Account of the Crusade of St. Louis
Editor's Introduction 
This is an extract from an Arabian manuscript entitled Essulouk
li Mariset il Muluk that is to say, "The Road to Knowledge
of the Return of Kings." It is the history of the Sultans Curdes-Ayyubids, of the race of Saladin, and of the two
Dynasties that have reigned in Egypt; the one of Turkish slaves,
known under the name of MamelukesBaharites, the other of
Circassians. This work was composed by MAKRISI, who was born in
the 769th year of the Hegira, or one hundred and twenty years
after the expedition of St. Louis.
THE sultan MelikulKamil died at Damascus the 21st of the
moon Regeb, in the 635th year of the Hegira (March 10, AD 1238).
MelikulAdilScifeddin, one of his two sons, was proclaimed
on the morrow, in the same town, sultan of Syria, and of Egypt.
He was the seventh king of the posterity of the Ayyubids, who
descended from Saladin.
On the 17th day of the moon Ramadan, there arrived an ambassador
from the caliph of Baghdad, who was the bearer of a standard and
rich robe for the sultan, weak remnants of the vast authority
the caliphs who succeeded Muhammad [*] formerly enjoyed, and of
which the sultans had not thought it worth their while to deprive
Note* The caliphs, successors
to Muhammad, were formerly masters of Syria, Egypt, and in general
of all the conquests made by the Muslims. Corrupted by luxury
and indolence, they suffered Egypt and Syria to be taken from
them by the Fatimites, at the time of the expedition of St. Louis,
and they retained IrakArabia. They, however, still preserved
a shadow of power over the provinces captured from them. The sultans
of Egypt submitted to a sort of inauguration on their part, which
consisted in the investiture of a dress which the caliphs sent
them. This custom is no yet abolished: the grand seignior sends
a similar dress to the his. podars of Moldavia and Walachia, when
he nominates them to these principalities .
MelikulAdil, when scarcely on the throne, instead of attending
to the government of his kingdoms, gave himself up to all sorts
of debauchery. The grandees of the state, who might have reproached
him for the dissipated life he led, were banished under various
pretexts, and replaced by more complaisant ministers. He believed
he could have nothing to fear, if the troops were attached to
him; and, in order to gain them, he made them great presents,
which, added to those his pleasures required, exhausted the treasures
his father had amassed with so much difficulty.
A conduct so unworthy a sovereign made him contemptible, and his
subjects offered up vows that his brother NedjmEddin would
deprive him of his crown. This prince had no other wish, but he
was afraid of intrusting a project of this nature in the hands
of a fickle populace. At last all the orders of the state, oppressed
by the tyrannies of MelikulAdil, called NedjmEddin
to the throne. He made his entry into Cairo the ninth day of the
moon Chuwal, in the year 637 (May 3, AD 1240), and was proclaimed
sultan of Syria and Egypt. MelikulAdil was imprisoned, after
having reigned two years and eighteen days.
NedjmEddin, on mounting the throne, found only one solitary
piece of gold, and one thousand drachms of silver, in the public
treasury. He assembled the grandees of the state, and those in
particular who had had any share in the administration of the
finances, under the reign of his brother, and asked what had been
their reasons for deposing MelikulAdil. "Because he
was a madman," they replied. Then, addressing himself to
the chiefs of the law, he asked if a madman could dispose of the
public money. And on their answering that it was contrary to law,
he ordered all who had received any sums of money from his brother
to bring them back to the treasury, or they should pay for their
disobedience with their heads. By this means, he recovered seven
hundred and fifty-eight thousand pieces of gold, and two millions
three hundred thousand drachms of silver.
In the year 638 (1240), SalihImadEddin, who had surprised
Damascus, under the reign of MelikulAdil, fearful that the
new sultan would deprive him of this unjust conquest, made an
offensive and defensive alliance with the Franks of Syria. He
gave them, the better to secure their support, the towns of Safet*
and Chakif,+ with their territories, half of the town of Sidon,
and a part of the country of the Tiberiad.# He added also the
mountain of Aamileh,++ and several other places on the seashore,
permitting them to come to Damascus to purchase arms. This alliance
displeased good Muslims, who were indignant to see Franks purchase
arms in a Muslim town, which these infidels might one day turn
against the sellers.
Note * Safet, a moderate
sized town in Palestine. It has a fortress which commands the
Lake of Tiberias, and is situated in fifty-seven degrees thirty1ive
minutes longitude, thirty two degrees thirty minutes latitude.
Note + Chakif. Abulfeda
mentions two fortresses under the name of Chakif, ChakifArnoun,
and ChakifTiroun the first, partly cut in a rock, is on
one of the roads leading from Sidon to Damascus. It is the second
called Tiroun, which IS noticed in the text. It lies towards the
sea, in regard to Safet. ChakifArnoun is, in like manner,
distant from the sea, on the top of Lebanon.
Note # part of Palestine has been
thus called from the town of Tiberias, built on the side of a
mountain near to the lake of the same name. The lake is twelve
miles long by six wide, and is surrounded by mountains. This town
was famous in former times, but Saladin, on reconquering it from
the Franks, had it destroyed. It owes its name to the emperor
Tiberius. There were in its confines many hot springs celebrated
for the cure of different disorders. It was but six miles from
Tiberias to the well into which Joseph was cast by his brethren.-Abulfeda.
[HTML editor's note: This is the Sea of Galilee]
Note ++ Aamileh, a celebrated mountain of Syria. It spreads
eastwardly and southerly from the seashore as far as Tvre. It
had a fortress on its summit .
