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Was Cyprus a Mamluk protectorate? Mamluk policies toward Cyprus between 1426 and 1517.


This paper examines the policies of the Mamluk Empire toward the Kingdom of Cyprus during the years 1426-1517 and explains the relations possible between a Muslim Empire and a post-Crusader Christian Kingdom. In doing so, the author demonstrates that it is quite appropriate to use the modern term "protectorate" for the Mamluk-Cypriot relationship after 1426, when the Mamluks managed to subdue the island militarily and took the Cypriot king as prisoner to Cairo. After this event, it is argued, the relationship between the two fulfils the requirements of the definition of a protectorate. Mamluk-Cypriot relations were outlined after 1426 through a mutual treaty. In return for its annual tribute, the Kingdom of Cyprus, the controlled state, retained domestic autonomy and control over most of its internal affairs, but lost its independence in diplomatic relations. A clear indication of this fact is that the Cypriots were required to help the Mamluks by taking measures against pirates threatening Mamluk shores in the 15th century and to serve as a naval base during the Mamluk expeditions against Rhodes. Cyprus remained a Mamluk protectorate until 1489 when the island came under the control of the Venetians.

Keywords: Mamluk, Cyprus, Crusaders, Protectorate, Eastern Mediterranean



Bu calisma Memluk Imparatorlugu'nun 1426-1517 yillari arasinda Kibris Kralligi'na karsi yuruttugu politikalari incelerken, Musluman bir Imparatorlukla Hacli-sonrasi Hristiyan bir Krallik arasindaki olasi iliskileri aciklamaktadir. Bunu yaparken yazar, 1426'da Memluklarin adayi askeri acidan ele gecirmeyi basarip Kibris kralini esir olarak Kahire'ye goturmelerinden sonra Memluk-Kibris iliskileri icin "himaye" terimini kullanmanin uygunlugunu ortaya koymaktadir. Bu olaydan sonra ikili iliskilerin "himaye" tanimindaki gereklilikleri yerine getirdigi iddia edilmektedir. 1426'dan sonra Memluk-Kibris iliskileri karsilikli antlasmalar uzerinden yurutulmustur. Odedikleri yillik harac karsiliginda Kibris Kralligi, yani kontrol altindaki devlet, icislerindeki kontrolunun buyuk kismini ve ic ozerkligini korumus, ancak diplomatik iliskilerdeki bagimsizligini yitirmistir. Bunun acik bir gostergesi, Kibrislilarin 15. yuzyilda Memluk sahillerini tehdit eden korsanlara karsi onlem alma zorunluluklari ve adanin Memluklarin Rodos cikarmasi sirasinda deniz ussu olarak kullanilmasidir. Kibris, 1486'da ada Venediklilerin kontrolu altina girene dek Memluklarin himayesi altinda kalmistir.

Anahtar Kelimeler: Memluklar, Kibris, Hacli Seferleri, Himayecilik, Dogu Akdeniz.

Unlike contemporary international relations between formally independent nation-states that interact with each other through an elaborate set of legal rules and regulations, territories in many regions of the early modern world dealt with each other on a more case-by-case basis, and their mutual relations appear more ambivalent as modern notions of sovereignty and rule had not yet taken root. Especially interesting is the contact between those regions that potentially shared common geopolitical and economic interests but were set against each other due to fundamental differences in their historic and cultural backgrounds and their divergent religious beliefs.

In examining the policies of the Mamluk Empire toward the Kingdom of Cyprus in the years from 1426-1517, this paper explains what kind of relations were possible between a Muslim Empire and a post-Crusader Christian Kingdom. It shows that our common views of the medieval lord-vassal relationship need to be modified if we intend to apply them to the interaction of these two political entities, which first engaged in warfare but later switched to trade and tribute once the Mamluks had settled the military conflict in their favor in 1426. From then on the Mamluks became the overlords of the island of Cyprus, and the kings of Cyprus recognized them as their suzerains and paid them an annual tribute. One might even think of using the modern term "protectorate" for the Mamluk-Cypriot relationship after 1426. In international relations a protectorate is defined as a state or territory controlled by a more powerful state. The controlled state retains autonomy over most internal affairs. The controlling state controls foreign relations and the defense of the protectorate, but the protectorate is not a direct possession of the controlling state. Another vital point is that a protectorate is usually established by treaty. (1) In modern international relations protectorates are usually associated with arrangements made by an imperial power with an overseas territory, stopping short of incorporating this overseas land as a colony into an empire. Nevertheless, this paper will show that protectorate-like structures preceded the modern era. In dealing with Mamluk-Cypriot history we will see that most of the characteristics of the protectorate relationship are present. Questions remain, however, concerning how the influence of the Mamluk Empire manifested itself in Cyprus.

