[author title=”Pejvak Kokabian” image=”https://www.tribunezamaneh.com/archives/author/kokabian”][/author]
The Ayyubid or Ayyoubid Empire (Arabic:الأيوبيون, Kurdish: ئەیوبی) was the Kurdish dynasty of sultans founded by Saladin (Salah al-Din ibn Al-Ayubbi) about 1171 CE. It ruled Egypt, Palestine, Syria, most of Yemen, Diyar Bakr, Mecca, Hejaz, Kurdistan and Mesopotamia in the 12th and 13th centuries. In the cinema and history textbooks of the Middle East communities, Saladin Ayoubi was named only as the victor of Jerusalem and sadly, the two centuries of the golden age of the Ayyubid Empire is summed up to this military event in history. In the majority of documents and texts of the Middle East states, Ayyubid is referred to as a dynasty, while western and English world refers to Ayyubid mostly as an empire. The academic books and research describe their rule as of characteristics of an empire. The question is whether, due to the Kurdish identity of this empire, the significance of this era has been neglected in Persian literature, or because of the lack of extensive readings of history, the Ayyubid subject has been forgotten in the Middle East. This author believes that the progress and glory of Ayyubid empire (in the Persian and Arabic text) deliberately or inadvertently is concealed and their achievements are limited to the warlike role of Ayyubid and Saladin.
The two-century empire achievement has not been properly reported, and their role to initiate a system for commerce and trade between Near East and Europe is slipped from official narrative. The fact is that for the first time the maritime commerce system, with all its financial, legal, and transportation subsystems is built by Ayyubid and became a foundation of modern international trade 900 years ago. The historiography of the Ayyubid empire has attracted attention significantly recently, but these documents and reports have not been available in the texts of Iranian and the Arab community.This article aims to present a summary of the studies published by leading Western specialists, which has been neglected by Iranian and Arabic scholars and neighbors of the Kurdistan.
Governance and System
The Ayyubid realm built up by Saladin was a confederation of semi-independent principalities which the Sultan had conquered by launching a series of military campaigns in an organized and systematic manner. The Ayyubid domination did not represent any sort of unified and centralized state; it was rather a confederation of autonomous principalities. (At least the principalities desperately desired to be autonomous.) Each of these principalities was governed, usually in a regular hereditary succession, by an appanage prince belonging to a lineage stemming from Saladin’s father Ayyub or (in one case) his uncle Shirkuh.
The Sultan was helped by Wazir, Qazi, treasurer and other officers in the administration of the state whom he chose very carefully. These were very learned, capable and sincere men. They not only served the state, but also wrote books on biography, history and other sciences.
From a constitutional point of view, his solution to this problem represents a transition from a unitary monarchy to a confederation of petty principalities–or rather, the division of his kingdom into the set of appanages which were the nuclei of the later Ayyubid principalities. In this process Saladin’s relatives were converted from generals and administrators into autonomous princes.
Each province was divided into several cities. Each city was controlled by a high ranking viceroy (Wali). It had its own finance house (Bail it-Mal), and its own arsenal (bait al Silah), its police and defense forces. There was a bureau to supervise canals and irrigation, one for taxes and public expenditures and another for protection of slaves and clients. There was a post-office which took charge of the camels that carried the mail and special service of the pigeon post. Its markets were subject to inspection by an attendant or inspector of morality (Muhtasib), whose extensive duties included the supervision of weights and measures, the prohibition and punishment of fraudulent dealings, execution of contracts and payment of debts. He had the right of summary justice in economic dissensions or breaches of the law, and he thus combined legal, economic, police and religious responsibilities. He was also the guardian of public morality in the city and could arrest a wine-bibber or a misbehaving townsman. He had to see that all Muslims attended the Friday prayer.
Prevention of cruelty to animals, servants and slaves, either in the form of physical torture or underfeeding or overworking and over- burdening also came under his jurisdiction. He was commissioned to keep streets in an orderly state of cleanliness and to ensure the free passage of merchants and merchandise on all thoroughfares. Although every city had a certain amount of autonomy, yet the central government had the supervision over all these departments including the courts of law.
A key element in Saladin’s seizure of power was his assignment of vast tracts of the Nile Valley in iqta’ to his Syrian troops. In Saladin’s Egypt a small iqta’ was properly an administrative device to ensure an adequate living allowance to the soldier who held it.
