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Submission, Defiance, and the Rules of Politics on the Mamluk Sultanate's Anatolian Frontier*



This article examines the relationship between the leader of the Aqquyunlu Turkman confederation, ‘Uthmān Beg Qarā Yulūk, and the Mamluk Sultanate, with an eye to the ways in which the Mamluks sought to define the limits of sultanic sovereignty on the frontier, as well as the ways in which Qarā Yulūk sought to pursue his own interests and those of his tribal followers within the framework of the Mamluk political order. What becomes apparent is that while the interests of the Turkmans ultimately clashed with those of the Mamluk sultans on the Anatolian frontier, both Qarā Yulūk and the Mamluks shared a common interest in maintaining a relationship in which formal recognition of Aqquyunlu autonomy was exchanged for ritual submission to the sultan.



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Research for this article was conducted under the auspices of the project “The Mamlukisation of the Mamluk Sultanate: Political Traditions and State Formation in 15th Century Egypt and Syria”, directed by Dr Jo Van Steenbergen at Ghent University, Belgium, with funding made possible by a grant from the European Research Council.



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1 The most extensive study of the history of the Aqquyunlu is Woods, John E., The Aqquyunlu: Clan Confederation, Empire (Salt Lake City, 1999). For the emergence of the Aqquyunlu in the historical record, see pp. 25–43.

2 Woods, The Aqquyunlu, 11.

3 Qūṭlū was an amir in the service of the Artuqid dynasty of Mardin in Diyarbakr. See al-Sakhāwī, Muḥammad b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān, al-Ḍaw’ al-Lāmi‘ li-Ahl al-Qarn al-Tāsi‘, (ed.) ‘al-Raḥmān, Abd al-Laṭīf Ḥasan ‘Abd (Beirut, 2003), 5: p. 121 .

4 Kamākh (Kemah) and Arghani (Ergani) were among the early strongholds in the possession of Qarā Yulūk. See Ṭihrānī, Abū Bakr, Kitāb-i Diyārbakriyya: Ak-Koyunlular Tarihi, (ed.) Lugal, Necati and Sumer, Faruk (Ankara, 1993), pp. 3233 .

5 As Woods points out, the account of Tīmūr's bestowal of Amid to Ibrāhīm b. Qarā Yulūk is given by Ṭihrānī, while other accounts differ. See Woods, The Aqquyunlu, 41; p. 242 fn 86.

6 Woods, The Aqquyunlu, p. 41.

7 Qarā Yūsuf had been detained in Damascus by the Mamluk governor there. Upon Tīmūr's death, he was released, and returned to his lands in eastern Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Azarbayjan. For a general history of the early Qaraquyunlu confederation to 1439, see Sümer, Faruk, Kara Koyunlular (Başlangıçtan Cihan-Şah’a kadar), I. Cilt (Ankara, 1962). Some of the earliest references to the Qaraquyunlu can be found in accounts of the Jalayirid sultan Shaykh Uvays's campaigns against the Turkman leader Bayrām Khvāja in the 1360s by Zayn al-Dīn Qazvīnī and Ḥāfiẓ Abrū, though these authors do not use the name “Qaraquyunlu.” See Qazvīnī, Zayn al-Dīn b. Ḥamd Allāh Mustawfī, Żayl-i Tārīkh-i Guzīda, (ed.) Afshār, Īraj (Tehran, 1372 [1993], 79 ; Abrū, Ḥāfiẓ, Żayl-i Jāmi‘ al-Tavārīkh, (ed.)Bayānī, Khānbābā, (Tehran, 1317 [1939]), p. 194 .

8 Birdī, Abū al-Mahāsin Yūsuf b. Taghrī, Al-Nujūm al-Zāhira fī Mulūk Miṣr wa-al-Qāhira, (ed.) Popper, William (Berkeley, 1960), 6, pp. 185186 . (Hereafter referred to as Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm).

9 al-Sakhāwī, al-Ḍaw’ al-Lāmi‘, 5, p. 121: wallāhu al-nāṣir faraj niyābat al-ruhā li-mā qatala jakam.

10 Gibb, H. A. R., “Nā’ib,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edition (Leiden, 1992), 7, p. 915 . The title “nā’ib” is short for nā’ib al-salṭana, or the sultan's deputy.