The outer frame of Mamluk-Cypriot relations was as follows. The Mamluk sultanate (1250-1517) is correctly perceived as a land-based empire in Egypt and Syria, and it is a well-known fact that they only rarely engaged in naval expeditions. In the few cases when they did so, Cyprus was almost always their exclusive target. In their early expeditions they aimed at stopping military reinforcements from the Cypriot kingdom reaching the last remaining Crusader principalities at the Syro-Palestinian coast. Later expeditions were meant to prevent the pirate activities of Cypriots and other European sea-faring nations along those coastlines of the Mamluk Empire that could easily be reached from Cyprus. A hostile or unruly Cyprus was a painful thorn in the side of Mamluk rulers, but it was not until Sultan Barsbay (1422-1438) defeated Cyprus that pirate attacks ceased and tribute to the Mamluk sultans was paid regularly. This arrangement formally lasted even after Cyprus passed into the hand of the Venetians in 1489. In reality the Mamluk influence weakened after 1489 as the new Venetian rulers were more powerful than the Cypriot kings had been. Nevertheless, for the period between 1426 and 1489 it is appropriate to describe the relationship of the Cypriot Kingdom to the Mamluk Empire as that of a protectorate. To clarify this argument let us now explore their actual encounters beginning with the early stages of their interaction in more detail.

Under a False Flag: The First Mamluk Expedition against Cyprus in 1271 In May 1271 the English Prince Edward, later King Edward I (1272-1307) landed with 300 horsemen in Acre in order to help defend the kingdom of Jerusalem against the Mamluks. (2) He was accompanied by the Cypriot King Hugh III of Lusignan (1267-1284), who was also the official King of Jerusalem since 1269. When the Mamluk Sultan Baybars I (1260-1277) found out about the landing, he ordered the equipment of a fleet of seventeen ships. According to the Mamluk historian al-Yunini, Baybars planned to take advantage of the absence of the Cypriot King from his homeland in order to attack Cyprus. (3) But taking into account the usual superiority of the ships of the Franks, as the Europeans were called in contemporary Arab sources, Baybars resolved to use a ruse. He had the ships painted black like Christian galleys and equipped them with flags bearing a cross. Unfortunately for him, these novel tactics did not ensure the success of the mission. The fleet ran upon the reefs when approaching the harbor of Limassol (al-Nimsun) in the spring of 1271. The local inhabitants then plundered the wrecks and captured the remaining stranded soldiers. (4) Ibn .Abd al-Uahiir tries to explain this naval catastrophe by blaming the display of Christian symbols, which he alleges triggered the wrath of God. (5) Baybars tried to make-up for this loss by building an even larger fleet. (6) As the sources remain silent about any naval engagements of this squadron after its completion, we might presume that it never set sail.

Baybars did not need to attack Cyprus since the Mamluks where strong enough to expel the remaining crusaders by 1291, after Acre, the capital of the kingdom of Jerusalem, finally fell into Mamluk hands. The Syro-Palestinian coast was now purged of Franks as one contemporary Mamluk author recalls. (7) This was apparently also a long-lasting shock for the inhabitants of Cyprus and a source of continuous sorrow. When the Italian Pilgrim de Martoni came to Famagusta in 1394 on his visit to the Holy Land he noticed noble ladies who wore long black dresses which left only the eyes uncovered. When he inquired about this custom, he was told that these ladies were still mourning the fall of Acre one hundred years earlier, as many of the former inhabitants of Acre had fled to Famagusta. (8)

Immediately after the fall of Acre many inhabitants of Cyprus must have feared that the Mamluks would invade the island. And, in fact, Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil (1290-1293) ordered the building of a fleet to that end. Luckily for the Cypriots, this project was abandoned when rebellious emirs murdered its initiator in 1293. The only deployment this fleet of 60 ships ever witnessed had been shortly before during the official inauguration parade on the Nile. (9)

In the following period from 1293 to 1365 the Mamluks apparently refrained from building fleets and they resorted to a "scorched earth" policy which actually meant a "burned shore" policy in the context of the Syro-Palestinian coast. In order to prevent the crusaders from capturing a fortified town on the coast and using it as a base for further operations in Syria, the Mamluks systematically razed the harbor fortifications of the sea coast. They combined this destruction with the transfer of the line of defence further inland, where castles were built and troops garrisoned. (10) They accepted the naval superiority of the Franks as given and let the local defense structures at the coast fall into decay. From the Mamluk point of view the policy worked as the crusaders never came back, but the price was the economic stagnation of the entire Syro-Palestinian region.

A Last Cypriot Crusade: The Attack on Alexandria by King Peter I of Lusignan and the Mamluk Response

One could say that the scorched earth policy benefited the kingdom of Cyprus. Not only was it spared a large scale-expedition, Cypriot corsairs or Frankish pirates operating from Cyprus constantly attacked the remnants of Mamluk harbors and sometimes kidnapped Muslims in the vicinity of the shore to take them into slavery or hold them for ransom. (11)

