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Princesses Born to Concubines: A First Visit to the Women of the Abbasid Household in Late Medieval Cairo

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Abstract

This article presents a study of the women of the Abbasid household in 8th-/14th- and 9th-/15th-century Cairo.1 Following a discussion of the size and growth of the Abbasid family, the article juxtaposes a late fourteenth-century marriage document, which extolls the virtues of unions made with the caliph’s family, against the historical record of marriages made by Abbasid and non-Abbasid spouses in search of social capital. The study seeks to understand the meaning attached to marriages made with Abbasid family members, and the social advantages the caliphal family hoped to gain in return. By thus reconsidering the role of Abbasid concubines and princesses, we challenge preconceived notions about the agency and mobility of Abbasid family members in late medieval Cairo and demonstrate their freedom of movement in pursuing valuable marriage connections. The article is thus a contribution to broader understandings of notable women in premodern Islamicate societies.
©  , , |:./-
      
    () –
brill.com/hawwa
Princesses Born to Concubines: A First Visit
to the Women of the Abbasid Household in Late
Medieval Cairo
Mustafa Banister
Universiteit Gent, Gent, Belgium
mustafa.banister@ugent.be
Abstract
This article presents a study of the women of the Abbasid household in 8th-/14th- and
9th-/15th-century Cairo. Following a discussion of the size and growth of the Abbasid
family, the article juxtaposes a late fourteenth-century marriage document, which ex-
tolls the virtues of unions made with the caliph’s family, against the historical record
of marriages made by Abbasid and non-Abbasid spouses in search of social capital.
The study seeks to understand the meaning attached to marriages made with Abbasid
family members, and the social advantages the caliphal family hoped to gain in return.
By thus reconsidering the role of Abbasid concubines and princesses, we challenge
preconceived notions about the agency and mobility of Abbasid family members in
late medieval Cairo and demonstrate their freedom of movement in pursuing valuable
marriage connections. The article is thus a contribution to broader understandings of
notable women in premodern Islamicate societies.
Keywords
Egypt – Abbasids – Mamluks – concubines – marriage – Cairo Sultanate
I thank Karen Moukheiber for organizing the 2016 Middle East Studies Association panel at
which I presented an earlier version of this article. I am also indebted to Rihab Ben Othmen,
Kristof D’hulster, and Carl Petry for sharing insightful feedback with me. I also wish to thank
the anonymous reviewers for their suggestions.

./- |  () –
Recent studies have expanded our knowledge base on the lives, careers, and
political interplay of the shadowy men purportedly of Abbasid stock who qui-
etly occupied the caliphal oce for roughly 250 years (659–923/1261–1517) in
the late medieval Syro-Egyptian polity based in Cairo and known to modern
researchers as the “Mamlūk Sultanate”. Much less, however, is known or avail-
able about the women of this later Abbasid family. Based on evidence uncov-
ered in medieval Arabic historiographical sources and contextualized by what
is already known about marriage, divorce, and concubinage in the period, the
current article presents some observations about these little-known, though
no less “royal” Abbasid consorts, concubines, and princesses, and their social
standing to contribute to the overall visibility of elite women in the medieval
Cairo sultanate during the 8th and 9th/14th and 15th centuries.
Turkish concubines gifted to the Abbasid caliphs by the ruling elite inu-
enced the ethnic composition of the latter-day Abbasid family and helped
create new generations of “Abbasid princesses,” who forged marriage ties with
members of the Turkish and Circassian military elite as well as representatives
of the Arabic-speaking religious leadership.
As with other matters appertaining to the Abbasid caliphate in Cairo, con-
temporary sources describe a model of marriage that may or may not have
t the reality. In this case, we glean an idealized image of matrimonial links
with the Abbasid family from marriage contracts of the era and juxtapose it
against an analysis of actual marriage alliance strategies that demonstrate the
kinds of prestige, capital, or social resources available to non-Abbasid spouses
and in-laws.
It is worthwhile to identify who wed these ladies and whether they success-
fully acquired social or professional privileges afterward. The marriage rela-
tionships themselves merit a deeper scrutiny, starting with evidence found in
existing chronicles, biographical dictionaries, and chancery manuals to add
denition to the microhistorical lives and status of royal consorts, concubines,
M. Banister, The Abbasid caliphate of Cairo, 1261–1517: Out of the shadows (Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press, 2021); M. Hassan, Longing for the lost caliphate: A transregional
history (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016); M. Banister, “‘Naught remains to the
caliph but his title’: Revisiting Abbasid authority in Mamluk Cairo,Mamlūk Studies Review
18 (2014–15), 219–45.
For much of the late 8th/13th and 9th/14th centuries, the main source for incoming slaves
(both male and female) were the Turkic peoples from north of the Black Sea region. During
the subsequent period, in which the majority of slaves were taken from the mountainous
Circassian peoples during the later 8th/14th and most of the 9th/15th centuries, we have less
information about new slaves and concubines entering the Abbasid household.
   
 () – | ./-
and other notable women of the Abbasid family in Cairo as a contribution to
the social history of elite women in premodern Islamicate societies.
A Note on Extant Sources and the Nature of Information
Many 8th- and 9th-/14th- and 15th-century chroniclers found the marriages of
members of the Abbasid family noteworthy enough to include in their his-
torical narratives. The existing incidental information in the narrative sources
provides useful details on the standing of female members of the Abbasid
household (which included both family members and servants). There are
also several biographies of Abbasid women available in the twelfth volume
of al-aw al-lāmi li-ahl al-qarn al-tāsi, a biographical dictionary written by
the Egyptian Islamic scholar Muammad al-Sakhāwī (d. 902/1497). Although
these biographies provide useful data, the details they ofer on the women’s
lives, careers, and marriages are often sparse. While modern researchers have
taken long strides toward uncovering the complex personal relationships of
late medieval Syro-Egyptian scholars and their wives, mothers, daughters, and
concubines, what we can know about the social lives of the Abbasid (and in-
deed all) women is severely hampered by the limitations of our current corpus
of sources.
By way of normative or prescriptive data, I will also consider the marriage
contract drawn up for an Abbasid princess by the notable chancery scribe
Amad al-Qalqashandī (d. 821/1418), who composed at least one document
reecting the ideals associated with concluding a marriage with an Abbasid
spouse. Marriage contracts include rhetoric and idealized statements for
those who wished to marry into the Abbasid family.
Huda Lut, “al-Sakhawi’s Kitab al-Nisa as a source for the social and economic history of
Muslim women during the fteenth century A.D.,The Muslim World 71 (2) (1981), 104–24.
 Cf. Y. R apoport, “Ibn ağar al-Asqalānī, his wife, her slave-girl: Romantic triangles and po-
lygamy in 15th century Cairo,Annales Islamologiques 47 (2013), 327–51; J. Berkey, “al-Subkī
and his women,” Mamlūk Studies Review 10 (2010), 1–17; N. Rabbat, “Women in al-Maqrīzī’s
life,” Wughat Nazar 114 (2008), 48–52; L. Guo, “Tales of a medieval Cairene harem: Domestic
life in al-Biqāī’s autobiographical chronicle,” Mamlūk Studies Review 9 (1) (2005), 101–21.
K. D’hulster and J. Van Steenbergen, “Family matters: The ‘family-in-law impulse’ in Mamluk
marriage policy,Annales Islamologiques 47 (2013), 61–82.
 Amad al-Qalqashandī, ub al-a shā fī ināat al-inshā (Cairo, 1963), 14:319–21.
See also the earlier adāq document for one of the Abbasid princesses preserved in the shurū
manual of Shams al-Dīn al-Asyūī, Jawāhir al-uqūd wa-muīn al-quāt wa-l-muwaqqiīn
wa-l-shuhūd, ed. Muammad āmid al-Fiqī (Cairo: Matbaat al Sunnah al-Muammadiyya,
1955), 2:53–56.

./- |  () –
The Growth and Racial Composition of the Abbasid Family in Cairo
During the Baghdad epoch of the Abbasid caliphate from the mid-2nd/8th
century down to 656/1258, although many women associated with the caliphal
household entered as slave concubines, they went on to play signicant politi-
cal roles, notably as “mothers of the caliphs,” inside and outside the harem.
Similarly, after the successful resurrection of the Abbasid line in Cairo (which,
in 656/1258, had been wiped out in Baghdad by the Mongols), early sultans
often gifted resident caliphs with concubines, perhaps to stave of the lonely
years spent in isolation, but primarily to perpetuate the Abbasid line and pro-
duce the heirs needed to maintain the caliphal succession, which in turn fur-
nished the sultans with religious sanction and ruling legitimacy. Although
there is nothing to suggest the medieval sultans of Cairo sought Abbasid brides
for themselves, perhaps there may also have been unwillingness to make such
matches: marrying into the family of the sultans may have brought unwanted
attention and pressure on the family, pushing them deeper into the wiles of
political intrigue in Cairo.
While efectively holding him hostage in the citadel, the sultan al-āhir
Baybars (r. 657–76/1260–77) provided the second Cairo caliph, al-ākim bi-
Amr Allāh (r. 661–701/1262–1302), with a Turkish slave woman known only
as Khātūn, with whom he fathered several children. The reign of the sultan
al-Manūr Qalāwūn (r. 678–89/1279–90), beginning two years after the death
of Baybars, proved a quiet period of growth for the family in which several
Abbasid children were born to Khātūn (and the caliph’s other wives and
concubines) in captivity, including the eventual caliphal heir al-Mustakfī
Sulaymān in 683–4/1284–5. By 736–37/1337, the Abbasid household had
H. Kennedy, When Baghdad ruled the Muslim world: The rise and fall of Islam’s greatest
dynasty (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2004), 169–99.
 Hassan, Longing for the lost caliphate; D. Aigle, The Mongol empire between myth and real-
ity: Studies in anthropological history (Leiden: Brill, 2014); A. Broadbridge, Kingship and
ideology in the Islamic and Mongol worlds (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008);
S. Heidemann, Das Aleppiner Kalifat (A.D. 1261): vom Ende des Kalifates in Baghdad über
Aleppo zu den Restaurationen in Cairo (Leiden: Brill, 1994).
 On “Khātūn” as an honoric title, see A. Abd ar-Rāziq, La femme au temps des mamlouks
en Égypte (Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale, 1973), 96–97; . al-Bāshā,
al-Alqāb al-Islāmiyya fī l-t a rīkh wa-l-wathāiq wa-l-athār (Cairo, 1957), 264–66.
 Ibn Shaddād, Ta rīkh al-Malik al-āhir, ed. A. uay (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1983),
330; Khalīl al-afadī, Ayān al-ar wa-awān al-nar, ed. A. Abū Zayd et al. (Beirut: Dār
al-Fikr al-Muāir, 1998), 2:421; Heidemann, Das Aleppiner Kalifat, 181. The Cairo caliph
al-Mustakfī had at least four known daughters: Abla, Saūda, Ruqayya, and Nafīsa, though
the sources have preserved little beyond their names and existence.
   
