Post-classical history

§ Civil Strife: ‘Abbas Abandons Egypt to Ibn Ruzzik

As for the unrest during which ‘Abbas left Egypt and the Franks killed him, it happened this way. Once he began to suspect whatever it was he suspected was going on between me and Ibn Ruzzik (or perhaps someone told him), he summoned me to his presence and demanded that I swear by forcible oaths from which there is no escape that I would leave with him and accompany him. But he was not satisfied even then, so he sent one of his household managers under cover of night to go into the private quarters and take my household, my mother and my sons to his palace, saying to me, ‘I’ll cover all their expenses on the road and transport them with Nasr’s mother.’

[24] ‘Abbas then set about making the arrangements for his journey, preparing his horses, camels and mules. He brought two hundred horses and mares led by bridles held by men on foot (as is their custom in Egypt), two hundred pack mules and four hundred camels carrying his baggage. He was a real devotee of astrology and was convinced by the horoscope to set out on Saturday, 15 Rabi’ al-Awwal of that year (30 May 1154).

I happened to be with him when an attendant of his called ‘Antar the Elder came to see him. This ‘Antar was in charge of all his affairs, great or small. He said, ‘My lord, what is to be hoped for if we go to Syria? Take instead your treasure, your household, your attendants and your followers and go to Alexandria, where we can muster and assemble troops and go back and fight Ibn Ruzzik and his comrades. That way, if we are victorious, you can return to your palace and your kingdom; if we fail, then we can return to Alexandria, to a city where we are protected and defended from our enemies.’ At that, ‘Abbas chided him and said his plan would be a mistake – yet it was the right one.

The next day, ‘Abbas summoned me early in the morning. When I came before him, I said, ‘My lord, if I am going to be with you from dawn to dusk, when will I make the preparations for my journey?’

He replied, ‘We have with us some messengers from Damascus. Send them on their way and then go make your preparations.’

Prior to this, he had summoned to his presence a group of amirs whom he made swear oaths that they would not betray him or plot against him. He also summoned a group of Arab tribal leaders from the tribes of Darma’, Zurayq, Judham, Sinbis, Talha, Ja’far and Lawata and made them swear similar oaths, on the Qur’an itself, and vowing to divorce their wives if they broke it. So we were naturally surprised (I being with him that early Friday morning) that the troops had donned weapons and were marching against us – and their leaders were those very amirs whom he had made swear their oaths just the day before. ‘Abbas ordered his mounts to be saddled, and once that was done they were stationed at his palace gate. They were like a barrier between us and the Egyptian troops, who were not able to get to us because of the multitude of animals outside.

At this, his attendant, ‘Antar the Elder – the one who had just suggested to ‘Abbas that plan, and who was [25] in charge of the men there – went out and screamed and cursed at his men, saying, ‘Go back to your homes!’ So they abandoned the animals and went away, grooms, muleteers and camel-drivers. The animals were thus left unattended and were given up to plunder. At this, ‘Abbas said to me, ‘Go and summon the Turks – they’re stationed at the Victory Gate77 – the scribes will make sure they get paid.’ But when I went and summoned them, they rode off – all of them, about eight hundred horsemen – and rushed out of the Cairo Gate fleeing from the fighting. The mamluks rode off, too – there were even more of them than the Turks – and they also went out through the Victory Gate. So I returned to ‘Abbas and let him know what had happened. Then I busied myself with removing my household, whom ‘Abbas had transported to his palace. I got them out along with the wives of ‘Abbas. Finally, when the road was clear and the animals had been plundered down to the last one, the Egyptian troops arrived to expel us. We were but a tiny group and they a massive host.

Once we had left through the Victory Gate, they came and locked the gates, returned to our homes and plundered them. They took from the hall of my home forty of those large camel-bags, all sewn up and filled with silver, gold and cloth. From my stables, they took thirty-six horses and saddle-mules with their saddles and their full tack and twenty-five camels. From my fief at Kum Afshin, they took two hundred head of cattle belonging to the residents, a thousand sheep and a granary full of grain.78

§§ Attacked by Arab Tribes

Once we had left the Victory Gate behind us, the Arab tribes whom ‘Abbas had made to swear oaths came together and they fought us from the early morning hours of Friday79 until Thursday, [26] 20 of Rabi’al-Awwal (29 May-4 June 1154). They spent every daylight hour fighting us. Once night fell and we encamped, they let us be so that we could sleep, then they would ride at us with a hundred horsemen, pressing at us with their horses from all sides, raising their voices in shouts. If any of our horses were startled and ran out to them, they took it.

