Selling weapons to the enemy

Those interested in the politics and military history of the medieval Middle East will be interested in two new books that have just been published as part of the Crusade Texts in Translation series from Routledge (formerly Ashgate). 

Both books are by David Cook and offer translations of Mamluk sources about events taking place in the later thirteenth century. Baybars' successors: Ibn al-Furāt on Qalāwūn and al-Ashraf and Chronicles of Qalāwūn and his son al-Ashraf Khalīl detail the years 1277 to 1293, a period that saw the Mamluk conquest of the last remaining Crusader States in the Levant. 

The texts also give a lot of interesting anecdotes of the governing of Egypt and Syria by the Mamluks. The following episode was reported by the chronicler Muḥammad Ibn al-Furāt for the year 1288. The section begins by explaining that a low-level official known as Bakjarī was able to gain access (after much effort) to a private meeting with the Mamluk Sultan Qalāwūn (1279-90). Here he made accusations against Alam al-Dīn Sanjar al-Shujā`ī, minister and administrator for the Egyptian homelands.

His most serious accusation was that al-Shujā`ī had arranged the sale of spears and other weapons to the Crusaders / Franks, ones that came from the Sultan’s own warehouse. Qalāwūn responded by calling in al-Shujā`ī, who admitted to the deed, but explained it this way:

Yes, I sold them for a hefty profit and a clear advantage. The profit was that I sold those spears and weapons which were old and falling apart, and were of little benefit. I also sold them at twice their value, and worth, just so the Franks would know that we are selling them weapons out of contempt for them, and taking them lightly, and because we do not care about them.

These words almost convinced Qalāwūn, but then Bakjarī retorted with this speech:

You heap! What is concealed from you is greater than what you let on, so here is an answer: The Franks and the enemies do not allow weapons to be sold to them in the manner at which you have hinted. What is common knowledge among them, passed back and forth by the enemies, is that they say that the ruler of the Egyptian homelands and Syrian lands is in such need that he sells his weapons to his enemies. That is about what they say!

The Sultan was convinced by the official’s words, and got angry at al-Shujā`ī - he was fired from his job and forced to pay a hefty fine. His discipline would end about a year later, as Ibn al-Furāt reports that Qalāwūn was once again employing the bureaucrat in a high-level position.  

This small episode is a good illustration of a dilemma that many other leaders had to consider - should you sell weapons to a foe, or potential foe. On one hand, you could earn a lot of money from this. However, you also risk having your enemies see you in a new light, and possibly see you as vulnerable. 

You can check out both books as part of the Crusader Texts in Translation series from Routledge.

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