 () – | ./-
grown to number nearly 100 men, women, and children. In the following de-
cades, the family continued to expand through new births and the acquisition
of slaves and landholdings until it obtained substantial wealth during the long
reign of the caliph al-Mutawakkil alā llāh Muammad (r. 763–85/1362–83 and
791–808/1389–1406). Bubonic plague in the late 8th/14th and early 15th cen-
tury claimed the lives of some Abbasid family members. There are few pre-
cise remarks on the size of the family after the mid-8th/14th century. However,
Egyptian sources report that the number of Abbasid women was sizeable
enough by 791/1389 to merit a new residential space set aside for their use.
Among the numerous children born to al-Mutawakkil’s wives and concu-
bines, as many as ve sons of the slave woman Bāykhātūn went on to occupy
the family oce, perhaps indicating her position as a prized favorite. Alternate
reports claim that some of these Abbasid princes were born to other concu-
bines, with Turkish names such as Zumurrud and Kazal (Kuzel or Guzel).
Black concubines likewise played a part in the household. The rst Abbasid
caliph of Cairo, al-Mustanir bi-llāh, was described by chroniclers as the
“dark-colored” son of an Abyssinian concubine in Baghdad. Centuries later,
the caliph al-Mutawakkil  (r. 884–903/1479–97) also fathered a son with an
 Muammad al-Dhahabī, Ta rīkh al-Islām wa-wafayāt al-mashāhīr wa-l-alām: awādith
wa-wafayāt, 701–746 H, ed. U. Tadmurī (Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-Arabī, 2004), 53:376; Shams
al-Dīn al-Shujāī, T a  rīkh al-Malik al-Nāir Muammad ibn Qalāwūn al-āliī wa-awlādihi,
ed. B. Schäfer (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1977), 1:14; Amad al-Maqrīzī, Kitāb al-Sulūk
li-marifat duwal al-mulūk, ed. M. M. Amīn and S. Ashūr (Cairo, 1956–73), 2:417; Amad
Ibn ajar al-Asqalānī, al-Durar al-kāmina fī ayān al-mia al-thāmina (Hyderabad:
Mabaat Majlis Dāirat al-Maārīf al-Uthmāniyya, 1972), 2:279; Yūsuf Ibn Taghrībirdī,
Mawrid al-laāfa fī man waliya al-salana wa-l-khilāfa, ed. N. M. Amad (Cairo: Dār al-
Kutub wa-l-Wathāiq al-Qawmiyya, Markaz Taqīq al-Turāth, 1997), 1:242–43; Jalāl al-Dīn
al-Suyūī, Ta rīkh al-khulafā (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-Ilmiyya, [n.d.]), 389.
 Muammad al-Sakhāwī, al-aw al-lāmi li-ahl al-qarn al-tāsi (Cairo: Maktabat al-Qudsī,
1934–36), 4:20, 12:165.
 Muammad Ibn al-Furāt, Ta rīkh Ibn al-Furāt (Beirut, 1936–42), 9:69, 72; al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk,
3:602, 605.
 Abd al-Bāsi al-Malaī, Nayl al-amal fī dhayl al-duwal, ed. U. Tadmurī (Beirut: al-
Maktaba al-Ariyya, 2002), 5:144; Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūī, usn al-muāara f ī Ta rīkh Mir
wa-l-Qāhira, ed. Muammad Abū al-Fa l Ibrāhīm (Cairo: Isā al-Babī al-alabī, 1967–68),
2:89; al-Suyūī, Ta rīkh, 406–7; Amad al-Qaramānī, Akhbār al-duwal wa-athār al-uwal
l-t a rīkh, ed. F. Sad and A. uay (Beirut: Ālam al-Kutub, 1992), 2:207; F. Sümer, “Yavuz
Selim s’est-il proclamé calife?” Turcica 21–23 (1991), 346.
 Al-Dhahabī, Ta rīkh 48:407; Muammad al-Dhahabī, Kitāb duwal al-Islām (Hyderabad,
1944–46), 2:125; Ibn al-Wardī, Ta rīkh, 2:303; Hassan, Longing for the lost caliphate, 83.

./- |  () –
Abyssinian slave, al-Ruknī Umar (d. 913/1508), but this son was ultimately
passed over for the family oce.
Predilection for concubines (or a caliph being the son of one) is hardly a
novel topic in Abbasid history, and at least two of the Cairo caliphs spent con-
siderable sums on visiting or acquiring singing slave girls to entertain their en-
tourages, often to the unconcealed displeasure (and perhaps personal envy) of
the reigning sultans. Nevertheless, and perhaps paradoxically, the marriage
of one Abbasid prince to a singing slave girl in 725/1325 was deemed sucient-
ly scandalous by Cairene elites to result in forced annulment and public em-
barrassment for the Abbasid family.
The uid nature of marriage and concubinage in the period made it pos-
sible for a manumitted concubine freed by a prominent master to be sought
after for a new relationship. This meant that some women who had spent
time in the Abbasid household could be divorced or otherwise transferred to
new husbands or masters among the military men and members of the schol-
arly class of ulama , thereby producing non-Abbasid ofspring, who in some
cases maintained social ties to their Abbasid half-brothers. After the death
of al-Mutawakkil, in 808/1406, the caliphate passed to al-Mustaīn bi-llāh al-
Abbās (r. 808–16/1406–14), a son of Bāykhātūn. Some years later, the amirs
Shaykh and Nawrūz tapped the reluctant al-Mustaīn to serve as a compromise
sultan while they fought for real power. Al-Mustaīn was initially adamant in
his refusal, but the amirs manipulated the caliph’s kinship tie with another
non-Abbasid son of Bāykhātūn who had sucient inuence and proximity to
persuade his half-brother to enter the world of politics and accept the sultan-
ate against his own interests.
 Muammad Ibn Iyās, Badāi al-zuhūr fī waqā’i al-duhūr, ed. M. Muafā (Wiesbaden:
Franz Steiner, 1960–63), 4:128.
 Al-Dhahabī, Ta rīkh, 53:376; Ibn Iyās, Badāi, 5:317–18. See also: Y. Rapoport, “Women and
gender in Mamluk society,Mamlūk Studies Review 11 (2) (2007), 8–12; Kennedy, When
Baghdad ruled the Muslim world, 167–68, 173–74.
 Al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 2:268.
 B. Shoshan, “On the marital regime in Damascus, 1480–1500,” in S. Conermann (ed.),
History and society during the Mamluk period (1250–1517): Studies of the Annemarie
Schimmel Institute for Advanced Study II (Göttingen: V & R Unipress, 2016), 7–27.
 Amad al-Maqrīzī, Durar al-uqūd al-farīda fī tarājim al-ayān al-mufīda, ed. M. al-Jalīlī
(Beirut: Dār al-Gharb al-Islāmī, 2002), 2:211; Amad Ibn ajar al-Asqalānī, Inbā al-ghumr
bi-anbā al-umr, ed. . abashī (Cairo: Lajnat Iyā al-Tu th al-Islāmī, 1969–98), 2:343; Ibn
Taghrībirdī, Mawrid, 1:255; al-Suyūī, Ta rīkh, 404; al-Qaramānī, Akhbār, 2:216. Bāykhātūn
was likely also the mother of the next two caliphs, al-Mutaid  and al-Mustakfī .
 Al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4:543; Yūsuf Ibn Taghrībirdī, al-Nujūm al-zāhira fī mulūk Mir wa-l-
Qāhira, ed. I. arkhān (Cairo, 1963–74), 14:165.
   
 () – | ./-
As had been the case in Baghdad, the station or identity of a caliph’s moth-
er counted for little so long as his father was from the illustrious line of the
Prophet Muammad’s uncle, al-Abbās b. Abd al-Mualib (d. 32/653). With
several exceptions, the Abbasid caliphs after Hārūn al-Rashīd (r. 170–93/786–
809) tended to produce heirs with concubines rather than wives, perhaps as
an indication that they did not feel bound by the social norms of the Arab
aristocracy. Abbasid caliphs in both Baghdad and Cairo did, however, oc-
casionally wed cousins or other family members. Mona Hassan has demon-
strated that the ulama  of late medieval Egypt and Syria continued to place
great stock in the Qurayshī lineage and Hashimite heritage going back to
the Prophet, which, by the mid-7th/13th century, likely trumped most other
classical criteria for the caliphal oce. Even in the late 9th/15th century, the
Egyptian chronicler Ibn Iyās (d. 930/1524) celebrated the supposedly “pure-
bred” caliph al-Mustamsik Yaqūb (903–14/1497–1508 and 922–3/1516–7),
whose parents were Hashimite cousins, unlike most other Cairene caliphs,
who had merely been the sons of Turkish, Circassian, or Abyssinian concu-
bines. Ibn Iyās praises al-Mustamsik for his membership in an elite grouping
of purely “Hashimite” caliphs, including the fourth caliph, Alī b. Abī ālib
(r. 35–40/656–61), his son al-asan (d. 50/670), who had briey received baya
as caliph in 40/661 before conceding to the rst Umayyad caliph, Muāwiya,
and the Abbasid caliph al-Amīn (r. 193–8/809–13). Al-Mustamsik, the late
9th/15th- early 10th/16th-century caliph in question, was the son of an Abbasid
princess named Amīna (d. 915/1510), whose father, the caliph al-Mustakfī 
(r. 845–55/1441–51), had been the son of a Turkish concubine, as was her great-
great-grandfather al-Mustakfī . It seems strange, despite all his additional
Turkish ancestry, that the sources still consider and present al-Mustamsik as
an undiluted “Hashimite” prince.
Treading cautiously into the realm of speculation, one may indeed wonder
how “Turkish” or “Arab” these 8th-/14th- and 9th-/15th-century caliphs might
have been. Which languages were they taught in early childhood? It seems
 Kennedy, When Baghdad ruled the Muslim world, 167.
 Ibn Iyās, Badāi, 3:379. See also al-Suyūī, Ta rīkh, 132–54, 238–45.
 Ibn Iyās, Badāi, 3:379–80, 388–89, 4:171; Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūī, Nam al-iqyān fī ayān
al-ayān, ed. P. Hitti (New York, 1927), 93.
 For discussion of linguistic issues of the period, see J. Loiseau, Les Mamelouks: XIII–XVI
siècle: Une expérience du pouvoir dans l’Islam medieval (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2014),
187–90; M. Eychenne, Liens personnels, clientélisme et réseaux de pouvoir dans le sultanat
mamlouk (milieu XIII–n XIV siècle) (Damascus: Ifpo, 2013), 153–87; C. Onimus, Les
maîtres du jeu: Pouvoir et violence politique à l’aube du sultanat mamlouk circassien (784–
815/1382–1412) (Paris: Éditions de la Sorbonne, 2019), 201–4.

