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Imperial strategy and political exigency: the Red Sea spice trade and the Mamluk Sultanate in the fifteenth century.


A salient issue in Mamluk history of the fifteenth century A.D./ninth century A.H. is the relationship of economic conditions to the formulation of the Sultanate's policies. In a landmark study, "England to Egypt, 1350-1500," Robert Lopez, Harry Miskimin, and Abraham Udovitch explained why economic development across Eurasia came to a "dead stop" in the fourteenth century, leading to stagnant economic conditions that continued through the fifteenth century. (1) This characterization in general remains valid. Indeed, the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Syria faced especially severe difficulties. The Black Death, which had swept across the Eurasian landmass in the middle of the previous century, recurred in Egypt over a period of a century and a half and led to a sustained population loss of between one-quarter and one-third. (2) By the turn of the fifteenth century, civil conflict in Egypt which resulted in the political ascendancy of the Circassian sultans and Timur's invasion of Syria compounded the economic difficulties the Sultanate continued to face. Udovitch, whose contribution to this study dealt with Egypt, concluded that Mamluk policy during this period of "readjustment and recovery" was directed fundamentally at responding to economic exigencies. (3)

If imperial activity is taken as a sign of a state's vitality, however, the reign of the Mamluk Sultan al-Ashraf Barsbay (r. 1422-38/825-41) stands out as an interlude of concerted initiative in a time of depleted resources. Although Barsbay was not able to reinvigorate the Sultanate's economy, he consolidated the new political order of the Circassians, established by his predecessors, and, to the extent that he was able to expand Cairo's imperial power to Cyprus and the Hijaz, he overcame the limitation of reduced agricultural and industrial wealth. These apparently contradictory tendencies of imperial ambition and economic stagnation require that we adopt a more nuanced view of Barsbay's rule, in order to refine the broadly drawn "contour map" provided by Udovitch and his coauthors. (4) Although the agricultural sector had been hit hard by demographic decline caused by the plague, the trade in spices, and pepper in particular, constituted a vital part of the Mamluk economy. In terms of the transit trade between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean world, Richard Mortel has found evidence in sources from Mecca of an increase in the commerce that passed through the Red Sea starting in the middle of the fourteenth century. Using a broader range of sources, Archibald Lewis estimated that "commerce reaching the Red Sea was four or five times more important than that reaching the Persian Gulf." (5) Ahmad Darrag concluded that Egypt, at least during the reign of Barsbay, was in effect subsisting solely off its spice imports to Europe. (6) Barsbay's interference in this commerce, however, should be seen, not simply as a response to economic constraints, but rather as one element in his imperial strategy to expand the Mamluk state.

This sultan is perhaps as well known for his attempt to dominate the commerce and industry of Egypt as for his expansionist foreign policy. Indeed, to a great extent his "monopolies"--his monopoly of the spice trade in particular--have come to characterize his reign. However, there are some aspects of those interventions that remain problematic and which demand further investigation, especially if they are taken to signify the economic decline of the later medieval Near East as a whole. In regard to the latter tendency, for example, Eliyahu Ashtor associated these actions with "the ruin of the upper stratum of the Levantine bourgeoisie," which precipitated "the decline of their countries, with their economic and political submission to the Western powers." (7) One key question concerns the exact dates of Barsbay's actions. Ashtor, for example, admitted that scholars have failed to reach agreement about the beginning date of the spice trade monopoly. Ashtor himself argued for 1426, (8) Weil, Heyd, and Darrag for 1428, (9) Labib for 1429, (10) and Wiet for 1432. (11) Moreover, Lane's and Ashtor's studies of the Mediterranean spice trade, based on evidence from the Italian archives, demonstrated that Barsbay's attempt to control the spice trade in the eastern Mediterranean was not successful. (12) Ashtor nevertheless regarded the interventions as destructive to the upper strata of the commercial classes.

The question of Barsbay's monopolies also brings up the issue of the intention of such a policy. Ahmad Darrag's depiction of the sultan in his exhaustive L'Egypte sous le regne de Barsbay emphasizes the role of his personality in the development and implementation of the regime's policies. While Darrag demonstrated that Barsbay's domestic and military policies must be considered in tandem, he nevertheless relied on concepts of "cupidity" and "venality" to explain the sultan's actions. (13) This view, of course, has not gone unchallenged. Abraham Udovitch, in the study cited above, arguing in opposition to the explanation of Darrag, stated that the dire economic conditions "impelled [the Mamluks] to increasingly blatant intervention in the urban economy in the form of taxes, confiscations and finally, in the 1420's and 1430's, to the late medieval equivalent of nationalization of the spice, sugar, and other trades." (14) Jean-Claude Garcin recently proposed that Barsbay's "policies showed a great coherence which cannot be reduced to a single trait of character." (15) Garcin argued that Barsbay established measures during the years 1425-27 to ensure the Sultanate's exclusive control over the trade route through the Red Sea. Because Ashtor and then Garcin could posit successively earlier starting dates for these interventions and, since the latter also identified a range of years, an accurate understanding of this problem should rest on the assumption that, rather than a fixed policy, the state employed a dynamic approach to controlling trade. While Barsbay was compelled to cope with the constraints of a stagnant economy, his commercial policy was founded on imperial expansion. On this basis we can reach the more detailed understanding of the coherence of Barsbay's actions with respect to commerce, as called for by Garcin.

During the period in question, the main emporium for pepper and other spices was the port of Calicut on the Malabar (southwestern) coast of India. Calicut's hinterland produced the pepper. The city also served as an important trans-shipment port for goods moving across the Indian Ocean in either direction. (16) The primary trade route between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean passed from Bab al-Mandab, at the southern end of the Red Sea, to Jedda, Mecca's seaport, where goods were trans-shipped to vessels that made their way north against the prevailing northerly winds or, alternatively, to caravans that followed the pilgrimage route in the Hijaz to destinations in Egypt and the Levant. Trans-shipment ports on the African side of the Red Sea, Aydhab and Qusayr, had by this time fallen out of use due to insecurity in the Nile valley. (17) Local conditions adversely affected the transit trade through Upper Egypt, as they did with this commerce in the region of Mecca and Jedda. Given the importance of the Red Sea trade route and the Hijaz in particular during the fifteenth century, it is necessary to understand in some detail political affairs in Mecca and Jedda and the nature of Mamluk hegemony in the Hijaz. Not surprisingly, the Italian sources used so successfully by Lane and Ashtor have little to offer about conditions and events in the Red Sea. The available Yemeni sources have also been relatively unhelpful in assessing the actions of Barsbay. Fortunately, a number of narrative accounts produced in Mecca during the fifteenth/ninth century supplement the better-known chronicles produced in Cairo and the other metropolitan centers of the Mamluk state. (18) These local Meccan sources are a manifestation of the Holy City's emergence as an urban center of some significance, due to the commercial wealth that then passed through the city and its Red Sea port of Jedda.

The coherence of Barsbay's interference in the Red Sea spice trade is evident when we view it as a process within his larger imperial strategy, particularly in respect to his general interest in the Hijaz. By adopting a view of the Mamluk state as seen from Mecca, we can distinguish between the fiscal monopoly of spice trade revenues in the Hijaz and the commercial monopoly on spice trade transactions in general. Moreover, we can understand the relationship between these two means of control. A review of the sources from both sides of the Red Sea shows that the Sultanate implemented both kinds of intervention gradually, commencing with the channeling of trade exclusively through Cairo. It was an effort that complemented a Mamluk attempt to integrate the Hijaz into the Sultanate. However, as will be argued below, the Sultanate failed to dominate the Hijaz politically and fiscally. As a consequence, to compensate for the state's failure, the sultan imposed much more restrictive conditions on the merchants who conducted this trade. But such interventions were not arbitrary actions imposed to satisfy his greed. Rather they were a deliberate response to the reduced political choices available to him as a ruler whose overriding concern was increasingly to centralize power. What have been interpreted as acts of cupidity and avarice are instead evidence of the expansion of a state that had surpassed the economic resources available to support its military and political aspirations. Barsbay exploited this commerce by disrupting the activities of merchants, but he did not have the resources to sustain a permanent monopoly. Ultimately, the sultan's exclusive hold on the transit trade in the Red Sea was compromised by the need to rely on political brokers in the Hijaz--a reliance that cost Cairo substantially.


