(TURKS, CONQUESTS and the CRUSADES – continued)

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Divisions before the coming of Genghis Khan

Saladin bequeathed his empire to his sons – the Ayyubid dynasty. Following his death in 1193, one son, al-Afdal, inherited rule over Damascus. Another, al-Aziz, inherited rule over Egypt. A third, al-Zahir, inherited rule over Aleppo (in northeast Syria). And they squabbled. Each attempted to surround himself with larger Mameluk warrior retinue. The Mameluks were trained warriors. They had begun as child slaves, selected for military training and given a special status as warriors.

By 1200, Saladin's brother, al-Adil, had moved against his squabbling nephews and secured control over the whole of the Ayyubid empire. He killed or imprisoned his brothers and nephews during his takeover. And with each victory he collected the Mameluks of his defeated kin. With his Mameluk armies he ruled Egypt, through Palestine to Syria and a coastal region of Arabia along the Red Sea, including Medina.

Al-Adil died in 1218 at an advanced age, followed by family feuding and a breakup of the Ayyubid empire in regions governed by Mameluk military takeovers.

The Khwarazmian Dynasty

Map of West Asia, 1200 CE

1200 CE. Cyprus, Antioch, Tripoli and Acre are Christian Crusader states. Armenian Cilicia is also Christian, formed in 1198 by Armenians fleeing from the Seljuks.

Meanwhile, most of what today is Iran had come under the rule the Khwarazmian dynasty, a dynasty founded a century before, in 1077, by Anush Tigin Gharchai, a former slave of the Seljuk sultans. The Khwarazmian ruler from 1200 was Ala ad-Din Muhammad II. By 1217 he had conquered beyond Samarkand and almost to Kabul. It was Ala ad-Din Muhammad II whose rudeness toward Genghis Khan's emissaries that brought Genghis Khan and his army to the region.

Village and Town Politics

The near east had a variety of authoritarian dynastic rulers, while people in villages and towns held on to relationships that provided some social order. There were neighborhoods according to religious sect and sometimes occupation, but not economic class as would develop in the West.

There were people who belonged to Sufi brotherhoods, which provided a governance of sorts. And there was the local ulama – arbiters of Islamic law. And there were the police, the practitioners of violence working for whomever ruled.

Local societies had their ulama and Sufi who were the teachers exemplars and leaders of the community. There were rival schools concerning doctrine, competition for prestige and local struggles for control of judicial offices and teaching positions.

Islam provided a sense of community that transcended locality. There were associations of scholars and teachers and students adhering to codes of law that had developed by discussion and debate from centuries before. There were ideological fraternities that extended beyond sultanates to the broader world of Islam. As the scholar Ira M. Lapidus writes, "Muslim communal loyalties were factional and parochial at the local level, but cosmopolitan and universal at the international level."


Saladin; and the fall of the kingdom of Jerusalem, by Stanley Lane-Poole (online)

The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800, by Jonathan P. Berkey, 2003

Warriors of God: Richard the Lionhearted and Saladin in the Third Crusade, by James Reston Jr, 2002

The History of Medieval Islam, JJ Saunders, Barnes and Noble, 1965

The Middle East, Past and Present, by Yahya Armajani, 1970

A History of Islamic Societies, by Ira M. Lapidus, 2002


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.