11 Holt, P. M., “The Structure of Government in the Mamluk Sultanate,” in The Eastern Mediterranean Lands in the Period of the Crusades, (ed.) Holt, P. M. (Warminster, 1977), p. 56 ; Van Steenbergen, Jo, Order Out of Chaos: Patronage, Conflict and Mamluk Socio-Political Culture, 1341–1382 (Leiden, 2006), pp. 3940 .

12 Woods, The Aqquyunlu, pp. 19–22.

13 al-Maqrīzī, Taqī al-Dīn Aḥmad, Kitāb al-Sulūk li-Ma‘rifat Duwal al-Mulūk, (ed.) ‘Ashūr, ‘Abd al-Fattāḥ (Cairo, 1972), 4, pp. 458461 ; al-‘Asqalānī, Ibn Ḥajar, Inbā’ al-Ghumr bi-Anbā’ al-‘Umr fī al-Ta’rīkh (Beirut, 1986), 7, pp. 314318 ; Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, pp. 383–386. From the point of view of the Mamluk Sultanate in this period, Qarā Yūsuf was the greater threat to the northern frontier and to Aleppo. The significance of this threat is illustrated by the issuance of a fatwa by the shaykh al-islām and chief qāḍīs in Cairo in 1418, declaring it licit for Muslims to attack and kill Qarā Yūsuf. See al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4, p. 459; Ibn Ḥajar, Inbā’, 7, p. 316; Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, p. 384.

14 According to Ibn Ḥajar, Abū Yazīd came to Shaykh in Hama. See Ibn Ḥajar, Inbā’, 7, p. 184.

15 al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4, p. 329; Ibn Ḥajar, Inbā’, 7, pp. 183–184. The description of the sultan's gift as commensurate with that given to him by Qarā Yulūk is given by Ibn Ḥajar.

16 al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4, p. 409; Ibn Ḥajar, Inbā’, 7, p. 261; Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, p. 369.

17 Manz, Beatrice Forbes, Power, Politics and Religion in Timurid Iran (Cambridge, 2007), p. 35 .

18 ‘Alī b. ‘Uthmān Qarā Yulūk was driven out of Tabriz by Qaraquyunlu loyalists soon after the withdrawal of the Timurid forces. However, Qarā Yulūk took advantage of the victory over the sons of Qarā Yūsuf to expand his territory in eastern Anatolia. In the aftermath of the battle with the Qaraquyunlu in 824/1421, Qarā Yulūk conquered Karahisar, Tercan, Bayburt and Akşehir. See Woods, The Aqquyunlu, pp. 49–50.

19 Ṭihrānī, Kitāb-i Diyārbakriyya, p. 100; al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4, p. 806; Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm 6, p. 645. According to Ṭihrānī, Qarā Yulūk installed his son, ‘Alī Beg, as governor of Harput. When Qarā Yulūk urged him to fortify al-Ruha against the Mamluks, ‘Alī Beg responded that al-Ruha was part of the province (ayālat) of Syria, and that such action would mean confrontation with the Mamluks. Thus, their only choice was to remain obedient. Unsatisfied with his son's argument, Qarā Yulūk instead assigned his son Hābīl to al-Ruha, in place of the reluctant ‘Alī Beg.

20 al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4, pp. 806–808; Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, pp. 646–648. Al-Maqrīzī described the sacking of al-Ruha as among the “calamities of the age” and commented that the harsh response from the sultan departed from earlier practice. Instead of sending notice to Qarā Yulūk of his disapproval and a threat, Barsbāy unleashed the army, which did little in the end to solve the problem. As the verse included by al-Maqrīzī went, “We sought a remedy when we were ill. But the disease came from the physician”. See al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4, p. 808.

21 Ibn Ḥajar, Inbā’, 7, pp. 224, 402–403.

22 al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4, pp. 837, 850; Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, p. 666.