The Mamluk sultans severely restricted free trade in a variety of commodities, both imported and locally produced. During the reign of Barsbay, restrictions were imposed on the importation of textiles from Upper Egypt, the Levant, and Iraq, and on the sale of firewood, foodstuffs, (19) sugar, (20) and spices. The principal means of commercial control was an embargo (tahkir, tahjir) on transactions of a specific good. Sauvaget notes that this term "does not designate a monopoly itself, but rather the administrative act that enables the withholding of a commodity from its normal outlets." (21) By such an administrative act, the regime could corner the market in a particular commodity without having acquired the dominant share of the supply. The Mamluks also used other coercive means to manipulate the marketplace. For example, they compelled foreign and local merchants to purchase particular commodities, an act referred to as tarh or rimayah. (22) Ashtor traced the sale of spices that were forced on the Venetians in the Levantine ports back to 1397/799 and suggested that the practice may have occurred earlier. In this case, merchants considered the tarh, referred to by the Venetians as "the pepper loss" (danno delpepe or dano del piper), as a kind of levy, and Ashtor regarded it as a "customary tax," rather than a monopoly as a number of scholars have interpreted it. (23) The Sultanate's ordered sale of pepper as forced on the Venetians was naturally a point of serious negotiation and was, among other topics, the subject of a Venetian embassy to Egypt in 1415 during the reign of Barsbay's predecessor al-Mu'ayyad Shaykh. (24) It should be recognized, however, that the forced sales enabled the sultan to dominate the market temporarily, and it depended on the readiness of the Venetians to acquiesce to his demands.

These tactics, the sources inform us, were often used to the advantage of the regime or its officials. (25) For example, the Meccan historian Ibn Fahd observed that individual bureaucrats imposed sales on merchants to line their pockets:
 And, along with the 'ushr duties, rasm fees were collected that
 were determined by the controlled (shadd), the superintendent
 (nazir), the weighmasters(?) (mashhud al-qabban), the moneychanger,
 other such notables, or others.... Sales were imposed on the
 merchants; more than one of the authorities (ahl al-dawlah) were
 involved to the point that merchants were unable to bear it. (26)

Although at some risk, compulsory sales could also be defied. In Jumada I 833 (6 February-7 March 1429), when the Majordomo, Aqbugha al-Jamali, attempted to force the sale of sugar on merchants in Cairo, they responded by closing their shops. (27) It is noteworthy, however, that the authorities also implemented commercial restrictions in order to alleviate economic crises. For example, during a grain shortage in Safar 833 (30 October-27 November 1429), the market inspector (muhtasib) of Cairo ordered an embargo on sales of wheat. He directed all mills to purchase grain from the sultan's stocks until supplies were plentiful and prices declined. Another incident occurred two years later at the beginning of 835 (started 9 September 1431) when the sultan ordered that seed should be distributed from his stocks so that fallow land might be productive; consequently, cultivation increased and prices decreased. (28)

The sources are sufficiently detailed to give us a general impression of the consequences of these economic interventions, but they are most consistently informative about them in regard to the long-distance commerce in pepper, probably because of the high value of the trade--the kind of wealth that attracted Barsbay. But was the goal simply the acquisition of wealth? Details about the circumstances surrounding these interventions can help in understanding the logic behind these actions. Barsbay's interference in the transit trade consisted of four phases of fiscal and commercial restrictions, implemented between the end of 828 (14 October-12 November 1425) and early 838 (6 September-4 October 1434). These four phases were not pre-conceived as a unified and systematic economic policy; rather each stage was formulated within the context of an over-arching imperial strategy and in response to the changing needs of the state and the exigencies it faced. The economic aspect of these phases are discussed here below, the political aspects in the following section.

Phase I: Commercial Protectionism, 1425/828

The first phase consisted of restrictions that constituted what may be called a "protectionist" commercial policy favoring merchants of the metropolitan center in Egypt over those from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. These measures channeled the Red Sea spice trade through Cairo, to the exclusion of other locales in the Levant. Such an attempt to force trade through Cairo, though probably without complete success, seems to have been sustained until the last years of Barsbay's reign. According to Ibn Hajar, the first of these decrees was timed to take advantage of favorable economic conditions in the Hijaz: "on 23 Dhu al-Hijjah (5 November 1425) the vanguard of the pilgrims' caravan arrived [in Cairo] and reported very low prices (al-rikha' al-kathir) in the Hijaz and that it had been announced in Mecca that spices were not to be sold except to the Egyptian merchants." (29) Whether or not Ibn Hajar's explanation was accurate, the Mamluk administration chose to give the economic advantage to merchants who would be returning to Egypt, thereby increasing the volume of taxes collected on goods coming into Cairo. A year after the first decree was issued, non-Egyptian merchants were permitted to buy goods, but they were required to pass through Cairo, where their goods were levied before they could continue to their home destinations. (30) As the merchants prepared to leave the city following the pilgrimage season, as well as along the route to Cairo, the authorities in Mecca enforced this restriction by means of attendants (al-a'wan) in the caravan whose duty it was to oversee the traders and to keep track of their baggage. Merchants were not allowed, moreover, to remain till the following trading season in Mecca. (31) The sultan's policy of protectionism also included an embargo (hajara) on the sale of textiles from Ba'labakk, Mosul, and Baghdad, apparently to boost local Egyptian textile production. (32)

In the face of the regime's measures aimed to channel the flow of trade through Cairo, merchants did have some recourse. In Rabi' II 831 (19 January-16 February 1428), as a result of merchants' complaints, the restriction was further modified. Merchants were permitted to pay 3.5 dinars per load to be allowed to travel directly to Syria, Iraq, and Iran. (33) However, by the beginning of the following year, 832 (October 1428), according to al-Maqrizi, or sometime during the following year, according to Ibn Hajar, this concession was abandoned. Nevertheless, the re-imposition of the rule requiring travel via Cairo and a number of other economic interventions were deemed "injustices" (mazalim) by the Shafi'i chief judge, whom Ibn Hajar does not name. The judge declared that the sultan's unjust behavior had provoked God's wrath in the form of a severe plague that struck the country that year, killing Barsbay's own son. (34)

Phase II: Commercial Priority, 1426/830

The second phase consisted of measures that enabled the Sultan to employ his coercive power to benefit his own personal transactions in the pepper trade. In the early years of his reign, Barsbay participated in the pepper trade, as did his predecessors. His agent in this business was a wealthy merchant named Shaykh 'Ali al-Kilani, who had previously managed the commercial affairs of al-Mu'ayyad Shaykh. (35) However, starting at the beginning of 830 (November 1426), the sultan modified his participation in the transit commerce and implemented the second of his commercial interventions. But it did not constitute a monopoly, as Ashtor describes it, (36) since the sultan did not, as he would five years later, declare his own exclusive right to engage in this trade. Instead, he decreed his priority in conducting transactions and at a higher than market price on spices in Alexandria, which nevertheless enabled him temporarily to corner the market in pepper. (37) Merchants in the Hijaz were again forbidden to travel to Syria without first going to Egypt, which suggests that a certain number of merchants were at the time traveling directly to the Levant. At the beginning of 832 (11 October-9 November 1428) the sultan reiterated a decree ordering his priority in accumulating his personal stock. All merchants in Mecca had to travel to Cairo, and in Alexandria no one was permitted to sell pepper until the sultan had completed his own transactions. (38) Although this measure did not in itself establish his exclusive right to purchase pepper, he expanded his role in the pepper trade in Jedda with the establishment in Jumada I 833 (26 January-24 February 1430) of a group (ta'ifah) of merchants who were to buy and sell the commodity for him. From these measures we can infer that the sultan depended on the transportation of the commodity to Egypt by merchants traveling from Jedda even though once in Alexandria others were able to participate in the pepper trade, despite an obvious disadvantage. While local merchants may not have had much recourse in the matter, Sobernheim notes that the Franks responded with a threat posed by their fleet then lying off the Egyptian coast. Its presence forced the sultan to submit to a treaty. (39)

The coercive nature of the sultan's participation in the pepper trade can be seen in his demands for outrageous prices and his forcing both foreign and local merchants to undertake sales at a loss. The sultan had demanded of Frankish traders in Alexandria that they buy his pepper at 130 dinars per load (himl), a 160 percent increase over the Cairo price of fifty dinars. It is noteworthy, however, that the sources make it clear that local merchants were still active in this trade in Alexandria. Maqrizi observed that these local businessmen had offered the Franks the price of sixty-four dinars per load, a more reasonable mark-up over the Cairo price. The Franks refused, making a counter-offer of fifty-nine per load. When the sultan heard about this, Maqrizi goes on to say, he forcibly bought the goods from the local merchants at the price the Franks had offered (fifty-nine dinars per load), and insisted that the Franks buy them at his original inflated price, still a mark-up of 120 percent. (40) Ibn al-Sayrafi comments that the result of the sultan's coercive participation in this commerce was that "the needy sold their goods and the rich stored what they had." (41) In other words, local merchants were not required to sell their stocks and their goods were not confiscated; still, enough merchants in need of cash were thus obliged to accept the loss that resulted from the sultan's unfair terms.