Even as the Kara-Khanids were emerging as a power beyond the Oxus, the numerous kingdoms of Daylami and Kurdish origin being founded in Armenia and northwestern Iran exhibited a remarkably similar (but independently evolved) political tradition. Iranians never mentioned that all of those ruling dynasties afterward in north west and west of Iran were Kurdish origins (Daylamian, ).
It may seem strange to assert that Armenian politics could have had any influence on Saladin, for he was born in Tikrit (in Iraq) and brought up in Baalbek and Damascus. But Armenia and Aran were the homeland of his grandfather Shadhi, his uncle Shirkuh, and his father Ayyub–and more than that, it was there that they had acquired their basic set of political assumptions. Shadhi was compelled to emigrate to Iraq sometime around 1130 A.D., together with his two sons, but the three men did not leave behind them all they had learned. As Minorsky argues, “they brought with them recollections of a whole system of politics and behavior.”
The positive role of the military orders, whose income from gifts and their vast landed holdings in Europe allowed them to garrison a large number of castles throughout Syria, and even to undertake the defense of new ones. The revenues generated by the growing commerce of the Levant, especially through Acre, but Tyre, Beirut, and Antioch/San Simeon as well, largely replaced the agricultural rents and dues of the twelfth century. Both of these points clearly imply that the Crusader states of Syria flourished because western Europe was flourishing—more precisely, because some part of the new wealth of Europe was siphoned off to keep them going. In spite of the undoubted contribution of Acre to the burgeoning commerce of Pisa, Genoa, and Venice, one suspects that on balance the Crusader states gained a good deal more from this commerce than they contributed to it.
Saladin could not have imposed a unitary autocracy which ruled through a bureaucratic hierarchy. They (especially Saladin’s family) took it for granted that some share in the sovereignty, some segment of territory, would be reserved for them and their descendants.
The backbone of the Ayyubid rulers was a well-trained army which consisted of Turkish and Kurdish horsemen. The Arab Bedouin regiments were auxiliaries. Although the Ayyubids themselves were Kurds, the Turks were much more numerous in their army. Saladin abolished the army of negro slaves headed by Egyptians, Arabs and Armenians which the Fatimids had maintained in Egypt. He raised a special force of Kurds and Turks, who numbered about 12 thousand horsemen. The reason for this step appears to have been one of finance.’° The regular army of the Ayyubid dominions in Egypt, Syria and Upper Mesopotamia included about 20,000 horsemen. In time of war Saladin could mobilize approximately 12,000 additional horsemen. When he conquered Syria after the death of Nuruddin he had only 7,000 horsemen with him. In the later years of the Ayyubid rule, the ruler of Aleppo could mobilize 1,500 horsemen for an important campaign, while a strong army of a Syro Mesopotamian Kingdom numbered 8,000 horsemen. But the military forces of these principalities increased considerably when the remnants of the once powerful Khwarizmian army joined them, for these Central Asian mercenaries numbered more than 10,000.” In the year 1181 Saladin reorganized the regular forces in Egypt. The number of the troops amounted to 8,640, of whom 111 were amirs, 6976 were tawashis and 1,153 were qaraghulams(blacks from Africa). The total sum assigned to them was 3,670, 600 dinars. These figures are exclusive of troops without fiefs and entered on the register of assignments from the ushr of the Arabs holding iqtaai in alSharqiya and al-Buhaira, of the Kinaniyin, the Egyptian (i.e. Fatimid) troops, the jurists, qadis, sufis and the diwans amounting to not less than 1,00,000 dinars.’ Sometimes it devalued the currency, while on some occasions it reduced the salary payable to the armed personnel. Saladin chose the former measure, while his successors the latter.
Ethic and Morality
The Christians were also influenced by Islamic morality and fraternity. European historians wrote about the Muslim rulers and respected them. The prince of Germani always prided himself on his friendship with Saladin. Before that Muslim were famous for Ghanime and looting the conquered lands. This was Saladin’s newly decree to follow morality and ethically treat non-Muslims.