./- |  () –
reasonable to suggest that by this point, if not sooner, the Egyptian branch of
the Abbasid family, while still “Hashimite,” had shifted ethnically closer to some
members of the Turkish ruling elite, as opposed to the “Arab Qurayshī” image
of their celebrated past. It was by no means uncommon for the Abbasid ca-
liphs of Baghdad to be sons of Persian or Turkish concubines, and ethnic is-
sues are always dicult to address beyond doubt. However, the fact that these
children were products of their father’s harems retains importance. Most of
the Abbasid ofspring mentioned in late medieval Cairene sources appear to
have been raised in a household that prioritized Islamic scholarship and was
nurtured by unhindered and unmonitored visits from members of the ulama
to ensure prociency in Arabic and training, for some, in the Islamic sciences.
In part, the ulama  may have lent support to the political elites’ bid to restore
the caliphate because of its inherent connections to Arab aristocratic social
norms. At least as early as the Seljuq era, there appears to have been aware-
ness of some of the diferences between “Arabs” and “Turks” and of an ongo-
ing struggle for inuence and authority. Arabic-speaking Egyptian authors
such as Ibn ajar al-Asqalānī (d. 852/1449) and al-Suyūī (d. 911/1505) wrote at
length on their Arab origins and also vociferously supported the undisturbed
 That the contemporary Abbasids of Cairo had fallen away from Hashimite ideals was
at least one point of concern for the participants of the so-called Zahiri tna of the
780/1380s. See: al-Maqrīzī, Durar al-uqūd, 1:298–99; L. Wiederhold, “Legal-religious elite,
temporal authority, and the caliphate in Mamluk society: Conclusions drawn from the
examination of a ‘Zahiri revolt’ in Damascus in 1386,” International Journal of Middle East
Studies 31 (1999), 203–35.
 Important scholars lent support to the initial restoration of the caliphate by Baybars in
the mid-thirteenth century. See: Hassan, Longing for the lost caliphate, 16, 67, 72, 83–84;
R. Amitai, Holy war and rapprochement: Studies in the relations between the Mamluk
sultanate and the Mongol ilkhanate (1260–1335) (Turnhout: Brepols, 2013), 96–97; Y. Lev,
“Symbiotic relations: Ulama and the Mamluk sultans,Mamlūk Studies Review 13 (1)
(2008), 14, 21; J.-C. Garcin, “Histoire, opposition politique et piétisme traditionaliste dans
le usn al-muāara de Suyūī,” Annales Islamologiques 7 (1967), 73, 79.
 K. Goudie, Reinventing jihād: Jihād ideology from the conquest of Jerusalem to the end of the
Ayyūbids (c. 492/1092–647/1249) (Leiden: Brill, 2019), 90–91; A. Elbendary, Crowds and sul-
tans: Urban protest in late medieval Egypt and Syria (Cairo: University of Cairo Press, 2015),
114–15; A. Fuess, “Legends against arbitrary abuse: The relationship between the Mamluk
military elite and their Arab subjects,” in M. Haddad et al. (eds.), Towards a cultural history
of the Mamluk era (Beirut: Orient-Institut Beirut, 2010), 141–51; J. Berkey, The transmission
of knowledge in medieval Cairo: A social history of Islamic education (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1992), 142–43; U. Haarmann, “‘Rather the injustice of the Turks than the
righteousness of the Arabs’: Changing ulamā attitudes towards Mamluk rule in the late
fteenth century,” Studia Islamica 68 (1988), 61–77; W. P opper, “Sakhāwī’s criticism of Ibn
Taghrībirdī,” in Studi orientalistici in onore di Giorgio Levi della Vida (Rome: Istituto per
l’Oriente, 1956), 2:371–89.
   
 () – | ./-
Abbasid caliphate of Cairo. Is it possible that these caliphs, most of them
the sons and grandsons of Turkish umm walads (heir-producing concubines),
were still in many ways considered a symbol of—for lack of a less problematic
word—a kind of “Arabness”? If, as Yehoshua Frenkel argues, the marriages of
manumitted Turkish slave soldiers to women with Turkish names was part of
a strategy geared toward protecting the ruling class, perhaps “Turkicizing” the
caliphs was simply another way for the ruling elite that comprised later politi-
cal orders to stake a greater claim in the restored caliphal discourse initiated
by Baybars in mid-7th-/13th-century Cairo. As Turkish culture became ever
more predominant in late medieval Cairo, Abbasid caliphs who were simul-
taneously “Turkic” and “Arab” lent themselves more readily to changing social
contexts. Abbasid legitimacy thus appears comprised of conicted strands in
the source material and is demonstrative of tensions that existed among the
ruling and religious elites.
We locate another minor hint in the travel diary of the Cretian merchant
and entrepreneur Emmanuel Piloti (d. after 1440). Writing in the late 14th/early
15th century, Piloti describes the inhabitants of Cairo, the “Rome of the pagans,”
stating that it is from among the ranks of a vastly innumerable Egyptian popu-
lation that “their caliph and pope is made.” It is clearly a visitor’s misunder-
standing that the caliph would be elected from common Cairenes rather than
the Abbasid family living in connement, but one wonders about the source
of the misconception. Piloti’s informants were most likely other Egyptian
merchants, who would have understood the caliphs as descendants of a great
Arab aristocracy perhaps more closely resembling their own culture than
the sultans, amirs, and other representatives of the “Dawlat al-Atrāk.” The
 M. Hassan, “Poetic memories of the Prophet’s family: Ibn ajar al-Asqalānī’s panegyrics
for the Abbasid sultan-caliph of Cairo al-Mustaīn,Journal of Islamic Studies 29 (1) (2018),
1–24; M. Banister, “Casting the caliph in a cosmic role: Examining al-Suyūī’s historical vi-
sion,” in A. Ghersetti (ed.), al-Suyūī, a polymath of the Mamluk period (Leiden: Brill, 2017),
98–117; Hassan, Longing for the lost caliphate, 136–41; Garcin, “Histoire.
 Here I have beneted from conversations with Nasser Rabbat.
 Y. Frenkel, “Mamluk ulamā on festivals and rites de passage: Wedding customs in 15th
century Damascus,” in U. Vermeulen and K. D’hulster (eds.), Egypt and Syria in the Fatimid,
Ayyubid and Mamluk eras VI (Leuven: Peeters, 2010), 286; Hassan, Longing for the lost ca-
liphate, 71–80; Heidemann, Das Aleppiner Kalifat, 91–107.
 This suggests that a degree of Arabness had successfully pervaded parts of the Egyptian
cultural background. According to Tamer El-Leithy, more than half of Coptic Christians
had converted to Islam by the early 14th and 15th centuries; see El-Leithy, Coptic culture
and conversion in medieval Cairo: 1293–1524, degree thesis (Princeton University, 2005), 4,
13–28, 457–68. For some comments on Arabization and the adoption of the Arabic lan-
guage among Copts, see ibid., 8–9.
 
./- |  () –
understanding that the caliph came from Arabo-Egyptian stock is set against
a third class of Cairene inhabitants, the “slaves brought from every Christian
nation, of whom are made mamluks, amirs, and sultans.” Piloti writes of divi-
sions and tensions between these “three classes” of Egyptian Arabs, Bedouins,
and Circassian mamluks, likening them to the feuding Guelphs and Ghibellines
of northern and central Italy, whose loyalties were split between the pope and
the Roman emperor. He remarks that the Arabs desired the sultanate and
leadership because their prophet had been an Arab, while the Turkish ruling
elite of Cairo persisted in their argument that sovereignty was theirs by right
of rule.
Although it is tempting to stress and impose cultural or hierarchical social
divisions, recent studies by Julien Loiseau, Mathieu Eychenne, and Jo Van
Steenbergen have gone a long way to dispelling old assumptions that the rul-
ing Turkish and Circassian political elites were somehow “isolated” from their
Arabophone Syro-Egyptian subjects; in fact, they were far more integrated, in
highly complex networks and social constellations centered around the amiral
household (bayt). As Frenkel points out, however, while those with access
to power “governed a rich kaleidoscope of human groups,” urban elite society
nevertheless remained “highly occupied with questions of kinship, ancestry
and lineage,” which may help unpack both the perpetual sanctity of Abbasid
lineage as well as Piloti’s rather quaint observation.
 Emmanuel Piloti, L’Égypte au commencement du quinzième siècle d’après le traité
d’Emmanuel Piloti de Crète, incipit 1420, ed. P.-H. Dopp (Cairo, 1950), 11. For further com-
ment on Piloti’s view of fteenth-century politics and society, see U. Haarmann, “The
Mamluk system of rule in the eyes of Western travelers,” Mamlūk Studies Review 5 (2001),
1–24.
 This of course resembles the so-called “law of the Turks” examined by Haarmann in
“Regicide and the ‘law of the Turks,’” in M. Mazzaoui and V. M oreen (eds.), Intellectual
studies on Islam: Essays written in honor of Martin B. Dickson (Salt Lake City: University of
Utah Press, 1990), 127–35, and reconsidered by Loiseau in Les Mamelouks, 108–9.
 J. Loiseau, Reconstruire la maison du sultan (1350–1450): Ruine et recomposition de l’ordre
urbain au Caire (Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale, 2010); Eychenne, Liens
personnels; M. Eychenne, “Le bayt à l’époque mamlouke: Une entité sociale à revisiter,”
Annales Islamologiques 42 (2008), 275–95; J. Van Steenbergen, “‘The Mamluk sultanate as
a military patronage state: Household politics and the case of the Qalāwūnid bayt (1279–
1382),Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 56 (2013), 189–217.
 Y. Frenkel, “The Mamluks among the nations: A medieval sultanate in its global con-
text,” in S. Conermann (ed.), Everything is on the move: The Mamluk empire as a node in
(trans-)regional networks (Göttingen, 2014), 74.
   