Phase III: Commercial Monopoly, 1432/835

The third phase of Barsbay's intervention occurred in Rajab 835 (4 March-2 April 1432) when, according to Ibn Hajar, the sultan "made more severe" the embargo (tahjir) on pepper transactions by adding the stipulation that merchants were not permitted to sell their stock without the permission of the sultan. Two months later, in Ramadan (2-31 May), decrees were sent to Alexandria, Damascus (al-Sham), and the Hijaz announcing a prohibition on all transactions except those on behalf of the sultan. (42) Ibn Hajar refers to the episode as an embargo. But, in referring to it as an impoundment (hawtah), Maqrizi and Ibn al-Sayrafi explain that the regime executed the new policy in order to appropriate the merchants' pepper at a rate of fifty dinars per load, which amounted to a loss of twenty to forty dinars from the market price at the beginning of that same year. (43)

The geographical coverage of this embargo and its duration are uncertain. Ibn Hajar states that the embargo covered the Hijaz, in addition to Egypt and Syria, while Maqrizi and Ibn al-Sayrafi mention only the latter two regions. As for its duration, throughout 838 (7 August 1434-26 July 1435) and especially in 839 (ended 15 July 1436), frequent reiteration of the decrees forbidding transactions suggests that the monopoly was either temporary, lasting from one trading season to the next, or was disregarded on a regular basis--or both. (44) Maqrizi reports that in 839 the regime arrested merchants who had traveled to Damascus from Mecca without going first to Cairo, and then assessed a tax on them. It is not clear if the levy was for engaging in trade or for not passing through Cairo. (45) But none of the sources note that these merchants had contravened the sultan's orders by buying merchandise in the Hijaz, as would be expected if the intervention of 835 had still been in force.

Gaston Wiet associated Barsbay's imposition of a monopoly on pepper at this time with the arrival of Chinese junks. (46) In Shawwal 835 (1-30 June 1432), news reached Cairo from Mecca that two junks laden with such valuables as porcelain, silk, and musk had put into Aden, where unsatisfactory market conditions prompted the Chinese to send a message to Mecca requesting permission to disembark in Jedda instead. (47) Al-Maqrizi reports that the sultan approved the request and, although he does not specifically mention their subsequent arrival, presumably the Chinese could have arrived in Jedda later that summer. However, Wiet's association of this commercial windfall directly to Barsbay's intervention is not tenable since, according the Arabic sources, the sultan's decrees of monopoly were issued at least two months before word of the Chinese vessels arrived in Cairo in 1432. According to the Chinese sources, these same traders did not reach Mecca until 1433.

They were members of the seventh expedition undertaken during the first decades of the fifteenth/ninth century under the command of the Yung-le Emperor (r. 1403-25) of the Ming dynasty and led by the Grand Eunuch Cheng Ho in order to extend the range of Chinese suzerainty and trade. (48) On 10 December 1432 the expedition arrived in Calicut to do business. It did not get as far as Jedda or even Aden. J. V. Mills, a historian of Ming China, explains that "At Calicut the eunuch Hung (? Hung Pao) met some emissaries about to return to Mecca: selecting seven men, including an interpreter, he went with them on an Arab ship, taking musk and porcelains as presents. The journey there and back occupied one year. Hung returned with all kinds of strange merchandise, rare precious stones, giraffes, lions, and ostriches, also a true plan of the "Heavenly Hall" (i.e., the Ka'bah)." (49) Meanwhile, the main fleet left Calicut on 14 December 1432 for Hormuz, where the expedition stayed for about two months. In March 1433 the fleet returned to Calicut and then headed back to China. Hung and his party, having conducted their business in Mecca in 1433, not 1432, were left to make their own way back to China.

Phase IV: Back to Protectionism, 1434/838

Barsbay's fourth intervention in the transit commerce consisted of a restriction intended to destroy the commercial power of Yemen. In Safar 838 (6 September-4 October 1434) he declared that
 only 'ushr duties should be taken from the merchants putting into
 Jedda and twice as much ('ushran) should be taken from the Syrian
 and Egyptian merchants when they put into Jedda with goods from
 Yemen. But, for any Yemeni merchant coming to Jedda with cargo, all
 of his goods should be seized for the sultan [of Egypt] without
 paying him any price. (50)

This measure was another attempt by Barsbay to streamline the transit commerce, building on his first measure of 1425/828, by eliminating Yemeni merchants as middlemen and by favoring direct shipment from India, which according to Maqrizi had started the year before. (51) However, it also shows that, although they were clearly penalized for operating south of Jedda, the sultan did not intend to exclude Syrian and Egyptian merchants from the transit commerce. Rather, he continued to rely on them as he always had, his ruthless interventions notwithstanding, to transport commodities to Cairo.

In sum, Barsbay's economic interventions began in 1425/828 with measures to direct trade exclusively through Cairo, a requirement that favored Egyptian merchants over those operating between Mecca and Syria, Iraq, Iran, or Yemen. Occasional reports of arrests of merchants who did not comply indicate both that some of them were willing to risk interdicted travel and that, at least at times, the state enforced these rules. In 1426/830 the sultan began to impose restrictions on merchants to benefit his own business transactions. This coercive participation was deemed inadequate five years later; by means of a monopoly put in place in 1432/835, he indicated his exclusive right to trade. The sultan's final measure in 1434/838 was directed entirely against Yemen with an act of commercial protectionism aimed exclusively at the emporium of Aden.

Barsbay's interference had two objectives. The first and fourth interventions aimed at improving Egypt's commercial position by diminishing the Red Sea ports' economic viability for neighboring countries, particularly Yemen. The second and third were directed toward dominating the spice trade within Egypt. But, even though they were executed at the expense of the Egyptian commercial community for which economic conditions were consequently made quite difficult, in general the merchants in this group seem to have remained in business. Their commercial activity is evident from occasional references in the sources to Egyptian and Syrian merchants who persevered in the transit trade. The sum of the evidence indicates that the observation of Ibn al-Sayrafi in 1430, cited above, held true for the duration of Barsbay's reign: those who could afford to wait held onto their stocks and those who needed cash took what they could from an immediate sale despite taking a loss.

Barsbay targeted Yemen, of course, because it stood in the way between Cairo and southwestern India, the ultimate source of pepper. However, it is often forgotten that Mecca and Jedda also stood in the way. To return briefly to the protectionist measures imposed by the sultan against Yemeni merchants in 1434/838, it is important to understand here the influence of the sharif of Mecca. Al-Maqrizi reports that this particular tax regime was not implemented because the sharif, Barakat ibn Hasan ibn 'Ajlan, had interceded on the merchants' behalf and convinced the sultan to rescind the decree. (52) Clearly, the Meccan sharif had an interest in encouraging trade coming into the Hijaz from all sources, but what is noteworthy is that his authority was powerful enough to influence Mamluk fiscal policy. As mentioned earlier, the Sultanate's commercial interventions had a political rather than an economic logic, and it is in the politics of Cairo-Mecca relations that we can understand that coherence.


During most of the Mamluk period, Mecca was the seat of two polities simultaneously: the indigenous Sharifate of Mecca and the Mamluk-appointed Amirate. The Meccan sharifs claimed descent from the Prophet Muhammad through his grandson al-Hasan ibn 'Ali ibn Abi Talib. The lineage of the Banu Hasan endowed its members with religious status and a political authority recognized both in the Hijaz and elsewhere in the Muslim world. In principal, any member of the Banu Hasan could claim to be the sharif of Mecca. In actuality, however, those who held this office successfully were individuals with command over an effective political network and the allegiance of other members of the Banu Hasan, as well as other groups in Mecca and the region around it. Effective control of local economic resources was regarded as the patrimony of these groups, and that included the collection and redistribution of duties on trade goods passing through the region around Mecca and Jedda. (53)

Under the Mamluks, the sultans conferred on these men the title of amir of Mecca in an attempt to add their authority to the Sultanate. In turn, the ruling sharifs of Mecca accepted this title because it enhanced their power vis-a-vis local political opponents. However, the use of a non-mamluk amirate was not limited solely to Mecca. In Syria, the Mamluks and their Ayyubid predecessors conferred on the paramount Bedouin leader the office of Amir of the Bedouin Arabs (imarat al-'arab). The holder of this office was considered a member of the military elite (arbab al-suyuf) within the state. Nevertheless, in spite of the Mamluks' best efforts to co-opt them, the ambiguous political allegiance of these same Syrian amirs resurfaced in the wars between the Mamluks and the Mongols, when they played the two sides off against each other. (54) In the Hijaz, a similar political ambiguity emerged with the rising importance of the transit commerce. Throughout the first half of the fifteenth century, the Meccan sharifs sought to preserve their political autonomy even while they benefited locally from their association with the Mamluk state. The sharifs' success in controlling Hijazi political networks allowed them to guarantee the security of commerce passing through the region. Soon after acceding to the Sultanate, Barsbay attempted, as one element of his imperial enterprise, to establish direct rule over the Hijaz. But because the passage of the transit trade relied on local politics, which he ultimately could not control, Barsbay was finally compelled to accept the status quo in the Hijaz. The following chronological phase-by-phase review of Barsbay's policies makes the political intentions behind his commercial interventions clear.

