Egypt: History - Burgi Mameluke Period

Burgi (Tower) Mameluke Period

Circassian (Burgi) Mamlukes Rulers

  • Sultan Zaher Barqooq (1382-1399)
  • Sultan Farag Ben Barqooq (first time) (1399-1405)
  • Sultan Abd El-Aziz Ben Barqooq (1405)
  • Sultan Farag Ben Barqooq (second time) (1405-1412)
  • Sultan Muyaid Sheikh (1412-1421)
  • Sultan Ahmed Ben Muyaid (1421)
  • Sultan Zaher Tatar (1421)
  • Sultan Nasser Mohamed Ben Tatar (1421)
  • Sultan Ashraf Barsbay (1422-1438)
  • Sultan Aziz Gamal Ben Barsabay (1438)
  • Sultan Zaher Gaqmaq (1438-1453)
  • Sultan Mansour Osman Ben Gaqmaq (1453)
  • Sultan Ashraf Inal (1453-1460)
  • Sultan Muayaid Ahmed Ben Inal (1460)
  • Sultan Zaher Khoshkadam (1461-1467)
  • Sultan Seif Eddin Yalbai (1467)
  • Sultan Zaher Tamarbagha (1467)
  • Sultan Khair Bey (1467)
  • Sultan Ashraf Qaitbay (1468-1496)
  • Sultan Ashraf Mohamed Ben Qaitbay (first time)(1496-1497)
  • Sultan Qansuh Khumsamaah (1497)
  • Sultan Ashraf Mohamed Ben Qaitbay (second time)(1497-1498)
  • Sultan Qansuh Ashrafi (1498-1500)
  • Sultan Ganblat (1500-1501)
  • Sultan Adel Tumanbay I (1501)
  • Sultan Ashraf Qansuh Ghori (1501-1516)
  • Sultan Tumanbay II (1517)

From the Citadel tower, the Burgi Mamelukes ruled Egypt for the next 135 years, but their reign proved even more bloody and unstable than that of the Bahris. They were also called the Circassian Mamelukes since most of them came from Caucasus. The period of their rule is said to have been the darkest points in Egyptian history. Even from the beginning of Barkuq, who was the first Burgi Mameluke, Cairo began to be like a dog eat dog world. The Mameluke soldiers from Greek, Turkish, Circassian and Tartar killed each other every day in the streets of Cairo. No one was safe, especially the women. The Circassians had a special taste for rape and murder. All of Barkuq's soldiers were bought sometimes in groups of five thousand. He would send them out in the country to stop revolts and they had free reign. The results were always unbelievable.

To help defend Syria from a new Mongol incursion under Timur-I Lang (Tamerlane), they assessed oppressive taxes. By 1403, famine and plague had combined to undermine the economy. The Christians and Jews were heavily taxed. Christians were required to wear a five pound wooden cross around their necks, while the Jews were required to wear a black ball.

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the Nile had shifted its course to the west of the city and receded almost a mile to where it is at today. A huge ship called the Elephant (Fil) sank at a bend near the port of al Maks. Silt began to form around the ship and within a few years Elephant Island (Gezirat al Fil) had formed. During the inundations the island would be covered but eventually it began to stay above the water even then. This caused the river to straighten out its banks. The parts that formed are what is now referred to as the European part of Cairo, which is from Ezbekiya Gardens to the river. The ground around Elephant Island was soft and marshy. The Mamelukes likes to practice their archery in this area. This area was eventually drained when al Nasir joined the Red Sea canal to the new bank of the river. This new area became the new port of Bulaq and was Cairo's link with the Red Sea traffic. Houses were built along the new riverbanks and the town of Bulaq began to appear.

The Circassian Mamelukes went on building the city. They built a lot of great monuments, but the most luxurious is the mosque of Sultan Mu'aiyad. It was built by the Sultan Mu'aiyad on the site where the prison stood in which he was once a prisoner. It was actually finished a year after his death in 1422. He was an oppressive and pious man who spent a fortune on his mosque. His currency reforms and the plagues that struck during his reign had everyone so engaged in choosing his successor, that no one attended his funeral. He was buried without a towel to wrap his body in.

After forty-nine years and twelve sultans, Qait Bey became sultan. He reigned for twenty-eight years and taxed all the land one fifth of its production. He brutally killed a chemist, Ali Ibn al Marshushi because he was not able to turn lead into gold. His mosque that was built in 1472 is probably the most beautiful and sophisticated building from medieval Cairo.

The amirs expanded state monopolies, but production dropped and the cost of living soared. From 1468 through 1489, under the able Sultan Qait Bey, Egypt experienced a brief revival but the country was headed for crises. In 1488, the Cape of Good Hope was discovered. It was a sea route from Europe to India. The Europeans were desperate for another way to get to India to avoid the heavy taxes and physical tolls that Venice and Cairo placed on their goods. Portuguese traders had already started trading in Calicut. They picked up goods from India and took them to Lisbon at much less cost than it had through Cairo. By 1502 Cairo's trade had decreased so bad that the Mamelukes tried to get help from the ruler of India. He refused. The Venetians brought timber to Alexandria and built a fleet of ships. The Egyptians sailed these ships to India and defeated the Portuguese fleet off of Bombay. However, in 1509 the Mameluke fleet was defeated off Diu. The sultan during this time was al Ashraf Kansuh al Ghury who was elected in 1501 at the age of 60. He was faced with the Portuguese coming from one side and the Ottoman Turks coming from Constantinople.

In May of 1516, al Ghury headed his army to face the Turks. The Mamelukes were badly defeated on August 24, 1516 north of Aleppo. Up to fourteen thousand Mamelukes and a huge army were defeated by treachery and artillery. The Sultan al Ghury was killed on the battlefield.

The Egyptians almost welcomed the Turks. They had suffered from taxation and famine and had grown weary of it. They thought the Turks were possibly the deliverers from the Circassian brutality. They were wrong. When the Turkish Sultan Selim came to Cairo, he started to reduce the city to nothing. This was the longest and heaviest era in Cairo's history.

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Last Updated: June 20th, 2011