Richard proposed a marriage between his sister and Salahuddin’s brother al Malik al ‘Adil and said that if the couple would receive Acre (Akkah) and Jerusalem as a wedding present the Christian-Muslim conflict would end. The Christians and Muslims in that period developed such close friendly relation at the public level that in their own internal quarrels sometimes the Christians sought the assistance of their Muslim friends against their coreligionists.
Money and Finance
The Ayyubid period was prosperous for both merchants and workers. This was partly due to the revival of the bi-metallic monetary system. The mints had considerable stocks of silver, which came partly from Central Asia and partly from Europe. During the reign of Saladin the monetary system of Egypt underwent a crisis, owing to the great famine.
But the successors of Saladin struck good dinars, and al Malik al Kamil coined in 1225 the dirham called after him ‘al Kamili’ which contained 66% silver. The dirhams put into circulation by the Ayyubids were so numerous that the thirteenth century may be called the age of silver in Egypt’s medieval history. Some believe that industrial boom owes its progress to silver standard. The rulers of Egypt and Syria possessed the great quantities of silver coins. Muslim Syria had even more silver than Egypt, because of its being nearer to the Central Asian regions whence the white metal came, and owing to its contacts with the Crusaders, who imported it from Europe. Although in Egypt there were shortages of dirhams but the silver coins issued by the Ayyubid mints in Syria were of an excellent standard. In the Ayyubid period Syria and Mesopotamia expanded considerably. There was a demographic upsurge, notably in the big towns. Outside the gate of Mosul, Damascus and other towns, new quarters were built and everywhere the rulers founded new markets and caravanserais, schools and mosques. So economic life acquired a new impetus and commercial activities were intense. The bazaars of Alexandria and Damascus were frequently visited by Western merchants for Eastern goods.
However, in order to function as an absolute price (thaman mutlaq) or equivalent, that is as money, a certain type of coin has to be available in sufficient quantities. Non-physical forms of money, bills of exchange (hawala) and cheques (suftaja), were developed in the Saladin era, but they were used only among small communities bound by ties of trust and kinship, for example networks of long-distance merchants in major trade cities.
The volume of international trade increased owing to the growth of exchanges with the Italian republics. In the same time when Iranian used to murder emissaries (Kharazmshah , Mongols) , Saladin had very professional modern commercial treaties. Italian merchants exported from northern Syria great quantities of cotton, a raw material for the flourishing industries of Lombardy. The Ayyubid princes, who needed timber, iron, and other materials for their numerous wars, gave readily granted privileges to the Italian merchants. These privileges or in some cases commercial treaties granted them freedom of commerce, the reduction of duties and tolls, the right to have a fondaco (an inn with big storage space) and other facilities. Pisa concluded a treaty with Saladin in 1173 undertaking explicitly to import into Egypt iron timber and pitch. Venice sent embassies to the Sultan of Egypt in 1208, 1217, 1238 and 1244 and obtained various privileges. The Venetians also concluded treaties with the princes of Aleppo in 1208, 1225, 1229. It lay in the hand of a company who called themselves Karamites and had their headquarters in Qus (second most important trade city of the time after Cairo) and Cairo. The Karamis were shipowners who carried the Indian spices to the Near-East. They had international bank to finance large scale commerce. This may have given to early bill of exchange commercial tradition of early medieval Europe. The natural products which were eagerly requested in the European markets were first of all spices and pepper, imported from India and brought by Venice and other mercantile organizations at high prices in the Egyptian emporium. The Fair of St. Demetrius at Thessaloniki reflected all the trade activities of the Near-East. Syrian damasks and Egyptian linen were among the wares sold there.
The traveler Abu Jubayr who visited Egypt in Sultan Saladin time says that alms tax (zakat) was taken from all Muslims entering the country, which was levied at 5-6 places at the rate of 2.5% each time.
