The battle of Marj Dābiq (Arabic language: مرج دابق, meaning "the meadow of Dābiq" ) was a decisive military clash in Middle Eastern history, fought on 24 August 1516, near the town of Dabiq, 44 km north of Halab (Aleppo), Syria.
Sultan Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri spent the winter of 1515 and the spring of 1516 in preparations for an army with which he proposed marching to the disturbed confines of Asia Minor, and thus being ready for all contingencies. When just about to start, an Embassy arrived from Selim I promising, still in friendly terms, to appoint, as he had been asked, an Egyptian vassal to Dulkadirids, and reopen the frontier to the traffic of goods and slaves. It was by summer on May 18, 1516 when Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri started from Cairo with a numerous force (reportedly 20,000 knights), appointed well in all respects but in artillery. He left Al-Ashraf Tuman bay II at the helm of things in Cairo, and marched in great pomp with music, singing and festivity. There followed fifteen Emirs of a thousand, besides many of less degree ; 5000 of his own Mamluks, with the militia ; and all this supplemented as he passed along by Syrian and Bedouin contingents ; so that they did not want for numbers.
The high Officers of State, Caliph Al-Mutawakkil III, Sheikhs and Courtiers, with Muezzins, Doctors and Musicians, followed in his train. On the way he received also Ahmed, son of the late Pretender to the Ottoman throne (Selim I's nephew), and carried him along with courtly honors in the hope of drawing over his sympathizers from the Ottoman force. Advancing slowly Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri entered Damascus on June 9, with carpets spread in his pathway, while European merchants scattered gold, amongst the crowd. After a few days' stay he went forward leisurely, received at Homs and Hama with festivities, towards Halab. Meanwhile another Embassy arrived from the Ottoman camp which, in deceptive guise, brought costly gifts to the Sultan and also to the Caliph Al-Mutawakkil III and Vizier, with the request of Selim I for a supply of Egyptian sugar and confectionery. It was also intimated that legal pronouncements against the Shah of Persia Ismail I had forced him again to prepare for war and take the field. The Chancellor Mughla Baig was sent with presents in return; but by the time he reached the Ottoman camp, Selim I had thrown off the garb of peace; and now to show his contempt of the Egyptians, treated the Embassy ignominiously, and sent back the Chancellor shaven and shorn, and mounted on a lame and wretched animal, with the rest on foot.
Betrayal in the Mamluk camp
At Halab, Khai'r Bey the Mamluk Governor, who was secretly with the Porte (though the Sultan, advised of this by the Governor of Damascus, discredited the report), in order to veil his treachery gave him all the more splendid a reception; but the inhabitants were much enraged against the Mamluks for the outrages they perpetrated in the city. It was just then that Mughla Baig returning in wretched plight, brought tidings of the hostile attitude of Selim I, and near approach of the Turkish host. All doubt now removed as to what was before them, a fresh oath of allegiance was taken by Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri from the Emirs, Qadis, and royal Mamluks; presents also were distributed to them, which the other Mamluks not receiving were much displeased. The Sultan was again warned of Khayr Baig’s disloyalty, and advised to put him out of the way but, dissuaded by the Emir Janberdi Al-Ghazali.
The army then set forward, and on August 20, 1516 encamping on the plain of Marj Dabiq, a day's journey north of Halab, awaited there the enemy's approach; for on this plain it was that the Empire's fate was now to be decided. The Egyptians, except the royal Mamluks whom the Sultan sought to spare, fought well; and at one time the Turkish outlook was so bad, that Selim I had thoughts of falling back. But in the end, the Ottomans, superior both in numbers and artillery gained the day. Khayr Baig hastened the end by signaling retreat. The Egyptians were soon in full flight towards Damascus for the gates of Aleppo were closed against them but the Caliph Al-Mutawakkil III and some chief Emirs went over to the enemy. Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri himself fell upon the field and his head was carried to the Conqueror.
Accounts however vary to how Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri met his end. It is said that Khayr Baig spread report of his death to precipitate the Egyptian flight. According to some the Sultan was found alive on the field, and his head cut off and buried to prevent its falling into the enemy's hands. The Ottoman account is that he was beheaded by a Turk whom Sultan Selim I would have put to death, but afterwards pardoned.
Selim I, welcomed by the inhabitants as a deliverer from the excesses of the Mamluks, entered Aleppo in triumph. The Caliph he received kindly; but the Islamic Judges and Juristsche upbraided with their inability to check Mamluk misrule. Joined by Khayr Baig and other Egyptian officers, he proceeded to the Citadel.
From Halab he marched victoriously to Damascus where the utmost terror prevailed. But beyond some attempts to protect the city by flooding the plain around, nothing had been done to oppose the enemy. Action was paralyzed as usual by discord amongst the Emirs. Some thought of Emir Janberdi Al-Ghazali as Sultan, others of Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri’s son. But as the Ottomans approached, all either went over to them, or fled to Egypt. Selim I entered the city about the middle of October; and the inhabitants high and low; only too happy to escape the war, readily tendered submission to the Ottoman Conqueror. Ottoman control, despite being often jeopardized by revolts, was to last almost three centuries.
- The Mameluke; Or, Slave Dynasty of Egypt, 1260-1517, A. D. - By William Muir Published by Smith, Elder, 1896,Public Domain
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