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The Mamluk sultanate as a military patronage state: household politics and the case of the Qalawunid bayt (1279-1382) (JESHO 56 2013)

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This article purports to offer new insights into the longue durée of the late medieval Islamic sultanate that once dominated the area between the Eastern Mediterranean and the Arabian Sea: the Syro-Egyptian Mamlūk Sultanate (1250-1517). The argument
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  © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2013 DOI: 10.1163/15685209-12341300  Journal o the Economic and Social History o the Orient 56 (2013) 189-217  brill.com/jesh Te Mamluk Sultanate as a Military Patronage State:Household Politics and the Case of theQalāwūnid  bayt  (1279-1382)  Jo Van Steenbergen  Abstract  Tis article ocuses on the conceptualisation o Mamluk socio-political organisation in latethirteenth and early to mid-ourteenth-century Egypt and Syria. Breaking ree o the heu-ristic constraints imposed on Mamluk studies by the paradigm o the political elite asdened by the normative exclusivism o elite military slavery—the so-called Mamluk system—it demonstrates that apparent dynastic attitudes were no mere açade or thatsystem but rather powerul representations o the Mamluk version o a long-standing regional tradition o socio-political organisation: the military patronage state. It is arguedhere that this tradition, with its ocus on military leadership, patronage ties, householdbonds, and unstable devolved authorities, coalesced between 1279 and 1382 in Qalāwūnidleadership over and monopolisation o Syro-Egyptian societies. Keywords Mamluk politics, military patronage state, households, elite integration, social identity,Qalāwūnids Tis article oers new insights into the longue durée  o the late medie-val Islamic sultanate that once dominated the area between the eastern * Jo Van Steenbergen, research proessor, Ghent University, Joze Plateaustraat 22, B-9000Ghent (Belgium): jo.vansteenbergen@ugent.be. My thanks are due to Reuven Amitai, JanDumolyn, Albrecht Fuess, Angus Stewart, Warren Schultz, and Patrick Wing or their valu-able eedback on earlier versions o this article, and to colleagues and students o the HenriPirenne Institute or Medieval Studies (Ghent University) and o the Political Culture inTree Spheres: Byzantium, Islam, and the Latin World network, or inspiring “medieval”debates and discussions. Tis article has also beneted a lot rom research undertaken in theERC-Starting Grant project ‘Te Mamlukisation o the Mamluk Sultanate. Political radi-tions and State Formation in 15th-century Egypt and Syria’ (Ghent University, 2009-14).  190  J. Van Steenbergen / JESHO 56 (2013) 189-217   Mediterranean and the Arabian Sea: the Mamluk sultanate (1250-1517).It will do so not by detailed presentations o new source material but by exploring how the review o modern readings o such material through a dierent macro-historical lens can advance our understanding o Mam-luk socio-political organisation, at least rom the later thirteenth century through the ourteenth. Tis exploration o a new ramework or Mam-luk historical inquiry will re-assess two intimately related subjects: modernhistoriography’s conceptualisation o Mamluk politics; and the dynam-ics o elite integration into the long-standing military household that wasestablished by Sultan al-Mans   ̣ ūr Qalāwūn (r. 1279-90). 1. Te Paradox of Mamluk Politics: Te Dawn of A New Paradigm Te concept o the Mamluk sultanate’s politics—dened here very basi-cally as who got what, when, and how in Mamluk Egypt and Syria, or,more precisely, as the body o practices, discourses, and institutions thatdetermined control over and redistribution o Mamluk society’s resources 1 —constitutes the subject o a seemingly endless discussion in modern Mam-luk historiography, aptly summarised by Linda Northrup as ollows: Te concept o the sultanate and the role o the sultan in the . . . [thirteenth and our-teenth centuries] has been studied rom at least our perspectives: as seen throughevents described in the chronicles; as portrayed in royal biographies; as viewed rom a legal or juridical point o view through documents such as the ʿ ahd  or diploma o investiture; and as reected in institutional change and court ceremony. Te resulting image is one o tension between oligarchy and autocracy. 2 Te ancient concepts o oligarchy and autocracy have dominated discus-sions o Mamluk politics or several decades. 3 What is actually meant by  1) See R. Stephen Humphreys, “Political Culture in Tree Spheres: Some Introductory Reections”: 1 (unpublished).] 2) L.S. Northrup, “Te Bah   ̣ rī Mamluk Sultanate, 1250-1390,” in Te Cambridge History o  Egypt  , vol. 1, Islamic Egypt, 641-1517  , ed. C.F. Petry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998): 254. 