Sultans with Horns: The Political Significance of Headgear in the Mamluk Empire

Sultans with Horns: The Political Significance of Headgear in the Mamluk Empire

By Albrecht Fuess

Mamluk Studies Review, Vol.12:2 (2008)

Introduction: When the number of Ottomans increased in Cairo [after the Ottoman conquest in Muḥarram 923/February 1517] they started to ask the awlād al-nās whom they saw wearing the red zamṭ or the takhfīfah [both were distinctive Mamluk hats]: Are you a Circassian? And then they cut their heads of. Thereafter all the awlād al-nās, even the sons of the [high ranking] amirs and the sons of former sultans, quit wearing the takhāfīf and the zumūṭ in Egypt.

Mamluks were apprehended by the Ottomans throughout Egypt in these early days of Ottoman rule and they were easily recognizable by their headgear. Therefore many of them and their sons got rid of their hats as they represented a potential threat to their lives. However, after the first impetus of the conquest had slowed down, Mamluks were allowed to wear the red zamṭ again for a while by the new Ottoman governor of Egypt, Khāyrbak, a former Mamluk amir himself. In the summer of 924/1518 this practice was then inally forbidden, but some Circassian Mamluks disobeyed the order and the governor reinstituted it in Shawwāl 927/September 1521, saying that anyone still wearing the red zamṭ after the announcement, whether Mamluk, son of a Mamluk, or even Ottoman, would be hanged without mercy. Mamluk headgear thereafter disappeared from Egyptian heads as did the specific Turkish names of the Mamluks, which had marked their elite status for centuries. From now on, it was Ottoman turbans and Arabic names for the remaining Mamluks.

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