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750th Anniversary of the Rise of Baybars to Sultan of the Mamluks October 21, 2010

Posted by rwf1954 in 1260, Ayn Jalut, Baybars, historical fiction, history, Hulegu Khan, Mamluks, medieval period, Mongols.
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Just a little less than two months after the pivotal Battle of Ayn Jalut (see my previous blog post about one of the most neglected battles in history), life had changed dramatically among the Mamluk leaders. Sultan Qutuz and Baybars had been sworn enemies before they united to defeat their common enemy, the Mongol invaders under the command of Genghis Khan’s grandson, Hulegu Khan. Baybars commanded the Mamluk vanguard during the battle, and was instrumental in the Mamluk triumph. After their victory, Baybars and his forces pursued the Mongols north.

In the aftermath of the battle, Qutuz went to Damascus and consolidated Mamluk rule over Syria, now relieved of the Mongol occupation during the previous year. He rewarded Muslim princes who had fought with the Mamluks, and punished those who had submitted to the invading Mongols.

Baybars and men loyal to him had pursued Mongols to northern Syria. Some accounts of these events indicate that Qutuz promised Baybars the governorship of Aleppo in the event of victory at Ayn Jalut and then reneged. Other accounts refer to friction due to Qutuz’s abusive treatment of some of Baybars’ men for allegedly fleeing the Mongols during the battle. But the truth is that these men hated each other, had fought against each other in the past, and had longstanding grudges and grievances. Qutuz would have been setting up a serious rival for power in the region if he had granted rulership of Aleppo to Baybars. The men were destined to clash.

Qutuz had planned to go north to continue his consolidation of his control of Syria. But the rising tensions with Baybars prompted him to go south, back to Cairo. At al-Salihiyya, just east of Cairo, on October 21st or 22nd, Qutuz was assassinated. The details differ among different accounts. But the basic facts are that during a hunt, after Qutuz rode off on the chase for a hare, Baybars and some conspirators killed Qutuz. Baybars was installed as Sultan shortly after.

Baybars proved to be a talented, ruthless ruler, and more importantly, a gifted organizer. This had been a region fraught with disunity. Even Saladin, the great sultan of the Ayyubid Dynasty, considered one of the most important Muslim rulers of the Middle Ages, had trouble bringing together all the regions of his empire of Syria and Egypt. Baybars put in place organizational controls that would keep this empire together until the early 1500s. The Mamluks would defeat Mongol attempts to move back into Syria, and would drive the western Christian crusaders out of the eastern Mediterranean permanently. It is not at all certain that another ruler would have brought this region together as he did, and would have established the basis for a dynasty that would last over two hundred years. Bayars’ leadership established the stability in the region that ensured the Mongols would not be able to undo the results of the Battle of Ayn Jalut. On that October day, when Baybars rose to power as sultan of the Mamluks, an essential following event to the Battle of Ayn Jalut occurred, an event that made certain the lasting impact of the battle.

(My upcoming novel, The Sultan and the Khan, dramatizes these little known, historically pivotal events. More information about The Sultan and the Khan is available at my website.)

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