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Near East Kingdoms

Levantine States


Israelites & Israel

Today's Israel and Palestine are irrevocably linked in terms of their history. The former was carved out of a large proportion of the already-expanded latter from 1948. Before that though lies four thousand years of history, sometimes recorded, sometimes alluded to, and sometimes a complete mystery. Unpicking it to establish a relatively stable story has been the work of decades, and even today there are differences of opinion regarding many of the details.

The region in which both names came to be created was Canaan, the long Mediterranean coast between ancient Syria and Egypt which today is known as the Levant. Various independent or united Semitic-speaking city states formed in this region from around 3000 BC onwards, reaching a peak of independent development in the second millennium BC. It was during the climate-induced social collapse of the late thirteenth century BC that both a state known as Israel and a region known as Palestine emerged, giving both terms similar founding dates (very approximately), with the Phoenicians emerging to the immediate north during the same period.

Then came the Jewish Diaspora and the age of great empires in the form of the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Eastern Romans, Islam, and the Ottomans, until the twentieth century saw the most recent phase of empire-building come to an end and individual sovereign states emerge.

The term 'Israelite' is often used interchangeably with the terms 'Hebrew' and 'Jew', but these terms are not strictly interchangeable. The specific term 'Israelites', or 'people of Israel', is best used only for periods after the followers of Yahweh undertook their exodus from Egypt. It can also be used conveniently for the earlier period in which these people were subject to patriarchs (approximately between the eighteenth and sixteenth centuries BC).

The term loses its accuracy after the united kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon divided into the kingdoms of Samaria and Judah around 927 BC. The Old Testament tends usually to use the term 'Hebrew' for the entire period before 1000 BC, but it is best to avoid it here due to controversy surrounding its origins (regarding whether it descends from 'Eber', the ancestor of Abraham, or habiru, a general term for brigands and the dispossessed).

Phoenicians shifting cedarwood from shore to land

(Information by Peter Kessler and from the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information by Sean Bambrough & Wayne McCleese, from The Amarna Letters, William L Moran (1992), from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, Donald Redford (Princeton University Press, 1992), and from External Links: Encyclopædia Britannica, and Bible Atlas.)

Islamic Palestine Restored
AD 1244 - 1517

The early Israelite kingdom of Israel had quickly divided into Samaria and Judah before being conquered by Near East empires in the first millennium BC. A puppet Herodite dynasty was installed by Rome in the first century BC. Two major revolts in the first two centuries AD saw Jerusalem destroyed, the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina built at least partially over the top of it, and Judea being renamed as the province of Roman Palestine.

It was under the leadership of Umar I 'the Great' that Islam began its rapid expansion outside Arabia. Eastern Roman Emperor Heraclius was defeated in 636, and Palestine and Phoenicia were taken in 636 and 637 respectively. For much of the next millennium and-a-half Palestine remained dominated by Muslim leaders. The First Crusade was called by Pope Urban II in 1095 during a momentous speech in Clermont-Ferrand in France. By the middle of 1096, the main Crusader force had entered Anatolia, with any lands they captured being known collectively as Outremer ('beyond the sea', that sea being the Aegean).

What followed was two centuries of intense Crusader activity which formed a short-lived European empire in the Near East, which included Crusader Palestine, before the tide turned and Islamic forces began to regain the upper hand. In 1244 the Abuyyid Sultan as-Salih II Ayyub allied himself with the former emirate of Khwarazm against the turncoat Ismail of Damascus. At the Battle of La Forbie they defeated Ismail so that the Abuyyid sultan was able to reclaim the region for himself. He also now controlled Palestine, bringing it back under Islamic control despite a concerted attempt by the Latins to stop him. The failure of that attempt cemented Islamic control and ended European influence in the region.

Renewed Ayyubid control meant a return to Jewish and Orthodox Christian settlement in the region, these having been banned for the later part of Crusader domination. The Jews were again accorded a certain measure of freedom, including the right to live in Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock was converted back from a church into an Islamic structure.

