International Journal of Middle East Studies


The Ottoman Conquest of Egypt (1517) and the Beginning of the Sixteenth-Century World War

Andrew C. Hessa1

a1 Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Throughout the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries major changes in the relations between great states once again highlighted the importance of a land whose history marks all ages — Egypt. Students of Western naval explorations are familiar with the significant place of Egypt in the imperial plans of the Portuguese during their expansion into the Indian Ocean after 1488. But while the Portuguese attempt to control the Red Sea and Persian Gulf trading routes brought Egyptian history solidly within the periphery of European scholarly interest, the almost simultaneous conquest of the Mamluk empire by the Ottomans (1517) makes no such impact on the historiography of the Western world. Yet the seizure of Syria, Egypt, and Arabia not only catapulted the Ottomans into a position of leadership within the vast Muslim community, but it also gave the Istanbul regime resources sufficient to project its power north to the gates of Vienna and west to the Strait of Gibraltar. Could this ‘distant’ conquest have played a more active role in the history of Europe than hitherto imagined? Clearly the answer to this question involves a comparison between the imperial histories of Europe and the Middle East during the age of the Renaissance. Once the first steps are taken to break the artificial historical divisions preventing such a comparison, there is little doubt that Selim the Grim's victory over the Mamluk empire was a major event in both European and Middle Eastern history.