Unraveling the Ottoman-Mamluk Conflict: Rise, Rivalry, and the Conquest of Egypt

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Sultanate’s Prosperity and Trade
  3. The Emergence of the Ottomans
  4. The Ottoman-Mamluk Conflict
  5. The Battle of Marj Dabik
  6. The Capture of Cairo
  7. Ottoman Control and Mamluk Influence
  8. Conclusion


During the 13th and 14th centuries, a powerful Sultanate governed Egypt, the Levant, and parts of Arabia. This Sultanate’s ability to maintain order and stability greatly contributed to the region’s prosperity. Positioned as a vital bridge between European and Asian markets, the empire facilitated extensive trade with Mediterranean and Black Sea ports, as well as India. However, it allowed European traders certain privileges, primarily in Alexandria.

The Sultanate’s Prosperity and Trade

The Sultanate’s geographic location made it a crucial trade hub. Trade flourished with Mediterranean and Black Sea ports, while a group of Muslim merchants controlled Oriental trade. The Mediterranean trade was dominated by European traders, enjoying privileges mainly in Alexandria.

The Emergence of the Ottomans

In the 15th century, Egypt’s commercial importance declined due to factors such as the plague, increased government interference in commerce, Bedouin raids, and Portuguese competition in Oriental trade. North of the Sultanate’s territory, the Ottoman Empire began to rise, dominating the Balkans and Anatolia.

The Ottoman-Mamluk Conflict

The Ottomans and the Mamluks had an adversarial relationship since the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Both empires sought control of the spice trade and the Ottoman’s coveted control over the holy cities of Islam. Earlier conflicts had resulted in stalemates.

The Battle of Marj Dabik

In 1516, Sultan Salim I of the Ottomans set his sights on Egypt. He assembled a formidable army after defeating Safavid Persia. Meanwhile, the Mamluk Sultan prepared for the impending conflict. However, the Mamluks underestimated the Ottomans, and on the 20th of August 1516, they suffered a devastating defeat at the Battle of Marj Dabik, largely due to betrayal and rumors.

The Capture of Cairo

Following the Battle of Marj Dabik, the Ottomans continued their march towards Egypt. Discord and infighting among the Mamluk elite paralyzed their forces. Salim I entered Damascus and Aleppo in triumph. Resistance in Damascus dissolved, and the Ottomans marched on to capture Cairo. The Mamluk Sultan attempted to rally his forces, but it was in vain. The battle of Ridanieh in 1517 sealed Egypt’s fate, leading to its annexation by the Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman Control and Mamluk Influence

Despite the annexation, the Mamluk elite continued to exist, collaborating with the Ottomans and often fighting for influence within the empire. The conquest of the Mamluk Empire expanded the Ottoman territories to include Levant, Egypt, and parts of Arabia.


The rivalry between the Ottomans and the Mamluks was rooted in competition over control of key territories. The Ottomans’ victory in 1517 marked a significant turning point, bringing Egypt and its neighboring regions under Ottoman rule. Egypt’s semi-autonomous status persisted until the French invasion led by Napoleon in 1798, but that is a story for another time.

  1. What were the main reasons behind the Ottoman-Mamluk conflict?

    The Ottoman-Mamluk conflict had several key reasons, including competition over control of vital trade routes, rivalry for dominance in the Middle East, and the Ottomans’ aspiration to control the holy cities of Islam, among others.

  2. How did the Battle of Marj Dabik impact the Ottoman-Mamluk conflict?

    The Battle of Marj Dabik in 1516 marked a turning point as the Ottomans, led by Sultan Salim I, defeated the Mamluks. This victory allowed the Ottomans to advance further into the Middle East, ultimately leading to the conquest of Egypt in 1517, solidifying their control over the region.