The Mosque of Omar was built outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to commemorate Umar 'the Great' and his decision to pray outside the church to avoid setting a precedent which would endanger the church's status as a Christian site. These freedoms came to an end with the arrival of Mameluke domination before the thirteenth century had ended. The resultant regional strife and discord is probably the main reason for there being so many gaps in the records when it comes to governors. Those listed are generally governors of Gaza, which often - but not always - included Palestine within its remit during this period.

Cairo's Sultan Hasan Mosque, Egypt

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from the John De Cleene Archive and Allan Rousso, from Palestine, Joshua J Mark (available via the Ancient History Encyclopaedia website), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from Meqorot u-Meḥqarim be-Toldot Yisrael, Simha Assaf (Jerusalem, 1946), from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (General Ed, 1986), from A History of Palestine, 634-1099, Moshe Gil (Cambridge University Press, 1997), from Acre: The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian City, 1730-1831, Thomas Philipp (Columbia University Press, 2001), from Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum Palaestinae, B-C, M Sharon (Vol 2, BRILL, 1999), from Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum Palaestinae, G, M Sharon (Vol 4, BRILL, 2009), and from External Link: History: Foreign Domination (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, now available only via the Wayback Machine).)

1244 - 1245

Nasir al-Din

First Abuyyid governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).

1258 - 1260

Despite being nominally dominated by the Mongols under the Great Khan Mongke, the actions in Syria and against Egypt which are being undertaken by Sultan an Nasir II Yusuf of Damascus force a Mongol invasion of Iraq.

Hulegu Khan
Inheriting the Persian section of the Mongol empire through his father, Tolui, Hulegu Khan led the devastating attack which ended the Islamic caliphate at Baghdad, but he also brought the eastern Persian territories under his firm control (he is seen here with his wife)

Mongke decides to conquer the region as far as the Nile, so he sends a vast Il-Khan Mongol force against Baghdad in 1258. The caliph and his family are massacred when Yusuf fails to produce an army to defend them. It is said that 800,000 of Baghdad's inhabitants are killed, including the Islamic caliph - who is executed by being kicked to death.

1259 - 1264

Shams el-Din al-Barli

First Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).


The Mongols reach Palestine by 1260 to further their conquests. However, their advance marks the high water of Mongol expansion into the Near East, and their presence in Palestine is relatively brief, perhaps a decade or so.


Mameluke Sultan Baybars of Egypt mobilises a large army of his highly professional 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.

Mongol warriors
Within just thirty years, Mongol warriors had travelled as far afield as central China and Eastern Europe, and south-west into Iran, turning the Mongol empire into the largest single controlling force in history

Palestine is now formed into the Damascus wilayah (district) under the overall rule of the Mameluke sultanate of Egypt. The wilayah is divided into three smaller sanjaks (subdivisions) with capitals in Jerusalem, Gaza, and Safed.

Palestine becomes a backwater under these reorganisations. Acre (ancient Akko), Jaffa, and other ports are destroyed in fear of new crusades, and maritime as well as overland commerce is interrupted. By the end of the sixteenth century the region's towns are virtually in ruins, much of Jerusalem is abandoned, and the small and still-shrinking Jewish community is poverty-stricken, much of it joining the Jewish Diaspora.

The eventual Mameluke decline is also darkened by political and economic upheavals, plagues, locusts, and devastating earthquakes. Only repeated - if small - waves of immigration of Jewish groups from Europe, North Africa, and Syria into Palestine saves the Jewish population from extinction.

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.

Mameluke troops
These Mamelukes aided Shajar ad Durr in seizing the Ayyubid sultanate of Egypt and establishing a Mameluke sultanate with Aybak al Turkumani

The Bahrids are pushed back into Egypt, while Damascus quickly falls to the invaders. The Il-Khans then withdraw, perhaps due to a lack of supplies. Whether the Il-Khans make it as far south as Jerusalem to raid there is contested by modern scholars, largely thanks to very poor surviving records from the region in this period.

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.

1307 - 1309

Baybars al-Ala'i

Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).


The imposition of a new sultan in Egypt in the form of Baybars II al Jashnakir sees Baybars al-Ala'i being replaced in Gaza by a fresh face. Muhammad ibn Baktamur governs for about a year before also being replaced when the new sultan steps down in favour of a restoration of the former sultan.

1310 - 1311

Muhammad ibn Baktamur

Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).