Salih-ImadEddin resolved to make war on Egypt, and, assembling
his troops, joined the army of the Franks. The sultan of Egypt
was informed of this movement, and sent, in consequence, a body
of men as far as Acre. The two armies met; but the Egyptians corrupted
the Muslim soldiers of Damascus, who, according to their secret
conventions, fled on the first attack, and left the Franks singly
to bear the shock. They, however, made but a feeble resistance;
great numbers were slain, and the rest, loaded with chains, were
led to Cairo.
In the 640th year of the Hegira, the Franks surprised the town
of Napoulous* on a Friday, the 4th day of the moon Djemazilewel,
and made slaves of the inhabitants, after they had plundered them
of all they had, and committed all sorts of cruelties.
Note * Napoulous, a town in Palestine, anciently called
Samaria. Jeroboam caused a temple to be built on a mountain near
the town to prevent the ten tribes from going to Jerusalem.
The whole year of 641 (AD 1243) was employed in negotiations between
SalihInzadEddin and NedjmEddin. The latter consented
to allow the former to be master of Damascus, but on condition
that the town should be a fief to Egypt, and that the coin should
be struck in his name. However, as they could not agree, ImadEddin
made another treaty with the Franks, by which he gave up to them
Jerusalem, the whole country of the Tiberiad, and .Ascalon*
Note* Ascalon, a town
in Palestine, on the Mediterranean shore, six leagues from Gaza.
it is built on a rock, but wants a harbour and fresh water.
The Franks took possession of these towns, and instantly fortified
all the castles in the neighbourhood of Tiberias and Ascalon.
They expelled Muslims from the mosque Aksa,* made a church of
it, and hung bells in the minaret.
Note* The name of the
mosque which the Muslims built after the capture of Jerusalem,
on the ancient foundations of the temple of Solomon, and on the
stone whence Jacob was said to be have conversed with God, and
which the Muslims affirm to be that which this patriarch named
the gate of heaven, in consequence of his vision. The Christians,
when they conquered Jerusalem from the Muslims, erected a golden
cross on the top of this temple, but Saladin, on regaining the
town, made them take it down.-D'Herbelot, Bibl. Orient.
NedjmEddin, on his side, connected himself with the Kharesmiens,*
a people whose lives were passed in war and plunder. They hastened
from the farthest part of the East, crossed the Euphrates, to
the amount of ten thousand combatants, under the command of three
generals. One division fell back upon Balbeck, and another marched
to the very gates of Damascus, pillaging and destroying all that
came in their way. SalihImadEddin shut himself up
in Damascus, without attempting to stop the torrent that inundated
his dominions. When they had despoiled all the country near to
Damascus, they advanced to Jerusalem, took it by storm, and put
all the Christians to the sword. The women and girls, having suffered
every insult from a brutal disorderly soldiery, were loaded with
chains. They destroyed the church of the holy Sepulchre; and when
they found nothing among the living, to glut their rage, they
opened the tombs of the Christians, took out the bodies, and burnt
Note * Kharesmiens, a
people of Khouaresm [Khwarizm], which country is situated on this
side the Gion, or Oxus, on the side of Khorassan, and a part beyond
it, bounding the Mawaralnahar, or the Transoxane .
After this expedition, they marched to Gaza, and deputed some
of their principal officers to NedjmEddin. This prince caressed
them much, had them clothed in superb dresses, and presented them
with rich stuffs and horses of great value. He desired that they
would halt their troops at Gaza, where he proposed making a junction
of the two armies, promising to march them to Damascus. The troops
of the sultan were soon really to take the field, under the command
of the emir RukneddinBibars, one of his favourite slaves,
and in whose bravery he wholly confided. Bibars joined the Kharesmiens
Note * Gaza, a town in
Palestine near the sea. Its territory is very fertile, particularly
ImadEddin, on his part, raised troops in Damascus: they
marched under the orders of MelikMansour, prince of Hemesse.*
The Franks were likewise ready to take the field; and the two
bodies met at Acre, when they formed but one army. NasirDaoud,
prince of Karak,+ and Zahir, son of Songour, also brought some
soldiers to the prince of Damascus. This was the first time the
standards of the Christians, on which was a cross, were seen intermixed
with those of Muslims. The Christians formed the right wing, the
troops of NasirDaoud the left, and the emir Mansour formed
the centre with the Syrians.
Note * Hemesse or Hems,
an ancient town, and one of the principal in Syria. It is situated
on a plain, a mile distant from the river Orontes. It is the most
fertile country of the whole province.
Note + Kerek or Karak,
a celebrated town on the confines of Syria, where it joins Arabia
Petraea. This town formerly possessed an impregnable fortress,
and was one of the keys to Syria.
The two armies met near to Gaza. The Kharesmiens made the first
onset, which was but faintly opposed by the Syrians, who instantly
fled. Zahir, who commanded the left wing, being made prisoner,
there only remained the Franks, who for some time defended themselves,
but were soon surrounded by the Kharesmiens: the greater part
perished on this occasion, except a few that had the good fortune
to escape. Eight hundred prisoners were made; and there lay on
the field of battle upwards of thirty thousand dead, as well Christians
as Syrian Muslims. Mansour returned to Damascus with a few soldiers.
The Kharesmiens made an immense booty.
The news of this complete victory arrived at Cairo on the 15th
of the moon Gemazilewel, in the year of the Hegira 642 (Oct. 9, AD 1244). NedjmEddin was so delighted with it that
he ordered public rejoicings to be made, and they were announced
to the people by sound of drums and trumpets. The town and the
castle of the sultan * were illuminated for several nights. The
heads of the enemies that had been slain in battle were sent to
Cairo, and exposed on the gates of the town. The captive Franks
arrived at the same time, mounted on camels: as a mark of distinction,
horses had been given to the most considerable among them. ZahirbenSongour,
one of the Syrian generals that had been taken, marched next,
with the other officers of the Syrian army. They were paraded
with much pomp through the town of Cairo, and then confined in
Note * It was the castle
of Cairo built by the sultan Saladin, with stones taken from many
small pyramids destroyed near ancient Memphis, opposite to old
Cairo. The bashaws, governors of Egypt, make this castle their
residence. It is situated at the foot of the Mountain of St. Joseph.