 () – | ./-
The ṣadāq of Sāra bt. al-Mutawakkil
The qh and sharī obligations governing marital relationships difered from
those put in place for a concubine or umm walad. A copy of a late 14th-/
early 15th-century marriage contract (adāq) drawn up between Sāra, the
daughter of the Cairo caliph al-Mutawakkil and the ocer and major-domo
(ustādār) Zayn al-Dīn adaqa al-Sayfī (d. 808/1406), has been preserved by
al-Qalqashandī in his scribal encyclopedia, ub al-a shā fī ināat al-inshā, for
didactic purposes. The document itself boldly advocates for the unique su-
premacy of the caliphal lineage compared to other notable families, wheth-
er from religious or military backgrounds. According to the rhetoric of the
document, concluding a marriage with a daughter of the Abbasid house con-
ferred the highest honor and distinction on the suitor. Al-Qalqashandī praises
God, who
brought forth the Hashimite garden from the best components, and
[allowed] the branching of the Abbasid well-spring […] God made the
house of the caliphate special, and limited strength and honor to this
family, dwarng the prestige of the great kings of the past, present, or
future. We praise God who fortied the families [of the caliphate] with
[other] families of good standing (al-asab).
For al-Qalqashandī, the deeds of the glorious Abbasid past entitled their latter-
day descendants in Cairo to enjoy an inimitable station (siyāda) and position
(makāna) of honor for themselves as well as their necessarily virtuous chil-
dren, of whom it was said “none can adequately reward for their goodness in
this [plane of] existence (wujūd); none can nd faults, aws, or speak ill of
 M. Katz, “Concubinage, in Islamic law,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE.
 Al-Qalqashandī, ub, 14:319–21; al-Sakhāwī, aw, 3:317. The adāq was often the term
used to refer to the written portion of the marriage contract, though it also can imply
the marriage gift pledged at the time of the contract. See Y. Rapoport, “Matrimonial gifts
in early Islamic Egypt,” Islamic Law and Society 7 (1) (2000), 1–36; Y. Rapoport, Marriage,
money and divorce in medieval Islamic society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2005), 12, 13, 53–59; Frenkel, “Mamluk ulamā on festivals,” 282. On this document, see also
Abd ar-Rāziq, La femme, 105, 111. For analysis of al-Qalqashandī’s views on the Abbasid ca-
liphate of his own day, see Hassan, Longing for the lost caliphate, 126–31; Banister, Abbasid
caliphate of Cairo, 251–6.
 Al-Qalqashandī, ub, 14:319–21.
 The contract frequently alludes to the past and current honor of the Abbasid family with
words such as karam, majd, izza, sharaf, and al-ināfa.
 
./- |  () –
them, for there is scarcely enough to bestow upon them for all [the righteous
deeds] done by [their ancestors].”
The document speaks equally of the praiseworthy status of nikā marriage
as prophetic example (sunna) and praises God for forcing reluctant fathers
(who may have been holding out for regal or wealthy suitors) to marry of their
daughters regardless of status. After all, the Prophet himself had consented
to marry his own daughters to his closest Companions (many of whom later
became the earliest caliphs) rather than seeking to enter them into benecial
political marriages with foreign rulers.
Al-Qalqashandī, through rather dramatic hyperbole, stresses that the
Abbasids occupy an incomparable loftiness in Islamic history. While a suitor
could aspire to being the spouse of an Abbasid bride, and although men of
good families were duly encouraged to apply through the appropriate chan-
nels, she was part of something far greater and would stand alone, basking in
the rewards due her family in the afterlife. Through the document (whether
read privately or publicly), the author communicates to the reader/listener that
the children of kings and leaders desperately desired unions with the Abbasid
family, and entering into a union with the Abbasids (ahl al-fal) was an excep-
tionally high honor in great demand among the pious (ahl al-dīn). The end of
the document implies that adaqa, an ustādār and servant of several notable
ocials and elite mamluks of the Circassian sultan Barqūq (784–801/1382–99),
had undergone a thorough vetting by representatives of the Abbasid family,
who had found the groom to be a suitable match, an appropriate social equal
of Sāra, the best suitor that came for her hand, and, perhaps most importantly,
that the caliph’s family had agreed to give its consent.
Marriage Relationships with the Abbasid Family
Against al-Qalqashandīs robust praise of unions made with the Abbasid family,
we may wish to juxtapose some of the actual marriage unions documented by
the historical record. Marriage relationship pursuits apparently worked both
ways: the Abbasids were sought after by ocials, and vice versa. By exploring
some of the known alliances between the Abbasids and established scholarly
dynasties or members of the military class, we may improve upon what can be
 Al-Qalqashandī, ub, 14:320.
 Hassan, Longing for the lost caliphate, 129–31.
 Al-Qalqashandī, ub, 14:319–20; al-Sakhāwī, aw, 3:318.
   
 () – | ./-
known about potential political marriages with the Abbasid family, and what,
if anything, might have been the social advantages for a non-Abbasid spouse.
Abbasid princesses, up until the time of Hārūn al-Rashīd, tended to marry
extended family members. The caliph al-M a mūn (r. 189–218/813–33) famously
wed his daughters to Alid scions such as Alī al-Riā (d. 202/818), perhaps to
keep tabs on them as political rivals. Although Abbasid chroniclers kept up
their interest in some of the ladies of the Abbasid court from the 3rd/9th cen-
tury until the Mongol conquest, marriage relationships have often evaded
the interest of contemporary historians.
Having been invested twice by Abbasid caliphs during his reign, the sultan
Baybars sought no further political or symbolic capital through marriages with
any of the daughters of al-ākim bi-Amr Allāh of Cairo. Subsequent sultans
likewise failed to pursue marriages with the caliphal household. The disinterest
in Abbasid princesses among the sultans remained the norm even as late as the
end of the 9th/15th century, when al-Suyūī criticized the ruler of his own day
for marrying a daughter of the caliph to one of his amirs rather than seizing the
opportunity to wed an Abbasid princess himself. Such indiference toward
Abbasid brides is hardly extraordinary considering that, in terms of securing
Abbasid legitimacy, the sultans had met their needs thanks to the caliph’s pres-
ence at their baya ceremonies. Once the caliphs had served this fundamen-
tal purpose, they and their families appear to have been free to make marriage
connections with whomever they pleased. It is quite conspicuous that when
compared to Seljuq predecessors such as ughrīl Beg (r. 429–55/1038–63), who
notoriously forced marriage relationships on the Abbasid family, the sultans
of Cairo were uninterested in producing ofspring who shared Abbasid blood.
The sultans of the 9th/15th century, as D’hulster and Van Steenbergen have
argued, in lieu of creating successful blood dynasties, had to settle for “in-law
connections that ofered the potential to secure symbolic and social capital
from a recent predecessor’s household or network by marrying their surviving
 E. Hanne, “Women, power, and the eleventh and twelfth century Abbasid court,” Hawwa
3 (2005), 80–110; Hassan, Longing for the lost caliphate, 43–44.
 Kennedy, When Baghdad ruled the Muslim world, 178.
 S. Jackson, “The primacy of domestic politics: Ibn Bint al-Aazz and the establishment of
four chief judgeships in Mamlūk Egypt,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 115 (1)
(1995), 59.
 Al-Suyūī, Ta rīkh, 335–36.
 Hassan, Longing for the lost caliphate, 71–75; Aigle, Mongol empire, 244–54; Broadbridge,
Kingship and ideology, 31, 45.
 G. Makdisi, “The marriage of Tughril Beg,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 1 (3)
(1970), 259–75.
 
./- |  () –
widows or daughters. For an incoming sultan to present himself as the ad hoc
“son-in-law” of the previous sultan evidently had more worth and appeal than
being the “son-in-law” of the incumbent Abbasid caliph, whose endorsement
was already implicit with the creation of any new political order.
Baybars notably did not object to the marriage of the caliph al-ākim to a
daughter of the former Ayyubid ruler of al-Karak, al-Nāir Dāwūd, a wealthy
landed dowager known as Dār Dīnār whose home he frequented on the shore
of the Nile canal (shāi al-khalīj). Not long after the death of Baybars, the two
strains of Cairene Abbasid lineages (the surviving members of the household
of the late caliph al-Mustanir and the family of al-ākim) independently de-
cided in 676/1277 to merge the Abbasid bloodline, when the daughter of the
rst Abbasid of Cairo, al-Mustanir bi-llāh (who had died on an expedition
against the Mongols in 660/1261), married the son and presumptive heir of
al-ākim, al-Mustamsik bi-llāh Muammad, in a ceremony attended by the
caliph, the reigning sultan, and an assortment of Abbasid family members and
other grandees.
The sultans remained unconcerned even when the caliphs made alliances
with potential critics of their regimes, as was the case in 680/1281–82, when
al-ākim wed his daughter to a son of the chief qadi, Taqī al-Dīn Ibn Daqīq
al-Īd (d. 702/1302). Ibn Daqīq al-Īd had been an ally of the Abbasid family
and a vocal detractor of the close relations between Qalāwūn’s regime and the
Shādhilī Su order, which, according to Linda Northrup, was a central part of
the pious opposition to many of that sultan’s policies. Jean-Claude Garcin
dismisses this particular marriage tie as mere social climbing in connection
with the qadi’s move from Qū to Cairo, based on the caliph’s presumed status
among local ulama . Nevertheless, the marriage itself symbolizes a degree
of political strategizing on behalf of Ibn Daqīq al-Īd and speaks to a late
 D’hulster and Van Steenbergen, “Family matters.”.
 Shā ibn Alī, Kitāb usn al-manāqib al-sariyya al-muntazaa min al-sīra al-āhiriyya, ed.
A. Khuwayir (Riyadh, 1976), 55.
 Al-Qāsim Muammad al-Birzālī, Muqtafī alā Kitāb al-Rawatayn al-marūf bi-T a rīkh
al-Birzālī, ed. Umar Abd al-Salām al-Tadmurī (Beirut: al-Maktaba al-Ariyya, 2006),
1:404; Mūsā al-Yūnīnī, Dhayl mirāt al-zamān (Hyderabad: Dar al-Maārif al-Uthmāniyya,
1954–61), 3:235; Ismāīl Ibn Kathīr, al-Bidāya wa-l-nihāya fī l-t a rīkh (Cairo: Mabaat
al-Saāda, 1932–9), 13:277; Mamūd al-Aynī, Iqd al-jumān f ī t a  rīkh ahl al-zamān: Ar
Salāīn al-Mamālīk, ed. M. M. Amīn (Cairo: Dār al-Kutub wa-l-Wathāiq, 1987–92), 2:191.
 L. Northrup, From slave to sultan: The career of al-Manūr Qalāwūn and the consolidation
of Mamluk rule in Egypt and Syria (678–689 A.H./1279–1290 A.D.) (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner,
1998), 124.
 J.-C. Garcin, Un centre musulman de la Haute-Égypte médiévale: Qū (Cairo: Institut fran-
çais d’archéologie orientale du Caire, 1976), 294.
   
