.
1400: The Mongol warlord Timur Lenk wins over the Mamluks in Syria.
Around 1500: Portugal takes control over the lucrative Red Sea trade, stripping the Mamluks of one of their most important sources of income.
1517: The Mamluks are defeated by the Ottoman sultan Selim 1, and Egypt becomes subject to Istanbul. Egypt is ruled by a pasha, but the Mamluk rulers, now called bey, manage to hold on to the actual power.
1811: Muhammad Ali takes control over Egypt, and ends the Mamluk dominance over Egyptian politics.