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From Slave to Sultan

Islamic, Mamluks. al-Zahir Rukn al-Din Baybars I. AH 658-676 / AD 1260-1277. AR Dirham (21.7mm, 2.28g, 3h). al-Quahira (Cairo) mint. Dated in marginal legend on the reverse.

Obv: Naskh legend: al-Salihi | al-sultan al-malik | al-Zahir Rukn al-Dunya wa al-Din | Baybars qasim amir al-mu'minin

(The good | Sultan, Prince, | Manifest Pillar of the World and of the Faith | Baybars, associate of the Commander of the Faithful);

below, lion passant left flanked by three pellets

Rev: Naskh legend: la ilah illa Allah | Muhammad rasuluallah | arsalahu bi'l-huda (There is no diety except God | Muhammad is the messenger of God | He sent him with guidance); marginal legend, counterclockwise from the top gives mint and year struck.

Sultan al-Zahir Rukn al-Din Baybars al-Bunduqdari, known more concisely as Baybars I, was a formidable figure from the 13th century. He ruled as the Sultan of Egypt and Syria from 1260 until his death in 1277. Baybars I was born in 1223, north of the Black Sea, a Kipchak Turk. After the Mongol invasion of Kipchak in about 1242, he was sold into slavery.

Baybars eventually become a Mamluk guard, a military class composed of enslaved people who converted to Islam and were trained as soldiers. Baybars' military skill and leadership set him apart, and when he graduated from his military training he became the commander of bodyguards for of Ayyubid Sultan al-Ṣāliḥ Najm al-Dīn Ayyūb.

Detail from a Basin called “Baptistère de Saint Louis” (1325 - 1340) by Muḥammad ibn al-Zayn, hammered metal (brass), engraved decoration, inlaid with re-engraved silver and gold. Medallion IV, potentially a near-contemporary depiction of Baybars I.

The Seventh Crusade

Baybars deafeated the crusaders in Feb 1250, as commander of the Ayyūbid army at the city of Al-Manṣūrah. In this defeat Louis IX of France was captured and later returned in exchange for a large ransom. The Mamluks killed the Ayyubid sultan, Al-Muazzam Turanshah, on May 2, 1250.

Mamluk Sovereignty

Large Suite of Horses: Mounted Mamelucke, c. 1818. Carle Vernet (French, 1758–1836). Lithograph; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Albert W. Laisy 1982.243. Public domain image via

After the death of the Ayyubid sultan, Shajar al-Durr, the respected wife of Turanshah's predecessor, al-Salih, was named as sultan. She was quickly married and by outward appearances was replaced by "the first" Mamluk sultan: Izz al-Din Aybak.  It seems she retained the authority, which woudl deserve its own post, here is a writeup on worldhistory.og of her story which could also be titled "From Slave to Sultan" : Shajara_al-Durr)

There is at least one coin of Shajar al-Durr, held by the British Museum (not my coin):

Image from the The Trustees of the British Museum under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

Baybars, with a dispute between Mamluk groups, left for Syria where he stayed until 1260 when the third Mamluk sultan, Qutuz, brought him back to Egypt.  

Deafeat of the Mongols

Baybars is perhaps best remembered for his decisive victory at the Battle of Ain Jalut in 1260, where his forces defeated the Mongols, effectively halting their westward expansion into the Islamic world. After this victory he overthrew the third Mamluk sultan, Qutuz,  and became the fourth. There were several reported reasons for Baybars and Qutuz to quarrel - I will share one version here:

Baybars united Syria and Egypt under his rule. He was a patron of Islamic scholarship and arts, commissioning the construction of mosques, schools, and other public buildings throughout Egypt and Syria, many of which still stand today. His established a postal system, improvements in public safety, and the promoted trade. 

In 1277 he died in Damascus drinking a cup of poison intended for someone else. 

Mamluks, al-Zahir Rukn al-Din Baybars I AH 658-676, Æ Fals 2.41g 20mm, no date, no mint (Damascus?). Ref: Zeno 315754

Obverse: al-Malik (king) al-Zahir (Baybars I) Sultan

الملك الظاهر


Reverse: there is no God but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God

لا اله الا

الله محمد رسو

ل الله

Baybars was buried in Damascus under the dome of the Al-Ẓāhirīyah Library, which he commissioned.

The mausoleum chamber of Baybars in Damascus, photo by Francesco Bandarin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO, via Wikimedia Commons.

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