1311 - 1320

Sanjar al-Jawli

Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine).

1320 - 1329

Muhammad ibn Baktamur

Mameluke governor for a second time.

1329 - 1332

Turuntay al-Jukandari

Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).

1332 - 1335

Taynal al-Ashrafi

Mameluke governor of Gaza. Restored to Tripoli (1335).


The death in Egypt of 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.

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


Sanjar al-Jawli

Mameluke governor for a second time (3 mths). Died 1345.


The Black Death comes to Egypt and Palestine, 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 which begin to wield increasing power from behind the throne.

1373 - 1375

Ahmad al-Hajji

Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).


Muhammad al-Adili

Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).

1375 - 1381

Akbugha al-Safawi

Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).


Al-Ashraf Shaban II, who has ruled Egypt independently as an adult since 1366, is overthrown and killed. The rebellious Mamelukes who are responsible for the deed replace him with his seven year-old son. When the boy dies at the age of twelve, he is replaced by his younger brother.


Husam ad-Din Bakish

Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).


Around this time Emperor Dawit I of Ethiopia raids into Egypt as far as Aswan before being persuaded to return home by the Christian patriarch of Alexandria. Egypt's continuing destabilisation is only worsened by this incident, and in the same year Sultan Al-Salih Hajji II is dethroned.

Al-Azhar Mosque
Construction of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo was started by the Fatamids in 970 and the completed building was dedicated in 972, as depicted in this print

Control of the sultanate is secured by Barquq, a Circassian general, or emir, who has been consolidating his growing power since the coup of 1377. He attempts to secure his position as sultan by placing many of his own family in positions of authority.


Two Mameluke governors rebel in Egypt's empire: Mintash, governor of Malatya, and Yalbogha al-Nasiri, governor of Aleppo. They secure Syria and march on Cairo. The usurper sultan, Barquq, attempts to escape, but he is captured and sent to al-Karak. The successful governors restore Hajji to the throne, who now assumes the reignal name of al-Mansur.


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

? - 1398

Aqbugha al-Tulutumari

Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).


The Mameluke sultan, Nasir-ad-Din Faraj, is accompanied by Abbasid 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.

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

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.

Later in the same hectic year, 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.

1428 - 1433

Sayf ad-Din Inal al-Ala'i

Mameluke governor of Gaza. Sultan Inal al Alai (1453).

c.1436 - 1437

Timraz al-Mu'ayyadi

Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).

1445 - 1446

Yalkhuja an-Nasiri

Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).


Abbasid puppet caliph, al Qaim, supports a Mameluke mutiny against Sultan Inal, the former governor of Gaza (in 1428-1433, which includes Palestine). The mutiny is quickly put down and al Qaim is removed from office.

Old Bethlehem
The town of Bait Lahem (Bethlehem) in Islamic-controlled Falasteen (Palestine) remained largely a backwater region during the immediate post-Crusader period


Sibay az-Zahiri

Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).

1482 - 1494

Aqbay al-Ashrafi

Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).


The Alhambra Decree (also known as the Edict of Expulsion) sees Castile's population of Sephardi Jews being expelled from the country. The main reason is to prevent them from influencing the recent tidal wave of conversions to Christianity (involving over half the country's Jewish population since 1391).

When looking for new places to settle, some of the remaining Jewish Diaspora communities return to Palestine, usually to adopt local Jewish traditions and language and to bolster the tiny population of Jews there. Others migrate (heavily) into Ottoman empire North Africa, and into France, Britain, and the Netherlands.

1494 - 1495

Qani Bak

Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).

1495 - 1496

Aqbay al-Ashrafi

Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).

1501 - 1517

Dawlat Bay

Mameluke governor of Gaza (including Palestine?).

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 1516 at the Battle of Merj Dabik.

Ottoman coin
The early sixteenth century Ottoman conquest of Egypt saw an influx of Ottoman coins, with this example being issued during the reign of Suleyman I the Magnificent (1520-1566)

Syria is immediately captured (alongside Palestine). Dhanbirdi al-Ghazali, the Mameluke viceroy of Hama, fights alongside the Ottomans and is rewarded with the governorship of Damascus (in 1518). Control of Ottoman Palestine is less clear.

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