sehepunkte 16 (2016), Nr. 7/8

Amir Mazor: The Rise and Fall of a Muslim Regiment

Historians of the premodern Near East are aware of the fact that members of the military and political elite of the Mamluk Sultanate (1250-1517) played an undisputedly prominent role in the history of the entire premodern Islamicate world. Nonetheless, we still know surprisingly little about the men who belonged to this social group. Amir Mazor's recent book seeks to at least partly fill this gap and is therefore a most welcome contribution to the field.

This book is the revised version of the author's PhD thesis submitted to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2012. It consists of an introduction, four main chapters, a short conclusion and ten appendixes. The Introduction (pp. 15-32) offers a brief summary of the historical background of the Mamluk Sultanate and its early history up to the third reign of al-Nāṣir Muḥammad b. Qalāwūn (1310-1341) as well as an equally short discussion of the so-called "Mamluk System." Here as elsewhere, Mazor relies heavily on the publications of David Ayalon, one of the founding fathers of Mamluk Studies. The third part of the Introduction discusses the scope of the study and its sources. Mazor's book stands in the tradition of a number of recent publications that do not provide general overviews of Mamluk history, but instead focus on in-depth studies of more limited time periods. Mazor claims that the authors of such studies, however, have so far largely neglected the period from 1290 to 1310 with its rapidly developing political dynamics. This is the research gap the author seeks to fill by including the biographies of some 170 slave soldiers of al-Malik al-Manṣūr Qalāwūn, i.e., members of the part of the Mamluk military known as the Manṣūriyya. The data for this study come mainly from a large number of narrative sources such as biographical dictionaries and chronicles, which are briefly discussed individually in the remainder of the introduction.

The first chapter "The Manṣūriyya during the period of Qalāwūn" (pp. 33-74) provides rich and very detailed information on the members of the Manṣūriyya during the lifetime of their master, dealing inter alia with the size of this slave soldier group, the ethnic origin of its members, their training and the system of promotion as relevant for them. Relying on the large amount of propographical data he collected, Mazor shows that during Qalāwūn's lifetime the ethnic origin of a slave soldier seems to have been of less importance for his future career than some Mamluk primary sources have suggested, given that units thought to have consisted of men belonging to a single ethnicity were indeed often composed of soldiers from various ethnic backgrounds. The discussion of the training of the salve soldiers, in contrast, is of limited value, given that it relies largely on earlier, now dated studies by David Ayalon, which in turn are based on a rather narrow selection of sources, as well as on some of the pertinent works by Ulrich Haarmann and Amalia Levanoni. Regrettably, it pays no attention to other, in part more recent work done on the question, examples being publications by Jonathan Berkey, Hassanein Rabie and the present reviewer. Hence, it ignores a number of relevant sources pointed to by these authors. In comparison, the third part the chapter, which deals with the system according to which members of the Manṣūriyya were promoted to officer ranks, is much more valuable. The author builds here again primarily on his massive database in reconstructing career tracks typical for members of this group. As Mazor shows in long lists of relevant cases, many later senior amīrs of the Manṣūriyya were purchased by Qalāwūn before he ascended to the sultanate, suggesting that it was advantageous for an individual slave soldier to have joined the ranks of his master's troops although the latter had not yet reached the pinnacle of his career. However, seniority and long-time service were not always the decisive criteria for promotion, as Mazor makes clear through several examples of slave soldiers who had been recruited during Qalāwūn's reign and nevertheless reached high command positions during their master's lifetime. Such cases of rapid promotion were often the consequence of exemplary bravery in battle or other praiseworthy virtues in a slave soldier. Taken together, Mazor's study of promotion patterns, based on a large and meticulously documented sample of pertinent cases, adds considerably to our knowledge about how Mamluk soldiers reached higher ranks during the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

The second, and by far longest chapter of the book bears the title "The Manṣūriyya from Qalāwūn's death to the third reign of al-Nāṣir Muḥammad ibn Qalāwūn (689/1290-709/1310)" (pp. 75-146). The author deals in in this chapter not only with the history of the Manṣūriyya, but also provides in long passages - and indeed primarily - an overview of the political events during the period in question. These events, in turn, were strongly influenced by individual members of the Manṣūriyya. Officers belonging to this group sometimes themselves managed to attain the position of sultan, as was the case with Kitbughā (r. 1294-1296), Lājīn (r. 1296-1299) and Baybars Jāshnakīr (1309-1310); or they dominated Mamluk politics as éminences grises behind a nominal ruler recruited from among Qalāwūn's offspring. Mazor provides mainly a rather detailed paraphrase of his main sources and documents in this chapter the developments that brought members of the Manṣūriyya to leading positions within the Mamluk Empire. He thus not only adds to our knowledge about the individual biographies of members of this Mamluk group, but also sheds light on the political and military history of the Mamluk Sultanate during the unstable 20 years after Qalāwūn's death.

