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Session of January 20

Lecture of Miss Anne-Marie Eddé, under the patronage of M. Jean-Pierre SODINI : « The necklace of virtues : an unpublished treatise dedicated to a Mamluk sultan (14th century)

Abstract : The necklace of al-Malik al-Zāhir Abū Sa‘īd’s virtues is the title of a short unpublished treatise (45 folios) written for the Mamluk Sultan al-Malik al-Zāhir Barqūq (1382-1399) soon after his accession to the throne. The first question about this text, preserved in an unicum dated 1383, concerns the author’s identification. A signature bearing the name of Muḥammad Ibn ‘Aqīl and several indications in the text suggest that its author could be Fatḥ al-Dīn Muḥammad Ibn ‘Aqīl (d. in Cairo in 1387) who was qāḍī and secretary in the Mamluk chancery. Other clues also suggest that the manuscript can be dated 14th century and is probably an autograph.
The treatise which includes a preface and three chapters (a summary of the reigns of the previous sultans, a series of questions and answers on various juridical issues, and a praise of the sultan’s virtues) has something in common with the literary genre called “Mirrors for princes”. It can also be compared to certain juridical treatises and to royal biographies, which were written in great number in the East from the 13th century onwards. It allows us, in any case, to understand the way the ideal ruler was represented in Egypt, at the end of the 14th century: a sultan protector of Islam, exercising justice, surrounded by good and learned advisers, generous and caring for the welfare of his subjects.
By praising the sultan’s virtues, the author also tries to legitimate a power that Barqūq had acquired by force, ignoring – unlike us – that he was about to found the new dynasty of the Circassian Mamluks (1382-1517). That is why the treatise places Barqūq in line with all his Turkish predecessors, since the middle of the 13th century, without ever mentioning his Circassian origins. On the other hand, his military achievements are emphasized reminding us of the principle often followed by the Mamluks whereby the power should not be exercised by the deceased sultan’s sons but rather by the emir best qualified to protect the interests of Islam. A principle which had been somewhat abandoned between 1341 and 1382 in favor of a more dynastic system, but which came back in force with the advent of the Circassian Mamluks.

Key words : Mamluks, Egypt, ruler, legitimacy, manuscripts.


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