The emirs Bibars and Abouali had orders from the sultan to lay
siege to Ascalon; but the place was too strong, and too well defended,
to be taken. Bibars remained before Ascalon, and Abouali advanced
The other generals of NedjmEddin took possession of Gaza,
Jerusalem, Khalil, BeitDjebril, and Gaur.* NasirDaoud lost
nearly all his territories, for there only remained to him the
fortress of Kerok, Belka. Essalib,+ and Adjeloun.
Note * Gaur, a deep valley
that traverses the country of Jordan from the Lake of Tiberias
to the Dead Sea.
Note + Essalib, or, according
to some authors, Essolet, is a castle near to, but on the other
side of Jordan. So is Adjelonn.
NedjmEddin had promised the Kharesmiens to lead them to
Damascus; for he counted as nothing the last victory, if he did
not regain that town; and he resolved to make so important a conquest
in person. The Kharesmiens followed him with joy, and Damascus
was besieged. Battering-rams, and other machines for casting stones
were erected; but the besieged made a vigorous resistance, and
the siege lasted upwards of six months without any breach being
made. Provisions, however, began to fail in the town; and Mansour,
prince of Hemesse, had a conference with Berket, one of the Kharesmien
chiefs, for the surrender of the place. It was at length agreed
that the town should be surrendered to the sultan, and that ImadEddin,
Mansour, and the other Syrian chiefs, should have liberty to retire
with all their riches. The town of Balbeck, and all its territory,
were given to Imad-Eddin: Hemesse and Palmyra were allotted to
Mansour. The Kharesmiens, who had flattered themselves with the
hope of pillaging Damascus, in despair at being frustrated, quarrelled
with the sultan, and, the ensuing year, formed an alliance with
Mansour and the other Syrian leaders. They marched conjointly
to the siege of Damascus, and reduced the town to the utmost distress
from want of provision. The inhabitants, after they had consumed
the vilest food, did not scruple to feed on the bodies of such
as died, to preserve their lives. NedjmEddin had returned
to Egypt; but he hastened to Syria again, with a numerous army,
attacked the Kharesmiens, and totally defeated them in two battles.
In the year 644, the emir Fakreddin won from the Franks the castle
of Tiberias and the town of Ascalon, both of which he razed to
the ground. This year was fatal to the Franks, from their intestine
In the year 645, the sultan returned to Egypt, and passed through
Ramle.* He was there attacked with an abscess, which turned to
a fistula; but in spite of this accident, he continued his journey,
and arrived at Cairo. New troubles, which had arisen in Syria,
called him again into that province; but having learned at Damascus,+
that the French were preparing to invade Egypt, he preferred defending
his own kingdom in person. In spite of the violence of his sufferings
from pain, he mounted his litter, and arrived at Achuloum-Tanah,#
at the beginning of the year 647.
Note * Ramle. Reml signifies
sand. Ramla is a town some leagues from Jaffa or Joppa, on the
road to Jerusalem.
Note + Makrisi, in his
description of Egypt, says, that in the year of the Hegira 647
(AD 1249), the emperor sent an ambassador to the sultan NedjmEddin,
who was then ill at Damascus: that this ambassador was disguised
as a merchant, and informed the sultan of the preparations of
the king of France against Egypt.
Note # Achmoum, or AchmoumTanah,
a town on the Nile, and the capital of one of the provinces of
Egypt called Dahkalie, fifty-four deg. Longitude, thirty-one deg.
fifty-four min. Latitude.-Abulfeda.
As he had no doubt but that Damietta would be the first place
attacked, he endeavoured to put it in a state of defence, and
formed there magazines of every sort of provision, arms, and ammunition.
The emir Fakreddin was ordered to march toward that town, to prevent
a descent on the coast. Fakreddin encamped at Gize de Damietta,
with the Nile between his camp and the town.
The disorder of the sultan, however, grew worse; and he caused
proclamation to be made, that all to whom he owed any thing should
present themselves at his treasury, when they would be paid.*
Note * It is one point
of the Muslim Law to pay all debts before death, and those who
pretend to strictness of doctrine never fail to observe it.
On Friday, the 21st of the moon Sefer, and in the year of the
Hegira 647 (AD 1249, Friday, 4th June), the French fleet arrived
off the coast, at two o'clock of the day, filled with an innumerable
body of troops under the command of Louis, son to Louis, king
of France. The Franks, who were masters of Syria, had joined the
French. The whole fleet anchored on the strand opposite to the
camp of Fakreddin.
The king of France, before he commenced any hostilities, sent
by a herald a letter to the sultan NedjmEddin, conceived
in the following words -
" You are not ignorant that I am the prince of those who
follow the religion of Jesus CHRIST, as you are of those who obey
the laws of Muhammad. Your power inspires me with no fear. how
should it? I who make the Muslims in Spain tremble! I lead them
as a shepherd does a flock of sheep. I have made the bravest among
them perish, and loaded their women and children with chains.
They endeavour by presents to appease me, and turn my arms to
another quarter. The soldiers who march under my standards cover
the plains, and my cavalry is not less redoubtable. You have but
one method to avoid the tempest that threatens you. Receive priests,
who will teach you the Christian religion', embrace it, and adore
the Cross; otherwise I will pursue you everywhere, and God shall
decide whether you or I be master of Egypt."