One day, I withdrew from my comrades. I was riding a white horse – one of my worst. The groom had saddled him without knowing what would happen, and I had no weapons with me except my sword. Suddenly, the Arabs attacked me, and there I was: I couldn’t find any way to repulse them, my horse couldn’t help me escape and their arrows started falling on me. I thought to myself, ‘Jump off the horse, draw your sword, and have at them.’ But as I gathered myself to jump, my horse stumbled and I fell onto some stones and a patch of rough ground. A piece of skin from my head was ripped off and I became so dizzy that I didn’t know where I was. A group of Arabs gathered around me, while I just sat there, bare-headed, clueless, my sword lying in its scabbard.

One of them struck me twice with his sword, saying, ‘Hand over the dosh!’ but I didn’t know what he was saying. So they took my horse and my sword.

The Turks caught sight of me and doubled back. Nasr sent me a horse and a sword, and I set off without having even a bandage to dress my wounds. Glory be to He whose kingdom lasts forever!

We travelled on, and not one of us carried even a handful of provisions. Whenever I wanted to drink some water, I would dismount and drink from my hand. Yet just the night before, I had been sitting on a chair in one of the antechambers of my house, while some people offered me sixteen camels for transporting water and however many water-skins and bags God (glory be to Him) had willed. In the end, I was unable to transport my household, so at Bilbays I sent everyone back to stay with Ibn Ruzzik (may God have mercy upon him). He treated them well, let them stay in a house, [27] and granted them a stipend to cover their needs. Finally, when the Arabs who were fighting us wanted to go back, they came to us and extracted a pardon from us should we ever return.

§§ Franks at al-Muwaylih. Bedouin Attacks and a Bedouin Rescue

I continued on with our company until Sunday, 23 Rabi’ al-Awwal (7 June 1154). We were surprised the next morning by a party of Franks at al-Muwaylih,80 who killed ‘Abbas and his son Husam al-Mulk, took his son Nasr captive and made off with his treasure and his wives. They killed anyone whom they could, and took my own brother, Muhammad (may God have mercy upon him), as prisoner. We had taken refuge in the hills, so the Franks left us and went back.

Under conditions worse than death – without provisions for the men or fodder for the horses – we continued on through Frankish territory until we reached the mountains of the Banu Fuhayd (may God curse them), in Wadi Musa.81 We climbed through narrow and treacherous paths that led to a wide, desolate plain, full of men and stone-pelted devils.82 The Banu Fuhayd killed anyone who got separated from the main party straight away.

Now, that region always has a few men from the Banu Rabi’a there, the amirs of the Tayyi’ tribe. So I asked, ‘Which of the Banu Rabi’a amirs is here now?’

‘Mansur ibn Ghidfal,’ they told me.

As it happens, he was a friend of mine. So I passed two dinars to one of them and said, ‘Go find Mansur and tell him, “Your friend Ibn Munqidh greets you and tells you to come to him early in the morning.”’ We spent a miserable night, terrified of the Arabs there.

When first light broke, they took all their equipment and stationed themselves at the spring, saying, ‘We’re not going to let you [28] drink our water while we die of thirst.’ Mind you, this spring provided enough water to supply Rabi’a and Mudar,83 and there were many more in their territory just like it. They just wanted to stir up trouble between us so that they could kidnap us.

And so there we were when Mansur ibn Ghidfal finally arrived. He screamed at the Arab tribesmen and cursed them, so they dispersed. ‘Mount up!’ he said, and so we did, and we went down the mountain on a road even more narrow and treacherous than the one we took on the way up. We came down to flat ground safe and sound, though we almost didn’t make it. I collected one thousand Egyptian dinars for the amir Mansur and gave them to him, and he went back home.

We continued on, those of us who survived the Franks and the Banu Fuhayd, reaching the city of Damascus on Friday, 5 Rabi’ al-Akhir of that year (19 June 1154). The fact that we arrived safely at all after that journey is a proof of the power of God, the Mighty and Majestic, and of His excellent protection.

§§ The Story of Usama’s Saddle

One of the curious things that happened to me during that battle with the Franks84 happened like this. Al-Zafir had once sent Nasr a small, handsome Frankish ambler horse. One day, I went out to a village of mine, while my son, Abu al-Fawaris Murhaf, stayed with Nasr.

The latter said, ‘We need a nice handsome saddle for this ambler, like the saddles they make in Gaza.’

So my son said, ‘I have already found one, my lord, and it surpasses any you could desire.’

‘Then where is it?’ he asked.

‘In the house of your servant, my father,’ he replied, ‘for he has a lovely saddle from Gaza.’

‘Go and bring it here,’ Nasr commanded. So he sent a messenger to my house, who took the saddle. It pleased Nasr, so he strapped it onto the ambler. That saddle came with me from Syria on one of those horses that is led alongside. Its saddlecloth was quilted, fringed in black and exceedingly handsome. It weighed 130 mithqals.85

[29] When I came back from my fief, Nasr said to me, ‘We took the liberty to take this saddle from your house.’

