The Financial Reforms of Sultan Qāytbāy

The Financial Reforms of Sultan Qāytbāy

By Igarashi Daisuke

Mamluk Studies Review, Vol.13:1 (2009)

Introduction: The expansion of the Ottoman Empire from the middle of the ninth/fifteenth century redrew the power map in northern Syria and eastern Anatolia, threatening the hegemony of the Mamluk sultanate over the region. It also threatened the security of the sultanate, which had traditionally employed a defensive strategy of subordinating local rulers under its authority to protect its border areas. Because of frequent military conflicts with the Dulkadir (Dhū al-Qādir), Aqquyunlu, and the Ottomans which arose after 870/1455–56, the Mamluk sultanate suffered from a massive manpower and fiscal burden. Accordingly, combined with the dysfunction of the superannuated governmental machinery, the Mamluk sultanate entered a period of profound crisis wherein constant structural, political, and economic instability ensued for half a century until the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 922/1517.

Under these circumstances, al-Ashraf Qāytbāy (r. 872–901/1468–96) and al- Ashraf Qānṣūh al-Ghawrī (r. 906–22/1501–16), two prominent sultans in the late Mamluk era, made persistent efforts to bolster the regime throughout their long reigns. They took two courses of action—reconstruction of the existing state machinery and adoption of new military and financial measures to overcome the crisis. Carl F. Petry’s works have revealed the military innovation of introducing firearms and establishing waqfs (religious endowments) as financial resources sustaining the policy.  Miura Toru, who has studied Damascus in this period, suggests that the adoption of a new financial policy imposing taxes on private and waqf properties in urban areas and the formation of a new army comprising non-Mamluk infantry equipped with firearms were characteristic features of the late Mamluks.

Incidentally, as I have made clear in my previous articles, the financial history of the Circassian Mamluks before the enthronement of Qāytbāy can best be understood from the perspective of the constant financial difficulties caused mainly by the alienation of state lands (amlāk bayt al-māl) and the sultans’ responses to this problem, which showed two major trends. The first resulted from the reorganization of government finances which followed upon the establishment of al-Dīwān al-Mufrad (the independent bureau) by al-Ẓāhir Barqūq, the first sultan of the Circassian Mamluks (r. 784–91, 792–801/1382–89, 1390–99), and the second resulted from the development of the sultanic fisc following Barqūq’s establishment of the Dīwān al-Amlāk (the bureau of the sultan’s private real estate). I believe that the financial history of the late Mamluk era after Qāytbāy’s enthronement should be reconsidered from the perspective of these two trends affecting the financial structure of the sultanate.

From this perspective, I approach the financial policies of Qāytbāy from two angles: first, the reconstruction of the state’s finances initiated just after his enthronement in 872/1468; and second, his efforts, especially from around 880/1475, to accumulate money and property under his control, and the consequent expansion of the role of the sultanic fisc in the sphere of administration. Through this analysis, I will show that the financial system of the period followed the two aforementioned trends throughout the Circassian Mamluk period, and that the regime of the Mamluk sultanate itself was maintained based on the sultanic fisc, the relative importance of which was increasing in the period under consideration. I believe that this investigation can provide a new perspective on the overall picture of “decline” in this period, as well as illuminate the process by which the Mamluk regime was brought to an end.

Click here to read/download this article (PDF file)

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

medievalverse magazine