The largest of these Cypriot aggressions happened in the year 1365, when the Cypriot King Peter I of Lusignan (1359-1369) led a naval expedition against the Mamluk Empire. In the preceding years he had tried to obtain help from European countries and to revive the spirit towards Alexandria, which he sacked completely and occupied for several days until the main Mamluk army approached from Cairo. (12) Immediately after this attack the Mamluk commander-in-chief (atabak) Yalbugha al-'Umari ordered an expeditionary fleet to be built in Syria and Egypt in order to avenge the assault on Alexandria. (13) In November 1366 the Egyptian part of the fleet frightened a Catalan envoy when shooting naphtabombs into the air while on parade. (14) However, the fleet failed to even reach Cyprus. Yalbugha al-'Umari was killed by Mamluk rivals a month later and the project suffered the same fate. Those ships built in Syria had already been brought to the shore but were now left to rot. A contemporary Mamluk author recalls, "A lot of money had been spent on the project but no one benefited from it. The only useful thing was the iron, which the local people removed from the rotting ships." (15) Peter I continued his aggressive approach towards the Mamluks and attacked several other coastal towns during the next several years. A peace treaty was not signed until 1370 after Peter had been murdered by unhappy nobles because of the heavy burden of his war expenses. (16) Moreover, Cyprus lost its influence in the Levant trade to the Italian naval powers. Until the mid 14th century the papal ban on trade with the Mamluks remained effective. To circumvent this ban the European trading nations had brought their goods legally to Cyprus from where the Cypriots then transported them with their ships to Beirut and other towns on the coast. (17) However, after the attacks of Peter I, the Mamluks were reluctant to continue this business arrangement, and the Venetians started to trade directly with the harbors of the Syro-Palestinian coast as the papal ban was loosened. On top of these financial losses the weakened kingdom of Cyprus suffered another heavy blow when in 1373 the Genoese conquered Famagusta, the most important trading port of the island. (18) In order to compensate for their economic losses, the Cypriots increased their pirate activities and worked with the Catalan corsairs who were supported by the Cypriot King Janus (1398-1432). (19)

For the Mamluks, on the other hand, the message sent by the incursions of Peter I and the continuing raids of Frankish freebooters was all to clear: they had to do something about Cyprus if they wanted to pacify this source of trouble.

The Capture of a Cypriot King: Mamluk Naval Expeditions in the Years 1424 to 1426

The Cypriot author Leontios Makhairas mentions that Muslims would often endure constant attacks over a long period of time only to take revenge after warning their enemies two or three times. (20) According to Makhairas, the Mamluk sultan (21) was preoccupied with the ambitions of rebellious emirs at the beginning of the 15th century. Therefore, he was not able to take effective measures against Cypriot piracy which made many nobles in Cyprus extremely rich. (22) Chief among the entrepreneurs in the buccaneer business was the Cypriot King Janus himself. The Venetian merchant Piloti, who lived in Cairo at the beginning of the 15th century, reports that the Cypriot King had constantly been moving up and down the Syro-Palestinian coast with two ships in the years 1400 to 1415 in order to loot and harm the Muslims by sea and by land. (23)

After a while the Cypriots overstretched the patience even of the notorious "hydrophobic" Mamluks. Sultan Barsbay (1422-1438) equipped a small fleet of five ships, which headed off towards Cyprus from Tripoli in the summer of 1424. They reached Genoese Famagusta, which had apparently opted for a Mamluk-friendly neutrality, and the Genoese governor of the city treated the Mamluk emirs with great hospitality. From there they went on to successfully sack the important harbour of Limassol. (24) Then they destroyed the fortress of Kouvouklia near Paphos on their way back to Egypt. (25) Janus responded by sending ships to the Syrian coast which plundered Tyre and the region north of Tripoli. (26) A year later rumors were spreading throughout the Eastern Mediterranean that the Catalan King Alfonso V (1416-1458) was preparing a new Crusade to the Holy Land. (27) Under these circumstances Sultan Barsbay decided to repeat the expedition against Cyprus. New warships were built in the arsenals of Bulaq near Cairo. After fruitless peace talks a grand total of forty ships assembled in Tripoli, representing the most impressive Mamluk fleet to date. As in the year before, they were greeted by the Genoese governor of Famagusta, who certainly provided them with intelligence helpful to their military goals, resulting in the first Mamluk naval victory ever when its vastly larger fleet defeated twelve Cypriot ships near Larnaka. Just as in 1424 they successfully plundered Limassol but departed in quite a hurry when they heard rumors that naval relief for Cyprus was on its way from Europe. Afraid that their way back to the Mamluk Empire might be blocked, the emirs withdrew. (28)

After this second attack in two years King Janus tried to reorganize the defense of his island. He sent nobles to Europe to ask for military aid. (29) This initiative was reported to the Mamluks. (30) There was a lot of diplomatic activity before the new campaigning season. In early summer 1426 the Venetians told the Mamluk authorities that they would stay out of the fighting as long as they could carry on their trade and their subjects in the Mamluk Empire were not harmed. (31) As already noted, Genoa was neutral, probably fearing that the Mamluks might otherwise attack Famagusta. This friendly neutrality of the Italian sea-faring nations certainly contributed to the later success of the venture. Moreover, the official appeal of Pope Martin V (1417-1431) to help the Christian Kingdom of Cyprus did not meet with a positive response; the European powers were no longer eager to embark on large-scale crusader expeditions. The only possible ally was the Catalan King Alfonso V, but he insisted that the Cypriots should pay his troops. As Janus did not have the ample resources necessary for this, Alfonso sent only a token force of 500 soldiers and two ships. (32)

Meanwhile the knights of St. John of Rhodes and even the Byzantine Emperor John VIII Palaiologos (1425-1448) tried to arrange a peace agreement, which was rejected by the Mamluk sultan, who insisted that the Cypriot king should recognize him as overlord. (33)

