Ibn Wasil

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[pp. 433-438]

IBN WĀSIL

(1209-1299 A.D.)

Abū ‘Abdalla Jamāl ad-dīn Ibn Wāsil al-Hāmawī. Mameluke diplomat and historian, born in Hama, died in Cairo.

EI (s.v.); GAL 1, 322.

K. mufarrij al-kurub fī akhbar Banī Ayyūb (The Dispelling of Anxieties through the History of the Ayyubids).

Covers the period 1135-1257 A.D., later continued up to 1295 A.D. by Ali Abderrahīm.

MSS (incomplete): Paris, Bibl. Nat. MSS ar. 1702 and 1703.

Ed.: G. Shayyal, 3 vols., Cairo 1954-1961.


[The Battle of the Blacks in Cairo]

There was in Cairo a eunuch called the Commissioner of the Caliphate.[1] He ruled supreme in the Palace. As the oppression of the al-Malik an-Nāṣir (Saladin) became unbearable for the Court officials (ahl al-qaṣr), they realised that their power was on the brink of the total ruin [p. 434] because of him. So they all agreed to write to the Franks [asking them] to advance into the country. If Saladin went out to drive the Franks back, they [the officials of the Court] would seize all his supporters, whom he would have left as the rear-guard at Cairo; then they would go to join the Franks in the fight against Saladin and his men and exterminate them; eventually, they would divide the country between them and the Franks.

The commissioner of the Caliphate sent a man and gave him a letter which he sewed in his shoes. They expected that by this ruse, they would escape the notice of Saladin and the other Muslims.

They pretend to blow out the light of God by their mouth, but God wants nothing but to make his light per feet, though it may displease the unbelievers.[2]

It happened that this messenger, while passing through Biʾr al-Baldāʾ (Bilbeis) drew the attention of a Turk who noticed that he was wearing worn clothing while he carried in his hands a pair of sandals completely new and unused: these were the sandals where the letter had been concealed. The Turk seized him and took him to Saladin, who had the sandals unstitched and found there the message to the Frank, on behalf of the court. Saladin took the letter and said: - 'Show me the man who wrote this letter.' They brought him a Jew. When the Jew was brought into his presence for questioning and for punishment, he declared himself a Muslim and, by that means, he saved himself [from capital punishment]. He disclosed that he had written the letter on behalf of the Court Officials. Saladin concealed the whole affair.

[p. 435] The Commissioner realized that he was in danger and feared for his life. He would not leave the Palace at all, or if he ever went out it was only for a short distance. Saladin kept feigning that he did not remember and kept him in suspense without giving any order, neither reassuring him nor arresting him.

Then the Commissioner became confident and thought that nobody wanted him anymore. He had a castle (qaṣr) in a village on the bank of the Nile near Qalyūb, called al-Khurfāniwa, (Kharqāniyyah)[3] which had a promenade and gardens. He went there to take some rest. When Saladin was informed of it, he sent a company of his men who lured him out of his safety [place], killed him and cut his head off. That happened on Wednesday 25th Dhū-l-Qa'da of this year, i.e. the year 564 H. [= 22 August 1169 A.D.].

When the Commissioner was killed, the Blacks (Sūdān) who were serving in the Palace, became restive and revolted. Their number was over fifty thousand.[4] Whenever they rose against a vizier they killed and destroyed him. When they rose, al-Malik an-Nāṣir sent against them Abū-l-Haijā as-Samīn [= ’The Father of War’, surnamed ‘the Fat One’]. A battle broke out between the two sides, (in the square between the two Palaces in Cairo. The fight was fought fiercely for two days. Every time the Blacks sought refuge in a particular area [of the town], this was set on fire. They had a large district exclusively for them, near Bab az-Zuweila, called al-Manṣūra. Saladin sent some people to set fire to that quarter together with all that was found there: goods, children and women. When this news reached them, they [p. 436] took to flight, but the swords chased them the exits of the streets were blocked before them. Then they asked for a safe conduct (amān), after they had fought so long, and were granted it. It was Saturday, the last day but one of Dhū-l-Qa'da [25 August]. They gathered together at Gīza. Al-Malik al-Mu'aẓẓam Shams ad-dawla Tūrānshāh, the brother of Saladin, marched against them with a troop of foot soldiers and slaughtered them to the last by the sword: there remained only the few who had managed to escape.

