Military Wiki
Portuguese–Mamluk naval war
Portuguese presence in the Indian Ocean in the early 16th century.
LocationIndian Ocean
Result Portuguese victory
Flag of Portugal (1495).svg Portugal Mameluke Flag.svg Mamluk Sultanate
Fictitious Ottoman flag 1.svg Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Portugal (1495).svg Manuel I Mameluke Flag.svg Qansuh al-Ghuri
Fictitious Ottoman flag 1.svg Selim I

The Portuguese–Mamluk naval war was a naval conflict between the Egyptian state of the Mamluks and the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean, following the expansion of the Portuguese after sailing around the Cape of Good Hope in 1497. The conflict took place during the early part of the 16th century, from 1505 to the fall of the Mamluk Sultanate in 1517.



Following the Portuguese bombardment of Calicut in 1500–01 by the 2nd Portuguese India Armada under Cabral, the spice trade linking India to Egypt and then Venice was seriously diminished and prices shot up.[1] Arab shipping was also being attacked directly: in 1503, a first Egyptian ship was robbed and sunk by the Portuguese as it was returning from India.[2] In 1504, 17 Arab ships were destroyed by the Portuguese in the Indian harbour of Panane.[2]

The 7th Portuguese India Armada battled in the Indian Ocean from 1505.

In 1504, the Mamluk Sultan Qansuh al-Ghuri first sent an envoy to the Pope, in the person of the Grand Prior of the Sinai Monastery, warning that if the Pope did not stop the exactions of the Portuguese against Muslims, he would bring ruin to the Christian Holy Place in the Levant and to the Christians living in his realm.[2][3]

In 1504, the Venetians, who shared common interests with the Mamluks in the spice trade and desired to eliminate the Portuguese challenge if possible, sent envoy Francesco Teldi to Cairo.[4] Teldi tried to find a level of cooperation between the two realms, encouraging the Mamluks to block Portuguese navigations.[4] The Venetians claimed they could not intervene directly, and encouraged the Mamluk Sultan Qansuh al-Ghuri to take action by getting into contact with Indian princes at Cochin and Cananor to entice them not to trade with the Portuguese, and the Sultans of Calicut and Cambay to fight against them.[4] Some sort of alliance was thus concluded between the Venetians and the Mamluks against the Portuguese.[5] There were claims, voiced during the War of the League of Cambrai, that the Venetians had supplied the Mamluks with weapons and skilled shipwrights.[1]

The Mamluks however had little inclination for naval operations: "The war against the Portuguese, being mainly a naval war, was entirely alien to the Mamluk and little to his taste. The navy and everything connected with it was despised by the land-minded Mamluk horsemen".[6]

The Portuguese however kept blockading the Red Sea, and arresting Muslim merchant ships.[3]

Mamluk expedition (1505)

In 1505 the Mamluk Sultan Qansuh al-Ghuri ordered the first expedition against the Portuguese. The fleet was built with timber and weapons from the Ottoman Empire, and crews and shipwrights were recruited throughout the eastern Mediterranean.[1] The expedition, under Amir Husain Al-Kurdi, left Suez in November and travelled by sea to Jidda, where they fortified the city.[3][4] The fleet then prepared itself to go to Aden.[3] This coincided with the dispatch of the 7th Portuguese India Armada into the Indian Ocean, under Francisco de Almeida.

In 1506, another fleet under Afonso de Albuquerque started to raid the coasts of Arabia and the Horn of Africa, after defeating a Muslim fleet.[7] In 1507, a fleet of about 20 Portuguese ships entered the Red Sea and raided Indian shipping there, bringing the Mamluk Indian trade to near collapse.[3] The Portuguese attempted to establish a base at Socotra in 1507 in order to stop the Mamluk trade through the Red Sea, but the island proved too inhospitable and was ineffective in that role, so that the Portuguese left after a few months.[8]

In August–September 1507, the Mamluk fleet of about 50 vessels was stationed at Aden, preparing to go to India.[3]

Battle of Chaul (1508)

The fleet, again under Amir Husain Al-Kurdi, was sent to India in 1507.[4] The Mamluks allied themselves with the Muslim Sultanate of Gujarat, the first naval power of India at that time.[9] The fleet was warmly welcome in Diu, and Husain Al-Kurdi joined Meliqueaz, a Mamluk admiral of Russian origin serving Gujarat, as leader of the Mamluk fleet at the battle of Chaul, where they faced and defeated the fleet of Lourenço de Almeida, son of the Portuguese viceroy of India, D. Francisco de Almeida.[9][10]