NedjmEddin, on reading this letter, could not restrain his
tears. He caused the following answer to be written by the cadi
Behaedin, his secretary:-
"In the name of the Omnipotent and Allmerciful God,
salvation to our prophet Muhammad and his friends ! I have received
your letter it is filled with menaces, and you make a boast of
the great number of your soldiers. Are you ignorant that we know
the use of arms, and that we inherit the valour of our ancestors?
No one has ever attacked us without feeling our superiority. Recollect
the conquests we have made from the Christians; we have driven
them from the lands they possessed; their strongest towns have
fallen under our blows. Recall to your mind that passage of the
Qu'ran, which says, 'Those who make war unjustly shall perish
;' and also another passage, ' How often have the most numerous
armies been destroyed by a handful of soldiers !' God protects
the just; and we have no doubt of his protection, nor that he
will confound your arrogant designs."
The French disembarked on the Saturday, on the same shore where
Fakreddin had made his encampment, and pitched a red tent for
The Muslims made some movements to prevent their landing; and
the emirs NedjmEddin and Sarimeddin were slain in these
At the beginning of the night the emir Fakreddin decamped with
his whole army, and crossed the bridge which leads to the eastern
shore of the Nile, whereon Damietta is situated. He took the road
to AchmoumTanah, and by this march the French were left
masters of the western bank of that river.
It is impossible to paint the despair of the inhabitants of Damietta
when they saw the emir Fakreddin march away from their town, and
abandon them to the fury of the Christians.. They were afraid
to wait for the enemy, and quitted their town precipitately during
the night. This conduct of the Muslim general was so much the
less excusable as the garrison was composed of the bravest of
the tribe of Beni-Kenane, and as Damietta was in a better 6tate
of resistance than when it was besieged by the Franks during the
reign of the sultan ElmelikulKamil; for, although plague
and famine afflicted the town, the Franks could not conquer it
until after sixteen months' siege.
On the Monday morning (6th June, 1249), the French came before
the town; but, astonished to see no one, they were afraid of a
surprise. They were soon informed of the flight of its inhabitants,
and, without striking a blow, took possession of this important
place, and all the ammunition and provision they found there.
When the news of the capture of Damietta reached Cairo, the consternation
was general. They considered how greatly this success would augment
the courage and hopes of the French; for they had seen an army
of Muslims timorously fly before them, and were in possession
of an innumerable quantity of arms of all sorts, with plenty of
ammunition and provision. The disorder of the sultan, which daily
grew worse, and hindered him from acting in this critical state
of affairs, overwhelmed the Egyptians with despair. No one now
longer doubted but that the kingdom would be conquered by the
The sultan, indignant at the cowardice of the garrison, ordered
fifty of the principal officers to be strangled. In vain did they
allege in their defence the retreat of the emir Fakreddin: the
sultan told them they deserved death, for having quitted Damietta
without his orders. One of these officers, condemned to death
with his son, requested to be executed first; but the sultan refused
him this favour, and the father had the misery to see his son
expire before his eyes.
After this execution, the sultan, turning to the emir Fakreddin,
asked with an enraged tone, " What resistance have yon made?
What battles have you fought? You could not withstand the Franks
one hour. You should have shewn more courage and firmness."
The officers of the army, fearing for Fakreddin the rage of the
sultan, made the emir understand by their gestures that they were
ready to massacre their sovereign. Fakreddin refused his assent,
and told them afterward that the sultan could not live more than
a few days; and that, if the prince wished to trouble them, they
were able at any time to get rid of him.
NedjmEddin, notwithstanding his melancholy state, gave orders
for his departure for Mansoura. He entered his boat of war,* and
arrived there on Wednesday the 25th of the moon Sefer (June 9,
AD 1249). He put the town in a posture of defence by employing
his whole army on this service. The boats ordered by the prince
before his departure arrived laden with soldiers, and all sorts
of ammunition. Every one able to bear arms ranged himself under
his standards, and he was joined by the Arabs in great numbers.
Note * Boat of war.-The
Arabic word signifies properly "firework boat."
Such were probably made use of to carry the Greek fire, and the
machines to throw it. Makrisi, in the history of the first siege
of Damietta, speaks much of these fire ships, saying that the
Mu6sulmen made use of them to set fire to the vessels of the Christians.
While the sultan was making his preparations, the French were
adding new fortifications to Damietta, and placed there a considerable
On Monday, the last day of the moon Rebiulewel (July 12~ AD 1249)
thirty-six Christian prisoners were conducted to Cairo; they had
belonged to the guard of the camp against the inroads of the Arabs,
among whom were two knights. The 5th of the same moon, thirty-seven
were sent thither on the 7th, twenty-two; and on the 16th, forty-five
other prisoners; and among these last were three knights.
Different Christian princes, who held lands on the coast of Syria,
had accompanied the French, by which their places were weakened.
The inhabitants of Damascus seized this opportunity to besiege
Sidon, which, after some resistance, was forced to surrender.
The news of this, when carried to Cairo, caused an excess of joy,
and seemed to compensate for the loss of Damietta. Prisoners were
made almost daily from the French, fifty of whom were sent to
Cairo the 18th of the moon Diemazilewel (Aug. 29, AD 1249).
The sultan continued daily to grow worse in health; and the physicians
despaired of his recovery, for he was attacked at the same time
by a fistula and an ulcer on his lungs. At length he expired,
on the night of the 15th of the moon Chaban (Nov. 22), after having
appointed as his successor his son TouranChah. NedjmEddin
was forty-four years old when he died, and had reigned ten years.