A new attack on Cyprus in the summer of 1426 was therefore inevitable. This time the expedition force, which consisted of even more ships than sent the two years before, chose the direct way from Egypt to Cyprus and did not stop in Syria. Limassol was then subjected to its third sacking in three consecutive years. After having taken Limassol, the Mamluk commander-in-chief of the expedition sent a letter to King Janus demanding that he recognize the Mamluk sultan as his suzerain. In addition, he dispatched a carpet to the Cypriot ruler, which Janus was asked to display at his feet as sign of his submission. (34) Janus rejected the demand and fought a battle near his capital Nikosia (al-Ifqusiya). The Cypriot forces were almost completely wiped out. The defeat was total. King Janus was captured and his palace burned down. (35) To the disgust of the Cypriots it seems that the Venetians had given the Mamluks vital information on the military defense of Nikosia. (36) The Mamluk expeditionary force left Cyprus at the end of July 1426 and went back to Egypt where the ships had to be divided among several harbors because no single port in Egypt was large enough for such a huge fleet. (37)

In Cairo a triumphal march took place on the 14th of August during which the Cypriot King Janus was paraded on a mule as a Mamluk eyewitness recalls. (38) The Sherif of Mecca and envoys of the Hafsid and the Ottoman Sultan had been invited to witness the spectacle of a great Muslim triumph. Sultan Barsbay ordered Janus to pay a ransom of 200,000 dinar. Finally, after having officially recognized the overlord ship of the Mamluk sultan, the sultan allowed Janus to depart for Cyprus in May of 1427. (39) The Cypriot author Makhairas states that King Janus signed a treaty with the Muslims prior to his departure. (40) The stipulations of the treaty are unfortunately not known, but it was certainly agreed that Cyprus should stop pirate activity and cease to help other Franks in this regard. Moreover, Cyprus had to pay a yearly tribute in addition to accepting that the king of Cyprus would now rule his island as a subject of the Mamluk sultan.

The question remains as to why the Mamluks were content merely with the submission of the King of Cyprus and did not occupy the island permanently. The main reason for this decision to rule indirectly was probably Cyprus's vulnerable position in the middle of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Mamluks could manage to cross the sea to Cyprus and to defeat the troops of the Cypriot Kingdom, but they would have been exposed to European naval expeditions targeting a Mamluk Cyprus. The Mamluks' traditional unwillingness to maintain competitive fleets made it preferable for Cyprus to become a tributary state instead of a new Mamluk province. To underline the fact that the fleet of 1426 consisted merely of transport ships, the Venetian merchant Piloti tells us that the Mamluks conquered Cyprus with better nutshells, i.e. barges from the Nile, because they did not have enough rudders to equip galleys. (41) Another indication of the relative weakness of the large Mamluk fleet, which allegedly numbered at least 180 ships when invading Cyprus, is that references to its further naval activities are missing for the subsequent years.

The Mamluks could have changed the balance of power in the Eastern Mediterranean, but as trained horsemen they apparently only obtained real glory when fighting on the back of a horse, not on the planks of a ship. We can only guess at how many of these proud horse warriors became sea sick while voyaging towards Cyprus.

Investing a Cypriot King: The Mamluks and James the Bastard

One of the main consequences of the Mamluk protectorate over Cyprus was that it ceased to be the capital of the Christian corsairs of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Pirate attacks originating in Cyprus, which had been such a nuisance to the Mamluks, stopped. The island of Rhodes under the rule of the order of the Knights of St. John became the new centre of buccaneer activity. When the Mamluks deployed three unsuccessful naval expeditions against Rhodes in the 1440s, the kingdom of Cyprus had to serve as a base of operations for the Mamluk fleet. (42) This can be taken as a clear sign that the Cypriots had accepted the Mamluk sultan as suzerain not only in theory but in practice as well. On the other hand it seems that the Mamluks also offered protection to the island. When the Mamluk sultan Jaqmaq (1438-1453) heard that the Turkoman emir of al-'Alaya (Scandalore) intended to attack Cyprus in 1450, he dispatched ships to the island in order to defend it. (43)

Later, the Mamluks were even more active in their role as suzerains of Cyprus. An example of this is their interference in Cypriote domestic politics in 1460. A succession dispute triggered the intervention. The Cypriot King John II (1432-1458) had a legitimate daughter named Charlotte, but also an illegitimate son named James who he installed as archbishop of Nicosia. Upon the death of her father Charlotte (1458-1464) was crowned queen of Cyprus by the nobles of the island. (44) James went to the Mamluk sultan al-Ashraf Inal (1453-1461) and claimed that he should be the ruler of Cyprus. He presented himself as the rightful heir. The nobles had chosen Charlotte despite the fact that a son existed. While this argument won over some Mamluks, the Mamluk historian Ibn Taghribirdi states that according to the laws of the Franks James was a bastard and, therefore, had no claim to the throne. (45)