Phase I: From Political Domination to Commercial Protectionism, 1423-25/826-28

In the last ten days of Dhu al-Qa'dah 826 (26 October-4 November 1423), the Egyptian pilgrimage caravan arrived in Mecca as usual. However, it was accompanied on this occasion by an unusually large military contingent that included a high-ranking mamluk officer named Amir Qurqmas. It was, in fact, a military expedition dispatched to Mecca following Mamluk accusations that the ruling sharif of Mecca, Hasan ibn 'Ajlan ibn Rumaythah ibn Muhammad Abu Numayy, had appropriated the cargo of the ships that, in the previous few years, had begun to sail directly from Calicut to the Red Sea ports. The mission of the Mamluk expedition was to remove the sharif from power. Hasan managed to slip away before the Mamluks arrived. Qurqmas then installed as ruler of Mecca another sharif, 'Ali ibn 'Inan ibn Mughamis ibn Rumaythah ibn Muhammad Abu Numayy, the son of Hasan's first cousin. (55) Sharif 'Ali's investiture, on 15 Rabi' I 827 (16 February 1424), had the additional advantage of preempting the claim of Hasan's son, Barakat, who had previously been designated successor, or the claims of his other sons, who were starting to take an active role in local politics. However, the timing of this coup d'etat relative to the trading calendar is especially significant. Not only did the Mamluk installation of 'Ali occur in time for the pilgrimage, but it also took place just before the season when Indian vessels traveling across the Indian Ocean on the monsoon winds disembarked at Jedda. Three days after 'Ali arrived in Mecca to replace Hasan, he personally led a force to Jedda where he supervised the unloading of the vessels arriving from Calicut. (56)

Since Qurqmas was made co-ruler with him, the appointment of 'Ali ibn Inan, who had never previously been a serious contender for the Sharifate, was a rather obvious Mamluk attempt to seize direct control of Mecca. It was the first time the Mamluks had appointed one of their own to rule the city. The contemporary Egyptian chroniclers al-'Ayni and al-Maqrizi list both men as amirs of Mecca. This recognition stands in contrast to their listings for the previous and subsequent years when Hasan and Barakat are acknowledged. It also differs markedly from the account of the Hijazi historian, Taqi al-Din Muhammad al-Fasi (d. 1429/832), which mentions 'Ali as the only ruler of Mecca, (57) a clear indication that the Mamluk claim of sovereignty was not accepted in the Holy City itself.

In spite of this attempt to annex the Hijaz, Sharif Hasan successfully resisted Mamluk authority and power there. In the months following the appointment of Qurqmas and 'Ali, their combined forces undertook a campaign against Hasan. In spite of their best efforts to lure him into traps and to defeat him in battle, they failed to achieve a decisive victory. (58) During the late spring and summer of 1425 (mid-828), Qurqmas and his Mamluk troopers pursued Hasan throughout the Hijaz and into central Arabia. Hasan's knowledge of and his extended network of contacts in the region enabled him easily to elude the Mamluks. They followed Hasan and his supporters to the southern coastal town of Haly. From there, he slipped away from his pursuers by moving north into the Najd. (59) Qurqmas's extended pursuit of Hasan was the final Mamluk failure in the war against him. When the Mamluk amir returned to Mecca empty-handed, Sharif 'Ali was arrested and sent to Cairo, where a few years later he died from the plague. (60) The Mamluks realized that their only alternative was to accept the rule of Hasan and to stabilize the Hijaz by removing the other contenders from the region. To preclude further contention, they seized another sharif, Hasan's nephew Rumaythah ibn Muhammad ibn 'Ajlan, who had been active in Meccan politics during the previous decade and briefly ruled the city in 1416/818. They sent him to Egypt in irons. (61) Even so Hasan was still on the run when the Mamluks announced his reinstatement as Amir of Mecca in 1425/828.

Sharif Hasan's temporary deposition from the Meccan amirate may indeed have been a "catastrophe," as Richard Mortel has written. However, to describe him upon his death as "a broken man" suggests that the Mamluks by this time were the unqualified victors in the Hijaz. (62) Sharif Hasan probably considered his exile from Mecca as an unavoidable element of politics in the Hijaz; he had been deposed from this position once before in 1416/818 only to be reappointed a year later when it became evident that his nephew Rumaythah could not maintain a secure hold on the region. (63) Recent scholarship has not explained why the condominium amirate of the Mamluk Qurqmas and Sharif 'Ali ibn Inan failed. Cairene sources note that Hasan was reappointed to the amirate because he agreed to pay the Sultanate 30,000 dinars for his reinstatement, (64) although it is not clear that this obligation was ever met. Hasan also agreed to go to Cairo, and he did so with the Egyptian pilgrimage caravan in Dhu al-Hijjah 828 (October 1425). Presumably he paid little more than obeisance to the Sultan; he certainly did not hand over the full 30,000 dinars. Shortly after his departure from Cairo a few months later, he became ill and returned to the Mamluk capital where he died on 27 Jumada II 829 (6 May 1426).

One of the requirements for the succession of his son Barakat to the amirate of Mecca was to pay the remaining 25,000 dinars of his father's debt to the Mamluks. Even if the payment was subsequently made, the episode indicates that Mamluk reliance on Sharif Hasan was as great, and possibly greater, than his reliance on them. Barsbay had wanted to rely on the authority of 'Ali to serve as his political broker in the Hijaz, but he soon realized that the sharif was not capable of filling this role. Indeed, a number of sources, Meccan and Cairene alike, also note that 'Ali was considered too "tractable." (65) To ensure the stability of the Hijaz, the sultan was therefore compelled to accept Hasan as ruler of Mecca, forcing payment and obeisance from him merely as an effort to maintain the pretense of authority over the Meccans.

The Mamluk announcement of the reinstatement of Hasan was issued in Mecca just before the arrival of the Indian ships and thus it is likely that his reappointment to the Sharifate was an effort to forestall his disruption of the flow of trade. In spite of Hasan's advanced age--upon his reinstatement to Mecca in Dhu al-Hijjah 828 (October 1425) he had to perform the pilgrimage rites on a litter--he was still a formidable opponent. As a figure of political authority, he had an essential role, not just for the Mamluks, but also for the political community of Mecca. Only he had the strength to maintain sufficient control over the local political networks to ensure the passage--and protection--of pilgrims and commerce. (66)

It is especially significant that the "protectionist" commercial measures (phase I above) issued in the fall of 1425 (Dhu al-Hijjah 828) were ordered just months after the formal announcement of Hasan's reappointment and at the same time as his final return to the Holy City. An attempt to redirect all trade through Cairo worked to the detriment of merchants conducting business between Mecca and other locations like Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. It was an attempt to compensate for the failure of direct rule by the Mamluks in the Hijaz.

Phase II: Mamluk Concessions to the Meccan Elite, 1425-28/828-32

The installation of Amir Qurqmas in Mecca, although it did not last long, resulted in the establishment of a Mamluk bureaucracy in Jedda and Mecca. With the presence of a Mamluk garrison in Mecca, it would seem that the region had been annexed into the rest of the Sultanate. As seen above, this is certainly the general impression given by Cairene authors like al-'Ayni and al-Maqrizi. The Meccan sharif, as a Mamluk amir, after all, should have had the full weight of the Sultanate behind him. However, the controller (shadd) and the superintendent (nazir), (67) both of whom were subsequently referred to as na'ib (deputy of the Sultan), did not reside permanently in Jedda. Their sole purpose was to secure the revenues of Mecca and Jedda for the Sultanate. Al-Maqrizi's observation that "each year at the time of the arrival of the ships of India, [the controller of Jedda] went to Mecca and he would take what was due from the merchants and would take it to Cairo with him" (68) is borne out in the chronicles. While the chroniclers did not report details for each and every year, the evidence as a whole indicates the controller's annual schedule. He left Cairo generally in late January or February, arriving in Jedda with ample time to receive ships arriving with the monsoon. (69) The Sultanate's temporary hegemony over Mecca during the years before the reign of Barsbay had occurred during the annual season of the pilgrimage. It was now increased to include Jedda during the annual monsoon trading season.