So I said, ‘My lord, I am happy to be of service to you.’

When the Franks attacked us at al-Muwaylih, I had five of my mamluks with me on camels, the Arabs having taken their horses earlier. After the Franks attacked, some of the horses were left behind, roaming at will. So the attendants dismounted from their camels, intercepted the horses and took however many they needed to ride. And on one of those horses that they seized was my golden saddle that Nasr had taken.

Husam al-Mulk86 (the nephew of ‘Abbas) and a brother of ‘Abbas who was a son of Ibn al-Sallar were both among those with us who survived that battle. Husam al-Mulk had heard the story of the saddle and said (and I heard him say this), ‘Everything that belonged to the poor wretch (meaning Nasr) was pillaged, some of it by the Franks, some of it by his own comrades.’

So I said, ‘Perhaps you are referring to the golden saddle?’

‘Indeed,’ he said.

So I ordered that the saddle be brought forth and I said to him, ‘Read what is on the saddle-cloth. Is it the name of ‘Abbas and the name of his son, or is it my name? Who was there in all of Egypt but I who was able to ride in a golden saddle in the days of al-Hafiz?’ My name was written along the border of the saddle-cloth in black, and its centre was quilted.

When he read what was on it, he apologized and kept silent.87

§§ Digression: The Lesson of Ridwan. The Case of Qatr al-Nada

Even if the divine will had not been executed on ‘Abbas and his son, and even if they had not suffered the consequences that they did for their injustice and ingratitude, ‘Abbas might still have learned a lesson from what had happened before his time to al-Afdal Ridwan88 (may God have mercy upon him). Ridwan had once served as vizier when the troops rose against him at the bidding of al-Hafiz, just as they rose against ‘Abbas, so he fled from Egypt to Syria. Meanwhile, his palace and private quarters were given up to the most thorough pillage. Indeed, a man known as Commander Muqbil saw a serving-girl with the black troops, so he bought her from them and sent her to his house. Now, he had a righteous wife and she took the serving-girl up to a room in the highest part of the house.

There she heard the girl say, ‘Perhaps [30] God will make us prevail over those who treat us so unjustly and who are so ungrateful for our acts of kindness.’89

So the wife asked her, ‘Who are you?’

She replied, ‘I am Qatr al-Nada, daughter of Ridwan.’ The wife then sent a message to her husband, Commander Muqbil, who was on duty at the palace gate, summoning him home. She informed him of the girl’s status. In turn, he wrote a report to al-Hafiz and informed him about it. Al-Hafiz then sent one of the palace servants, who took her from Muqbil’s house and restored her to the palace.

§§ Digression: Courting Ridwan’s Help. He is Captured in Egypt

After that, Ridwan arrived in Salkhad,90 where Amin al-Dawla Gumushtagin al-Atabaki91 was staying (may God have mercy upon him). Gumushtagin received his guest generously, settled him in a house there and put his services at his disposal. At the time, the King of Amirs, the atabeg Zangi (may God have mercy upon him), was at Baalbek, putting it to siege.92 He wrote to Ridwan and it was decided that Ridwan would join him.

Ridwan was a perfect man: magnanimous, brave, a writer and scholar. The troops were especially fond of him because of his greatness of heart. So the amir Mu’in al-Din93 (may God be pleased with him), said to me, ‘If this man joins forces with Zangi, he will cause us a great deal of harm.’

‘So what do you plan to do about it?’ I asked.

He said, ‘You will go to him, and maybe you can change his mind about joining Zangi, and he will come to Damascus instead. Use your own judgment in how you carry this out.’

So I went to see Ridwan at Salkhad, where I met with him and his brother, al-Awhad, and spoke with them. Ridwan said to me, ‘The matter is out of my hands. I have made a vow to this sultan to join him, and I must fulfil it.’

‘May God lead you to your reward!’ I said. ‘I’ll just go back to my lord, then, since he cannot do without me. But before I go, I wanted to let you know what was on my mind.’

‘So tell me,’ he said.

‘If you go and join the atabeg Zangi,’ I asked, ‘would he have enough troops so that he could send half with you to return to Egypt, and still keep half for himself to besiege us?’

‘No,’ he said.

‘Alright then,’ I said, ‘when he camps before Damascus to besiege and capture it, after a long period – with his troops weakened, [31] their provisions exhausted and their march prolonged – would he then be able to go with you to Egypt before he renewed his equipment and strengthened his troops?’

‘No,’ he admitted.

