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Article

Circassian Mamluks’ Origins as a Subject of Myth-Making (According to the Materials of Arabic Sources from 15th and 17th c.)

Myth, legend, and history appear as a constituent component in the ideology of a ruling elite. If the ruling elite is foreign, the ideology acquires a distinctive colouring. The noble lineage that could be traced to the common roots shared with the autochthonous population of the country was seen by Mamluks as a tool to maintain and support their authority. A version concerning the Circassian Mamluks’ origin can be found in al-‘Ayni’s treatise which stated that the forefathers of the Circassian Sultan Tatar had been Arabs of the Ghassan tribe. The legendary version of the origin of the Circassian Mamluks narrated by this Arab author reveals an important aspect, which directed and shaped the development of the ideology of the Egyptian ruling elite: the eagerness of the Mamluk sultans with their entourage to find and demonstrate a relation, if remote and vague, to the country’s local population. In the Ottoman period of Egypt, a completely different political landscape together with a new socio-cultural reality necessitated the transforming of the myth: changed are the name of the forefather, his tribal affiliation and certain plot details. After the Ottoman conquest, the Mamluks of high military rank tried to recover and defend their lost positions. Another legendary version which was documented by an anonymous author of the 17th century authenticating the Quraysh origin of the Circassian Mamluks, proving their having a common ancestor with the prophet Muhammad was to sanctify Mamluk Beys’ rule and make it seem legitimate. This article is an output of the research project "“Minority” vs “Majority” in the Historical and Cultural Continuum of Asia and Africa" implemented as part of the Basic Research Program at the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE).