The Use of Fortification as a Political Instrument by the Ayyubids and the Mamluks in Bilad al-Sham and in Egypt (Twelfth-Thirteenth Centuries)
By Benjamin Michaudel
Mamluk Studies Review, Vol. 11, no. 1 (2007)
Introduction: Fortification played a major role in the management of conflicts between Franks and Muslims in Bilad al-Sham at the time of the Crusades. In addition to protecting the borders, fortifications preserved the local iqta’-based economy. Between the end of the twelfth and the end of the thirteenth centuries, Ayyubid and Mamluk rulers used fortification to consolidate their power in Muslim and former Frankish territory. This political use of Islamic fortification knew three distinct stages of development between the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries, parallel with the technical evolution of Islamic military architecture and contemporary with political changes in Bilad al-Sham and Egypt.
Beginning in 1170/1171, Salah al-Din built fortifications as the Fatimid vizier of Egypt. His considerations were primarily defensive in this period, following the Frankish campaign of 1168 that led to the siege of Cairo, and the Frankish-Byzantine naval expedition against Damietta in 1169. Thus, Salah al-Din ordered the restoration of the Fatimid walls of Cairo, conquered the castle of Ayla on the Red Sea, and made improvements to the fortifications of Alexandria.