James nevertheless managed to convince al-Ashraf Inal and an envoy was sent to Cyprus that the will of the sultan was that James should rule. At the same time an expeditionary force was prepared and ships were built. (46) However, the situation changed when envoys from Charlotte arrived in Cairo. Al-Ashraf Inal gathered the leading emirs in May of 1460 to recognize Charlotte as queen. Upon hearing this decision James, who was also present at the gathering, started to complain vociferously and to weep. Many influential emirs sided with James. Allegedly, he had bribed them during his stay in Cairo. A riot broke out and due to the pressure of the emirs al-Ashraf Inal saw himself forced to reverse his decision and to go on with preparations to install James as king of Cyprus. (47) The Mamluk troops landed with the help of 48 ships in the late summer of 1460. As Charlotte had taken refuge in Kerinya, James took possession of Nikiosia as King James II (1460-1473). (48) Surprisingly, the larger part of the Mamluk expeditionary force had already returned to Egypt in November 1460. Officially, this was because they feared the damage winter weather would cause to the boats of the fleet. The real reason might have been the deteriorating health of al-Ashraf Inal, and the fact that the leading Mamluk emirs wanted to be in Cairo should the question of succession arise. Only a small Mamluk force under the command of Emir Janibaq al-Ablaq was garrisoned in Cyprus in order to help James. (49) James had not taken possession of Kerinya yet. Instead he marched with his troops towards Famagusta and besieged the Genoese. At the same time Emir Janibaq asked the new sultan al-Uahir Khushqadam (1461-1467), who acceded to the position after al-Ashraf Inal died in February 1461, for military reinforcements. The Mamluk governor of Tripoli got the order to go to Cyprus in September 1461, but a month later he returned and was arrested for abandoning his troops. (50) Khushqadam deployed other troops, but the game repeated itself. Most of the troops came back after a short time and there was nothing an angered sultan could to about this. (51) Cyprus was apparently not an acceptable place to be for a Mamluk emir, since it was too far away from the Mamluk power centre in Cairo. Therefore, the siege of Famagusta took some time. It was not until January 1464 that the Genoese finally surrendered. Shortly afterwards King James ordered the assassination of Emir Janibaq al-Ablaq and his Mamluks, despite the fact that he had been fighting the last four years at his side. James justified his deed with the allegation that Janibaq had tried to murder him (James), and he managed to appease Khushqadam by sending him numerous gifts. (52) Maybe James ordered this assassination because he wanted to avoid too great a Mamluk influence in Cypriot domestic politics. But he did so without officially challenging Mamluk supremacy over the island. At the end of this episode, the Mamluks had not gained much. Queen Charlotte had always paid the tribute and also had never disputed the over-lordship. But the Mamluk sultans had shown that they regarded themselves responsible for Cypriot affairs.

King James finally took possession of the whole island when Kerinya fell in the autumn of 1464, but the island was not to stay in the hands of the Lusignan dynasty much longer. After his death in 1473 and the passing away of his son James III (1473-1474) a year later, the Kingdom went to his Venetian wife Katharina Cornaro, who abdicated in favour of the Serrenissima in 1489. (53) Nevertheless, it is clear that during this period the Mamluks regarded themselves as overlords of the Island. Ibn Iyas recounts a telling story for the year 1479: "And in the end of that year (883/1479) the lord of Cyprus sent the tribute (jizya). It had been some years during which he had been disobedient and did not send anything from the fixed tribute and the Sultan (Qayitbay (1468-1496)) was already planning to equip a fleet (against Cyprus), when finally the tribute arrived and the matter was settled." (54)

No more Cypriot King: The Mamluks and Venetian Cyprus 1489-1517

Venice had been the leading European trading partner of the Mamluks throughout the 15th century. As we have seen, it had even actively supported the Mamluk military expedition to Cyprus in 1426. Nevertheless, when the island turned Venetian in 1489, the Mamluk Sultan Qayitbay, who at the time still regarded himself as the suzerain over the island, was at first not amused by the new situation because he had not been consulted beforehand. The Venetians tried to calm the situation by arguing that Venetian control over Cyprus would make the Eastern Mediterranean a much safer place as Venice had a much larger fleet than the Cypriot kings. Therefore, the Venetians could defend the Mamluk coast better than their predecessors in Cyprus. Another argument was that a Venetian Cyprus could not be overtaken that easily by the expanding Ottomans. In addition, Venice agreed to continue to pay the yearly Cypriot tribute of 8000 ducats. A corresponding treaty was concluded in February 1490. (55) Nevertheless, the effective defence of the Mamluk Empire against pirates could not always be ensured by the Venetians. A protest note which was handed to a Venetian envoy in 1512 by the Mamluk Sultan Qanssawh al-Ghawri (1501-1516) reads as follows:</p> <pre> In former times it had been the custom that four Venetian ships would patrol the coastline of Syria and Cyprus in order to chase pirates. It was not tolerated that corsairs would be provided with water in Cyprus

and ships of buccaneers were sent to the bottom. But nowadays Cyprus has become a retreat for all sorts of pirates. The inhabitants of Cyprus supply the corsairs with food and water and are the first ones to tell freebooters when a Muslim ship is on its way from Syria

to Egypt. These pirates do not even stop at the mouth of the Nile at Damietta, but they loot everything which is on their way. (56) </pre> <p>The Venetian response was that this deterioration of the state of affairs in Cyprus had happened because of the uneasy circumstances that had prevailed in Venice itself. (57) Nevertheless the Venetian authorities would immediately contact their representatives in Cyprus and instruct them to restore order so that the Mamluk sultan should have nothing to complain about in the future. (58)

During the next several years pirates operating from Cyprus proved to be the least of the problems of the Mamluk sultan. He was preoccupied fighting the Portuguese in the Red Sea and felt threatened by rumors of a Safavid invasion from Mesopotamia. Eventually, the Mamluk Empire succumbed to a large-scale invasion by Ottoman forces in 1516 and 1517. With the end of the Mamluk Empire its over-lordship of Cyprus ended as well. Fifty-three years later the Ottomans eventually conquered Venetian Cyprus and eliminated any form of Christian control.


