How a Former Slave Faced Ottoman Might

Tuman bay II, a Mamluk slave, became Sultan of Egypt facing Ottoman invasion. Despite rallying his forces, he was defeated and hanged in Constantinople, marking the end of Mamluk rule in Egypt.

How a Former Slave Faced Ottoman Might
A Mamluk soldier in elaborate armor kneels before a richly decorated throne.

History paints pharaohs in gilded hues and emperors with sweeping cloaks. Yet, seldom do we consider the curious cases of those who stumbled, sword in hand, onto the precipice of power. Tuman bay II, the last Sultan of Mamluk Egypt, falls squarely in this category. His story, a string of events combined with the complexities of an uncertain ascension, a frantic struggle, and a brutal demise, offers a poignant glimpse into the volatile world of the early 16th century.

Born around 1476, Tuman bay II wasn't heralded by prophecies or swaddled in royal silks. He entered the world as Al-Ashraf Abu Al-Nasr Tuman bay, a domestic slave, likely of Circassian origin. The Mamluks, a military caste who ruled Egypt for centuries, often recruited young boys from foreign lands, training them as soldiers and administrators. Tuman bay II, it seems, walked this path.

By 1516, the Mamluk sultanate was already teetering. The Ottomans, a rising power under the formidable Selim I, cast a hungry eye on Egypt's riches and strategic location. The inevitable clash came at the Battle of Marj Dabiq, north of Aleppo. Here, amidst the clang of steel and the screams of the dying, the Mamluk sultan, Qansuh al-Ghawri, met his end. Decapitated, his head became a gruesome trophy.

The Mamluks were in disarray. In this chaotic power vacuum, the emirs, the Mamluk elite, chose Tuman bay II, a man who may have once dusted sandals or polished armor, to ascend the very throne he once served. At around 40 years old, an unlikely sultan found himself crowned amidst a crumbling empire.

Tuman bay II wasn't without his merits. Though lacking royal pedigree, he possessed the loyalty of the Mamluk rank-and-file. But loyalty, however fierce, couldn't mend a fractured state. Cairo, the Mamluk capital, was in turmoil. The Ottomans, emboldened by their victory at Marj Dabiq, marched south. Tuman bay II, in a desperate bid to rally his forces, even paraded the captured Ottoman Caliph, a symbolic act of defiance.

Yet, defiance wasn't enough. In the ensuing Battle of Cairo, the superior Ottoman army crushed the Mamluks. Tuman bay II, a sultan forged in the fires of crisis, fled south. The Ottomans, relentless in their pursuit, captured him near the Red Sea.

Selim I, the Ottoman Sultan, wasn't one for elaborate executions. Tuman bay II's fate was swift and brutal. He was hanged in Constantinople, the Ottoman capital, a stark reminder of the Mamluks' demise. His body, displayed for three days as a chilling spectacle, was eventually taken down and buried.

Tuman bay II's story is a reminder that history isn't just about grand pronouncements and sweeping victories. It's also about the unexpected figures who rise to the challenge, thrust into the maelstrom of events. His brief reign, a mere flicker in the grand tapestry of Mamluk rule, serves as a microcosm of a larger struggle – the Ottomans' inexorable rise and the Mamluks' tragic fall.

Though his name may not resonate with the grandeur of a Saladin or a Ramses, Tuman bay II's story, with its stark contrast between servitude and sovereignty, and its poignant end, offers a window into a pivotal moment in history — a testament to the enduring human drama that unfolds on the grand stage of power.