An important source for the biography of the Mamluk sultan al-Malik al-Mansur Qala'un, and for his role in combating the crusader invasions, is the anonymous work Tashrif al-Ayyam wa l-'Usur bi-Sirat al-Sultan al-Ma/ik nl-Mansur (Honoring the Years and the Days of the Life of Sultan al-Malik al-Mansur), of which there is a manuscript in the collection of the Caetani Foundation for Muslim Studies in Rome. It includes an account, abbreviat- ed here, of the siege of Margat Castle known to the Muslims as al-Marqab that differs in its details from the version passed on by Christian sources.

This is a grewat and mighty castle, which had long keen n challenge to our lord the Sultan al-Malik al-Malik God grant him victory. He studied every means of securing it for Islam and supported every plan or method for conquering it and overcoming it.... The Franks believed that it was unassailable by any combination of force and cun- ning, and that no one was clever enough to get the better of it. So they went 071 with their haughty ways, broke their oaths, and ... committed every possible crime and perfidy, rapine and robbery. But our lord the Sultan al-Mansur lay in wait for them like n man-eating lion....

He brought siege-engines from Damascus without anyone knowing where they ... were destined for; armies were mobilized from the vari- ous countries in uncountable number, with their stores, equipment and commanders.... The Sultan had sent for a great arsenal from Egypt, with great bundles les of arrows and other arms, and issues of arrows were made to the amirs and troops to carry with them and use when given the word; iron implements and flame-throwing tubes were procured, such as exist only in the royal magazines and arsenals.... A number of experts on the art of siege and the techniques of blockade were also enlisted. The catapults of the neighbouring forts were requisitioned and mobilized.... Catapults and fighting gear were carried on men's shoulders. Eventually, our lord the Sultan left his camp at 'Uyun Qasab and by forced marches arrived to besiege al-Marqab on Wednesday April 17, 1285.

Immediately the catapults were brought up, ... and the fort was sur- rounded by a murderous circle of weapons.... [There were] three of the great 'Frankish' type [of catapult], three 'qarabughas' and four 'dev- ils'.... These began a formidable, murdurous assault with stones, while excavations were started on each side to undermine the walls. The 'Frankish' catapults broke up those of the enemy, ... but the Franks repaired their cata pul ts, aimed them at the Muslims and smashed some of theirs, killing some of the Muslims who operated them. It is incon- testable that the fortunes of war ebb and flow and that not everyone can save his skin.

When the Sultan's tunnel under the wall was finished the wood was put into it and set on fire on Wednesday May 25; the fire reached mid- hlnnel under the tower at the angle of the bastion and the Muslims moved in to attack the walls themselves, but after violent fighting the attacking force proved insufficiently powerful to scale the wall. At sun- set [however]] the tower collapsed [due to the undermining], which in the opinion of our army increased the difficulty of gaining a foothold in the fortress. Thus the night passed in great confusion, for the use of cat- apults was made impossible by what had happened, and everything that could be done with mines had been done. Now God alone could exterminate the enemy.

On the following Friday God mad e the Franks think that the tunnels under the entire wall were all equally far advanced, that they ... were undermining the walls themselves. In fact the tunnels, travelling in conduits under the moats, had reached [only] as far as the towers, but the Franks were unaware of this. When they did discover it they lost their courage and presence of mind and gave themselves up for lost.... [The Sultan] agreed to grant them pardon and amnesty, and they, in the faith that our Sultan's word was worth more than any oaths, sent their leaders to the tent of victory and asked only for their lives and nothing more.... Safe-conducts were issued for them and they ... surrendered the fort in its entirety at the eighth hour of Friday May 25 [sic]....

The Muslims went up [to take possession of the fort] and from the heights of the citadel the call to prayer resounded with praise and thanks to God....

Reprinted by permission from Francesco Gabrieli's Arab Historians of the Crusades, Selected and Translated from the Arabic Sources, translated and edited by E. J. Costello and published in the United States by the University of California Press. Translation copyright ~3 1969 by Routledge & Kegan Paul, Ltd.

Back to main document