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Medieval Sourcebook:
Al-Makrisi:
Account of the Crusade of St. Louis

Editor's Introduction [1848]

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 them.

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 them.

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 at Gaza.*

Note * Gaza, a town in Palestine near the sea. Its territory is very fertile, particularly in palm­trees.

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 prisons.

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 to Napoulous.

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 divisions.

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 their king.

The Muslims made some movements to prevent their landing; and the emirs Nedjm­Eddin and Sarimeddin were slain in these skirmishes.

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 Christians.

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 garrison.

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.

Note* Melikul­Salih­Nedjm­Eddin, 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, 1250
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 of Burgundy.

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 (Feb. 8).

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 our ruin.
" 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 colour."

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 kings.

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 difficulty.
" 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 guarded him.

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 overflowed.

Abouabdoullah­Muhammad­Elmoustausir­Billah, son 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, AD 1270).

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 eunuch Sahil."*
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 thy prophet?"

This king of France had a good understanding, but was of an artful character.*

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 " Qu'ran"
  • 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
halsall@murray.fordham.edu