It was he who instituted that militia of slaves, or of MamelukesBaharites,*
thus called from being quartered in the castle which this prince
had built in the island of Roudah, opposite to old Cairo. This
militia, in course of time, seized on the throne of Egypt.
son to MelikulKamil, the last but one of the princes of
the dynasty of the Ayyubids, opened, if I may so express myself,
the road to the throne to these slaves. When this prince was besieging
Napoulous, his troops timorously abandoned him, but the Baharite
slaves alone supported the enemy's charge, and gave time to NedjmEddin
to escape. From that moment this prince gave them his whole confidence
Called some time after by the Egyptians to be sultan, in the place
of his brother, MehkulAdilSeifEddin, he loaded
these slaves with his bounties, and elevated them to the highest
dignities. He quitted the castle, the usual residence of the sultans,
to inhabit one which he had built in the small island of Roudah,
opposite to old Cairo. The Baharite slaves had the guard of it,
and thence took the name Baharite or Maritime, the Arabs calling
all great rivers by the name of sea, as well as the sea itself.
These slaves, or MamelukesBaharites, amounted to eight hundred
at the time of St. Louis' invasion, and it was they who, at the
battle of Mansoura, repulsed this prince, who had advanced as
far as the palace of the sultan. They contributed greatly to the
last victory of the Egyptians over St. Louis; and, as the historian
remarks, after these two battles their name and power greatly
increased. A short time after they assassinated TouranChah,
the last prince of the dynasty of the Ayyubids, and seized the
throne. AzeddinAibegh, the Turcoman, was the first who mounted
it, and took the name of MelikulMuez. ChegeretEddur,
his wife having caused him to be murdered, his son, who was twelve
years old, occupied his place, but reigned only two years. Khotouz
succeeded him. BibarsElbondukdari, the same who, at the
head of the Mamelukes, charged the French cavalry with such fury
as forced them to abandon Mansoura, ascended this throne the 658th
year of the Hegira, and of our era 1289, and took the name of
MelikulDaher. After a glorious reign of seventeen years,
he died at Damascus. This dynasty reigned in Egypt and Syria during
one hundred and thirty-six years, and had twenty-seven sultans.
The MamelukesBaharites were originally Turks, and had been
sold to the sultan NedjmEddin by merchants from Syria. The
slaves, or MamelukesCircassians, dethroned them in their
turn, in the 784th year of the Hegira, and of our era 1382, and
formed a new dynasty which governed Egypt until the conquest of
that kingdom by Sultan Selim, emperor of the Turks, in the 923rd
year of the Hegira, AD 1517.
As soon as the sultan had expired, the sultana Chegeret-Eddur,
his spouse, sent for the general Fakreddlin and the eunuch Diemaleddin,
to inform them of the death of the sultan, and to request their
assistance in supporting the weight of government at such a critical
period. All three resolved to keep the sultan's death a secret,
and to act in his name as if he were alive. His death was not
to be made public until after the arrival of TouranChah,
to whom were sent messengers after messengers.
Notwithstanding these precautions, the French were informed of
his death. Their army instantly quitted the plains of Damietta,
and encamped at Fariskour. Boats laden with provision and stores
came up the Nile, and kept the army abundantly supplied.
The emir Fakreddin sent a letter to Cairo, to inform the inhabitants
of the approach of the French, and to exhort them to sacrifice
their lives and fortunes in the defence of the country. This letter
was read in the pulpit of the great mosque, and the people answered
only with sighs and groans. Every thing was in trouble and confusion;
and the death of the sultan, which was suspected, added to the
consternation. The most cowardly thought of quitting a town which
they believed unable to withstand the French; but the more courageous,
on the contrary, marched to Mansoura, to join the Muslim army.
On Tuesday, the 1st day of the moon Ramadan (Dec. 7, AD 1249),
there were some trifling skirmishes between different corps of
troops of each army. This, however, did not prevent the French
army from encamping at Charmesah: the Monday following, being
the 7th of the same moon, the army advanced to Bermoun.
On Sunday, the 13th day of the same moon, the Christian army appeared
before the town of Mansoura, the branch of the Achmoum was between
it and the Egyptian camp. Nasir Daoud, prince of Karak, was on
the western bank of the Nile with some troops. The French traced
out their camp, surrounding it with a deep ditch surmounted by
a palisado, and erected machines to cast stones at the Egyptian
army. Their fleet arrived at the same time; so that there were
engagements on water and on land.
On Wednesday, the 15th day of the same moon, six deserters passed
over to the camp of the Muslims, and informed them that the French
army was in want of provision .
The day of Bairam,* a great lord, and relation to the king of
France, was made prisoner. Not a day passed without skirmishes
on both sides, and with alternate success. The Muslims were particularly
anxious to make prisoners, to gain information as to the state
of the enemy's army, and used all sorts of strategies for this
purpose. A soldier from Cairo bethought himself of putting his
head withinside of a watermelon, the interior of which he had
scooped out, and of thus swimming toward the French camp; a Christian
soldier, not suspecting a trick, leaped into the Nile to seize
the melon; but the Egyptian was a stout swimmer, and catching
hold of him, dragged him to his general.+
Note * The grand Bairam,
the 1st day of the moon Chewal, was on Thursday, 6th January,
Note + The Egyptians are,
at this day, perfect swimmers, and they exhibit extraordinary
specimens of their art in this line.
On Wednesday, the 7th day of the moon Chewal (Jan. 12, 1250),
the Muslims captured a large boat, in which were a hundred soldiers,
commanded by an officer of distinction. On Thursday, the 15th
of the same moon, the French marched out of their camp, and their
cavalry began to move. The troops were ordered to file off, when
a slight skirmish took place, and the French left on the field
forty cavaliers with their horses.
On the Friday, seventy prisoners were conducted to Cairo, among
whom were three lords of rank. On the 22nd of the same moon, a
large boat belonging to the French took fire, which was considered
as a fortunate omen for the Muslims.