 () – | ./-
7th-/13th-century difusion of power between jurists and Sus, as well as urban
and military elites in both Qū and Cairo.
Nearly a century later, in 791/1389, a disturbance rooted in Syria upset the
political order previously established by the sultan Barqūq in 784/1382. One
of the chief political actors, the amir Mināsh (d. 795/1393), after having taken
over the citadel of Cairo, and perhaps desperate to attach himself to a source of
prestige, got engaged to a daughter of the caliph al-Mutawakkil, to bolster his
legitimacy at a time when politics clouded any attempt to usurp the sultanate
directly. His plans oundered after Barqūq reclaimed authority.
Annemarie Schimmel has suggested that the sultans’ marked lack of inter-
est in Abbasid unions may have been part of a calculated humiliation toward
the Abbasid house. This involved the caliphs’ daughters instead being allowed
to marry only “middle-rank” military personnel. It is dicult to prove the ex-
istence of any such conscious strategy designed to humble the caliphal family
and contain their potential to wield political power at the expense of the sul-
tans and their supporters. Although the caliphs failed to secure political mar-
riages with the sultans, important members of their entourages did contract
marriages with the Abbasid household. Such marriages were likely not forced
on the caliphal family and merely represented the best available options. In
the absence of accurate or complete data on all the marriages conducted with
the Abbasid house, it is dicult to say whether the majority of non-Abbasid
spouses came from explicitly military or religious social groupings.
There seems to have been interconnectedness between the Abbasid
household and those of a number of Barqūqid amirs, in particular the amir
Taghrībirdī al-Bashbughāwī al-āhirī (d. 815/1412) (father of the historian
Ibn Taghrībirdī, d. 874/1470). Taghrībirdī, a mamluk and close companion of
the sultan Barqūq, had married Qamar, the daughter of another of Barqūq’s
amirs, Damurdāsh al-Muammadī (d. 818/1415). On the death of Taghrībirdī,
Qamar bt. Damurdāsh married the caliph al-Mutaid bi-llāh  Dāwūd
(r. 816–45/1414–41), who by the mid-9th/15th century witnessed some shrink-
age and diminution in the family’s size and fortunes. His father’s previous mar-
riage tie with Qamar bt. Damurdāsh allowed Ibn Taghrībirdī to consider her
 Abd ar-Rāziq, La femme, 172–73, 183. For comment on the other strategic marriages of
Mināsh, see Onimus, Les maîtres du jeu, 105.
 Al-Qalqashandī, ub, 14:319–21, al-Sakhāwī, aw, 12:54–55; Muammad al-Sakhāwī,
Wajīz al-kalāml-dhayl alā duwal al-Islām, ed. Bashshār Marūf (Beirut: Muassasat
al-Risāla, 1995), 2:874; A. Schimmel, “Kalif und Kadi im spätmittelalterlichen Agypten,”
Die Welt des Islams 24 (1942), 79; A. Schimmel, “Some glimpses of the religious life in Egypt
during the later Mamluk period,” Islamic Studies 4 (4) (1965), 354.
 On the relationship between these amirs, see Onimus, Les maîtres du jeu, 120.
 
./- |  () –
unmarriageable kin (maram) by Islamic law and thereafter interact with her
socially as a female family member. Among other things, he could visit her
freely at the Abbasid residence in Cairo without raising suspicion or requiring
her to veil. Thus he used his access to Qamar bt. Damurdāsh as a pretext to
frequent the household of al-Mutaid , to whom he was able to gain regular
access and speak with candidly. Al-Mutaid already enjoyed prominence
among the scholars of his day, and his marriage connection to a woman with
ties to two important amiral households of the early 9th/15th century only bol-
stered his status as a courtier of high repute.
Another former wife of the amir Taghrībirdī likewise seems to have found
her way into the Abbasid household. Descended from elite Turkish (awlād
al-nās) origins, Khawand ājj Malak (d. 832/1429), after having been married
to Barqūq, married next Taghrībirdī, and, after his death, the Abbasid prince
Yaqūb b. al-Mutawakkil. In approximately 822/1419, she gave birth to the fu-
ture caliph Abd al-Azīz al-Mutawakkil  (r. 884–903/1479–97). The circula-
tion of these women in and out of the respective households of the sultanate,
amirate, and caliphate concerned issues of transmitting symbolic and political
capital. The former wife (or concubine) of a sultan or caliph carried transfer-
rable capital for her next husband, in the form of a connection to the royal
family or household. As Clément Onimus points out, through careful marriage
strategies, amirs such as Taghrībirdī had the foresight to weave “dense family
networks” connecting themselves to the family of the sultans in carefully con-
structed alliances and family networks.
Interesting ramications stem from marriages contracted between the
Cairene Abbasids and the Bulqīnī family, a “dynasty” of inuential Egyptian
Shai scholars active in late 8th/14th- and 9th/15th-century Egypt and Syria.
 Yūsuf Ibn Taghrībirdī, al-Manhal al-āfī wa-l-mustawfī bad al-wāfī, ed. M. M. Amīn (Cairo:
al-Hay’a al-Miriyya al-Āmma lil-Kitāb, 1984–93), 4:305; Yūsuf Ibn Taghrībirdī, Extracts
from Abû l-Maâsin Ibn Taghrî Birdi’s chronicle entitled awâdith ad-duhûr fî madâ
l-ayyâm wash-shuhûr (=awādith al-duhūr fī madā al-ayyām wa-l-shuhūr), ed. W. Popper
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1930–42), 137–38. Ibn Taghrībirdī’s sister Āisha
(also known as Shaqrā) shared an Abbasid kinship tie through her mother, ājj Malak, as
the half-sister of the caliph Abd al-Azīz al-Mutawakkil .
 Sources identify her alternately as the daughter of either “Ibn Qarā” or a royal mamluk
named Muqbil. See al-Sakhāwī, aw, 4:236, 12:19; al-Suyūī, Ta rīkh, 412; Ibn Iyās, Badāi,
3:152.
 Al-Sakhāwī, aw, 12:19.
 Onimus, Les maîtres du jeu, 114–15.
 R. Moore, The role of the madrasah and the structure of Islamic legal education in Mamluk
Egypt (1250–1517), degree thesis (Emory University, 2010), 64, 86–111; M. Gharaibeh,
“Brokerage and interpersonal relationships in scholarly networks: Ibn ağar al-Asqalānī
   
 () – | ./-
The rst member of the family to gain inuence and authority, Sirāj al-Dīn
al-Bulqīnī (d. 805/1403), supplemented his academic skill with a helpful mar-
riage to the daughter of his teacher Ibn Aqīl, which facilitated his ascension
through the ranks of Cairene society and provided access to senior adminis-
trative gures. In the 790/1390s, Sirāj al-Dīn developed a relationship with
Barqūq, and later the sons of both men, Jalāl al-Dīn Abd al-Ramān al-Bulqīnī
(763–824/1362–1421) and the sultan al-Nāsir Faraj b. Barqūq (r. 801–15/1399–
1412), also remained close. Strategic marriage relationships and powerful
alliances (to say nothing of their academic prowess and growing scholarly
reputation) helped the Bulqīnīs accumulate many coveted and lucrative teach-
ing positions in Cairo, which the family monopolized for at least four genera-
tions. The Bulqīnīs grew stronger with each new religious or academic post
they acquired, which, as Robert Moore points out, increased their wealth, pres-
tige, and authority.
The marriages of the heirs of the caliph al-Mutawakkil I to Bulqīnī brides
went on to play a role in the caliphal succession in 859/1455. One of the rst
Abbasids mentioned by the sources to make a union with the judicial family
was al-im bi-Amr Allāh (r. 855–9/1451–5), who married awwā, a grand-
daughter of al-Badr b. al-Sirāj al-Bulqīnī (d. 890/1485) and the daughter of
the Shai qadi al-Sirāj Umar b. Mūsā al-imsī (d. 861/1457). Another Abbasid
and his early academic career,” in S. Conermann (ed.), Everything is on the move: The
Mamluk empire as a node in (trans-)regional networks (Göttingen: V & R Unipress, 2014),
238–42; C. Petry, The civilian elite of Cairo in the later Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1981), 232–37; Schimmel, “Kalif und Kadi,” 79–80.
 Moore, Role of the madrasah, 86–88, 94–95.
 Sirāj al-Dīn al- Bulqīnī, as shaykh al-Islām, ociated important ceremonies for Barqūq
and Faraj involving the Abbasid caliph. See al-Qalqashandī, ub, 3:262, 277; al-Maqrīzī,
Sulūk, 3:551–52, 975; Abū Bakr Ibn Qāī Shuhba, Ta rīkh Ibn Qāī Shuhba, ed. A. Darwīsh
(Damascus: al-Mahad al-Ilmī al-Faransī lil-Dirāsāt al-Arabiyya, 1977–94), 1:110–1, 190; Ibn
ajar al-Asqalānī, Inbā, 1:325–26, 2:344; Ibn Taghrībirdī, Nujūm, 11:245; Ibn Taghrībirdī,
Mawrid, 1:252–53; Alī Khaīb al-Jawharī al-ayrafī, Nuzhat al-nufūs wa-l-abdān fī tawārīkh
al-zamān, ed. . abashī (Cairo: Wizārat al-thaqāfa, Markaz Taqīq al-Turāth, 1970), 1:141–
42; al-Sakhāwī, aw, 3:233; Muammad al-Sakhāwī, al-Dhayl al-tāmm ‘alā duwal al-Islām
li-al-Dhahabī, ed. . Marwa (Kuwait: Maktabat Dār al-Urūba, 1992), 1:341, 404; al-Sakhāwī,
Wajīz, 1:277, 340–41; al-Suyūī, usn, 2:84; Ibn Iyās, Badāi, 1/2:377–78; Moore, Role of the
madrasah, 100; Gharaibeh, “Brokerage and interpersonal relationships,” 239–40.
 Moore, Role of the madrasah, 104–5, 109.
 Ibid., 107, 109.
 Ibrāhīm al-Biqāī, Ihār al-ar li-asrār ahl al-ar, ed. M. al-‘Awfī (Giza: Hajar lil-ibāa wa-
l-Nashr wa-l-Tawzī, 1992–93), 1:398 note 3 and 2:45.
 Moore, Role of the madrasah, 105–6.
 Al-Sakhāwī, aw, 3:167; 12:23, 237. awwā later married Shams Ibn al-Markham but
died years later an impoverished widow. This marriage is unlikely to have been the rst
 
./- |  () –
prince (and later caliph al-Mustanjid bi-llāh), Abū l-Maāsin Yūsuf, likewise
married Ulf (or Ilf), a daughter of the inuential chief judge Alam al-Dīn āli
al-Bulqīnī (791–868/1388–1464).
Al-im rst aided the amir Īnāl in overthrowing the son of his predeces-
sor, Jaqmaq, to seize the sultanate. Although he experienced an improvement
in status at the new court, the caliph was tempted again to join conspirators
to later overthrow Īnāl himself, but failed. The latter’s supporters promptly
arrested al-im and brought him before Īnāl. Grasping at revenge, the caliph
announced his resignation along with the subsequent invalidity of the sultan’s
oce. Alam al-Dīn al-Bulqīnī supported Īnāl and reminded the court that the
caliph, as a failed rebel, had already forfeited his caliphal authority, including
his legal right to dissolve the sultanate. Legally, according to al-Bulqīnī, the ca-
liph was therefore eligible for a clean removal.
With an empty caliphal oce on his hands, Īnāl summoned prominent
members of the Abbasid family, including Abū l-Maāsin Yūsuf, whose chanc-
es were greatly improved by his father-in-law, Alam al-Dīn al-Bulqīnī (now in
the sultan’s debt), who suggested his daughter’s husband receive baya as al-
Mustanjid bi-llāh in 859/1455.
According to the chronicler Ibrāhīm al-Biqā ī (d. 885/1480), the reign
(dawla) of the Bulqīnī family over favored judicial and academic positions
began to unravel around 865/1461. During the sultanate of Khushqadam
Bulqīnī-Abbasid union. The Bulqīnīs had been very prominent throughout the fteenth
century, and there may well have been previous marriages, though at present this is the
earliest I am aware of.
 Alī Khaīb al-Jawharī al-ayrafī, Inbā al-har bi-abnā al-ar (Cairo: Dār al-Fikr al-
Arabī, 1970), 365–66; al-Sakhāwī, aw, 3:312–14, 12:7, 117–18, 125; C. Petry, The criminal
underworld in a medieval Islamic society: Narratives from Cairo and Damascus under the
Mamluks (Chicago: Middle East Documentation Center, 2012), 104–5.
 Al-Sakhāwī, aw, 3:166–67; Garcin, “Histoire,” 63–64; I. arkhān, Mir fī ar dawlat
al-Mamālīk al-Jarākisa (Cairo: Maktabat al-Naha al-Miriyya, 1960), 66–67.
 Ibn Taghrībirdī, Nujūm, 16:90–91, 194; Ibn Taghrībirdī, Extracts, 233, 235, 382; Ibn
Taghrībirdī, Mawrid, 1:265; al-Biqāī, Ihār, 2:132; al-Sakhāwī, aw, 3:166; al-Sakhāwī,
Dhayl, 2:102; al-Sakhāwī, Wajīz, 2:689; al-Suyūī, usn, 2:90. See also É. Tyan, Institutions
du droit public musulman (Paris: Sirey, 1954–56), 2:256; arkhān, Mir, 67.
 Ibn Taghrībirdī, Nujūm, 16:90–91, 194; Ibn Taghrībirdī, Extracts, 233–38, 382; Ibn
Taghrībirdī, Manhal, 5:184; Ibn Taghrībirdī, Mawrid, 1:265–67; al-Biqāī, Ihār, 1:398 note
3, 2:132; al-ayrafī, Inbā, 365; al-Sakhāwī, aw, 3:166; al-Sakhāwī, Wajīz, 3:988; al-Sakhāwī,
Dhayl, 2:103; al-Suyūī, usn, 2:90–91; al-Suyūī, Ta rīkh, 411; al-Malaī, Nayl, 5:443, 7:226;
al-Qaramānī, Akhbār, 2:221.
 Al-Biqāī, Ihār, 3:330. The Bulqīnīs had enjoyed well over 100 years of inuence and nu-
merous administrative and teaching positions in madrasas. See Moore, Role of the ma-
drasah, 86–111.
   
 () – | ./-
(r. 865–72/1461–67), Alam al-Dīn al-Bulqīnī, due to accusations over the misap-
propriation of waqf endowments and nancial irregularities related to dona-
tions he was meant to collect, was deposed from oce and replaced by Sharaf
al-Dīn Yayā b. Muammad al-Manāwī as chief Shai qadi of Egypt to much
fanfare. Ibn al-Manāwī purchased the oce for 8,000 dinars. Perhaps alarmed
that his wife’s family stood to lose a lucrative position of inuence, the ca-
liph al-Mustanjid sent a messenger to intercede with Khushqadam on behalf
of al-Bulqīnī to get the position back. While al-Biqā ī’s account blames the
increasing corruption of the Bulqīnī family as the cause for their waning in-
uence, he also makes clear that certain parties among the religious establish-
ment felt that Ibn al-Manāwī would, if extorted, deliver greater returns than his
predecessor. At the very least, we can observe that there was mutual benet
on ofer from the marriage alliance; just as Alam al-Dīn had canvassed for his
son-in-law to be named caliph and thus receive nancial control of Abbasid
holdings in Cairo (including the family stipend), al-Mustanjid, once he became
caliph, used his oce to petition the sultan on behalf of his Bulqīnī in-laws.
It may be worth mentioning that the latter-day Abbasids, many of whom
favored the Shai rite, tended to make marriage alliances with families of
that theological school in Cairo. Al-Mustanjid, for example, had several other
 It was not uncommon for reigning Abbasid caliphs in Cairo to use their oce to petition
the ruling sultan for amnesty on behalf of a colleague or request other personal favors.
For examples of the Abbasid caliphs interceding at court on behalf of amirs, religious o-
cials, courtiers, and common people, see: al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 4:1165; Ibn Taghrībirdī, Nujūm,
15:441; al-ayrafī, Nuzha, 1:267–68, 4:154; Ibn Iyās, Badāi, 5:157–58. On the social practice
of intercession in the period, see: Eychenne, Liens personnels, 52–55. See also Eychenne’s
discussion of family networks including ties between in-laws, in Liens personnels, 302–4.
 On the sale of public oce in the later 9th/15th century, see B. Martel-Thoumian, “The
sale of oce and its economic consequences during the rule of the last Circassians (872–
922/1468–1516),” Mamlūk Studies Review 9 (2) (2005), 49–83. It was not uncommon for
qadis to rotate in and out of the position of chief qadi, and the Bulqīnīs went on to produce
more inuential family members after Alam al-Dīn for at least two more generations.
Al-Manāwī forged his own marriage connection to the Abbasid family by marrying the
princess Bayram, a granddaughter of al-Mutawakkil  and full sister of al-Mutawakkil .
Bayram had previously been married to al-Sāli al-Makīnī, Ibn al-Arīf, and al-Sirāj
al-imī. She outlived al-Manāwī and after his death returned to the Abbasid household
of her brother al-Mutaid . See al-Sakhāwī, aw, 12:15. The historian al-Biqāī points
out that one of princess Bayram’s husbands, al-Sirāj al-imsī, a respected qadi and no-
table whose daughter awwā had also been married to the caliph, apparently exploited
his proximity to the Abbasid family in early 859/1455 and stole an ocial seal from his
brother/son-in-law (ihr) the caliph. In a successful scheme, al-imsī then used the seal
to forge a letter to the Ottoman sultan Memed  (r. 855–86/1451–81) petitioning him
for lavish gifts which were later sent to Cairo. See: al-Biqāī, Ihār, 2:79; al-Sakhāwī, aw,
6:139–42.
 
./- |  () –
marriage connections to Shai qadis. He married Iqlīmshāh, the daughter of
al-Shams Muammad al-Ikhnāī al-Dimashqī (d. 816/1413), a Shai qadi of
Egypt and Syria (who had previously been married to his elder brother, the
caliph al-Mutaid , until his death, though she later separated from the
caliph). Al-Mustanjid was also related through marriage (amū) to the chief
Shai qadi Qub al-Dīn Muammad al-Khayarī (d. 894/1489).
As a case study of Abbasid princesses married to both military and political
elites, it is worthwhile to examine what is known about the only daughter born
to al-Mustanjid and his Abbasid-Bulqīnī wife, Ulf. The young woman immor-
talized to history by chroniclers and ulama  only as the “Lady of the Caliphs,”
or Sitt al-Khulafā (860–92/1456–87), was remarkable to her biographers for
her youth, comeliness (bāriaa fī l-usn), and supposedly unstable tempera-
ment. Circumstances of the times led to at least ve marriages and four di-
vorces to men from both military and scholarly backgrounds.
Growing up in the Abbasid household of her father, Sitt al-Khulafā was quite
young at the time of her rst marriage, to a mamluk of the sultan Khushqadam,
Khushkaldī al-Baysaqī al-āhirī, who held various high-level amiral rankings,
including chief head of the guards (ra s nawbat al-nuwab). Before the mar-
riage could be consummated, however, Khushkaldī, falling out of favor with
his liege lord, was socially demoted and exiled from Cairo. The Abbasid
family waited some time for the groom to return from Syria before ling for
annulment. Al-Mustanjid attempted to lean on his court connections, particu-
larly his proximity to the four chief qadis of the Sunni legal rites, to expedite
the process.
The caliph negotiated bitterly and at length with the qadis, who, although
they had the power to dissolve the marriage, stalled and held back their sup-
port. Desperate to free Sitt al-Khulafā from her marriage contract and make
her available to other promising suitors, al-Mustanjid utilized his monthly
 Al-Sakhāwī, aw, 12:7. In this case, on the social practice of replacing a dead spouse
with his brother, see R. Ben Othmen, La femme et les ulémas au temps des Mamelouks
Circassiens, degree thesis (Université de Tunis, 2019), 2:328.
 Amad Ibn al-imī, awādith al-zamān wa-wafayāt al-shuyūkh wa-l-aqrān, ed.
U. Tadmurī (Beirut: al-Maktaba al-Ariyya, 1999), 1:229.
 Al-Sakhāwī, aw, 12:54–55; Ibn Iyās, Badāi, 3:240–41; B. Martel-Thoumian, Délinquance
et ordre social: L’État mamlouk syro-égyptien face au crime à la n du IX–XV siècle
(Bordeaux: Ausonius, 2012), 198; Rapoport, Marriage, money and divorce, 80; Abd ar-Rāziq,
La femme, 166, 173; Schimmel, “Kalif und Kadi,” 80.
 Al-Sakhāwī, aw, 3:177; al-Suyūī, Ta rīkh, 336; Ibn Iyās, Badāi, 3:85, 240–41.
 Khushkaldī returned to the city in late 901/1496. See Martel-Thoumian, Délinquance et
ordre social, 198; Rapoport, Marriage, money and divorce, 80; al-Sakhāwī, aw, 12:55; Ibn
Iyās, Badāi, 3:241, 337.
   