Mamluk domination over the central Hijaz aimed for the religious prestige gained from controlling Mecca and also for the economic value of freight passing through the port of Jedda. They did not have the means to undertake a complete occupation. Their hegemony occurred periodically, based on the seasons of the annual pilgrimage and the regular arrival of Indian Ocean vessels with the monsoon. Their garrison in Mecca endowed the Sultanate with only limited military power in the region. Mamluk cavalry could easily overpower Hijazi horsemen, but the mobility of this force compared to the local fighters was severely limited in the harsh climate and rough terrain. Its mission was simply to hold a base that could be reinforced regularly by the pilgrimage caravan or the expeditions that accompanied the port officials of Jedda. For control of the political networks in the Hijaz, the Sultanate relied on the Sharif, whose authority among the Hijazi populace they had ostensibly appropriated by granting him the title of amir. Such control even by him required material means and the Mamluks' appropriation of this authority was consequently subject to negotiation.

After the death of Sharif Hasan in 1426/829, the sultan granted the amirate to Barakat ibn Hasan on three conditions: (1) that he pay the debt his father owed--as mentioned above, amounting now to 25,000 dinars; (2) that he pay an additional 10,000 dinars annually to the sultan; and (3) that "he should not object when the duties ('ushur) on commodities are taken in Jedda" by Mamluk authorities. The sultan also demanded that Barakat and his brothers make a compact of obedience to him and abstain from fighting with each other, thereby guaranteeing the stability of the social order of the Hijaz. (70)

However, just after the death of Hasan, the balance of political power in the Hijaz collapsed. The ruling sharif had now been divested of a great part of his income Hasan had relied on it to negotiate the allegiance of various groups and individuals. Within two months after his death, a rival group within the Banu Hasan, the Ashraf Dhawi Numayy (a group who were apparently the descendants of Sharif Hasan's great-grandfather, Muhammad Abu Numayy), attacked Mecca from their temporary base in the Yemeni borderlands. Although this challenge was successfully quelled under the leadership of Barakat's brother, Abu al-Qasim, (71) in the following two years this same Abu al-Qasim and another brother, Ibrahim, both challenged Barakat's authority. Significantly, al-Maqrizi mentions that Barakat's brothers and their supporters were prevented from going to Jedda, "to take what they had customarily procured in the days of their father Sharif Hasan." (72) Money was indeed at the crux of the problem. In 1427-28/831 Barakat requested financial assistance from the Mamluks. While the Mamluks had given up direct rule through Amir Qurqmas when they reinstated Hasan, and had come to rely on his son Barakat as their political broker in the Hijaz, the distribution of revenue to the rest of the Banu Hasan had ceased. To deal with the situation Barsbay dispatched a force under Amir Aranbugha to the Hijaz, and this evidently was sufficient to restrain Ibrahim and Abu al-Qasim from seizing what they evidently considered their patrimony. Even so they continued to threaten Barakat's status as ruling sharif until they were placated with monetary gifts. (73)

After the pilgrimage season of 831 (11 September-10 October 1428) Abu al-Qasim resorted to plundering in order to fund his own campaigns. Ibrahim supported his efforts and together they obtained the backing of members of the Dhawu Abi Numayy. (74) Soon after, at the beginning of 832 (11 October-9 November 1428), the two brothers traveled to Medina. According to Ibn Fahd, they visited the Prophet's tomb, as their father had done over two decades before in his campaign to secure his own control of the central Hijaz. (75) Although al-Fasi does not clearly state that they had won the support of the ruler of Medina, when they traveled back to the coast at Yanbu' they made a compact with the town's ruler, 'Aql, that resulted in an alliance with a local group called the Dhawu Muqbil ibn Mukhbar. Bolstered by this local support, they then dispatched a messenger to Cairo to complain to the sultan about their brother's treatment of them. (76) They also made a pact with members of the Meccan faction of Abu Numayy and, while Barakat was traveling in the southern Hijaz, proceeded to the settlement of 'Usfan, north of Mecca, in preparation for an attack on the Holy City. Their subsequent assault failed, but they managed to retreat to the safety of the Yemeni frontier. (77) What is extraordinary about this episode is the failure of the Mamluk garrison in Mecca to defeat, or even restrain, Abu al-Qasim and Ibrahim.

When Barsbay again decreed his priority in conducting business in the pepper trade in Muharram 830 (2 November-1 December 1426), he continued to maintain his policy of commercial, rather than political, domination. The decree allowed him to corner the market until his stocks were completed. Still there is no doubt that the rivalry for control of the Sharifate was of concern to him. He understood that security in Mecca would only be ensured by granting Barakat sufficient means to control his brothers and their followers. In effect, the sultan was forced to restore to the ruling sharif of Mecca, at least in part, a portion of the transit trade revenue. On 9 Rabi' I 832 (17 December 1428), decrees arrived in Mecca from the Mamluk sultan announcing "the bestowal upon Sharif Barakat of one-third of what is collected from the ships sailing by way of Aden from India and that two-thirds should be transferred to the [Sultanate's] treasury, as usual." (78) This reapportionment of the commercial revenues is confirmed also in the Mamluk chancery manual of Baha al-Din Muhammad al-Khalidi (d. 1438/841). According to this unpublished source, the ruler of Mecca received one-third of the 'ushr duties assessed and the controller of the port of Jedda collected for the Sultanate "one-third, or perhaps one-half [of the duties]." It is not clear from al-Khalidi's description what became of the remainder. (79) In any event, with the reallocation of revenues the Sultanate acquiesced to the exigencies of local politics. (80) Consequently, Sharif Barakat finally regained the means to establish firm control over the Hijaz.

Phase III: Meccan Autonomy and Mamluk Monopoly, from 1428/832

Barakat and his brother Ibrahim were able to reach an agreement in about Rabi' I 832 (9 December 1428-7 January 1429) according to which the latter was granted "a generous share of the rasm duties of Mecca" (rusum bi-Makkah jayyidah). Owing to the Mamluk concession, Barakat now had the means to offer it to him. (81) However, while the Mamluk representative, Aranbugha, was still there, Ibrahim refused to go immediately to Mecca to formalize the truce. He suspected that such a formality was a ruse to arrest him and chose instead to wait until after the Mamluk officer's departure. Barakat also gained additional means to consolidate his position by re-taking former holdings in the central Hijaz at al-Ta'if, Nakhlah, and Khayf Bani Shadid. (82) After consolidating his grasp on the towns around Mecca, Barakat went to Jedda to monitor the arrival of the ships from India. (83) The Mamluk superintendent arrived at about the same time and the new distribution of revenues with the Sharif was again formally announced. (84) Ibrahim had accepted Barakat's terms, but Aba al-Qasim evidently felt there was more to be gained on his own. He staked his own claim to the transit trade by "remain[ing] in Yemen by himself where he took what he could from the Red Sea craft and Indian Ocean ships going to Mecca." (85) Finally, in 833/1429-30, he came to realize that he might gain more from a negotiated settlement with Barakat than he could as a renegade in the south. He thereupon sent a delegation to Mecca and made a treaty on the condition that he receive a stipend (ratib) in the amount of 2,500 dinars annually until the year 836/1432-33. (86)

By 833/1429-30, then, only four years after Barakat's accession as the ruler of Mecca, he had attained the submission of his brothers by conceding to them a share of the commercial revenue obtained in Jedda. Barsbay had come to realize that the stability of the Hijaz and his access to the transit trade depended on the Meccan sharif's autonomy and control of factions in the Hijaz. His claim to the exclusive right to engage in the pepper trade in 835/1431-32 is thus an apparent effort to compensate for his fiscal losses to the Meccans.

In this year Barsbay's claim of authority in the Hijaz changed dramatically. At the beginning of his reign, he, as had his predecessors, had declared himself to be "the Servitor of the Two Noble Sanctuaries." (87) By adopting this title, the sultan guaranteed the security of the Holy Cities during the pilgrimage and endowed himself with the status of the paramount Muslim ruler. He likewise listed suzerainty over the Hijaz in the foundation inscription of his khanqah outside of Cairo in Dhu al-Hijjah 835 (30 July-27 August 1432) when he styled himself "Ruler of the Hijazi Territories." (88) While this document has been regarded as evidence that the Meccan amirate was by this time "a Mamluk province," (89) the actual relationship between the sultan and the sharif was not technically that of suzerain and subject. The inscription nevertheless implied that, rather than being autonomous territory, Mecca and its hinterland fell under Mamluk sovereignty. Its purpose was to lend some political legitimacy to the sultan's desperate attempts to exploit the transit trade.