Some traitors having shewn the ford over the canal of Achmoum
to the French, fourteen hundred cavaliers crossed it, and fell
unexpectedly on the camp of the Muslims, on a Tuesday, the 15th
day of the moon Zilkalde (Feb. 8), having at their head the brother
of the king of France. The emir Fakreddin was at the time in the
bath: he instantly quitted it with precipitation, and mounted
a horse without saddle or bridle, followed only by some slaves.
The enemy attacked him on all sides, but his slaves, like cowards,
abandoned him when in the midst of the French: it was in vain
he attempted to defend himself; he fell pierced with wounds. The
French, after the death of Fakreddin, retreated to Djedile; but
their whole cavalry advanced to Mansoura, and, having forced one
of the gates, entered the town: the Muslims fled to the right
and left. The king of France had already penetrated as far as
the sultan's palace, and victory seemed ready to declare for him,
when the Baharite slaves, led by Bibars, advanced, and snatched
it from his hands: their charge was so furious that the French
were obliged to retreat. The French infantry, during this time,
had advanced to cross the bridge; had they been able to join their
cavalry, the defeat of the Egyptian army, and the loss of the
town of Mansoura, would have been inevitable.
Nigh separated the combatants, when the French retreated in disorder
to Djedile, after leaving fifteen hundred of their men on the
field They surrounded their camp with a ditch and wall, but their
army was divided* into two corps: the least considerable body
was encamped on the branch of the Achmoum, and the larger on the
great branch of the Nile that runs to Damietta.
Note* Joinville speaks
of a camp separate from that of the king, commanded by the count
A pigeon had been let loose to fly to Cairo* the instant the French
had surprised the camp of Fakreddin, having a note under its wing,
to inform the inhabitants of this misfortune. This melancholy
event had created a general consternation in the town, which the
runaways had augmented, and the gates of Cairo were kept open
all the night to receive them. A second pigeon bearing the news
of the victory over the French, had restored tranquillity to the
capital. Joy succeeded sorrow; and each congratulated the other
on this happy turn of affairs, and public rejoicings were made.
Note * This custom is
very ancient in the East.
When TouranChah heard of the death of his father, NedjmEddin,
he set out from HunsKeifa.* It was the 15th of the moon
Ramadan when he departed, attended by only fifty horsemen, and
he arrived at Damascus toward the end of that moon. After receiving
the homage of all the governors of the towns in Syria, he set
out on a Wednesday, the 27th day of the moon Chewal, and took
the road to Egypt. The news of his arrival raised the courage
of the Muslims. The death of NedjmEddin had not yet been
publicly announced: the service of the sultan was performed as
usual: his officers prepared his table as if he had been alive,
and every order was given in his name. The sultana governed the
kingdom, and found, in her own mind, resources for all. The moment
she heard of TouranChah's arrival, she waited on him, and
laid aside the sovereign command, to invest him with it. This
prince was anxious to appear at the head of his troops, and set
out for Mansoura, where he arrived on the 5th of the moon Zilkade
Note * A town of Diarbekir,
on the banks of the Tigris.
Boats sent from Damietta brought all sorts of provision to the
French camp, and kept it abundantly supplied. The Nile was now
at its greatest height.* TouranChah caused many boats to
be built, which, when taken to pieces, he placed on the backs
of camels, and had them thus carried to the canal of Mehale, when
they were put together again, launched on the canal, and filled
with troops for an ambuscade.
Note * How could Makrisi
say the Nile was at its greatest height when it was only the 8th
of February? and this river is never in that state but In the
month of September. The date is exact, and agrees with Joinville,
who notices this same event happening on the ShroveTuesday.
As soon as the French fleet of boats appeared at the mouth of
the canal of Mehale, the Muslims quitted their hiding-place, and
attacked them. While the two fleets were engaged, other boats
left Mansoura filled with soldiers, and fell ml the rear of the
French. It was in vain they sought to escape by flight: a thousand
Christians were killed or made prisoners.
In this defeat, fifty-two of their boats laden with provision
were taken, and their communication with Damietta by the navigation
of the Nile was cut off, so that within a short time the whole
army suffered the most terrible famine. The Muslims surrounded
them on all sides, and they could neither advance nor retreat.
On the 1st of the moon Zilhige (March 7), the French surprised
seven boats; but the troops on board had the good fortune to escape.
In spite of the superiority of the Egyptians on the Nile, they
attempted to bring up another convoy from Damietta, but they lost
it: thirty-two of their boats were taken and carried to Mansoura,
on the 9th of the same moon. This new loss filled the measure
of their woes, and caused them to propose a truce and send ambassadors
to treat of it with the sultan. The emir Zeineddin and the cadi
Bedreddin were ordered to meet and confer with them, when the
French offered to surrender Damietta, on condition that .Jerusalem,
and some other places in Syria, should be given in exchange for
it. This proposal was rejected, and the conferences broken up.
On Friday, the 27th of the moon Zilhige (April 1), the French
set fire to all their machines of war and timber for building,
and rendered almost all their boats unfit for use. During the
night of Tuesday,* the 3rd day of the moon Mahasem (April 5),
in the year of the Hegira 648, the whole of the French army decamped,
and took the road to Damietta. Some boats which they had reserved
fell down the Nile at the same time. The Muslims having, at break
of day of the Wednesday, perceived the retreat of the French,
pursued and attacked them.
Note* Joinville dates
this event on the Tuesday evening after the octave of Easter.
The heat of the combat was at Fariskour. The French were defeated
and put to flight: ten thousand of their men fell on the field
of battle, some say thirty thousand. Upwards of one hundred thousand
horsemen, infantry, trades-people, and others, were made slaves.
The booty was immense in horses, mules, tents, and other riches.