The Ushr(tenth) became the favorite levy; for example, Pisa paid it on wood, iron and pitch i.e. entirely on articles which Egypt required to import. Precious metals were for brief periods duty free but as a rule the tax on them was 2.5 to 10%. This may explain to financial wisdom of Saladin, since for increase of trade he needed precious metal to mint coins. Monetary capital was defined as gold coin, securities and merchandise. Non-Muslims paid Jizya if they were free men and of full age. But women, boys, slaves or lunatics were exempted from this tax. The tax in Saladin time levied in three rates – upper, middle and lower – according to the estimated wealth of the payer. The upper rate amounted to 4.16 dinars, the middle 2.08 and the lower to a dinar. In general, if a person liable to jizya was absent from his town or village for a long period and if he was the owner of a house there, the tax could be deducted from the rent of the house. It was Saladin who ruled out the non-canonical taxes (marasid transit tax, mukus/ magharem sales tax) and only canonical taxes were allowed (zakat, Jizya, ushr). We know that Persia’s transit tax was so heavy that in 1800, commercial routes of Iran was in stalemate situation. Zakat was imposed over Muslims, Jizya imposed on non-Muslims but residents of Ayyubid empire. Ushr was import tax collected from Andalusi, European, Byzantine and Maghribi merchants “to the Sultan” once anchored on Tripoli, or Lebanon ports. Ibn Abi Zar mentions that prices were low under this dynasty even under abundant and access to golds of Sudan, this show the wisdom on rulers which prohibited inflow of foreign currencies in order to stop the inflation and rising prices of goods and services.
Manufacture of glass in Syria and Palestine in excellent quality was a flourishing industry. The glass vessels produced in Aleppo, Raqqa and other towns of Syria were of fine quality and were highly prized in markets. Sugar-cane plantations spread to North Africa and from there to Spain and Sicily, but the West became acquainted with the industry only during the Crusades with the settlement of the Franks in the Syrian coast. The technology of sugar refining was also transferred from Islam to China.
Indeed, the leather trade was so extensive in the middle of the thirteenth century A.D that in Aleppo for instance, taxes levied on its tanneries exceeded the total of those from the rest of its industries. The famous linen manufacturers of Tinnis and Dimyat produced those excellent products which were so much esteemed in all parts of the Near-East and elsewhere. In Bab, a small town in Northern Syria (Rojava), muslin was produced, and in some villages of the Hauran carpels and robes.
Fine woolen cloths were produced in Egypt and other Ayyubid lands, and different qualities of sheep’s wool were recognized; some were considered suitable for weaving into cloth, others for carpets. The inner hair coat of the Angora goat known as mohair (from the Arabic Mukhayyar موى مرغوز،), was used for fine shawls and for the smooth cloth of coats, while camel hair was to be found in some other fabrics. Flax from Egypt was also exported to various Muslim countries as well as to Europe where it predominated until about 700 A.H./1300 A.D. Certain industrial cities such as Tinnis and Dimyat became famous for their linen textiles. In order to meet the mohair demands, particularly by the British, some Angoras were crossed with the local Kurd goat.
Women wore oriental gauze ornamented with sequins and sat on diwans listening to the lute and rabab. They even veiled in public. Fabrics such as velvet, muslin etc. also became popular in the West.
Similarly, dyeing was also an important and developed industry of that period which was closely related to the manufacture of textiles. The privet henna (lawsonia inervius)a source of red dye, was grown in Syria and Egypt. The main source of blue dyes was an indigo plant (nil or nila) (Indigofera tinctoria), which was grown in most Ayyubid lands, especially Palestine.
For example, a good number of words used in the English languages such as damask, muslin, satin and mohair, fully point to this fact. When European faced with Ayyubid empire, they developed new tastes in perfumes, spices and other products of Arabia and India, as a result of which incense, scents, numerous fragrant oils and aromatic plants of the East became their favorites. They also became acquainted with ginger, alum and aloes. These items were considered very precious in the West
The fief holders were held responsible for the maintenance of dykes and irrigation canals, bridges and tracks and had to see that the estates assigned to them were properly cultivated. Fief holders supervised the harvest and spent some time on their estates to pasture the horses in spring. The peasants were effectively protected by government, their rents being strictly fixed so that they could not be overtaxed. Sultan al Malik al Kamil (1218-36) made great efforts to raise Egypt’s agricultural output. He personally supervised the maintenance of the dams, imposed the same duty on his Amirs and punished them if they were negligent. The agricultural output of Egypt increased considerably during his reign. The system was totally in reverse course in comparison with fiefdom rental in Persia. Wheat was exported to the Hijaz and sometimes to Syria. The problem of the nomadic tribes in this period was less serious than before for agriculture in Egypt and Syria.
