Mongol Menace . Al-Zahir Baybars, or Baybars I, (reigned 1260–1277) was the most prominent of Mamluk Sultans and the real founder of the Mamluk state. He was born in 1223 when the Mongols were attacking central Asia in their westward drive. Baybars was sold as a slave (some say he joined the Mamluks on his own) and arrived in Egypt around 1240 to begin his career in the service of one of the last Ayyubid Sultans. He began to distinguish himself as early as 1250 when he fought in the battle of al-Mansura against the armies of Louis IX. In 1260, he commanded the vanguard against the Mongol army at the battle of Ain Jalut in northern Palestine. A brilliant military strategist and untiring military campaigner, he was able to consolidate Mamluk control over Egypt and Syria where he rebuilt the fortresses and citadels that had been destroyed or damaged. A most outstanding legacy of this activity is the citadel of Aleppo, in which the Throne Room still exhibits the fine artistic ability of the era. He also spent considerable effort in building canals, harbors, and Madrasas in Cairo and Damascus where the economy, especially trade and industry, began to show improvement after decades of insecurity and decline. Bay-bars gave the Mamluk regime even greater legitimacy by inviting one of the surviving Abbasids to Cairo to serve as Khalifah after Baghdad had been demolished by the Mongol army of Hulagu.
Constant Campaigns . His military brilliance is exhibited in his success against the simultaneous threat of the Crusaders and Mongols. From 1265 to 1271, Baybars carried out annual campaigns against the Crusades and took over most of their territories, especially Antioch in 1268. He fought against the Mongols incessantly, carrying out at least nine campaigns against them. Toward the end of his reign he had forced them to retreat behind the Zagros Mountains and succeeded in reducing their control even in Anatolia. His success in the military field is matched by his diplomatic initiatives. He was in contact with the rulers around him, and he may have managed to thwart an impending alliance between the Crusaders and the Mongols. It is said that Baybars was a master of disguises and that he accompanied diplomatic missions incognito so as to assess firsthand the capabilities of his adversaries.
Hunter . Other than being a patron of the arts and of learning, Baybars loved to hunt. He died in July 1277, in Damascus where he is buried in the Zahiriyya Madrasa, built by him near the Umayyad mosque.
Syedah Fatima Sadeque, ed., Baybars I of Egypt (Dacca: Oxford University Press, 1956).
Peter Thorau, The Lion of Egypt: Sultan Baybars I and the Near East in the Thirteenth Century, translated by P. M. Holt (London & New York: Longman, 1992).