In chapter three, Mazor deals with what he calls "The change in the military-political principles" (pp. 148-194), seeking to show that the events of the period from 1290 to 1310 had an impact on the way members of the Mamluk military interacted with one another. He depends again mainly on the work of David Ayalon and his own database of biographies of members of the Manṣūriyya, addressing in this chapter first the relationship between a military slave and his master. Confirming Ayalon's earlier research results, he demonstrates that members of the Manṣūriyya generally exhibited a high level of loyalty towards their master Qalāwūn as long as he was alive, be it in the midst of battle or in the political arena. This situation, however, seems to have eroded somewhat from the 1290s onwards, when the Sultans became more dependent on their military followers and therefore gradually lost their authoritative position relative to them. Mazor then deals with the topic of solidarity of military slaves belonging to the same master (kushdāshiyya) and sheds light on the precise meaning of the term in the sources dealing with his period of study. In agreement with other more recent publications, he shows that the importance of the kushdāshiyya bond for the behavior of individual slave soldiers during the period in question should not be overestimated, given that members of the military would often only too willingly engage in conflicts with other former slaves of their master. Hence, general kushdāshiyya solidarity seems to have been more of a moral ideal than an actual driving force in politics. However, there is evidence that some members of Manṣūriyya were indeed bound to each by relations of mutual solidarity.

Such more closely connected subgroups came into existence in various ways, such as membership in the same military unit or shared ethnic background, although the significance of the latter factor seems to have been limited, according to Mazor's data. More relevant were marriage ties, which often closely linked members of the Manṣūriyya on a personal level, e.g., through the marriage of a Manṣūrī's daughter either to another Manṣūrī or to one of the latter's sons or slave soldiers. Moreover, other personal ties such as friendships also seem to have played an important role in intra-Manṣūrī social relations, as Mazor shows by citing a large number of relevant instances in which a Manṣūrī sided with one of his fellow Manṣūrīs described as his friend in the sources. However, one may add here that many of the relations that Mazor describes as "friendships" actually seem to have had rather the form of patronage relations, given that one of the two "friends" often clearly had a higher rank than the other, with the lower ranking one relying on the other's support. Here as elsewhere, Mazor might have profited from taking Henning Sievert's work into account, who has published several relevant studies on the topic of relations within the Mamluk military elite. None of these, however, appears in Mazor's bibliography.

The same applies to the topic of kinship ties and the other, less common forms of social relations the author deals with toward the end of Chapter 3. Here, Mazor shows, among other things, that the promotion of sons of members of the Manṣūriyya to the officer ranks became more widespread during the period he is concerned with. In his conclusion to this chapter, Mazor comments on the relative significance of the different types of social relations described. Taken together, in this chapter Mazor adds significantly to our understanding of Mamluk social relations through his careful analysis of the comprehensive database. Yet, his results are at times less conclusive when it comes to pinpointing the changes in social relations the author seeks to demonstrate in this chapter. One clear exception is the assumption that the promotion of sons of members of the Mamluk military elite became more and more common during the period in question. In this case, the evidence supporting Mazor's hypothesis indeed appears to be irrefutable. A larger sample of biographies of members of the Mamluk military from different periods of the Sultanate's history would probably have been helpful in documenting the other changes in Mamluk social relations assumed by the author at a similar level of clarity, as he himself seems to suggest at the very end of his book (p. 221).

The fourth and by far shortest chapter of the book bears the title "The Manṣūriyya during al-Nāṣir Muḥammad's third reign" (pp. 195-217). It resumes the historical narrative that broke off at the end of Chapter 2 and describes in detail the events that befell the Manṣūriyya from 1310 onwards, when al-Nāṣir Muḥammad managed to attain the sultanate for a third time and consequently arrested and executed a large number of high-ranking members of the Manṣūriyya in an effort to secure his position. Yet, as Mazor shows in this chapter, the "elimination" of the Manṣūriyya during this period was far less complete than previously thought. Many Manṣūrīs managed not only to remain largely or completely unharmed, but were also able to wield considerable political influence during Nāṣir Muḥammad's third reign as holder of important offices. Moreover, dozens of sons and grandsons as well as former slaves of Manṣūrīs became members of the ruling elite during al-Nāṣir Muḥammad's third reign, suggesting that this ruler was not interested in purging the highest echelons of the Sultanate completely of men who were related in one way or the other to the corps of his father's soldiers.