After that incident, the position of al-'Aḍid was weakened altogether, his power fell to nothing. Saladin gave orders that the quarter of the Blacks be razed to the ground without leaving a trace. Some emirs destroyed it to the foundations and turned it into a garden. The might of the Blacks disappeared as if it had never existed. (Shayyal I, pp. 174- 178).

In the month of Jumadā al-Ākhira of this year 568 H. [1172 A.D.], al-Malik al-Mu'aẓẓam Shams ad-Dawla Fakhr ad-Din Tūrānshāh b. Ayyūb, the brother of Saladin, raided Nubia. He conquered one of their fortresses called Ibrīm and took 'prisoners and spoils. They realized that the country was poor in resources. Therefore, he collected the prisoners and went back to Aswān where he distributed the spoils among his men. (ibid., pp. 228 - 229).

[On the Conquest of Nubia and the Maghrib]

Among the many favourable events which have been announced in these days, there is the news of the conquest (iftitāh) of Nubia and the advance of the army into such places that were never trodden by the hoofs of Moslem horses in by-gone ages. The armies of Egypt (ʿasākir miṣr) have also occupied Barqa and the neighbouring fortresses and have subjugated all the strong-[p. 437]-holds up to the frontier of the Maghrib. (Paris MS ar. 1702, fol. 40 r; Shayyal I, p. 235).

This Kanz was one of the leading chieftains in Egypt. He migrated to Aswān and settled there and never ceased plotting. He rallied the Blacks (as-sūdān) around him and let them believe that he would conquer the whole country and restore the Egyptian [Fatimite] dynasty to its previous power and prestige. Those who were followers of the Isma'ili sect (ra'ī al-ismā’iliyyīn) and wished the return of the Fatimite dynasty joined him in great numbers. They were Blacks.

When their number was sufficiently great, he marched on Qos and its districts. The Sultan al-Malik an-Nāṣir - of blessed memory - sent a numerous army against him and appointed his own brother al-Malik al-'Ādil Sayf ad-dīn Abū Bakr command-in-chief. Al-Malik al-'Ādil marched until he met the multitude of natives (qawm). Al-Kanz had previously murdered the brother of Ḥisām ad-dīn Abū-l- Hayjā' as-samīn and some of his men who had obtained landed estates [in Upper Egypt]. When Al-Malik al-'Ādil was on march, they [the Blacks] joined al-Kanz's men at Tūd (Tawd) and made one army. The army of al-Malik al-'Ādil laid the siege on the town, took it and exterminated the population by the sword. Then they pursued al-Kanz who fled with the remainder of his men. He was utterly defeated and killed: his men were all killed or taken prisoners. Thus the fire of the revolt of the Egyptians was put off for good. (ibid. II, p. 16).

In the year 569 H./1173 A.D., al-Malik an-Nāṣir Saladin sent his brother al-Malik al-Mu'aẓẓam Shams ad-Dawla Tūrānshāh Ayyūb to conquer Yemen. The reason for this expedition was that after they had occupied Egypt, Saladin and his family were in a constant fear that Nureddin might march on Egypt and take it from their hands. So they planned to conquer a kingdom where they might find shelter [p. 438] and settle in peaceful possession. Were Nureddin successful in driving them out of Egypt, they would retire there and settle. Thereupon Saladin decided to send his brother to conquer Nubia; his brother- actually went there but he was not pleased with it, as already mentioned. He therefore returned to Egypt. (Paris MS arab. 1702, fol. 42 r; Shayyal II, p. 237

  1. “His name and title were: Jawhar, the Commissioner of the Caliphate. He was one of the two eunuchs superintendents who practically ruled inside the king’s palace.” [Editor’s note].
  2. Koran, IX, 32.
  3. Different readings are possible according to dotting [Cf. Abū Shāma].
  4. Other Writers put the figure at 5,000 [five thousand].