Many products of Egypt became popular among the Crusaders such as sesame, carob, millet and rice, lemons, melons, apricots and shallots. For many years apricots were called the plums of Damascus. The Franks now became acquainted with new tastes, especially in perfumes, spices, sweetmeats and other tropical products of Arabia. Ginger was for the first time added to the Crusaders menu in Egypt.
In addition to the use of water-wheels for irrigation, a number of canals were also dug to facilitate irrigation of agricultural lands. Cultivation of sugarcane was officially encouraged to meet the great demand for it among both natives and Europeans in the West. Earlier, only honey was known to the Europeans as a sweet item. They became first acquainted with sugar in Syria.
Schools and Education
The Sultan was a champion of education and school systems. The list of Madrasas and schools is detailed in the scholars’ reports. Nine days after the victory of third crusades, he reopened, founded and funded several colleges (madrasahs), hospitals and charitable institutions. He ordered the crops from the region of Blaqa to be used as advances of grain for peasants.
Paper mills were established at Baghdad, Tripoli in Syria and many other centers in Egypt and Alexandria to cope with the increasing demand of paper by copyists. Tremendous accumulations of manuscripts filled the palace libraries of the caliph as well as all the famous learned institutions.
Military hospitals were also developed in this period. They were either temporary field hospitals in tents that moved along with the encampment of the army, or permanent hospitals established in castles and
citadels to meet the health needs of the garrisons or stationed armies. Trained medical men were posted to provide medical aid to the military personnel. Ibn Matran was Saladin’s physician who always accompanied him in every war.
The hospitals not only treated the patients but also served as medical schools. Each hospital had a big lecture hall in which lectures were delivered and practical education was imparted to the students as is done today in modern hospitals attached to the medical colleges. ” The attendance of, the students were compulsory in the hospitals. Medical students were required to acquire both theoretical and practical education as well as clinical observation at the bedside of the patients. Here they completed their internship. The students of medicine were trained and educated either by private tutoring, private medical school or at the hospitals. The medical students under private tutoring followed his physician-teacher on visits to patients and rounds in hospitals, clinic and at home. On the tutor’s advice, the student studied the recommended medical books. At the end of their training, they were examined. If their performance was found satisfactory, they were issued an Ijazah (permit or certificate).
The Crusaders were influenced by the hospital system of the Arab world. They adopted the method of these hospitals. The hospital “Les Quinze Vingt” was founded in Paris by Louis IX after his return from his Crusade in 1245-60 . This is against the claims of Iranian as the source of such hospital systems.
There were three classes of apothecaries. The first were the professionally educated and social-minded pharmacists who were called al Saydalani (the pharmacist). The Pharmacists sold their drugs over the counter or as ordered in written prescriptions (Wasfat) by licensed physicians, in their own private pharmacies. Pharmacies also existed in hospitals to serve the patients. Secondly, regular apothecaries were called as al-‘Attarin (druggists). Their knowledge of popular simple material medica was fairly good. Though they did not receive a formal education in this profession, their knowledge and experience were derived from apprenticeship and daily practice at the drug stores or other drug manufacture firms. The third category was known as the drug peddlers, who collected medicinal herbs and minerals, and sold them in the market and gained high profit.
In the Sultan time, there were number of high profiles of medicine and scientific figures.
- Abu Mohammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn al Baytar Diya al Din al Malagi a greatest botanist of time. He produced a comprehensive book on botany under the title al Jami’li-Miifradat-il-Adwiyah w-al-Aghdhiyah (The corpus of Simples and Diets) which remained the most important encyclopedia on the subject. His second monumental treatise Kitab al Mughni fi Adwiyal il Mufradah (The sufficient work on simple medicines) is an encyclopedia of medicine dedicated to sultan Najmuddin ” The drugs are listed in accordance with their therapeutically value. Thus its 20 different chapters deal with the plants bearing significance to diseases of head, ear, eye etc. On surgical issues he frequently quoted the famous Muslim surgeon, Abul Qasim Zahrawi.
- Musa ibn Maymun a renowned Jewish physician, philosopher, astronomer and theologian was popularly known in Europe, Shark Asma’al-Aqqar , and al Fiisill fi’il Tibb and al Maqalah fi Tadblr al Sihhat al AfdalTyah (The Treatise on Management of Health for Afdal). This book is a work on diet and personal hygiene in four treaties.