23 Accounts of the Amid campaign are given in al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4: 890–898; Ibn Ḥajar, Inbā’, 8, pp. 274–281; al-‘Aynī, Badr al-Dīn Maḥmūd, ‘Iqd al-Jumān fī Ta’rīkh Ahl al-Zamān, (ed.) ‘al-Qarmūṭ, Abd al-Rāziq al-Ṭanṭāwī (Cairo, 1989), pp. 429433 ; and Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, pp. 691–712. Ibn Ḥajar and al-‘Aynī travelled in the Sultan's entourage as chief Shāfi‘ī and Ḥanafī qāḍīs respectively. They were eyewitnesses to the march of the army to Aleppo. Here they were left behind, as the combat units of the army advanced northward. They travelled together to al-‘Aynī's native ‘Ayntāb, before returning to rejoin the sultan in Aleppo as he returned from Amid. Ibn Taghrī Birdī apparently accompanied the army all the way to Amid. His account is the most detailed, and the only one to mention a conspiracy among the Syrian amirs against Sultan Barsbāy, to which he attributes the failures of the campaign. Ibn Iyās, writing a generation after Ibn Taghrī Birdī, alludes to the conspiracy without going into detail, stating that the reasons for tensions within the army and between the sultan and the nā’ib of Damascus, would take too long to explain. See Iyās, Ibn, Badā’i‘ al-Zuhūr fī Waqā’i‘ al-Duhūr, (ed.) Muṣṭafá, Muḥammad (Beirut, 2010), 2, pp. 148149 .

24 Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, p. 705.

25 Ibn Taghrī Birdī reports that “naphtha containers (makāḥil al-nafṭ) were fired every day from cannons (al-mudāfi‘). Trebuchets (al-manājanīq) were also set up to fire upon the towers [of the city]. See Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, p. 705. Ibn Ḥajar records only the use of a trebuchet (manjanīq). See Ibn Ḥajar, Inbā’, 8, p. 280. Al-‘Aynī mentions that the Mamluk army employed guns (makāḥil) and trebuchets (majānīq). See al-‘Aynī, ‘Iqd, p. 432.

26 Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, p. 704.

27 al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4, p. 93, 896; al-‘Aynī, ‘Iqd, p. 431.

28 al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4, p. 896; Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, p. 704 (jāmi‘a min a‘wān qarā yuluk; jāmi‘a kabīra min ‘asākir qarā yuluk).

29 According to Ibn Ḥajar, a group of Qarā Yulūk's men was in the citadel, under the command of his son. See Ibn Ḥajar, Inbā’, 8, p. 280.

30 Hodgson, Marshall G. S., The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization. Vol. 2: The Expansion of Islam in the Middle Periods (Chicago and London, 1974), pp. 6369 .

31 Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujum, 6, p. 703.

32 For the details of the amirs implicated in the plot against the sultan, see Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, pp. 700–701.

33 The senior administrative officials present in the sultan's campaign entourage included the privy secretary (kātib al-sirr), deputy privy secretary (nā’ib kātib al-sirr), comptroller of the army bureau (nāẓir al-jaysh), and comptroller of the privy purse (nāẓir al-khāṣṣ). See Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, p. 692.

34 For accounts of the terms of the truce see al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4, p. 897; Ibn Ḥajar, Inbā’, 8, p. 281; al-‘Aynī, ‘Iqd, p. 432; and Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, p. 705. Not all terms are recorded in every text referenced here.

35 Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, p. 705.

36 Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, pp. 705–706.

37 Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, p. 706.

38 al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4, p. 898; Ibn Taghrī Birdī, Nujūm, 6, p. 712.

39 News reached Aleppo in Ramaḍān 837/May 1434 that Qarā Yulūk's followers had battled Īnāl at al-Ruha, and that the Turkmans had been routed. See al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4, p. 915; al-Ṣayrafī, Ibn, Nuzhat al-Nufūs wa al-Abdān fī Tawārīkh al-Zamān, (ed.) Ḥabashī, Ḥasan (Cairo, 1974), 3, p. 286 .

40 al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4, p. 937.

41 al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4, p. 948.

42 al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4, p. 955.

43 The term “effective power” has been used by Jo Van Steenbergen in contradistinction to “legitimate power,” in the context of the turbulent period between the sultanates of al-Nāṣir Muḥammad and al-Ẓāhir Barqūq in the fourteenth century, in order to highlight the divergence between the ability of amirs to impose their political will and the persistence of the charisma of the descendants of al-Nāṣir Muḥammad, and their continued recognition as sovereign within the institutional framework of the sultanate. See van Steenbergen, Order Out of Chaos.

* Research for this article was conducted under the auspices of the project “The Mamlukisation of the Mamluk Sultanate: Political Traditions and State Formation in 15th Century Egypt and Syria”, directed by Dr Jo Van Steenbergen at Ghent University, Belgium, with funding made possible by a grant from the European Research Council.


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