To come back to the initial enquiry: Was Cyprus a Mamluk protectorate after 1426? In the context of the relationship between both powers the question of who needed protection against whom has to be asked. Until 1426 it was the Mamluk coast which needed protection against Cypriot incursions. Consequently, the Mamluks initiated the successful expeditions against Cyprus from 1424-1426.

In the following period the Cypriot kings paid tribute to the Mamluk sultans to avoid continued attacks, but Cyprus was not dependent on the Mamluks for its survival or the functioning of its economy. However, this does not contradict the idea that Cyprus was a protectorate of the Mamluks. In this forced relationship between the two, the stronger Mamluk Empire established and exercised a decisive control over the weaker Kingdom of Cyprus. The relationship between the two fulfils the requirements of the definition of a protectorate in other ways as well. Mamluk-Cypriot relations were defined after 1426 through a mutual treaty. In return for its annual tribute, Cyprus, the controlled state, retained autonomy regarding most of its internal affairs. The one-off meddling into Cypriot domestic politics when the Mamluks helped James II to become King seems to be the exception to the rule, but the rift between James and his sister was so strong it could have become a threat to both Cypriot and Mamluk security. Concerning diplomatic relations, the Kingdom of Cyprus had lost its independence. A clear indication of this fact is that the Cypriots had to help the Mamluks by taking measures against pirates threatening Mamluk shores in the 15th century and by serving as a naval base during the Mamluk expeditions against Rhodes.

There are even indications that Mamluks felt some responsibility as the protector state and actively helped Cyprus. For instance when Sultan Jaqmaq sent ships to protect Cyprus against possible attacks by Turkoman ships in 1450 and another time in the case of helping King James II take Famagusta from the hand of the Genoese. These kinds of actions would be expected by the protector of a principality. But there is no clear indication that Mamluk sultans regarded the Island of Cyprus as an integral part or possession of the Mamluk Empire or ever planned to annex the island. Therefore I would argue in favor of the concept of protectorate to describe the nature of the Mamluk influence over Cyprus after 1426. The relationship can also not be understood as a classical medieval lord-vassal relationship known from other European historical contexts, as the influence in Cypriot internal affairs exercised by the Mamluks was haphazard. Also, I have not come across any evidence that the Cypriots ever had to deploy troops to serve in the Mamluk army.

The Mamluk protectorate lasted until 1489 when the Island became Venetian. Venice represented a much stronger military force than the Cypriot Kingdom and it could not be influenced in its external or internal affairs.

Even though the formal tributary relationship was continued after the Venetians began to rule in place of the Cypriot kings, one cannot describe the Mamluk-Cypriot relationship after 1489 as a protectorate. The Venetians had their own agenda, but they had no interest in changing the formal status of the island because they did not want to harm their trade relations with the Mamluks. They were a very powerful sea-faring nation, which could have coped with the Mamluks in a military conflict by preventing Mamluk ships from reaching Cyprus. On the other hand, they had no powerful land-based army which could have faced Mamluk ground troops, so it was more convenient for Venice not to change the formal status quo and to accept the Mamluks as nominal overlords and official protectors of Cyprus. Moreover, the Venetians continued to protect Mamluk shores against pirates as their Cypriot predecessors had done until the shores turned Ottoman, but Venetian Cyprus was in no way dependent upon or subordinate to the Mamluk Empire as Lusignan Cyprus had been during the period of the "protectorate" from 1426 until 1489.


(1) "Protectorate" in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. 9 (Chicago, 1998) 738.

(2) Al-Maqrizi (d. 1442) Kitab al-Suluk li-Ma.rifat Duwal al-Muluk, ed. Muhammad Mustafa Ziyadah, vol. 1 (Cairo, 1934), part 2, 592; Muhyi al-Din Ibn 'Abd al-Zahir (d. 1292), al-Rawd al-Zahir fi Sirat al-Malik al-Zahir, ed. 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Khuwaytir (Riyadh, 1976), 383; Peter Thorau, Sultan Baibars I. von Agypten. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Vorderen Orients im 13. Jahrhundert (Wiesbaden, 1987), 251.

(3) Qutb al-Din al-Yunini (d. 1326), Dhayl Mir'at al-Zaman fi Tarikh al-A'yan, vol.2 (Hyderabad, 1955), 453; Ibn 'Abd al-Zahir argues that the expedition was meant to distract the attention of Hugh from Acre and force him to return to Cyprus, see: Muhyi al-Din Ibn 'Abd al-Zahir (d. 1292), al-Rawd al-Zahir, 386. Thorau stresses the fact that the number of ships involved was too small for a large scale invasion of Cyprus, Thorau, Sultan Baibars I. von Agypten, 253.