Phase IV: Further Concessions to Mecca, from 1437/840

Because the regional elite in Mecca and the Hijaz controlled the stability of the region, the sultan's concession in 832 (1428-29) was essential. Subsequently, however, the sultan seems to have made another concession for other reasons. Ibn Fahd reports that in Jumada II 840 (11 December 1436-8 January 1437) Sharif Barakat was informed that "noble alms" (al-sadaqat al-sharifah) would include half of the 'ushr duties collected on the Indian merchants' ships. (90) In 841 (1438), just months before dying from a long illness, Barsbay is said to have altered, as an act of repentance, many of his repressive policies. (91) Although there is no indication that the sadaqat payments were associated with the sultan's acts of contrition that year, the designation of the funds as such implies that his motives in granting this money were pious. Assessments ordinarily specified as 'ushr or rasm, to highlight the nature of these funds as legal customs taxes, were in this instance given a status that would show the sultan as a devout and generous Muslim ruler. It may be that the disbursement of these funds resembled monetary awards he made in and around Aleppo in Rabi' I 840 (13 September-12 October 1436) to his officers, including sixteen Bedouin amirs ('umara' al-'urban), in an effort to secure the Sultanate's northern frontier. (92) Such sadaqat funds may have allowed Barakat to mediate successfully a conflict four months later in Shawwal (8 April-6 May 1437) between one of the major Meccan political factions, the Quwwad Imarah, and the Mamluk amir Janibak al-Zahiri. (93) The extent to which an increased share of the customs revenues made a difference in Barakat's control of the region is uncertain. The death of Sultan Barsbay in the following year fundamentally altered once again the relationships, not only with the Sultanate, but also with his Hijazi rivals. It is certain, however, that the sultan's continued reliance on the brokerage of Hasan and Barakat was great enough to induce him ultimately to relinquish full political and economic control of the Hijaz.


Arguing that his policies drove elite merchants from the lucrative spice trade, historians of the late medieval Levant have regarded the reign of Sultan Barsbay as a watershed in the economic history of the region. (94) A careful review of Barsbay's interference in commerce, however, shows that, while he imposed considerable hardship on all merchants, driving them from business ran counter to his needs. Even after he established his own trading bureau, he still relied on them to cover transport costs. While the sultan's methods were ruthless, wealthier merchants--as Ibn al-Sayrafi observed--nevertheless had the financial means to withstand his restrictions. Repeated embargoes did, in effect, result in the establishment of monopolies on various commodities, but the evidence indicates that these were either temporary or simply not sustained throughout his reign. A monopoly was, moreover, only one element in a series of measures directed toward economic centralization. Barsbay's strategy was to use the coercive power of the state to ensure Cairo's position as the center of a regional economy. Directing the transit trade along the route extending from Jedda through Cairo and then to Alexandria tended to exclude Yemen and other destinations in the Near East, even the Levantine ports of the Sultanate. The relationship of the Sultanate's various interventions and its general policy for the Hijaz, together with its overtly protectionist commercial measures directed against other states in the Near East, especially Yemen, require that they be examined within a geopolitical context.

Emphasis solely on the monopolistic results of Barsbay's actions has obscured the political dimensions of his commercial policies. In terms of the Red Sea, the contemporary sources from Cairo and Mecca show that the state's interference in commerce increased in intensity as its ability to extend political control of the Hijaz failed. Barsbay was first concerned with the expansion of the Mamluk state, but his attempt to bring the Hijaz under the direct authority of the Sultanate collapsed only months after he ordered Qurqmas to rule the region in 1424/827. As a consequence, the Mamluks were compelled to rely on the Meccan sharif, Barakat ibn Hasan, to serve as the political broker in the region. Barsbay had hoped to retain complete fiscal control but, since brokerage instead of direct rule required the Mamluks to accede to local conditions, he had to compromise in this regard as well. Ultimately, only by accommodating the financial needs of the Meccan sharifs could the sultan ensure the Holy City's political stability, and thus preserve the appearance of his authority in the region. The assertion that [i]n the year 1424 Hidjaz had come under the rule of the Mamluk sultan ..." therefore needs a qualification. (95) It is not that the relationship between Cairo and Mecca did not change after Barsbay's accession to the Sultanate. Indeed, it did change in that the sultan's imperial strategy shifted from political to fiscal and economic tactics. In this sense his reign may indeed be a watershed in the political history of the Mamluks. But the overriding coherence of the various economic interventions is to be found in his imperial ambitions, which he based on economic principles. What set Barsbay apart from his predecessors was not as much his "new commercial policy," as Ashtor described it, (96) but his sustained effort to extend and then maintain his political reach beyond the limits of direct control by economic means.

The putative Mamluk occupation of the Hijaz has been regarded as a conquest that enabled the state to monopolize the transit trade. The irony of Sultan Barsbay's imperial ambitions lies in the fact that his economic tactics, insofar as they could be enforced, were in the end offset by ceding a substantial portion of this fiscal monopoly in the Hijaz to the Sharifs of Mecca. The inefficacy of the Mamluk military in the Hijaz and the Sultanate's dependence on the sharifs of Mecca to serve as political brokers suggests that Barsbay's interference in the spice trade was to compensate for the state's weakness. While Mamluk policies in the fifteenth century may have in general responded to economic constraints, as Udovitch argued in "England to Egypt," in the case of the Red Sea spice trade during the reign of Barsbay political exigencies shaped imperial strategy. As Barsbay relied on the Red Sea merchants--as much as he abused them economically--in order to sustain trade for the state's economic benefit, he also relied on the Meccan sharifs to maintain control of the Hijaz for its political well-being.

(1.) Lopez, Miskimin, and Udovitch, "England to Egypt, 1350-1500: Long-term Trends and Long-distance Trade," in Studies in the Economic History of the Middle East, ed. M. A. Cook (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), 93-128.

(2.) Michael W. Dols, The Black Death in the Middle East (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1977), 218.

(3.) Lopez, Miskimin, and Udovitch, "England to Egypt," 93, 120.

(4.) Ibid., 93.

(5.) Archibald Lewis, "Maritime Skills in the Indian Ocean, 1368-1500," Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 16 (1973): 260; Richard Mortel, Al-Ahwal al-Siyasiyah wa-al-Iqtisadiyah bi-Makkah fi al-'Asr al-Mamluki (Riyadh: Jami'at al-Malik Sa'ud, 1985), 179-80; idem, "Aspects of Mamluk Relations with Jedda during the Fifteenth Century;" Journal of Islamic Studies 6 (1995): 1.

(6.) Ahmad Darrag, L'Egypte sous le regne de Barsbay (Damascus: Institut francais, 1961), 7; see also Frederic C. Lane, "The Mediterranean Spice Trade," The American Historical Review 45 (1940): 581-90.

(7.) Eliyahu Ashtor, Levant Trade in the Later Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1983), 280.

(8.) Ashtor, "Le monopole de Barsbay d'apres des sources venitiennes," Annuario de estudios medievales 9 (1974-79): 551; idem, Levant Trade, 278.

(9.) Gustav Weil, Geschichte des Abbasidenchalifats in Egypten (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 1862), 2: 183, 240; Wilhelm Heyd, Histoire de commerce du Levant au Moyen ,Age, trans. Furcy Raynaud (Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1959), 475-76; Darrag, L'Egypte, 300ff.

(10.) Subhi Labib, Handelsgeschichte Agyptens der Spatmittelalter (1171-1517) (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1965), 381ff.; idem, "Egyptian Commercial Policy" in Studies in the Economic History of the Middle East, 77.

(11.) Gaston Wiet, L'Egypte arabe, vol. 4: Histoire de la nation egyptienne, by Gabriel Hanotaux (Paris: Societe de l'histoire nationale/Librairie Plon, n.d.), 574.

(12.) Frederic C. Lane, "Pepper Prices Before Da Gama," Journal of Economic History 28.4 (1968): 590-97; Ashtor, Levant Trade, 300; idem, "Le monopole de Barsbay," 551-72.

(13.) Darrag, Barsbay, 438, 439; note that Ashtor also resorts to Barsbay's character to explain his severe economic policies in his "The Levantine Sugar Industry in the Later Middle Ages: An Example of Technological Decline," Israel Oriental Studies 7 (1977): 242-43.