In his very brief concluding chapter (pp. 219-221), Mazor reviews his main findings with regard to the internal structure of the ruling elite of the Mamluk Sultanate. According to Mazor, men who had never been slave soldiers attained to an unprecedented degree influential positions in the military-administrative system of the realm during the period of Mamluk history he studied. The author interprets these developments as stemming from the political turmoil of the years 1290 to 1310, which led to an erosion of social bounds both among former soldiers and between these men and their masters as well as to consequently changing promotion patterns. Hence, in Mazor's analysis, the social transformations within the Mamluk ruling elite that are usually assumed to have taken place from al-Nāṣir Muḥammad's third reign onwards, and that the author subsumes under the keywords "politicization, demilitarization or de-mamlukalization" (p. 220), actually began already during an earlier phase of Mamluk history in which Manṣūrī amīrs were the decisive group in Mamluk domestic politics.

On pages 223 to 288, one finds 10 appendices that deserve special consideration as they illustrate not only a significant part of the work that Mazor put into the diligent and meticulous analysis of the prosopographical information his sources offer on members of the Manṣūriyya, but comprise key elements of his database also available for future studies by other authors. Indeed, these appendices alone would have constituted a most welcome and valuable contribution to our knowledge of the Mamluk military elite during the late 13th and early 14th centuries. The author deserves applause for publishing the fruits of what must have been years of careful analysis of various primary sources in such an easily accessible manner, although one would sometimes wish for a clearer identification of the source for a given piece of information.

The ten appendices are dedicated to the following topics:

(1) A list of all Manṣūrī amīrs Mazor could identify including their death dates if known.

(2) A list of all Manṣūrī amīrs who died before the beginning of al-Nāṣir Muḥammad's third reign.

(3) An overview of the offices held by members of the Manṣūriyya between 1290 and 1310.

(4) Short biographies of members of the Manṣūriyya who were bought while their master was still an amīr.

(5) Short biographies of selected members of the Manṣūriyya who were bought after their master had become the Mamluk ruler.

(6) A list of Manṣūrī amīrs who were active during al-Nāṣir Muḥammad's third reign.

(7) Short biographies of Manṣūrī amīrs who were arrested during al-Nāṣir Muḥammad's third reign.

(8) Short biographies of Manṣūrī amīrs who were neither arrested nor killed during al-Nāṣir Muḥammad's third reign.

(9) Short biographies of slaves Manṣūrī amīrs who were active during al-Nāṣir Muḥammad's third reign.

(10) Short biographies of the sons and grandsons of Manṣūrī amīrs who were active during al-Nāṣir Muḥammad's third reign.

In sum, Mazor deserves praise for the collection and analysis of a huge amount of data from a large number of narrative sources that serve as the backbone of his study. His book is a strong and valuable contribution to the field in those sections in which it analyzes this data corpus systematically, as with the analysis of promotion patterns in Chapter 1 and in his discussion of intra-Manṣuriyya relations in Chapter 3. There, Mazor presents important new insights into how the Mamluk system actually functioned. Moreover, the author is to be complemented for the very clear structure of his book and, as already mentioned, for the inclusion of the numerous appendices.

Nevertheless, Mazor's book would have profited from a number of possible improvements. First, in its present form it lacks a clear-cut research question. Mazor does not clearly explain whether he is undertaking a study of the Manṣuriyya as a social group during the years 1219-1341 (as the title of the book might indicate) or providing an account of the main events of Mamluk political history in the years 1290-1310 (as the Introduction would suggest, pp. 23-24). In a way, Mazor tries to engage with both of these objectives at the same time, thereby foregoing parts of the respective analytical potential of both. If his book is to be understood primarily as an analysis of the events of the period 1290-1310, one would expect a more critical analysis of the narratives the Arabic historiographical tradition provides as well as an engagement with at least some other types of relevant sources such as numismatic evidence, inscriptions, architectural remains, archeological data, travelogues by foreign visitors, codicological evidence, aspects of material culture more broadly, or Arabic nonnarrative sources. If, however, the main purpose of the book lies in studying the Manṣuriyya as a social group, it could have profited both from an in-depth study of the biographies of a number of selected Manṣurīs, on the one hand, and from a quantitative analysis of the available data on the Manṣuriyya in its entirety, on the other hand.