There were but one hundred slain on the side of the Muslims. The
Baharite slaves, under the command of Bibars Elbondukdari, performed
in this battle signal acts of valour. The king of France had retired,
with a few of his lords, to a small hillock, and surrendered himself,
under promise of his life being spared, to the eunuch Djemaddelin
MahsunElsalihi: he was bound with a chain, and in this state
conducted to Mansoura, where he was confined in the house of Ibrahimben
Lokman, secretary to the sultan, and under the guard of the eunuch
Sahil. The king's brother was made prisoner at the same time,
and carried to the same house. The sultan provided for their subsistence.
The number of slaves was so great, it was embarrassing, and the
sultan gave orders to SeifeddinJousefbentardi
to put them to death. Every night this cruel minister of the vengeance
of his master had from three to four hundred of the prisoners
brought from their places of confinement, and, after he had caused
them to be beheaded, their bodies were thrown into the Nile; in
this manner perished one hundred thousand of the French.
The sultan departed from Mansoura, and went to Fariskour where
he had pitched a most magnificent tent. He had also built a tower
of wood over the Nile; and, being freed from a disagreeable war,
he there gave himself up to all sorts of debauchery.
The victory he had just gained was so brilliant that be was eager
to make all who were subjected to him acquainted with it. He wrote
with his own hand a letter in the following terms, to the emir
DjemalEddenbenJagmour, governor of Damascus:
" Thanks be given to the All-powerful, who has changed our
grief to joy: it is to him alone we owe the victory. The favours
he has condescended to shower upon us are innumerable, but this
last is most precious. You will announce to the people of Damascus,
or rather to all Muslims, that God has enabled us to gain a complete
victory over the Christians, at the moment they had conspired
" On Monday, the first day of this year, we opened our treasury,
and distributed riches and arms to our faithful soldiers. We had
called to our succour the Arabian tribes, and a numberless multitude
of soldiers ranged themselves under our standards. On the nights
between Tuesday and Wednesday, our enemies abandoned their camp
with all their baggage, and marched towards Damietta: in spite
of the obscurity of the night, we pursued them, and thirty thousand
of them were left dead on the field, not including those who precipitated
themselves into the Nile. We have beside slain our very numerous
prisoners, and thrown their bodies into the same river. Their
king had retreated to Minieh: he has implored our clemency, and
we have granted him his life, and paid him all the honours due
to his rank. We have regained Damietta."
The sultan, with this letter, sent the king<'s cap, which had
fallen in the combat: it was of scarlet, lined with a fine fur.
The governor of Damascus put the king's cap on his own head when
he read to the public the sultan's letter. A poet made these verses
on the occasion:
" The cap of the French was whiter than paper: our sabres
have dyed it with the blood of the enemy, and have changed its
The gloomy and retired life the sultan led had irritated the minds
of his people. He had no confidence but in a certain number of
favourites, whom he had brought with him from HunsKeifa,
and whom he had invested with the principal offices of the state,
in the room of the ancient ministers of his father. Above all,
he shewed a decided hatred to the Mamelukes, although they had
contributed so greatly to the last victory. His debaucheries exhausted
his revenue; and, to supply the deficiencies, he forced the sultana
ChegeretEddur to render him an account of the riches of
his father. The sultana, in alarm, implored the protection of
the Mamelukes, representing to them the services she had done
the state in very difficult times, and the ingratitude of TouranChah,
who was indebted to her for the crown he wore. These slaves, already
irritated against TouranChah, did not hesitate to take the
part of the sultana, and resolved to assassinate the prince. To
execute this design, they fixed on the moment when he was at table;
BibarsElbondukdari gave him the first blow with his sabre,
and, though he parried it with his hand, he lost his fingers.
He then fled to the tower which he had built on the banks of the
Nile, and which was but a short distance from his tent. The conspirators
followed him, and, finding he had closed the door, set fire to
it. The whole army saw what was passing; but, as he was a prince
universally detested, no one came forward in his defence.
It was in vain he cried from the top of the tower, that he would
abdicate his throne, and return to HunsKeifa; the assassins
were inflexible. The flames at length gaining on the tower, he
attempted to leap into the Nile; but his dress caught as he was
falling, and he remained some time suspended in the air. In this
state, he received many wounds from sabres, and then fell into
the river, where he was drowned. Thus iron, fire, and water contributed
to put an end to his life. His body continued three days on the
bank of the Nile, without any one daring to give it sepulture.
At length, the ambassador from the caliph of Baghdad obtained
permission, and had it buried.
This cruel prince, when he ascended the throne, had his brother,
AdilChah, strangled. Four Mameluke slaves had been ordered
to execute this; but the fratricide did not long remain unpunished,
and these same four slaves were the most bitter in putting him
to death. With this prince was extinguished the dynasty of the
Ayyubids, who had governed Egypt eighty years, under eight different
After the massacre of TouranChah, the sultana Chegeret-Eddur
was declared sovereign of Egypt; she was the first slave who had
reigned over this country. This princess was a Turk, but others
said an Armenian. The sultan Nedjm-Eddin had bought her, and loved
her so desperately that he carried her with him to his wars, and
never quitted her. She had a son by the sultan, called Khalil,
but who died when very young. The emir AzeddinAibegh, of
the Turcoman nation, was appointed general of the army; and the
name of the sultana was imprinted on the coin.
The emir AbouAli was nominated to treat with the king of
France for his ransom, and for the surrender of Damietta. After
many conferences and disputes, it was agreed that the French should
evacuate Damietta, and that the king, and all prisoners in Egypt,
should be set at liberty, on condition of paying down one half
of such ransom as should be fixed on. The king of France sent
orders to the governor of Damietta to surrender that town: but
he refused to obey, and new orders were necessary. At last it
was given up to the Muslims, after having remained eleven months
in the hands of the enemy. The king paid four hundred thousand
pieces of gold, as well for his own ransom as for that of the
queen, his brother, and the other lords that had accompanied him.