 () – | ./-
visits to the sultan Qāyitbāy (r. 872–901/1468–96) to receive a proper hearing
for the case in 876–7/1473 and seek the sultan’s intervention, which he secured
a year later. According to al-Sakhāwī, the religious authorities, after some
deliberation, ultimately agreed to annul the marriage following a referendum
concerning two key issues: (1) that Khushkaldī had been successfully painted
by the Abbasid family as socially and nancially unworthy of Sitt al-Khulafā,
and (2) the girl’s minority at the time of her marriage (she had been around
15 years old). The initial obstruction had been caused by the Hanbali qadi, who
had approached the situation through a particularly obtuse reading of his legal
rite. Only after Qāyitbāy took an interest was the oor thrown open to more
opinions and texts and the dissolution of the marriage thus granted, consider-
ing incompatibility and the bride’s minority.
The Abbasid family next delivered Sitt al-Khulafā to a member of the
prominent Damascene Banū Muzhir family. The new husband was the
Cairo-born qadi and head of the royal chancery (kātib al-sirr) Zayn al-Dīn Abū
Bakr Ibn Muzhir (d. 893/1488), who also contracted, according to Bernadette
Martel-Thoumian, prestigious and socially powerful marriage unions with
other families of civil servants, including the al-Bārizī family. Perhaps intimi-
dated by her new husband’s other wives, Sitt al-Khulafā was unhappy in the
new arrangement and separated from him shortly thereafter.
Her next marriage, to another Damascene qadi and kātib al-sirr, Qub al-Dīn
Muammad al-Khayarī, was even shorter, and, after her legal waiting peri-
od (idda), she returned to Ibn Muzhir for a second try. Marital bliss eluded the
Lady of the Caliphs once again, and she married her nal husband, Isāq Ibn
Qawwān al-Burdaynī, but she failed once more to nd contentment with him.
 Rapoport, Marriage, money and divorce, 80; Abd ar-Rāziq, La femme, 173.
 Al-Sakhāwī, Dhayl, 2:456; al-Sakhāwī, Wajīz, 2:874; al-Malaī, Nayl, 7:62, 79; Ibn Iyās,
Badāi, 3:85. Rapoport points out that the ruling is legally signicant in that “neither the
right of equality in marriage (kafāah) and the right of annulment upon majority (khiyār
al-bulūgh) had previously been part of the judicial praxis of Mamluk courts, and their
application in this case represents an important extension of the grounds for judicial di-
vorce at the wife’s initiative.” Rapoport, Marriage, money and divorce, 80.
 B. Martel-Thoumian, Les civils et l’administration dans l’état militaire Mamlūk: (IX/XV
siècle) (Damascus: Institut français de Damas, 1991), 270–72.
 Ibid., 276.
 Al-Sakhāwī, aw, 12:55; A. Saidi, “Marriage and mental illness in the Mamluk period,” in
M. Haddad et al. (eds.), Towards a cultural history of the Mamluk era (Beirut: Orient-Institut
Beirut, 2010), 153–57. On this particular marriage from the perspective of the Muzhir
clan’s own marriage strategies, see: E. Ota-Tsukada, “The Muzhir Family: Marriage as a
Disaster Mitigation Strategy”, Orient 54 (2019), 131–34, 138–39.
 Muammad Ibn ūlūn, Mufākahat al-khillān fī awādith al-zamān (Damascus: Dār
al-Awāil, 2002), 1:77; Ibn Iyās, Badāi, 3:241.
 
./- |  () –
As her mother’s heart grew troubled for her, the couple reached a satisfactory
arrangement in which Ibn Qawwān, while residing in Mecca, sent a generous
salary to support Sitt al-Khulafā in Egypt alone. Having been married several
times to men of social status and nancial means, Sitt al-Khulafā managed to
amass a sizeable bridal household, which was not uncommon for women of
the time.
According to Egyptian sources, her beauty and family name increased her
desirability among suitors. Yossef Rapoport points out that, akin to other
women of the late 9th/15th century, Sitt al-Khulafā liqueed, squandered, or
angrily destroyed much of her bridal dowry, falling into debt by the end of
her thirty-two years, which largely fell at the feet of her last ex-husband, Ibn
Qawwān. Never one to shy from a crass judgement, al-Sakhā described her
as a troubled and abnormal young woman who chose a dicult life and de-
served prayers to help atone for her youthful indiscretions.
Abbasid Women as Stakeholders in Family Assets
Like Sitt al-Khulafā, it was hardly unusual for elite women in late medieval
Cairo to own residential or other property and have sizeable holdings of their
own wealth with which to fund buildings or other charitable projects. Despite
some rather provocative circumstantial evidence, we know very little about
what kinds of economic activities, patronage, or charitable work the Abbasid
women were able to engage in. Save for a few rare examples, the Abbasid ca-
liphs of Cairo did not fund major building projects on par with the sultans of
Cairo or the amirs, and thus neither did their female family members.
When the Abbasid family fell on hard times after the sultan al-Nāir
Muammad (r. 693–94/1293–94, 698–708/1299–1309, 709–41/1310–41) exiled
them to Qū in Upper Egypt from 737/1337 to 740/1340, the women, nding
themselves in severely reduced circumstances, took to the streets and markets
of Qū to sell of their dresses and housecoats to produce sucient income to
 Rapoport, Marriage, money and divorce, 26.
 Al-Sakhāwī, aw, 12:55.
 S. Joseph (ed.), Encyclopedia of women and Islamic cultures, 2:34–35; C. Petry, “Class soli-
darity versus gender gain: Women as custodians of property in later medieval Egypt,” in
N. Keddie and B. Baron (eds.), Women in Middle Eastern history: Shifting boundaries in sex
and gender (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), 122–42.
   
 () – | ./-
feed the entire household of 100 men, children, and servants. The women
also tried to establish local connections and joined in the family efort to draw
attention to the disrespectful treatment sufered by the Commander of the
Faithful and his extended family at the hands of the sultan.
It was possible for women of the family, whether those of Abbasid blood or
the former wives of the caliphs, to be left in old age without their husbands.
While some lived as destitute widows in Syria, others fell back upon family
resources and chose to re-enter the household of the reigning caliph (usually
a nephew or brother).
Also like other Muslim women of their time, the female members of the
Abbasid family inherited property from male relatives. The small village ward
(manshiyya) of Dahshūr in Giza, ocially an ongoing charitable trust, was
placed in the hands of the Abbasid family as a source of income in the late
8th/14th century. The caliph al-Mutawakkil left his share of village revenues
to his daughter al-Sitt Maryam, who oversaw it for many years. Although she
had married and entered the household of her husband, the protocol ocer
(mihmandār) Amad b. Muammad b. Alī b. urunāy al-Minkalī al-Turkī,
at some point, Maryam appears to have been responsible for the land inde-
pendently until her death, drawing income from it. In her own right, Maryam
acted as a prominent matriarch of the Abbasid family and used her inuence
to broker the marriage between her brother al-Mustanjid and Ulf, the daugh-
ter of Alam al-Dīn al-Bulqīnī. The case of Maryam thus demonstrates that
women of the family were able to participate in the alliance patterns of their
household and even successfully impose marriages on male members of
the family.
Maryam spent her later years living apart from her family, and her
death occurred during a period of tight restrictions and connement on
 Al-afadī, Ayān, 2:421; al-Maqrīzī, Sulūk, 2:417; Ibn ajar al-Asqalānī, al-Durar al-kāmina,
2:280. During the Qū years, the caliph’s annual stipend steadily decreased from 5,000
dirhams to 3,000 and then nally to 1,000, prompting the women to act.
 Garcin, Un centre musulman, 201.
 This appears to have been the case for Bayram, Maryam, and Iqlīmshāh.
 Al-Sakhāwī refers to Dahshūr alternately as khayriyya land and as a adaqa jāriyya. See
Dhayl, 2:422; al-Sakhāwī, Wajīz, 3:998. On these diferent grants, see Eychenne, Liens per-
sonnels, 121–23.
 For a succinct biography see al-Sakhāwī, aw, 12:125.
 According to al-Sakhāwī, Maryam, a close friend of Ulf’s mother Karāy, actually imposed
this marriage on her brother al-Mustanjid, though he divorced her shortly after Maryam
died. See aw, 12:125–26; Ibn Iyās, Badāi, 2:430, 457.
 Ben Othmen, La femme et les ulémas, 2:326.
 
./- |  () –
al-Mustanjid, who was even barred from attending her funeral in 872/1467.
After her death, Dahshūr reverted to the supervision of her nephew, the caliph
al-Mutawakkil , and in 892/1487 became a disputed territory between the
Abbasids and the amir Asanbāy al-Ashrafī.
The Station of the Abbasid Women in Medieval Cairene Society
On the social level, women of the Abbasid household—as representatives of
a holy family—were bound by religious norms linked to qh and the overall
status of women. Their own activities and behaviors were overshadowed by
the social practices tied to a notable family’s interest in reproducing itself and
expanding its inuence. Nevertheless, we nd nuances in exceptional gures
like Maryam bt. al-Mutawakkil and Sitt al-Khulafā, who help foreground fe-
male (and Abbasid) agency.
We can describe the female heirs of the Abbasid family in Cairo as women
of notable status, but, like their male counterparts, including the reigning ca-
liphs selected from the royal bloodline, they too were social inferiors of the
women associated with the top households of the sultanate and amirate. The
prestige and legitimacy of their family aforded them some respect, but not as
much as one might think. In circles of the ulama , scholarly dynasties such as
the Ibn Daqīq al-Īd family, the Banū Muzhir, or the Bulqīnīs appear to have
understood and accepted marriage connections with the Abbasid household
with due reverence, but only as a minor means of social mobility.
Nevertheless Abbasid family members, including the women, maintained
respect among various social groupings, as is attested by the continued use of
respectful sobriquets and titulature. In his obituaries for Abbasid ladies who
died in the late 9th/15th century, Ibn Iyās describes the mothers and daugh-
ters of the caliphs with many of the same adjectives he used to describe men
of the family: virtuous, charitable, irreproachable, and possessing high moral
character. Elder women of the family, as well as prominent young princess-
es, were referred to as al-sitt. At least one young Abbasid princess, Zubayda
(d. 712/1312), the daughter of the caliph al-Wāthiq bi-llāh (r. 740–1/1340–41),
 Ibn Iyās, Badāi, 2:457.
 For details of the litigation see: al-Sakhāwī, Dhayl, 2:422–23; al-Sakhāwī, Wajīz, 3:998–99;
Ibn Iyās, Badāi, 2:457.
 Hassan, Longing for the lost caliphate, 87.
 Ibn Iyās, Badāi, 4:171, 210.
   