Furthermore, although in his Introduction Mazor speaks about certain drawbacks of his sources, he does not in fact touch on these problems of his texts in a comprehensive methodological manner that would have helped him to develop a more critical perspective on their contents. To give just two examples of the problems in Mazor's approach to his sources: His differentiation (p. 31) between "pro-Mamluk" sources (meaning works written within the Mamluk realm) and "anti-Mamluk" ones (written outside of the Mamluk realm) falls short given that some, if not indeed most, of the authors of his main sources were certainly not "pro-Mamluk," inasmuch as this term is understood as meaning that they had a positive opinion of the course of Mamluk politics and the political elite. Moreover, the fact that the category of "anti-Mamluk" sources includes also modern secondary studies (p. 31-32), but does not include Armenian or Latin primary sources, raises questions regarding the selection of the source corpus. Second, the author completely ignores the fact that the source value of some of his main sources, namely, the writings of the amīr Baybars al-Manṣūrī, is heavily disputed in modern scholarship; there is evidence that the work was actually largely written not by Baybars himself, but by a Christian administrative official (cf. especially the pertinent publications by E. Ashtor). Although there are also good arguments to support the assumption that Baybars - despite these claims - was indeed responsible for a considerable portion if not all of the contents of his works, it is problematic that Mazor does not mention the controversy about Baybars' authorship at all - in spite of the fact that works addressing this very issue are included in Mazor's bibliography.

As to the secondary literature, the author relied on studies in several languages including English, Hebrew, French and German. Nevertheless, his choice of secondary literature is not always fortunate, as the example of his discussion of his primary sources in the Introduction to the work again demonstrates with particular clarity. There, the author seems to be unaware of a considerable number of relevant studies that could have assisted him in developing a methodologically better balanced approach toward his sources. For example, the author pays no attention to the considerable research done on the biographical writings of Khalīl b. Aybak al-Ṣafadī - after all one of his main sources - by no less a scholar than Josef van Ess. In his discussion of the work of Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad al-Nuwayrī, one is surprised to find neither a single reference to the most valuable research done on this author by Elias Muhanna nor a note pointing to a book that indeed exhibits a considerable degree of overlap with Mazor's study: S.M Elham's Kitbuġā und Lāğīn: Studien zur Mamluken-Geschichte nach Baibars al-Manṣūrī und an-Nuwairī (Freiburg i. B. 1977). Despite Mazor's claim that "a monograph dedicated to the turbulent Manṣuriyya period, i.e. the two decades between Qalāwūn's death and his son al-Nāṣir Muḥammad's third reign, has not been written hitherto" (p. 24), Elham's study covers in considerable detail on almost 300 pages a significant section of precisely this period of Mamluk history. It provides its readers with a historical study of selected aspects of Mamluk politics in the period 1293-1299 as well as with an edition of the pertinent sections of two Arabic chronicles together with a German translation and a thorough source-critical analysis. It is therefore most regrettable that Mazor paid no attention to this publication. Moreover, Mazor's statement that al-Maqrīzī's Kitāb al-Muqaffā al-kabīr "has received almost no attention in historiographical or historical research" (p. 26) betrays his unfamiliarity with a monograph by the present reviewer that uses this work as one of its main sources for a historical study of the learned activities of members of the Mamluk military. Furthermore, Mazor seems to be unaware of the existence of Walther Björkman's Beiträge zur Geschichte der Staatskanzlei im islamischen Ägypten (Hamburg 1928), which constitutes an invaluable guide to one of his other sources, Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad b. ʿAlī al-Qalqashandī's Ṣubḥ al-aʿshā fī ṣināʿat al-inshāʾ.

Finally, the language in Mazor's book is unfortunately overall rather unidiomatic and contains a considerable number of grammatical mistakes as well as a few typos and inaccuracies in the transliteration of Arabic words. Together with the author's heavy emphasis on sometimes very minute details, this makes the reading of the book at times a rather tedious enterprise. Clearly, the manuscript would have profited from heavier editing to make Amir's important findings more accessible to the reader. Nevertheless, specialists who engage with Amir's book will find it a rich mine of valuable information on the history of the Mamluk Sultanate in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

Rezension über:

Amir Mazor: The Rise and Fall of a Muslim Regiment. The Manṣūriyya in the First Mamluk Sultanate, 678/1279-741/1341 (= Mamluk Studies; Vol. 10), Göttingen: V&R unipress 2015, 312 S., ISBN 978-3-8471-0424-7, EUR 50,00

Rezension von:
Christian Mauder
Göttingen
Empfohlene Zitierweise:
Christian Mauder: Rezension von: Amir Mazor: The Rise and Fall of a Muslim Regiment. The Manṣūriyya in the First Mamluk Sultanate, 678/1279-741/1341, Göttingen: V&R unipress 2015, in: sehepunkte 16 (2016), Nr. 7/8 [15.07.2016], URL: http://www.sehepunkte.de/2016/07/29155.html


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