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African Kingdoms

Islamic Egypt


Abbasid Puppet Caliphs of Egypt
AD 1261 - 1517

The death of the caliph, Abdullah al Musta'sim, at the hands of the Il-Khan group of Mongols in Baghdad signalled the end of the Abbasid caliphate. Despite Mesopotamia being nominally dominated by the Mongols under the Great Khan Mongke, the actions that were being taken in Syria and against Egypt by Sultan an Nasir II Yusuf of Damascus forced a Mongol invasion of the region. Mongke decided to conquer it as far west as the Nile, and a vast Il-Khan Mongol force was sent to attack Baghdad in 1258. The caliph and his family were massacred when Sultun Yusuf failed to produce an army to defend them.

The death of the caliph signalled the end of the Abbasid caliphate in a region that was now clearly too dangerous, thanks to the ever present threat of further Mongol attacks. Instead, the Egypt-based Mamelukes under Baybars I set up their own Abbasid puppet caliphate. Initially Baybars used Abdul Qasim Mustansar, one of two survivors of the Abbasid massacre in Baghdad, and the uncle of the final caliph in Baghdad. At the time he was in hiding in Iraq after escaping imprisonment in Baghdad immediately before it was desolated by the Mongols. It took three years to confirm Abdul's identity and lineage before people could take the caliph's oath at his hand, hence the three and-a-half year interregnum in the caliphate. The title of caliph (implying leadership over all Muslims) had also been borrowed by the Umayyad rulers of Iberia and the Fatimids in Egypt. But in the true meaning of the word, as 'successor' to Muhammad, the link was broken with the end of the Abbasid dynasty in Mesopotamia. However, the Abbasid puppet caliphate continued to hold some (relatively feeble) semblance of spiritual authority over Muslims until the Ottoman conquest, even though it was little more than a position of employment, with a fixed salary, no power or glory, and the caliphs were prevented from travelling freely.

The names of the caliphs in English texts suffer from variable spellings, so both of the two main streams of names are used here. The first is generally the individual's given name, while the second is the formal title taken when they become caliph. The Islamic Encyclopaedia seems not even to acknowledge the various restorations that took place, apparently assigning a block period of office to each caliph.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from HistoryWorld, Bamber Gascoigne, from The Islamic Dynasties, Clifford Edmond Bosworth (1980), from the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911), from Histoire, opposition, politique et piétisme traditionaliste dans le Ḥusn al Muḥādarat de Suyûti, Jean-Claude Garcin, Annales Islamologiques (in French, 1967), from Some Observations on the 'Abbāsid Caliphate of Cairo, Peter Malcolm Holt, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London, 1984), from The Encyclopaedia of Islam: New Edition, Peter Malcolm Holt, (1993), from The History of Islam (Vol 2), Akbar Shah Najeebabadi (Revised Edition), and from External Link: Islamic Encyclopaedia.)


Abdul Qasim Mustansar / al Mustansir

First puppet caliph in Egypt having fled the Baghdad massacre.


Baybars has set up the Abbasid caliphate at Cairo following its destruction in Baghdad and recognition has taken three years. Now the first of the caliphs, Abdul Qasim Mustansar, co-finances a swift retaliatory attack against the Mongols, and apparently heads the attack himself alongside General Malik Zahir (Baybars' deputy ruler). Unfortunately he is either killed in battle or lost during the chaos when Egypt's forces are repulsed. The only other survivor of the Baghdad massacre of 1258, Abul Abbas Hakim (possibly, but entirely uncertainly, al Mustansir's son), is recalled from his place of refuge in Halab.

1261 - 1302

Abul Abbas Ahmad / al Hakim Billah I

Distant relative of the caliphs. In Aleppo 1261-1262.


Sultan Baybars mobilises a large army of his highly professional Bahri troops to counter an expected thrust by the Mongols. That attack never comes so, never one to waste a good war, Baybars turns his attention to the kingdom of Jerusalem. However, weak as they are, the Crusaders still have their powerful line of forts and their holy military orders. Baybars deploys the full force of his Mameluke military machine in front of the fearsome castle of Arsuf, a little way to the south of Caesarea, and it takes three days of hard fighting for the castle to fall. The surviving defenders are paraded through the streets of Cairo with a cross around their necks, and the castle is demolished so that it can never again be used by the Crusaders.

Coptic Hanging Church in Egypt
Despite having been an Islamic state since 640, Egypt was still home to some of the earliest Christian churches, such as this, the Coptic Hanging Church, which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary


Baybars continues his campaigns against the Crusader kingdoms, three years after destroying Jerusalem's castle at Arsuf. Antioch, the first major conquest made by the First Crusade in 1099, now falls to Baybars in just a day. Once his troops have access, the city's gates are barred from within so that no one may escape, and the Christian population is massacred. The message is clear. The Crusaders will not be returning to Antioch.


Unable to take the greatest of the Crusader fortresses by force, Baybars uses negotiation with the Knights Hospitallers to recover the Krak de Chevaliers after 162 years of Christian occupation.

1280 - 1282

Sunkur al-Ashkar leads a rebellion from Damascus against Sultan Qalawun al Alfi. The sultan defeats it but the following year is faced with a Mongol invasion of the region through Homs under the leadership of Abaqa Khan of the Il-Khan dynasty in Persia. Fortunately the threat is overcome after the bloody Second Battle of Homs produces no clear outcome.

In 1282 the Shaibanids, one of the Mongol successor tribes which is firmly established in Siberia, convert to Islam. Still subjects of the more powerful White Horde and Blue Horde they will eventually form an empire of their own in Central Asia.


Mameluke Sultan Al-Ashraf Khalîl completes his father's work in taking the Crusader stronghold of Acre. Its fall signals the end of Outremer.

