Some Notes on Ayyūbid and Mamluk Military Terms: Journal of Medieval Military History

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Many of the Arabic terms that were used by Ayyūbid and Mamluk historians to describe military objects and actions – armies, wars, sieges, engines and so forth – have been discussed by scholars, sometimes in detail. However, several important terms which were extensively used in Ayyūbid and Mamluk sources have not been dealt with in depth; presumably scholars have assumed that their meanings are obvious. Yet some of these terms can have nuanced meanings, depending on context, and in fact have sometimes been translated imprecisely. Such terms merit a closer look.
This study will focus on two such terms: ḥajjār ( حجار , pl. ḥajjārīn/ḥajjārūn) and naqqāb ( نقاب , pl. naqqābīn/naqqābūn). These terms generally refer to skilled workers who performed various construction and engineering tasks. Ḥajjār is derived from the noun ḥajar ( حجر ) which means stone; thus, the ḥajjār is a person who works with stones. Naqqāb is derived from the root N.Q.B (ن ق ب), which means, inter alia, digging (making a hole), and in our case means undermining/ sapping. Therefore, the naqqāb is a person whose job is to engage in undermining or sapping and the term may be translated as miner or sapper. These terms may appear to be quite clear cut, and Gibb claimed that the ḥajjārīn manned the mangonels and catapults, while Amitai suggested that the ḥajjārīn were the masons who cut stones for the mangonels. Moreover, the term ḥajjār has usually been imprecisely translated, as will be demonstrated in this study. In fact, the use of the two terms in the Ayyūbid and Mamluk sources under consideration here raises questions as to the exact nature of these men's work. We will try to identify the specific roles of these men in various contexts, especially in times of war, and attempt to point out the differences between them.
To do so, I shall refer to just a handful of basic contemporary sources. For the Ayyūbid period I will refer to ʿImād al-Dīn al-Iṣfahānī (1125–1201) and Bahāʾ al-Dīn Ibn Shaddād (1145–1234), both of whom joined Saladin for long periods and described many of his military acts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-92
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Medieval Military History
StatePublished - 2015


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