(14.) "England to Egypt," 123.

(15.) Jean-Claude Garcin, "The Regime of the Circassian Mamluks," in The Cambridge History of Egypt, vol. 1 : Islamic Egypt, 640-1517, ed. Carl Petry (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998), 293.

(16.) For a useful overview of Calicut, see Richard M. Eaton, "Multiple Lenses: Differing Perspectives of Fifteenth-Century Calicut," in Essays on Islam and Indian History (New Delhi: Oxford Univ. Press, 2001), 76-93.

(17.) Garcin, Un centre musulman de la haute Egypte medievale: Qus (Cairo: Institut francais d'archeologie orientale, 1976), 465-68.

(18.) Taqi al-Din Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Fasi, al-'Iqd al-Thamin fi Ta'rikh al-Balad al-Amin, 8 vols., ed. Muhammad al-Tayyib Hamid al-Fiqqi, Fu'ad Sayyid, and Mahmud al-Tanahi (Cairo: Matba'at al-Sunnah al-Muhammadiyah, 1959-69); idem, Shifa' al-Gharam bi-Akhbar al-Balad al-Haram, 2 vols., ed. Lajnah min kibar al-'ulama' wa-al-udaba' (Mecca: Maktabat al-Nahdah al-Hadithah, 1956). Also important: Najm al-Din 'Umar ibn Muhammad ibn Fahd, al-Durr al-Kamin bi-Dhayl al-'Iqd al-Thamin fi Ta'rikh al-Balad al-Amin, Rida Rampur Library, no. 3612/f3032; microfilm from the Arab League Institute of Arabic Manuscripts, Cairo, no. 1042, ta'rikh (see Carl Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1936-49), 2: 225, S2: 225); idem, Ithaf al-Wara bi-Akhbar Umm al-Qura, Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyah, Cairo, MS 2204 Ta'rikh Taymur (see Brockelmann, GAL, 2: 224). The latter work has been published twice, by Muhammad Isma'il al-Sayyid Ahmad and Sadiq al-Bili Muhammad Abu Shadi (Mecca, 1989-90/1410) and by Fahim Muhammad Shaltut (Mecca, [1983]), but I have not been able to obtain these editions; see Muhammad al-Habib al-Hilah, al-Ta'rikh wa-al Mu'arrikhun bi-Makkah (Mecca: al-Furqan lil-Turath al-Islami, 1994), 149.

(19.) Shihab al-Din Abu al-Fadl Ahmad Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani, Inba' al-Ghumr bi-Abna' al-'Umr, ed. Hasan al-Habashi (Cairo: al-Majlis al-A'la lil-Shu'un al-Islamiyah, 1972), 3: 423; Taqi al-Din Ahmad al-Maqrizi, Kitab al-Suluk li-Ma'rifat Duwal al-Muluk, ed. Muhammad Mustafa Ziyadah and Sa'id 'Abd al-Fattah 'Ashur (Cairo: Matba'at Lajnat al-Ta'lif wa-al-Tarjamah wa-al-Nashr, 1956-1973), 4.2: 800, 801; 'Ali ibn Dawud al-Khatib al-Jawhari Ibn al-Sayrafi, Nuzhat al-Nufus wa-al-Abdan fi Tawarikh al-Zaman, ed. Hasan Habashi (Cairo: Dar al-Kutub, 1970-73), 3: 149; 155.

(20.) On sugar, see Darrag, Barsbay, 146-51; Moritz Sobernheim, "Das Zuckermonopol unter Sultan Bursbai," Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie and verwandte Gebiete 27 (1912): 75-84.

(21.) Jean Sauvaget, "Decrets mamelouks de Syrie," Bulletin d 'Etudes orientales 12 (1947-48): 29-30. The verb form ihtakara is occasionally used; see al-Maqrizi, al-Suluk, 4.2: 794, and idem, Ighathat al-Ummah bi-Kashf al-Ghummah, ed. Muhammad Muhammad Ziyadah and Jamal al-Din al-Shayyal (Cairo: Matba'at Lajnat al-Ta'lif wa-al-Tarjamah wa-al-Nashr, 1940), 42, where al-Maqrizi uses the expression ihtikar al-dawlah, translated by Allouche as "state monopoly" (Mamluk Economics [Salt Lake City: Univ. of Utah Press], 51), which connotes a permanent hold of foodstuffs. Note also that Ira Lapidus translates tahkir as the practice of requiring "traders ... to gather in one place"; Muslim Cities in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1967), 100.

(22.) Dozy, Supplement aux dictionnaires arabes, s.v. "t-r-h"; Ira Lapidus, Muslim Cities, 56-57, 92-93, likens it to the early modern French practice of gabelle.

(23.) "Le monopole de Barsbay," 559, 564-68; Levant Trade, 248-51 ; Ashtor notes the erroneous interpretation of Nicolai Jorga, "Notes et extraits," Revue de l'Orient latin 4 (1896): 552, and John Wansbrough, "A Mamluk Commercial Treaty Concluded with the Republic of Florence, 894/1489," in Documents from Islamic Chanceries (Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1965), 75.

(24.) Ashtor, Levant Trade, 248-51.

(25.) On forced sales, see Sanvaget, "Decrets mamelouks," 28.

(26.) Ibn Fahd, Ithaf al-Wara, 4: 417-18; aI-Maqrizi also notes officials engaging in this practice (al-Suluk, 4.2: 929).

(27.) Al-Maqrizi, al-Suluk, 4.2: 824; Ibn al-Sayrafi, Nuzhat al-Nufus, 3: 185.

(28.) Ibn Hajar, Inba' al-Ghumr, 3: 477.

(29.) Ibid., 3: 350.

(30.) al-Suluk, 4.2: 707-8.

(31.) Ithaf al-Wara, 4: 405; al-Suluk, 4.2: 735, 754-55, 791.

(32.) Inba al-Ghumr, 3: 423.

(33.) al-Suluk, 4.2: 768; Inba' al-Ghumr, 3: 400; Nuzhat al-Nufus, 3: 145.

(34.) al-Suluk, 4.2: 791-92; Nuzhat al-Nufus, 3: 145-46. Ibn Hajar mentions this in his account of the year 833 (Inba' al-Ghumr, 3: 438-39).

(35.) Inba' al-Ghumr, 2: 521.

(36.) Ashtor, Levant Trade, 278.

(37.) al-Suluk, 4.2: 735.

(38.) Inba' al-Ghumr, 3: 423; also see al-Maqrizi, 4.2: 791. Ashtor calls this decree a monopoly, but recognizes that the sultan reserved the right of priority in sales, and not an exclusive right to sell (Levant Trade, 279), while Sobernheim interprets the decree as a complete ban on all sales to the Franks ("Das Zuckermonopol," 75).

(39.) Sobernheim, "Das Zuckermonopol," 75.

(40.) al-Suluk, 4.2: 823-24.

(41.) Nuzhat al-Nufus, 3: 185.

(42.) Inba' al-Ghumr, 3: 473.

(43.) Al-Maqrizi, al-Suluk, 4.2: 869, reports a difference of twenty; Ibn al-Sayrafi, Nuzhat al-Nufus, 3: 235, reports a difference of forty; Ibn Hajar, 3: 473, also mentions that the sultan sought a price of fifty dinars, in spite of the market price of eighty.

(44.) In 838: al-Suluk, 4.2: 935. In 839: al-Suluk, 4.2: 967, 972; Nuzhat al-Nufus, 3: 337, 341,346, 377, 379.

(45.) al-Suluk, 4.2: 965; Nuzhat al-Nufus, 3: 338.

(46.) L'Egypte arabe, 574.

(47.) al-Suluk, 4.2: 872-73; Ibn Taghri Birdi, al-Nujum al-Zarhirah fi Muluk Misr wa-al-Qahirah, ed. Jamal Muhammad Muhriz and Fahim Muhammad Shaltut (Cairo: al-Hay'ah al-'Ammah lil-Ta'lif wa-al-Nashr, 1971/ 1391), 362; cf. ed. Popper, 6:678 and Labib, Handelsgeschichte, 401-2.

(48.) J. V. Mills, "Notes on Early Chinese Voyages," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1951): 12-13.

(49.) Ibid., 22.

(50.) al-Suluk, 4.2: 929; Nuzhat al-Nufus, 3:302 (13 Safar 837).

(51.) al-Suluk, 4.2: 681.

(52.) al-Suluk, 4.2: 929-30.

(53.) On the redistribution of revenues, see John L. Meloy, "Mamluk Authority, Meccan Autonomy, and Red Sea Trade, 797-859/1395-1455" (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1998), 132-36, 224-31.