I continued, ‘It is at just that time that he will say to you, “Let’s go to Aleppo so that we can renew the equipment we need for our march.” But when you arrive at Aleppo, he will say, “Let’s just head over to the Euphrates to enlist the Turkomans.” And when you have encamped on the Euphrates, he will say, “If we don’t cross the Euphrates, the Turkomans won’t join us.” And so, when you have finally crossed over, he will flaunt you like a trophy and boast before the sultans of the East, saying, “Look! This is the ruler of Egypt94 I have in my service!” When that happens, you’ll wish you could see just one stone from Syria, but you won’t be able to. That’s when you’ll remember my words and say, “He gave me advice, but I ignored it.”’

At that Ridwan lowered his head in thought, not knowing what to say. He then turned to me and asked, ‘What then should I do, if you are so eager to return?’

‘If, by staying here a bit longer,’ I replied, ‘I can assist our cause, then I will stay.’

‘Do so,’ he said. So I stayed.

The negotiations continued between us, back and forth. He finally agreed to come to Damascus provided that he be given thirty thousand dinars, half in cash, half in fief, that he be given the ‘Aqiqi Palace and that his companions be granted stipends. Ridwan wrote out these conditions for me himself – he had a superb hand. He then said, ‘If you like, I’ll go with you.’

To this I replied, ‘No. I’ll go and take the messenger-pigeons from here with me. When I have arrived and cleaned out your house and got all your affairs ready, I will let the pigeons fly back to you and, at the same time, I’ll head out and meet you halfway and enter the city in your company.’ He agreed to that and I then took my leave and departed.

Now, Amin al-Dawla95 was eager to hasten Ridwan’s departure for Egypt, given all that Ridwan had promised him and all that he hoped to gain from it. He thus assembled all the men he had with him that he could, and sent them out with him after my departure. But once Ridwan had crossed the borders of Egypt, the Turkish soldiers that were with him turned against him and pillaged his baggage. He took refuge in one of the Arab encampments, sent messengers to al-Hafiz demanding safe-conduct and eventually returned to Cairo. But the moment he arrived in Cairo, al-Hafiz had him arrested and thrown into prison – him and his son.

§§ Digression: Ridwan’s Escape from Prison

[32] It happened that when I first arrived in Cairo,96 he was still in prison in a house next to the palace. By using an iron spike, he managed to dig a tunnel fourteen cubits long and escape on Wednesday night.97 One of the amirs, a relative, knew of his plan. This amir and a henchman of his from the Lawata tribe were waiting for him by the palace. They all then went towards the Nile and crossed over into Giza.98 Cairo was all in tumult at his escape. The next morning, Ridwan appeared in a belvedere in Giza, where the troops assembled before him. Meanwhile, the Egyptian troops prepared to fight him. Then, early on Friday morning, he awoke and crossed into Cairo. The Egyptian army was armed and ready for battle, commanded by Qaymaz, Master of the Gate.99 When they met, Ridwan routed them and then he entered Cairo.

I had already ridden to the palace gate with my companions before he entered the city. I found that the gates of the palace were locked and no one was guarding them. So I returned to my house and stayed there. Ridwan set himself up in the al-Aqmar Mosque.100Various amirs came and joined him, bringing him food and cash. But al-Hafiz had assembled a group of black troops in the palace, who started drinking and soon became drunk. He had the palace gate opened for them and they rushed out seeking Ridwan. When the screams of these black troops reached them, all of the amirs with Ridwan rode off and scattered. Ridwan went out of the mosque only to find that his groom had stolen his horse and fled. As a result, one of the men of the caliphal bodyguard saw Ridwan standing there at the door to the mosque and said, ‘My lord, why don’t you take my horse?’

‘Indeed,’ Ridwan replied. So the young guardsman galloped up to him, sword in hand. Then, making as if he was leaning over to dismount, the guardsman struck Ridwan with his sword and Ridwan fell. Soon, the black troops arrived and killed him. The Egyptians divided up his flesh and ate it in order to acquire his valour.101 Thus his story serves as a warning and a lesson from which to learn by example, even if the divine decree had not been executed.102

§§ Bleeding Saves a Soldier at al-Muwaylih

[33] On that day,103 one of our Syrian companions suffered from multiple wounds. His brother came to me and said, ‘My brother is as good as dead. He’s been wounded by so many blows, this way and that from swords and other weapons, that he has fallen unconscious and won’t come round.’

‘Go back and bleed him,’ I told him.

‘But’, he exclaimed, ‘he has already lost twenty ratls of blood!’104

‘Go back and bleed him!’ I said. ‘I am more experienced than you are about wounds. There is no other cure for them than bleeding.’

So he went and took himself off for two hours, then returned obviously overjoyed and said, ‘I bled him and he’s now conscious, sitting up, eating and drinking. The illness has gone from him.’

‘Praise be to God!’ I said. ‘If I hadn’t tried this out a million times on myself, I wouldn’t have suggested it to you.’

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