1299 - 1303

The Il-Khan ruler, Mahmud Ghazan, marches on Syria, taking Aleppo. He is joined there by his vassal, King Hethoum II of the kingdom of Lesser Armenia. Together they defeat the Mameluke Bahrids of Egypt and Damascus at the Battle of Wadi al-Khazandar on 23 or 24 December. The Bahrids are pushed back into Egypt, and Damascus quickly falls to the invaders. The Il-Khans then withdraw, perhaps due to a lack of supplies. The attack is renewed in 1301, but it degenerates into a scattering of inconclusive battles and politicking. In the end, Ghazan's forces are defeated by the Mamelukes of Egypt at the Battle of Marj al-Saffar in April 1303 and withdraw, never to return.

1302 - 1340

Sulayman / al Mustakfi I


1340 - 1341

Ibrahim / al Wathiq I

Son of Ahmad, himself the son of al Hakim I.


The death of Mameluke Sultan Al-Nasir Muhammad leads to instability within the sultanate. There is a constant stream of successors over the following fifty years, with fifteen holders of the sultanate and none of them lasting more than fourteen years (and that one, Al-Ashraf Shaban II, being something of a long-lasting exception). Disorder descends on the provinces.

1341 - 1352

Ahmad / al Hakim II

Son of al Mustakfi I.


The Black Death comes to Egypt and the Levant causing great loss of life and further weakening Egypt's empire. The position of the sultans becomes increasingly fragile, and it is competing Mameluke factions who begin to wield increasing power from behind the throne.

1352 - 1362

Abu Bakr Mu-tazid / al Mutadid I


1362 - 1377

Muhammad / al Mutawakkil I



Zakariyya Musta'een / al Mutasim

Son of al Wathiq I.

1377 - 1383

Muhammad / al Mutawakkil I

Restored for the first time.

1383 - 1386

Umar / al Wathiq II

Son of al Wathiq I.

1386 - 1389

Zakariyya Musta'een / al Mutasim


1389 - 1406

Muhammad / al Mutawakkil I

Restored for the second time. Died.


Mameluke Sultan Hajji's position is far from stable, and when fighting develops amongst the Mameluke factions in Cairo, the supporters of his rival, Barquq Barquq al Yalburghawi, overcome the others and Barquq is able to return to Cairo in February 1390. The Burji dynasty is born.

1406 - 1414

Abbas or Yaqub / al Mustain Billah

Son. Mameluke sultan of Egypt in 1412. Deposed. Died of plague.


Burji Sultan Nasir-ad-Din Faraj is accompanied by Caliph al Mustain Billah on his campaign against the rebellious amirs (governors) of Aleppo and Tripoli. Faraj is defeated, perhaps unexpectedly, at Lajjun on 25 April 1412 and the sultanate is plunged into a leadership crisis. Caliph al Mustain is captured by the rebels and, after a great deal of discussion about who should be proclaimed sultan in Faraj's place, they chose Caliph al Mustain himself. Faraj is formally deposed, and al Mustain takes his place on the understanding that he remains caliph if he is deposed as sultan.

Burji coins
The coins pictured here are typical of those which were issued by the Mameluke Burjis in Egypt during a little over a century of rule, although their control was far from certain and extended barely beyond Egypt itself at times

Nawruz al-Hafizi receives the Syrian provinces and al Mustain returns to Egypt with two prominent nobles, Shaykh al-Mahmudi and Baktamur Djillik. Shaykh immediately begins to isolate the sultan and, when Baktamur Djillik dies on 15 September, Shaykh is able to put his plans of usurpation into action. He has himself recognised as sultan on 6 November 1412, assuming the title of al-Mu'ayyad Sayf-ad-Din Tatar I. With some time for reflection, al Mustain formally abdicates and is held in the citadel until he is also deposed as caliph by Shaykh, on 9 March 1414, and replaced by his brother, al Mutadid II.

1414 - 1441

Dawud / al Mutadid II

Brother. Died.

1441 - 1451

Sulayman / al Mustakfi II

Brother. Died.

1451 - 1455

Hamza / al Qaim

Brother. Deposed by Sultan Inal of Egypt.


Puppet Caliph al Qaim, supports a mameluke mutiny against Burji Sultan Inal. The mutiny is quickly put down and al Qaim is removed from office.

1455 - 1479

Yusuf / al Mustanjid


1479 - 1497

Abdul Aziz / al Mutawakkil II

Son of al Mustain Billah (1406-1414). Died 1498.

1480 - 1504

During this period, following the capture of the Nubian kingdom of Alodia by Abdullah Jamma and the founding of his Abdallab empire, Nubia is entirely Islamicised. By 1504, no Christian kingdoms exist in the region.

1497 - 1508

Yaqub / al Mustamsik


1508 - 1516

al Mutawakkil / Motawakkil III

Deposed briefly by his predecessor.

1515 - 1517

The Ottoman sultan begins a war against Egypt which ultimately sees the latter conquered. Sultan Qansawh II al Ghawri is killed on 24 August 1515 at the Battle of Merj Dabik. Syria is immediately captured.

Damascus steel
The legendary strength of ancient Damascus steel was used by sword-makers in the Near East from about AD 900 until the middle of the eighteenth century

1516 - 1517

Yaqub / al Mustamsik

Restored after deposing his successor. Died 1521.


al Mutawakkil / Motawakkil III



Cairo, and Egypt, is conquered by Ottoman empire. The Mamelukes continue to hold some control as vassals, under the overview of Ottoman Governors, while the caliph, al Mutawakkil III,  is transported together with his family to Constantinople by Ottoman Sultan Selim I Yavuz. The sultan is later credited with assuming the caliphate himself, while some sources state that he is named as Caliph al Mutawakkil's heir apparent, probably with the caliph having very little choice in the matter.

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