(4) Muhyi al-Din Ibn 'Abd al-Zahir, al-Rawd al-Zahir, 386; Badr al-Din Mahmud al-'Ayni (d. 1451), 'Iqd al-Juman fi Tarikh Ahl al-Zaman, ed. Muhammad Muhammad vol. 2 (Amin Cairo, 1988), 73-74; Al-Maqrizi, Kitab al-Suluk, vol. 1, part 2, 594; idem, al-Mawa'iz wa-al-I'tibar fi Dhikr al-Khitat wa-al-Athar, ed. Muhammad Zaynhum and Madihah al-Sharqawi, vol. 3 (Cairo, 1998), 18.

(5) Muhyi al-Din Ibn 'Abd al-Zahir (d. 1292), al-Rawd al-Zahir, 387.

(6) Muhyi al-Din Ibn 'Abd al-Zahir (d. 1292), al-Rawd al-Zahir, 387; Al-Maqrizi (d. 1442) Kitab al-Suluk, vol. 1, part 2, 594.

(7) Abu al-Fida' (d. 1331), al-Mukhtasar fi tarikh al-bashar, vol. 4 (Cairo, n.d.), 26; idem, The Memoirs of a Syrian Prince, trans. by Peter M. Holt (Wiesbaden, 1983), 17.

(8) Nicolas de Martoni, "Relation du pelerinage a Jerusalem de Nicolas de Martoni notaire italien (1394-1395)," Revue de l'Orient Latin III (Publie par Leon Legrand, 1895), 631.

(9) Al-Maqrizi (d. 1442), al-Khitat, vol. 3, 18-19.

(10) For the Mamluk naval policy and the history of the Syro-Palestinian coast in Mamluk times, see: Albrecht Fuess, "Rotting Ships and Razed Harbours: The Naval Policy of the Mamluks," Mamluk Studies Review 5 (2001): 45-71; idem, Verbranntes Ufer. Auswirkungen mamlukischer Seepolitik auf Beirut und die syro-palastinensische Kuste (1250-1517), (Leiden, 2001).

(11) Salih ibn Yahya (d. after 1436), Tarikh Bayrut, Akhbar al-Salaf min Dhurriyat Buhtur ibn 'Ali Amir al-Gharb bi-Bayrut, ed. Francis Hours and Kamal Salibi (Beirut, 1969), 156.

(12) P. W. Edbury, The Kingdom of Cyprus and the Crusades, 1191-1374 (Cambridge 1991), 166; al-Maqrizi, Kitab al-Suluk, vol. 3, part 1, 105-107.

(13) 'Imad al-Din ibn Kathir (d. 1373), al-Bidayah wa-al-Nihayah fi al-Tarikh, ed. Ahmad Abu Mulhim, vol. 7 (Beirut, 1987), part 14, 329-334.

(14) Al-Maqrizi, Kitab al-Suluk, vol. 3, part 1, 129-130; al-Nuwayri al-Iskandarani (d. after 1374), Kitab al-Ilmam bi-al-i'lam fima jarat bihi al-ahkam wa-al-umur al-maqdiya fi waq'at al-Iskandariya, vol. 3 (Hyderabad, 1968), 231-234.

(15) Salih ibn Yahya (d. after 1436), Tarikh Bayrut, 30.

(16) Werner Krebs, Innen- und Aussenpolitik Agyptens, 741-784/1341-1382 (Hamburg, 1980), 100-103.

(17) Salih ibn Yahya, Tarikh Bayrut, 214; Fuess, Verbranntes Ufer, 382-383.

(18) Edbury, Kingdom of Cyprus and the Crusades, 179.

(19) Ahmad Darraj, L'Ggypte sous le regne de Barsbay (825-841/ 1422-1438) (Damascus, 1961), 241.

(20) Leontis Makhairas (d. after 1432), Recital Concerning the Sweet Land of Cyprus, ed. and transl. by R. M. Dawkins, vol. 1 (Oxford, 1932), [section] 645, [section] 646.

(21) At that time : al-Nasir Faraj (1399-1405, 1405-1412)

(22) Makhairas, Sweet Land of Cyprus, vol. 1, [section] 636. Darraj places these attacks in the year 1410, see: Darraj, Regne de Barsbay, 241.

(23) Emmanuel Piloti, L'Ggypte au commencement du quinzieme siecle d'apres le traite d'Emmanuel Piloti de Crete (Incipit 1420), avec une introduction et des notes par P.-H. Dopp (Cairo, 1950), 78.

(24) Ibn Taghribirdi (d. 1470), al-Nujum al-Zahira fi Muluk Misr wa-al-Qahira, (History of Egypt 1382-1469), transl. by W. Popper, vol. 4 (Berkeley, 1954-1963), 20; al-Maqrizi, Kitab al-Suluk, vol. 4, part 2, 671-672.

(25) Makhairias, Sweet Land of Cyprus, vol. 1, [section] 652; Darraj, Regne de Barsbay, 241.

