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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)

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 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): 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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