All the Franks that bad been made prisoners during the reigns
of the sultans HadilKamil, SalihNedjmEddin,
and TouranChah, obtained their liberty: they amounted to
twelve thousand one hundred men and ten women. The king, with
all the French, crossed to the westward branch of the Nile, and
embarked on a Saturday for Acre.*
Note* 7th May, 1250. Joinville
says the Saturday after Ascension day.
The poet, EssahibGiemalEddenBenMatroub
made, on the departure of this prince, the following verses:
" Bear to the king of France, when you shall see him, these
words, traced by a partisan of truth: The death of the servants
of the Messiah has been the reward given to you by God.
" You have landed in Egypt, thinking to take possession of
it. You have imagined that it was only peopled with cowards !
you who are a drum filled with wind.
" You thought that the moment to destroy the Muslims was
arrive(l; and this false idea has smoothed, in your eyes, every
" By your excellent conduct, you have abandoned your soldiers
on the plains of Egypt, and the tomb has gaped under their feet.
" What now remains of the seventy thousand who accompanied
you? Dead, wounded, and prisoners !
" May God inspire you often with similar designs ! They will
cause the ruin of all Christians, and Egypt will have no longer
to dread any thing from their rage.
" Without doubt, your priests announced victories to you:
their predictions were false.
" Refer yourselves to a more enlightened oracle.
" Should the desire of revenge urge you to return to Egypt,
be assured the house of Lokman still remains, that the chain is
ready prepared, and the eunuch awake."*
Note*. The poet, in this
stanza, alludes to the prison of St. Louis and the eunuch who
Great rejoicings were made at Cairo and throughout Egypt, for
the restoration of Damietta. The army broke up its encampment,
and returned to the capital, when the sultana loaded the officers
with presents, and her liberalities extended to the meanest soldier.
The king of France,* having fortunately escaped from the hands
of the Egyptians, resolved to make war against the kingdom of
Tunis. He chose a time when a horrible famine ravaged Africa,
and sent an ambassador to the pope, whom the Christians consider
as the vicar of the Messiah. This pontiff gave him permission
to take for the support of this war the wealth of churches. He
also sent ambassadors to all the kings in Christendom, to demand
assistance, and to engage them to unite with him in this expedition.
The kings of England, of Scotland, and of Aragon, the count of
Toulouse, and many other Christian princes, accepted of his invitation.
Note* The Egyptians repented
having suffered the king of France to escape from their hands,
for it was commonly reported that he was meditating another war
against Egypt. Makrisi, in the description of this kingdom, says,
that this report was renewed under the reign of BibarsAlbondukdari.
This sultan assembled his council, when it was resolved, that,
in order to gain access to succour Damietta, which had lately
been rebuilt, not far from the site of the ancient town, that
had been ruined, a bridge should be constructed from Kiloub to
the town. Kiloub was a village two days' march distant from Damietta,
and when the Nile is at its height, the road to that village is
impassable. The emir Achoub, one of the Mameluke chiefs, had the
superintendence of it. Thirty thousand men were employed in building
this bridge, and six hundred oxen transported materials and earth.
This bridge was finished in a month. It was two days' march in
length, and six horsemen could pass it in front. This bridge,
however, could not be very high, since it was not built over the
Nile where it would have been impossible to construct one and
this proves it was erected on the land, and of use only in the
time of inundations. It was rather a causeway than a bridge, and
sufficiently high to be above the country flooded by the Nile.
Similar ones are built at this day, to prevent the land from being
to the emir Abizikeria, then reigned at Tunis. The report of this
intended expedition came to his ears, and he sent an ambassador
to the king of France to sue for peace, offering eighty thousand
pieces of gold to obtain it. The king took the money, but did
not the less carry his arms into Africa. He landed on the shore
of the plains of Carthage, and laid siege to Tunis the last day
of the moon Zilkade, in the 668th year of the Hegira (July 21,
His army was composed of thirty thousand infantry and six thousand
cavalry. The siege lasted six months.
On the 15th of the month Muharsem, the first month of the year
669, there was a bloody battle, in which numbers were slain on
each side. The Tunisians were on the point of being destroyed,
when the death of the king of France changed the face of affairs.
The French, after this event, only thought of making peace and
returning to their own country.
One IsmaelErreian, an inhabitant of Tunis, made the following
verses during the siege:-
" Frenchman, art thou ignorant that Tunis is the sister of
Cairo? Think on the fate that awaits thee ! Thou wilt find before
this town thy tomb, instead of the house of Lokman; and the two
terrible angels, Munkir and Nakir, will take the place of the
Note* Munkir and Nakir
are two angels who, according to the Muslim creed, interrogate
the dead the moment they are in the grave. They begin their interrogatories
with these words, "Who is thy Lord?" and "Who is
This king of France had a good understanding, but was of an artful
Note* It is disgraceful
to Makrisi, otherwise a tolerably faithful historian, to suffer
himself to be blinded by the common aversion of Muslims to Christians.
Source: Makrisi, Essulouk li Mariset il Muluk [The Road
to Knowledge of the Return of Kings], in Chronicles of
the Crusades, ed. H.G.B. (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1848: reissued
New York: AMS Press, 1969), pp. 535-556
Some emendations have been made to the printed text:
- Where the text uses "Alcoran", here is used "
- Where the text uses "Bagdad", here is used "Baghdad"
- Where the text uses "Eioubite", here is used "Ayyubid"
- Where the text uses "mussulmen", here is used "Muslim"
- Where the text uses "Mahommedan", here
is used "Muslim"
- Where the text uses "Mahommed", here is used "Muhammad"
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© Paul Halsall December 1997