Battle of Diu (1509)

Following this battle, the Portuguese fiercely fought back led by the viceroy himself, who was seeking to avenge the death of his son and free the Portuguese prisoners made at Chaul in 1508. The Portuguese eventually succeeded in eliminating the Mamluk southern fleet in 1509 at the Battle of Diu.[11]

Mamluks resistance prevented the Portuguese from blocking Red Sea trade completely.[4] However, supply interruption was enough to force prices in Egypt to astronomical levels.[12]


Venetian diplomacy

File:Leonardo Loredano.jpg

The Venetians under Leonardo Loredano favoured the Mamluks and Ottomans against the Portuguese.

The Mamluks again attempted to secure the help of the Venetians against the Portuguese, and they did intervene by pleading their case with the Pope.[9]

The Venetians, who had been at peace with the Ottomans since the signature of the 1503 Peace Treaty by Andrea Gritti after the Ottoman–Venetian War, continued to secure peace with the Ottomans, and renewed their peace treaty in 1511, leading them to encourage the Ottomans to participate on the Mamluk side in the conflict against the Portuguese.[13]

Venetian embassy to the Mamluk Governor in Damascus in 1511, workshop of Giovanni Bellini.

The rapprochement was such that Venice authorized Ottoman provisioning in its Mediterranean ports such as Cyprus.[13] Venice also requested Ottoman support in the War of the League of Cambrai, but in vain.[13]

A Mamluk-Venetian commercial treaty was signed by the ambassador to Cairo Domenico Trevisan in 1513.[13] After that point however, and the reverses of the Mamluks and the Persians against the Ottomans, Venice increasingly favoured a rapprochement with the Ottoman Empire.[13]

Portuguese-Persian alliance

On the other hand, the Portuguese, who feared a new expedition from the Mamluks, organized a rapprochement with Persia, and endeavoured to establish an alliance, that could give bases for the Portuguese on the northern shores of the Indian Ocean and create an eastern threat for the Ottomans and the Mamluks.[13] Albuquerque received an ambassador of Shah Ismail at Goa, and returned a letter as well as an ambassador in the person of Rui Gomes.[13] In the letter to Shah Ismail, Albuquerque proposed a joint attack against the Mamluks and the Ottomans:

And if you desire to destroy the Sultan [Qansuh] by land, you can recount on great assistance from the Armada of the King my Lord by sea, and I believe that with small trouble you must gain the lordship of the city of Cairo and all his kingdoms and dependencies, and thus my Lord can give you great help by sea against the Turks, and thus his fleets by sea and you with your great forces and cavalry by land can combine to inflict great injuries upon them

—Letter from Albuquerque to Shah Ismail.[13]

Portuguese Red Sea campaign (1513)

Following their victory at the Battle of Diu and the elimination of rival Muslim fleets in the Indian Ocean, the Portuguese endeavoured to the systematic destruction of Muslim commercial shipping.[7]

In 1513, Albuquerque led a campaign against the Red Sea in order to stop completely Mamluk trade with India, and defeat Mamluk plans to send a fleet to India.[14] On February 7, 1513, he left Goa with 1,700 Portuguese and 1,000 Indian men in 24 ships.[14] Albuquerque landed at Aden on 26 March 1513, at the entrance of the Red Sea and attempted to take the city, but he was repulsed.[8] Sailing into the Red Sea, he destroyed the port of Kamaran (June and July 1513). He failed to sail to Jeddah due to contrary winds, and then withdrew to India after again bombarding Aden.[8]

Albuquerque thus failed to stop the spice trade through the Red Sea and to establish a trade monopoly for the Europe-India spice trade.[8] This campaign however had been a major threat to the Mamluk harbour of Suez and to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which put the Mamluk Sultan under tremendous pressure. The Mamluk Sultan Qansuh was thus forced to seek Ottoman assistance, although the Ottomans had been a traditional rival, in his resistance against the Portuguese.[15]

Ottoman-Mamluk campaign (1514–17)

The Mamluks and Ottomans under Selman Reis defended Jiddah against a Portuguese attack in 1517.