3) See most importantly A. Levanoni, “Te Mamluk Conception o the Sultanate,” Inter-national Journal o Middle East Studies  26 (1994): 374; A. Levanoni,  A urning Point in Mamluk History: Te Tird Reign o al-Nās    ̣ ir Muh   ̣ ammad b. Qalāwūn, 1310-1341 (Leiden:E.J. Brill, 1995): 28-31, 114-5; L.S. Northrup, From Slave to Sultan: Te Career o al-Mans    ̣ ūr Qalāwūn and the Consolidation o Mamluk Rule in Egypt and Syria (678-689 A.H./1279-1290  A.D.) (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1998): 243-5; J. Van Steenbergen, “Te Amir Qaws   ̣ ūn:  he Mamluk Sultanate as a Military Patronage State  191 applying them as the only alternatives available or understanding Mamluk politics was stated most clearly in the mid-1970s, in two publica-tions by the late Peter M. Holt. In his “Te Position and Power o theMamluk Sultans” (1975), he explained how “the concept o a hereditary monarchy ailed to establish itsel against a rival view o the state as a crowned republic, an oligarchy o magnates in which the throne wouldpass by election or usurpation to one o the amīr  s.” 4 In the opening lineso his “Te Structure o Government in the Mamluk Sultanate” (1977),Holt urther stated that “the Mamluk sultan was an autocrat with arbitrary discretion but technically he was neither absolute nor sovereign,” and that“there was thus an unresolved paradox at the centre o the constitution o the Mamluk state: in orm a despotic monarchy, it was oten in practice a veiled oligarchy o the great amīr  s.” 5 As explained by Northrup,   the basiso conventional discussions o Mamluk political organisation since Holt’scontribution has been that, though it remained difcult to make sense o the inherent “paradox,” the polity was controlled predominantly by a sorto republican elite o  amīr  s and occasionally by a despotic autocrat witharbitrary discretion. 6 Statesman or Courtier? (720-741 AH/1320-1341 AD),” in Egypt and Syria in the Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mamluk Eras, III  , ed. U. Vermeulen and J. Van Steenbergen (Leuven: Peeters,2001): 449-50, 466; H. Sievert, Der Herrscherwechsel im Mamlukensultanat. Historische und historiographische Untersuchungen zu Abū H    ̣ āmid al-Qudsī und Ibn ag    ̇ rībirdī  (Berlin:Klaus Schwarz, 2003): 69-71, 80-1; and summarised in Francisco Javier Apellániz, Pouvoir et nance en Méditerranée pré-moderne: le deuxieme Etat mamelouk et le commerce des épices (1382-1517) (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientícas, 2009): 33-4. 4) P.M. Holt, “Te Position and Power o the Mamluk Sultan,” Bulletin o the School o Oriental and Arican Studies  38/2 (1975): 240; repeated in Northrup, From Slave toSultan : 244. 5) P.M. Holt, “Te Structure o Government in the Mamluk Sultanate,” in Eastern Mediter-ranean Lands in the Period o the Crusades  , ed. P.M. Holt   (London: Warminster, 1977):44, 46. 6) In his doctoral dissertation on early Mamluk politics (which was only recently posthu-mously published under the supervision o Stephan Conermann), the late Winslow Cli-ord proposed to circumvent this interpretive paradox by introducing the concept o thesultan as an eective gatekeeper, whose success depended on his ability to maintain thedynamic equilibrium o the oligarchic balance-o-power system—a useul analysis, thoughperhaps impaired by its structuralist ocus on “a continuing pursuit o constitutionalorder ( niz    ̣ ām )” (W.W. Cliord, “State Formation and the Structure o Politics in Mam-luk Syro-Egypt, 648-741 AH/1250-1340 C.E.,” PhD diss., University o Chicago 1995); W.W. Cliord, Stephan Conermann (ed.), State Formation and the Structure o Politics   192  J. Van Steenbergen / JESHO 56 (2013) 189-217  Behind this dominant oligarchy-autocracy debate in Mamluk studiesthere continues to loom the common assumption that heredity o powerand authority was never ully accepted—that it “ailed to establish itsel,”as Holt suggested—in such an oligarchic environment. 7 Tis resulted romthe act that this environment came to be determined by exclusive bondso military slavery, enabling only ormer military slaves ( mamlūk  s), o mostly Central Asian nomadic srcins, to enter the polity’s elite ranks andto become its military commanders, hence its political leaders, and perhapseven its sultans. 8 In 1998, however, Ulrich Haarmann convincingly elabo-rated how that concept o a “one-generation nobility,” ed by continuously rejuvenated ranks o military slaves, was never explicitly ormulated as a normative practice. 