(54.) M. A. Hiyari, "The Origins and Development of the Amirate of the Arabs during the Seventh/Thirteenth and Eighth/Fourteenth Centuries," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 38 (1975): 509-24. See also A. S. Tritton, "The Tribes of Syria in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries," BSOAS 12 (1948): 567-73.

(55.) Al-Fasi, al-'Iqd al-Thamin, 4: 146-47; Ibn Fahd, al-Durr al-Kamin, 155v., biography of 'Ali ibn 'Inan.

(56.) Al-Fasi, al-'Iqd al-Thamin, 4: 147-49; idem, Shifa al-Gharam, 2: 211; Ibn Fahd, Ithaf al-Wara, 4: 372-73; idem, al-Durr al-Kamin, 156r., biography of 'Ali ibn 'Inan; al-Suluk, 4.2: 663.

(57.) Al-'Ayni, ('Iqd al-Juman, 2: 245-47, 305 (note that Qurqmas's office is mentioned with those of foreign rulers, such as the Qaramanid, Timurid, etc.); al-Suluk, 4.2: 655; al-'Iqd al-Thamin, 4: 148.

(58.) al-'Iqd al-Thamin, 4: 150; al-Durr al-Kamin, 156r.; note that Ibn Fahd writes that this occurred on 24 Dhu al-Hijjah.

(59.) al-'Iqd al-Thamin, 4: 150-51; al-Suluk, 4.2: 687; al-Maqrizi quotes al-Fasi without attribution: that Hasan "went to the Najd, keeping aloof from evil and being disgusted by discord (fitnah)."

(60.) al-Durr al-Kamin, 156r. From Cairo, 'Ali went to Tunis, where he received the patronage of the Hafsid ruler Abu al-Faris Abd al-Aziz (r. 1394-1434/796-837). He returned to Cairo, where he died of the plague in 1430/833 (al-Suluk, 4.2: 842-43; 'Iqd al-Juman, 2: 396).

(61.) al-Suluk, 4.2: 678, 687, 706; Muqbil of Yanbuc was imprisoned as well.

(62.) Richard Mortel, "Taxation in the Amirate of Mecca during the Medieval Period," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 58 (1995): 13.

(63.) On this incident, see Meloy, "Mamluk Authority," 124-32.

(64.) al-Suluk, 4.2: 706; "'Iqd al-Juman, 2: 257, simply says that Hasan submitted.

(65.) al-Durr al-Kamin, 156r.; this observation was also mentioned by al-Maqrizi in his Durar al-'Uqud, according to al-Sakhawi, al-Daw' al-Lami', 5: 272-73, no. 914.

(66.) For a different interpretation, see Mortel, "Taxation," 12-13, in which the Mamluk military intervention in the Hijaz in the 1420s is seen as an effective occupation that resulted in unambiguous Mamluk suzerainty.

(67.) I have followed Richard Mortel in the translation of these terms; Mortel, "Aspects of Mamluk Relations," 3. Mortel's observation of the flexibility in the use of these terms is noteworthy, particularly with the position of na'ib (see Mortel, "Taxation," 13). It would seem that na'ib was used to designate seniority within the Mamluk hierarchy, but does not necessarily indicate (though it was probably meant to imply) an individual with effective political power locally.

(68.) al-Suluk, 4.2: 707; Ibn Taghri Birdi, al-Nujum al-Zahirah, ed. Ibrahim 'Ali Tarhan (Cairo: al-Hayah al-'Ammah, 1971/1913), 15: 368-69; cf. ed. Popper, 7:143.

(69.) 7 Rabi' I 828 (27 January 1425), al-Suluk, 4.2:680-81; 8 Jumada I 832 (13 February 1429), al-Suluk, 4.2: 797; 7 Jumada I 834 (21 January 1431), al-Suluk, 4.2: 854; 8 Jumada I 835 (12 January 1422), al-Suluk, 4.2: 865; 10 Jumada II 835 (13 February 1432), al-Suluk, 4.2: 867; 18 Jumada II 836 (9 February 1433), al-Suluk, 4.2: 888; 20 Sha'ban 841 (16 February 1438), al-Suluk, 4.2: 1030. The exceptions are: 6 Shawwal 831 (19 July 1428), al-Suluk, 4.2: 780, while Ibn Hajar, Inba al-Ghumr, 3: 404, reports that he went in Ramadan (14 June-13 July), although this would be in time for the end of the monsoon; and 6 Jumada 1840 (16 November 1436), al-Suluk, 4.2: 1000-1001.

(70.) Ithaf al-Wara, 4: 385; al-'Iqd al-Thamin, 4: 153; Shifa al-Gharam, 2:211 ; see also al-Suluk, 4: 730, 734; Inba al-Ghumr, 3: 376; Ibn Taghri Birdi, al-Nujum al-Zahirah, ed. Mubriz and Shaltut, 14: 298; cf. ed. Popper, 6: 611. Note that in Popper's translation of al-Nujum al-Zahirah, he writes: "the Sultan agreed not to oppose his collection at Jedda harbor of taxes on the wares of the merchants coming from India or elsewhere; all of them were to belong to Barakat"; 18:40-41 (July 1426/Ramadan 829).

(71.) These were the Dhawu Umar, the Dhawu Humaydah, the Dhawu 'Ajlan, and the Dhawu al-Hasan; Ithaf al-Wara, 4: 384-85; al-Durr al-Kamin, 185v.

(72.) al-Suluk, 4.2: 781.

(73.) Ibid.; Inba al-Ghumr, 3: 404; Nuzhat al-Nufus, 3: 133-34; al-Durr al-Kamin, 92v.

(74.) Ithaf al-Wara, 399; al-Durr al-Kamin, 92v., 186r.

(75.) On Hasan's political career, see Meloy, "Mamluk Authority, Meccan Autonomy," chap. 3.

(76.) Ithaf al-Wara, 401; al-Durr al-Kamin, 186r.

(77.) Ithaf al-Wara, 402.

(78.) Ibid., 400-401.

(79.) Baha' al-Din Muhammad ibn Lutf Allah al-Khalidi, al-Maqsad al-Rafi' al-Munsha' al-Hadi li-Sina' at al-Insha' (Paris: Bibliotheque Nationale, MA arabe 4439: microfilm, Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyah, MS 21031 za'), 154r.

(80.) There is no reason to interpret the conflict in the Hijaz as "the appearance of sharifian resistance" (my emphasis; Mortel, "Taxation," 13). The Sultanate would hardly have given up this share had the discord among Barakat and his brothers not been so severely disruptive to the region.

(81.) Ithaf al-Wara, 403.

(82.) Cf. al-'Iqd al-Thamin, 4: 88-91.

(83.) The sequence of Ibn Fahd's narrative indicates that his arrival in the port city is likely to have occurred in about Rajab 832 (6 April-5 May 1429).

(84.) Ithaf al-Wara, 4: 405; al-Suluk, 4.2: 797.

(85.) Ithaf al-Wara, 4: 404.

(86.) al-Durr al-Kamin, 186r.; Ithaf al-Wara, 4: 404.

(87.) On his madrasah, constructed between Sha'ban 826 (10 July-7 August 1423) and Jamada I 827 (1-30 April 1424); Max van Berchem, Materiaux pour un Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum, Egypte II, Memoires de la Mission archeologique francaise au Caire, vol. 29, pt. 1, fasc. 3-4 (Cairo: Ernest Leroux, 1903), 351-52.

(88.) This is according to van Berchem's reading of the damaged inscription: [Sahib] al-Aqtar al-Hijaziyah; van Berchem, CIA, Egypte II, 367.

(89.) Mortel, "Prices in Mecca during the Mamluk Period," Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 32 (1989): 287.

(90.) Ithaf al-Wara, 4: 423-24. Mortel also recognizes this change in the allocation of revenues; "Taxation," 13.

(91.) Wiet, "Barsbay," The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., 1: 1053-54, perhaps referring to alms the sultan granted after temporary recovery from illness; al-Suluk, 4.2: 1028.

(92.) Nuzhat al-Nufus, 3: 374-75.

(93.) Ithaf al-Wara, 4: 424; al-Suluk, 4.2: 1010; Nuzhat al-Nufus, 3: 384. On the career of Janibak al-Zahiri, see Richard Mortel, "Grand Dawadar and Governor of Jedda: The Career of the Fifteenth Century Mamluk Magnate Ganibak al-Zahiri," Arabica 43 (1996): 437-56.

(94.) Ashtor, Levant Trade, 280.

(95.) Ibid., 178f.

(96.) Ibid., 277.
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Date:Jan 1, 2003
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