In 1514–16 the Ottomans cooperated with the Mamluks against the Portuguese.[9] They provided an Ottoman commander in the person of Selman Reis, as well as firearms. Selman Reis entered the service of the Mamluks, and led a group of 2,000 armed Levantines, possibly against the own wishes of the Ottoman Sultan Selim I, and met with this force with the Sultan Qansuh at Suez in April 1514.[15][16] Artillery defenses were also established in Jiddah and Alexandria.[15] This concentration on the Portuguese front had the ultimate effect however of weakening the Mamluk strengths that could be put against the Ottomans in the Levant.[15] The investment was huge, as the fleet cost around 400,000 dinars to the Mamluk Sultan.[15]

Following the disruption of the spice trade between India and Mamluk Egypt by the Portuguese, Selman Reis led a Mamluk fleet of 19 ships into the Indian Ocean in 1515. He left Suez leading the fleet on 30 September 1515.[17] The fleet also included 3,000 men, 1,300 of whom were Turkish soldiers.[17] The fleet built a fortress in Kamaran, but failed to take Yemen and Aden on 17 September 1516.[17] The combined fleet was able to defend Jidda against the Portuguese in 1517, but by then the war between the Ottomans and the Mamluks was already raging on.[9]

As a consequence, the Portuguese were able to set up trading posts in the Indian subcontinent, and take-over the spice trade to Europe, which had been a major source of revenues for the Mamluk state.[11] The Mamluk Empire became financially crippled, and was finally vanquished by the Ottoman Empire under Selim I, on land, in the Ottoman–Mamluk War (1516–17). Cairo was captured by the Ottomans on January 26, 1517, leading to the disintegration of the Mamluk Empire.[11]

Ottoman takeover

The Ottomans, on the other hand, had thus managed to establish a strong presence in the Indian Ocean, which they would further develop during the rest of the century.[15] The Ottomans took up the task of fighting the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean, especially through their admiral Selman Reis, who in 1525 occupied the Aden and Yemen with a fleet of 18 ships and 299 cannons, forcing the Portuguese to retreat.[18] The Ottoman failed however in the 1538 Siege of Diu.

Egypt, on the other hand, lost its status as a great power, and, deprived of the resources of the Indian Ocean trade, essentially faded into the background for the next three centuries.[19]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Venice, a maritime republic by Frederic Chapin Lane p.290
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam 1913–1936 by M. Th. Houtsma p.720ff
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Mecca: a literary history of the Muslim Holy Land by Francis E. Peters p.176ff
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Ottoman seapower and Levantine diplomacy in the age of discovery by Palmira Johnson Brummett p.34ff
  5. "During the reign of el-Ghuri, a far-sighted policy led the Sultan to enter into an alliance with the Venetians to oppose the installation of the Portuguese in India. Unfortunately the Mamluk fleet carried insufficient fire-power" in Splendours of an Islamic world by Henri Stierlin,Anne Stierlin p.40
  6. Ayalon, quoted in Mecca: a literary history of the Muslim Holy Land by Francis E. Peters p.434 Note 82
  7. 7.0 7.1 A military history of modern Egypt: from the Ottoman Conquest to the Ramadan War by Andrew James McGregor p.20ff
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 A history of Portuguese overseas expansion, 1400–1668 by M. D. D. Newitt p.87ff
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Firearms: a global history to 1700 by Kenneth Warren Chase p.103ff
  10. "The Mamluk fleet was warmly greeted at Diu by its governor, Malik Ayyaz, a Russian Mamluk who had found favor with the king of Gujarat. Gujarat, which traded mainly through the Red Sea and Egypt, continued to resist the Portuguese" in A military history of modern Egypt: from the Ottoman Conquest to the Ramadan War by Andrew James McGregor p.20
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Islam at war: a history by George F. Nafziger, Mark W. Walton p.69
  12. Trade and civilisation in the Indian Ocean by K. N. Chaudhuri p.67
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 Ottoman seapower and Levantine diplomacy in the age of discovery by Palmira Johnson Brummett p.45ff
  14. 14.0 14.1 Rise of Portuguese Power in India by R.S. Whiteway p.153ff
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 Ottoman seapower and Levantine diplomacy in the age of discovery by Palmira Johnson Brummett p.118
  16. The Ottoman Age of Exploration Giancarlo Casale p.32
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, Volume 1, by Halil İnalcik p.321ff
  18. An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire by Halil İnalcik p.323
  19. A military history of modern Egypt: from the Ottoman Conquest to the Ramadan War by Andrew James McGregor p.22

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