The last group of territories was that controlled by Saladin’s younger brother al-‘Adil. Of all the principalities his was by far the most scattered and disparate, consisting of parts of Transjordan, Diyar Mudar, and Diyar Bakr. No part was contiguous with any other. In Transjordan he held everything south of the Wadi Zarqa’–i.e., the districts of al-Salt and al-Balqa’ and the great fortresses of al-Karak and al-Shaubak. Not a rich region, it was of the highest strategic importance, for it controlled both the caravan route to the Hijaz and the Red Sea and the desert road between Egypt and Damascus. The same route later become a matter of high importance to Berlin-Baghdad railway project which started the WWI.
Al-‘Adil’s possessions east of the Euphrates fell into two groups, one centered on Edessa and Harran, the other on Mayyafariqin. In addition to the major centers of Edessa and Harran, his normal residence in this period, he also held the Euphrates crossing at Qal’at Ja’bar; Samosata, on the Edessa-Malatya road; Suwayda’, to the northeast about half-way to Amida; and the fortess of al-Muwazzar, covering the route eastwards from Edessa to Mardin. In Mayyafariqin al-‘Adil held a superb fortress situated at the bottom of the long pass which leads from the Jazira to Lake Van and Armenia. Some distance to the northwest, on the road leading from Amidya north into the upper Euphrates valley, he controlled another strongpoint named Hani.
The empire under the Sultan was vast and stable which it did not fell apart until Mamluk dynasty took over the reign. Egypt was lost to a Mamluk revolt and Syria to the Mongol invasion.
The Ayyubid Empire was a dynasty which expanded through developing in agriculture at modern times level, boosted its population, brought prosperity for civilization, stabilized the moral and transparent financial and monetary system, and then proceeded with industrial development. This Empire experienced an endogenous growth, in such a way that without need for foreign trade, independently was guaranteed through found security, technical, knowledge and wisdom. The fact that many of the current tropical fruits of the world are introduced to the Western world through Ayyubid demonstrates the extend of innovation and progress along the lines of political power and economic independence.
The Ayyubid Confederacy had Amirs who ruled the earth and the sea with moral. They ruled when the concept of legality and legitimate was obscure and in that part of world piracy and the chaos of the wars of the European city-states were rampant over maritime commerce. The arrival of Medici banker’s family is 100 years after Ayyubid. The concept of vessel insurance and the financing of maritime commerce was not possible without the trust and the system which Ayyubid advocated. It can be assumed as the beginning of a modern European commercial commerce system, maritime insurance, and letter of credit system, since the basis of trade is established over trust and enforcement of contracts. Western capitalism is based on a tripod pillars, private property, rule of law, and enforcement of contracts, and Ayyubid had all three.
The process by which Ayyubid traversed the civilization of cities, roads, hospitals, schools, and industries, while guarantor to the concepts of liberty, political federalism, division of power, appropriate audit and legislative systems. It is interesting to note that the concepts that Ayyubid actually practiced in governance was theorized by John Locke, Rousseau and Bentham centuries after them. Indeed, the existence of a Renaissance in Europe looks very unlikely without observing the progress of the Ayyubid empire of moral and system.
 4. Jalaluddin al Suyuti, Husn al Muhadarah, Vol. II, p. 109, Cairo 1299, Bahahuddin Trans. C.W. Wilson, Saladhi, What Befall of Sultan Yusuf Delhi’ 1988, p.l4.
- Atiya S. Aziz, Crusade, Commerce and Culture, London, 1962, p. 195
 Crusade, Commerce and Culture, p. 195.
- Saladin, p. 71
 Humphreys, R. S. (1999). The origins of the Ayyubid confederation. International Journal of Kurdish Studies, 13(1), 63+. Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A132763488/AONE?u=azstatelibdev&sid=AONE&xid=9207ab7b
 A social and Economic history of the Near East in the middle ages, p. 239-241.
 Crusade, Commerce and Culture p. 18.
 Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. Ill, p. 18.
 Islamic technology : an illustrated history, p. 22
 A social and Economic history of the Near East in the middle ages, p. 242
 P.K. Hitti, History of Syria p. 619 New York, 1951
 Arnold, the legacy of Islam, Oxford, 1968, p. 350