(26) Al-Maqrizi, Kitab al-Suluk, vol. 4, part 2, 684, 686; Makhairas, Sweet Land of Cyprus, vol. 1, [section] 653; Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani (d. 1449), Inba' al-Ghumr bi-Abna' al-'Umr, ed. Hasan Habashi, vol.3 (Cairo, 1972), 346.

(27) Al-Maqrizi, Kitab al-Suluk, vol. 4, part 2, 684; Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani, Inba' al-Ghumr, vol. 3, 346; Subhi Y. Labib, Handelsgeschichte Agyptens im Spatmittelalter (1171-1517) (Wiesbaden, 1965), 353.

(28) Salih ibn Yahya, Tarikh Bayrut, 242-47; Ibn Taghribirdi (d. 1470), al-Nujum al-Zahira, (History of Egypt 1382-1469), vol. 4, 25-28; al-Maqrizi, Kitab al-Suluk, vol. 4, part. 2, 679, 694; Makhairas, Sweet Land of Cyprus, vol. 1, [section] 654-658.

(29) Darraj, Regne de Barsbay, 247.

(30) Ibn Iajar al-'Asqalani, Inba' al-Ghumr, vol.3, 346.

(31) Darraj, Regne de Barsbay, 250.

(32) Ibid., 251-252.

(33) Ibid., 249, 253.

(34) Salih ibn Yahya, Tarikh Bayrut, 250; Makhairas, Sweet Land of Cyprus, vol. 1, [section] 693;

Darraj, Regne de Barsbay, 256.

(35) Al-Maqrizi, Kitab al-Suluk, vol. 4, part 2, 722; Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani, Inba' al-Ghumr, vol. 3, 368; Salih ibn Yahya, Tarikh Bayrut, 250-51; Ibn Taghribirdi, al-Nujum al-Zahira, vol. 4, 37; Makhairias, Sweet Land of Cyprus, vol. 1, [section] 672-696.

(36) Makhairas, Sweet Land of Cyprus, vol. 1, [section] 693.

(37) Ibn Iajar al-'Asqalani, Inba' al-Ghumr, vol. 3, 369; Salih ibn Yahya, Tarikh Bayrut, 251; Ibn Taghribirdi, al-Nujum al-Zahira, vol. 4, 40.

(38) Salih ibn Yahya, Tarikh Bayrut, 251.

(39) Ibid., Darraj, Regne de Barsbay, 259.

(40) Makhairas, Sweet Land of Cyprus, vol. 1, [section] 701.

(41) Piloti, L'Ggypte, 108-109.

(42) Hassanein Rabie, "Mamluk Campaigns Against Rhodes (A.D. 1440-1444)," in: The Islamic World from Classical to Modern Times, ed. by C. E. Bosworth (Princeton, 1989), 281-286; Ibn Taghribirdi, al-Nujum al-Zahira, vol. 5, 81-82, 93-95, Ibn Iyas (d. around 1524), Bada'i' al-Zuhur fi Waqa'i' al-Duhur, ed. Mohamed Mostafa, vol. 2 (Wiesbaden, 1972), 233, 243

(43) George Hill, A History of Cyprus, vol. 3 (Cambridge, 1948), 521.

(44) Ibid., 548.

(45) Ibn Taghribirdi, al-Nujum al-Zahira, vol. 6, 87.

(46) Ibid., 88.

(47) Ibid., 100.

(48) Hill, History of Cyprus, vol. 3, 561; Ibn Iyas, Bada'i' al-Zuhur, vol. 2, 361-362; Ibn Taghribirdi, Hawadith al-Duhur fi Mada al-Ayyam wa-al-Shuhur, ed. William Popper (Berkeley, 1942), 342-343. (English subtitel: Extracts from Abu'l-MaHasin ibn Taghri Birdi's chronicle entitled Hawadith ad-duhur fi mada 'l-ayyam wash-shuhur)

(49) Hill, History of Cyprus, vol. 3, 563; Ibn Taghribirdi, al-Nujum al-Zahira, vol. 6, 104.

(50) Ibn Taghribirdi, Hawadith al-duhur, 434-435.

(51) Ibid, 435-437; Ibn Taghribirdi, al-Nujum al-Zahira, vol. 7, 51, 57-58.

(52) Hill, History of Cyprus, vol. 3, 590-591; Ibn Taghribirdi, al-Nujum al-Zahira, vol. 7, 60-61.

(53) Hans Eberhard, Mayer, Geschichte der Kreuzzuge (Stuttgart, (7) 1989), 217.

(54) Ibn Iyas, Bada'i' al-Zuhur, vol. 3, 150.

(55) Hill, A History of Cyprus, vol. 3, 821-823.

(56) M. Reinaud, "Traites de commerce entre la republique de Venise et les derniers sultans mameloucs d'Ggypte," trans. M. Reinaud, Journal Asiatique, [2.sup.eme] serie, 4 (1829): 34-35.

(57) Venice had lost much of its Italian territories in the previous years when fighting the so-called anti-Venetian League of Cambrai, which had been concluded in 1508 mainly by the French King Lewis XII (1498-1515) and the German Emperor Maximilian I (1493-1519).

(58) Reinaud, "Traites": 35.

Albreacht Fuess

University of Erfurt
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