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Ottoman–Mamluk War (1516–17)

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The Ottoman-Mamluk War of 1516-1517 was the second war between the Ottoman Empire and the Mamluk Sultanate, which led to the complete destruction of the latter. At the beginning of the 17th century, the eastern regions of the Ottoman Empire were shocked by an uprising of the Kyzylbashi. After the defeat of the uprising, many of the Kyzylbashy fled to their co-religionists in Safavid, Persia. In 1512, Sultan Bayazid II was overthrown from the throne, and Selim I became the new Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The elder son of Bayazid, Ahmed, who was at Konya at that time, reacted to Selim’s overthrow of his father from the throne by proclaiming himself to be the legitimate sultan. During the struggle for power, Ahmed asked for help from many Muslim rulers, including the Persian Shah, Ismail.

Sultan Selim was prepared to challenge the Persian Shah to get rid of those who rivaled him for power within his family. Before the war, Sultan Selim conducted a large diplomatic mission, trying to protect himself from unpleasant surprises. In particular, he proposed an alliance against the Mamluks of Sultan Al-Ashraf Qansuh.

In 1514, Selim went to war against Ismail and defeated him in the Chaldyran battle. After the defeat at Chaldiran, Ismail believed that Selim would return in the spring to continue the campaign, and began to seek allies, referring in particular to the Mamluks sultan, but he refused to conclude the treaty. After the Chaldyran battle and the subsequent annexation of Zulkadar, which left the Mamluks vulnerable to a direct attack, the attitude of the Ottomans to the Mamluks changed. The sultan insulted the Mamluks.

In 1516, the army of Selim again moved east from Istanbul. Everyone believed that the army was again directed against Ismail, but it was not. The army was headed against Mamluks. For the war against Muslims, the Sultan needed approval from religious leaders. If such a justification was easily obtained for the war with Ismail (in order to learn how it was from the point of view of Sunnis-Ottomans), then the Mamluks, that were Sunnis and guardians of shrines in Mecca and Medina, could hardly be called heretics, even in the interests of Ottoman politics.

Ottoman religious circles agreed to support the campaign against the Mamluks on the grounds that “whoever helps heretics is the heretic himself” and that the battle against them can be considered a holy war. This was enough for Selim.

The Course of the War

Armed with a religious conclusion in his favor, Selim came from Malatya to the south, to Syria with his army. The Ottoman and Mamluks armies met on August 24, 1516, north of Aleppo on the Dabik field. In a few hours, the battle was over. The Mamluks had just started using gunpowder and had few firearms, while the Ottoman army was armed with guns and muskets. When al-Ashraf Qansuh fled from the battlefield, a panic began in the Mameluke army. Unexpectedly, it turned out that the Mamluks commander Khair Bak was an agent of the Ottoman Sultan:  during the battle, he crossed over to Selim (later became the ruler of Aleppo). The Mamluks sultan did not survive, but the circumstances of his death are not clear to this day.

The inhabitants of Aleppo did not have a love for the Mamluks, and they were glad to hear of the Ottomans coming to their city. As he moved to Damascus, Selim’s army met with no resistance, and Damascus also surrendered without a fight. On the first Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, a prayer was held in the name of Sultan Selim in the largest city mosque of the Umayyads. Thus, the new Ottoman ruler of Syria announced to the world about his victory.

Before Selim and his advisers, the question arose, “Should we go to Cairo?” On the one hand, the time for the offensive was coming to an end, and the capital of the Mamluks was far beyond the desert. On the other hand, it was obvious that the conquests made in Syria would not be safe if Egypt remained in the hands of the Mamluks. Selim accepted the advice of those who recommended continuing an exceptionally successful campaign.

16th Century Ottoman Volley-Gun

In Cairo, the nobility began to disagree over whether to listen to Selim’s call to surrender. The new sultan of the Mamluks, Tuman-bey, was in favor of reaching an agreement with Selim; but in the dispute against him, the “war party” won. In the battle to the south of Gaza, the army of the Mamluks, commanded by the displaced Mamluk governor of Damascus, Dzhanbardi al-Ghazali, was suppressed by the new fire weapons and tactics of the Ottomans.

At the beginning of 1517, Selim left Damascus with the army. On his way to the south, Sultan Selim visited the sacred places of Muslims in Jerusalem. A week after leaving Damascus, the Ottoman army on 22 January 1517, defeated the Mamluks in the Battle of Raidaniye not far from Cairo. Two days later, Selim entered Cairo; but after that, fierce fighting began in the city, which culminated in the victory of the Ottomans, but both sides suffered heavy losses. The Mamluks commanders fled to the other bank of the Nile and remained free.


Tuman-bey was captured and brought to Selim. He was executed, and his body was hanged at the gates of the city for public viewing. The empire of the Mamluks was destroyed, Egypt became the province of the Ottoman Empire.


  • Caroline Finkel. History of the Ottoman Empire. The vision of Osman
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