9 It has by now even become generally accepted thatthere prevailed between the thirteenth and the late ourteenth centuries theidea o a dynastic right to Mamluk leadership, in particular or the long-standing lineage o al-Mans   ̣ ūr Qalāwūn, whose descendants continued torule as sultans until the 1380s. 10 In spite o such insights, however, the in Mamluk Syro-Egypt, 648-741 A.H./1250-1340 C.E. [Bonn: Bonn University Press,2013]) 7) For detailed overviews o this heredity debate, see Levanoni, “Te Mamluk Conceptiono the Sultanate”: 373-4; and in J. Van Steenbergen, “ ‘Is Anyone My Guardian . . .? Mamlūk Under-age Rule and the Later Qalāwūnids,” al-Masāq: Islam and the Medieval Mediterra-nean 19/1 (2007): 57. Te pervasiveness—beyond anglophone circles as well—o thisdebate and o the common assumptions behind it is illustrated also by Garcin’s assessmento Sultan Qalāwūn’s accession in 1279: “sans que les contemporains en aient eu immédiate-ment conscience, commençait d’apparaître la logique d’un système politique qui n’avaitrien de dynastique et qui, un quart de siècle plus tôt s’était déjà caractérisé par l’impossibilitéde la transmission amiliale d’un pouvoir par ailleurs assis sur la délité d’un groupe demamluks à la personne du prince, à qui leur destin se trouvait lié” ( J.-C. Garcin, “LeProche-Orient à l’époque mamluke,” in Etats, sociétés et cultures du Monde musulmanmédiéval X  e  -XV  e  siècle. 1. L’évolution politique et sociale  , ed. J.-C. Garcin et al. (Paris: Pressesuniversitaires de France, 1995): 344. 8) For detailed discussions o the axiality o exclusive bonds o military slavery (the so-called Mamluk system), see Levanoni, urning Point  : 14-9; R. Amitai, “Te Rise and Fallo the Mamluk Institution: A Summary o David Ayalon’s Works,” in Studies in Islamic History and Civilisation in Honour o Proessor David Ayalon , ed. M. Sharon (Leiden: E.J.Brill, 1986): 19-32; R. Amitai, “David Ayalon, 1914-1998,”  Mamlūk Studies Review  3(1999): 1-12. 9) Ulrich Haarmann, “Joseph’s Law: Te Careers and Activities o Mamluk Descendantsbeore the Ottoman Conquest o Egypt,” in Te Mamluks in Egyptian Politics and Society  ,ed. T. Philipp and U. Haarmann (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998): 84. 10) See D. Ayalon, “From Ayyubids to Mamluks,” Revue d’études islamiques  49 (1981): 56;U. Haarmann, “Regicide and the ‘Law o the urks’,” in Intellectual Studies on Islam. Essays   he Mamluk Sultanate as a Military Patronage State  193 overall view that bonds established through military slavery were the basiso Mamluk political organisation throughout the era has not yet aded, norhas the idea disappeared that dynastic trends were, as in the Qalāwūnids’case, merely a “açade” or Mamluk oligarchy or at most a temporary andawkward outgrowth o unusual autocracy. Holt’s paradox o Mamluk poli-tics, thereore, remains unresolved and is even urthered by an additionalcontrast between the normative exigencies o one-generational oligarchy and the historical realities o allegedly ephemeral autocratic heredity, as withQalāwūnid royalty. Te question, however, whether this generally acknowl-edged ourteenth-century hereditary trend in avour o Qalāwūnid leader-ship should not reect, rather than stand apart rom, more general practiceso Mamluk socio-political organisation has seldom been considered.Inspired by the latter observation, this exploratory essay aims to break ree o this deadlocking paradox, including the prevalent use o such prob-lematic descriptors as “autocracy” and “oligarchy.” 11 More generally, itquestions standard tenets o Mamluk historical exceptionalism and looksor an alternative approach that allows the linking o Mamluk politics withtrends to re-embed late-mediaeval Syro-Egyptian society and culture intoits larger historical environment. 12 Tis essay argues that this epistemologi-cal shit can be achieved only by applying an entirely dierent paradigm toMamluk socio-political organisation: the conceptualisation o the Mamluk polity under the Qalāwūnids as a military patronage state (MPS). Inspiredlargely by the Weberian ideal type o traditional patriarchal authority, theMPS concept was dened by Marshall Hodgson and rened by MichaelChamberlain or all “mediaeval” urco-Mongol polities in the regionrom the Nile to the Oxus in which conicting pastoral, urco-Mongol, Written in Honour o Martin B. Dickson , ed. M. Mazzaoui and V.B. Moreen (Salt Lake City:University o Utah Press, 1990): 130; U. Haarmann, “Te Mamluk System o Rule in theEyes o Western ravellers,”  Mamlūk Studies Review  5 (2001): 22-4; A.F. Broadbridge, Kingship and Ideology in the Islamic and Mongol Worlds  (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 147-8; F. Bauden, “Te Sons o al-Nās   ̣ ir Muh   ̣ ammad and the Politics o Puppets: Where Did It All Start?,”  Mamlūk Studies Review  13/1 (2009): 53-81; Van Steen-bergen, “Is Anyone My Guardian . . .?”. 11) See in this respect the persuasive call to review critically the modern criteria and mind-sets with which researchers approach pre-modern Islamic politics, as ormulated by R. Abou-el-Hajj, Te Formation o the Modern State: Te Ottoman Empire, Sixteenth toEighteenth Centuries  (Albany: State University o New York, 1991). 12) For an insightul appreciation o the open, dynamic, and regionally well-connectedcharacter o Mamluk urban societies, see J. Berkey, “Culture and Society during the LaterMiddle Ages,” in Cambridge History o Egypt  , 1:375-411.
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