 () – | ./-
received a burial of distinction in the Abbasid family mausoleum, near the
shrine of Sayyida Nafīsa in Cairo.
Just as the historical example of the divorce of Sitt al-Khulafā from the
amir Khuskaldī proves instructive for divorce cases of the era, al-Qalqashandī’s
adāq composed for the Abbasid princess Sāra provides an exaggerated ex-
ample of what the Abbasid caliphate could represent in the rhetorical world of
inshā literature and chancery documents. The marriage document allowed
Amad Abd ar-Rāziq to harvest what he considered to be relevant information
about the titles bestowed on medieval noble women in late medieval Egypt and
Syria. Among the several noteworthy titles given to Sāra were “daughter of the
caliphate” (salīlat al-khilāfa) and “branch [of the noble family]” ( fara ).
Coincidentally, according to Abd ar-Rāziq, a number of the honoric titles
previously associated with the classical caliphate, such as sitr or al-dār, later
evolved into titles of respect for the notable women among the urban elite.
Conclusion
This article began with two implicit assumptions: (1) that marriage into the ca-
liphal family of late medieval Cairo was benecial foremost to the non-Abbasid
party, rather than to the Abbasid party, and (2) that the Abbasids maintained
an ongoing sociopolitical signicance. It seems clear by the evidence present-
ed that the Abbasids likewise sought to boost their own prestige by “marrying
out” and attaching their family to other sources of social capital.
Abbasid prestige lent itself to events and local Cairene traditions well be-
yond the investiture of the sultans or their baya ceremonies. For example,
representatives of the Abbasid house, most often the caliphs themselves, were
also occasionally requested to pay respects or lead funerary prayers for notable
female relatives of the sultans.
 E. J. Rogers, “Notice sur le lieu de sépulture des khalifes abbassides de la deuxième dynas-
tie,” Bulletin de l’Institut d’Égypte (2nd series) 4 (1884), 117.
 Cf. Hassan, Longing for the lost caliphate, 126–31.
 Abd ar-Rāziq, La femme, 105; al-Qalqashandī, ub, 14:319. Akin to meaning the “female
scion of the caliphate,” this was a formality denoting respect for a princess or noble
woman of elite status in Cairo.
 Abd ar-Rāziq, La femme, 111; al-Qalqashandī, ub, 14:319.
 Abd ar-Rāziq, La femme, 104.
 Banister, “‘Naught remains.’”
 The caliph al-Mutaid  and the qadis had been involved in funerary prayers for Fāima
bt. Qujqār (d. 1424), the wife of sultan Barsbāy (al-Sakhāwī, aw, 12:99); and also the
 
./- |  () –
Although the women of the family (by virtue of blood or marital relation-
ships) shared proximity to the powerful notion of Abbasid preeminence,
they did not wield much inuence in the events unfolding around them. The
Abbasids of Cairo, by the late 9th/15th century, were becoming ethnically
closer to the circles of Turkish elite, including the sultans, yet culturally they
remained bound by many norms and mores of Arab nobility. Their image in
narrative sources thus conforms to that of a prominent scholarly family in a
medieval Islamicate society.
In a number of ways, the Abbasid women represent a microcosm of high-
born Cairene ladies overall. In certain cases, they were entirely dependent
both on their husbands and other male members of their families. However, a
signicant number of the women of the Abbasid household, particularly the
Abbasid daughters who received large dowries or inherited sizeable wealth
and property, were free to manage large households of their own. The socio-
religious milieu of late medieval Egypt and Syria is remarkable in its nurturing
of numerous reputable female scholars of hadith and the Islamic sciences.
While the family expended a good deal of efort educating Abbasid princes,
who might grow up to one day reign as caliphs, less is known about the ed-
ucational pursuits of the girls and women. Nevertheless, as Hassan points
out, at least one princess of the Abbasid household served al-Suyūī as an ex-
pert on recent family history, contributing to the compilation of his Ta rīkh
al-khulafā.
Robert Irwin has noted the diculty that comes in assessing what else
might be conferred (beyond various types of capital and prestige) from one
party to another within the context of a so-called “political marriage.” Our
evidence suggests that these Abbasid princesses, despite being born to a
caliph al-Mutawakkil  in 922/1516 for Jān Sukkar, beloved concubine of the sultan
Qāniawh al-Ghawrī. Ibn Iyās, Badāi, 5:27–28.
 Elbendary, Crowds and sultans, 84–86; A. Sayeed, “Women and adīth transmission:
Two case studies from Mamluk Damascus,Studia Islamica 95 (2002), 71–94; Lut, “al-
Sakhawi’s Kitab al-Nisa’”; S. Joseph (ed.), Encyclopedia of women and Islamic cultures,
4:491; 5:338, 374.
 According to al-Sakhāwī, the Abbasid princess Bayram had been a student of “Ibn Fahd,”
perhaps the Meccan Shai scholar Taqī al-Dīn Muammad ibn Fahd (d. 880/1476) See:
Ibn al-imī, awādith, 1:177; Ibn Taghrībirdī, Nujūm, 16:352–53; al-Sakhāwī, aw, 9:281–
83; al-Sakhāwī, Wajīz, 2:783; Abd al-Bāsi al-Malaī, Kitāb al-raw al-bāsim fī awādith
al-umr wa-l-tarājim, ed. Umar Tadmurī (Beirut: al-Maktaba al-Ariyya, 2014), 3:111; al-
Malaī, Nayl, 2:177. On the Ibn Fahd family, see al-Sakhāwī, aw, 11:265.
 Hassan, Longing for the lost caliphate, 137.
 R. Irwin, “Factions in medieval Egypt,Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 118 (2)
(1986), 242.
   
 () – | ./-
historically revered family, tended to marry comparatively lower-ranking mil-
itary commanders or the sons of religious ocials. While they did curb the
physical mobility of individual family members, the Cairene political elite did
not appear interested in regulating Abbasid marriages.
As with any Muslim marriage, and perhaps especially when it came to the
honored Abbasid family, the social and economic compatibility of the couple
remained a vital issue for the caliphal household. The importance of marital
balance in socioeconomic terms arose in the contract of the princess Sāra, and
was used later as grounds to dissolve the rst marriage of Sitt al-Khulafā. That
members of the Abbasid family should not marry beneath their status was an
issue of signicance for the family and members of the ulama , despite the
caliph’s weakened political position throughout the long history of the Cairo
sultanate and its unique incarnation of the Abbasid caliphate.
Notable scholarly families intermarried with the Abbasids with some regu-
larity, thereby allying their interests with those of various caliphal candidates
or even obtaining inuence over a sitting caliph when possible. It seems rea-
sonable to conclude that marrying an Abbasid spouse could only supplement
whatever else a family such as the al-Bulqīnīs could also accrue for purposes
of social or professional mobility: acquisition of important patronage ties,
teaching or other manab positions, marriages with other more prestigious
families, political connections, and, most important, academic reputation and
prowess. In some ways, this resembles an observation made by Sherman
Jackson on the very nature of the Abbasid caliph’s symbolic power vis-à-vis the
early sultans of Cairo: “At most, the Caliph would be able to reinforce whatever
legitimacy Baybars was able to muster on his own; but to legitimize an em-
peror who paraded without clothes was altogether a diferent matter.”
A woman like Sitt al-Khulafā may have been expected by her family to
secure a high-prole or wealthy match from among the military or religious
classes. Her rst marriage failed to yield much for the family due to reasons
beyond their control. Subsequent marriages appeared to displease her and,
although she was able to amass a large estate comprised of multiple dowries,
there does not appear to have been time to see what other kinds of advance-
ment could result from the later unions. Marital relationships were uid, and
 Marriage within the Abbasid family was by no means exclusive to members of the
ulama . Many minor amirs also married Abbasid princesses. See al-Qalqashandī, ub,
14:319–21; al-Sakhāwī, aw, 12:54–55; al-Sakhāwī, Wajīz, 2:874; Schimmel, “Kalif und Kadi,”
79; Schimmel, “Some glimpses,” 354.
 Moore, Role of the madrasah, 88.
 Jackson, “Primacy of domestic politics,” 58.
 
./- |  () –
it was quite normal that a member of the religious class might have an Abbasid
spouse at some point, only to separate shortly thereafter.
Pursuing her own happiness, Sitt al-Khulafā challenged the Abbasid fam-
ily’s plans for strategic marriage alliances. Her long list of marriages and di-
vorces suggests that her family wanted to nd important matches that would
convey nancial and other benets. Nevertheless, unhappy with each union
for one reason or another, she initiated divorce. Marriage, in any period, sel-
dom concerns only strategy, advancement, and social mobility; rather, it is a
complicated and multilayered human relationship wrapped in emotion and
personality. Sources of the time seem to have been more interested in her very
public divorces, which stoked religious controversies among the experts of the
Sunni theological schools, as well as other civilian and military elites in Cairo,
including the caliphal, sultanic, and amiral households.
The subject of Abbasid marriage relationships is one aspect of the broad-
er discourse on Abbasid legitimacy and sultanic sovereignty taking place in
the wider realms of the Cairo sultanate already described at length by Aigle,
Broadbridge, Hassan, Holt, Schimmel, and others. Al-Qalqashandī’s insistence
on the Abbasid line as an ideal paragon that no other lineage in society could
hope to approach seems a stark contrast to the disinterest of many of the more
important families, whether those of the sultans, amirs, or prominent ulama ,
in marrying into the caliph’s family. Thus there seems to be every reason to be-
lieve that, in most cases, those who married into the Abbasid family might not
have sought to gain much beyond a kinship link to the family of the Prophet.
The tendency toward making their own marriage ties is an indication of the
Abbasid family’s agency and freedom to act—though, at times, in perceived
cases of a spouse’s social inferiority, family pressure could force Abbasid princ-
es and princesses to divorce singing girls or low-ranking administrators. If, as
the implications in our sources suggest, the Cairene Abbasids were permitted
to forge their own relationships, it implies a degree of mobility that transcends
their typical image in modern scholarship as only pawns to be manipulated by
religiopolitical authorities. There was in fact some slack on the leash on which
the caliphs were kept, which goes a long way toward explaining the nuances of
 Ben Othmen, La femme et les ulémas, 2:326–39.
 On the tie between the Abbasid caliph of Cairo and the Prophet, see Hassan, Longing for
the lost caliphate, 139–40.
 As Frenkel points out, such marriages between the classes speak to us about the complex
social fabric of urban society through the nature of family bonds. Some evidence sug-
gests that Arabic-language authors looked down on inter-class marriages between bu-
reaucrats, scholars, and amirs. See Frenkel, “Mamluk ulamā on festivals,” 286–88; Berkey,
Transmission, 4; Schimmel, “Kalif und Kadi,” 80.
   
 () – | ./-
the occasionally murky practical relationship between caliphate and sultanate
in late medieval Egypt and Syria.
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Article
The Muzhir family (Banū Muzhir) was an elite Arab-Muslim civilian family in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, which produced six kātib al-sirrs (chief-secretary) of Damascus and Cairo for four generations. In the fifteenth-century Mamluk government, a large payment was required to assume a high-ranking office, and bureaucrats also faced the risk of arbitrary discharge and confiscation. In those situations, individuals needed to establish relationships with prominent figures in the government to seek recommendations and intercession. For this purpose, they used their family line as a ‘survival strategy,’ and marriage played a significant role in mitigating the potential extinction of a family line or a sudden downfall. This paper begins to reconstruct the chronological process of how this family of Syrian origins established a foothold in Cairo. We then attempt to clarify the meaning of marriage for bureaucrat families by focusing on how their personal relationships, built by marriage, worked to develop members’ careers in the family line and thus served as safety nets against potential crises. Banū Muzhir was counted as one of the most prestigious bureaucrat families in fifteenth-century Cairo. However, our investigation shows that they had largely sustained their genealogy by relying on connections built through marriage. For them, the most important factor for developing the careers of young family members, in addition to their father’s legacy and administrative offices, was to succeed in human relationships. They succeeded strategically through renewed relationships with other prominent civilian families built in the previous generations, and expanded these by concluding marriages. Their extended family networks served as safety nets to cope with the unstable situations of the fifteenth century; among these, marriage was of the utmost importance among bureaucrat families.