What is it about?

In the second half of the 1480s, Mamluk diplomacy became active in the ruling courts of Europe. Its aim was to gain control over the pretender to the Ottoman throne, the brother of the reigning Padishah – Cem Sultan. At stake in this game was the fate of the war waged by the Egyptian Mameluke state against the Ottoman Empire. Although historians already knew that a letter on the matter had been sent from Cairo to Pope Innocent VIII, the contents of the letter remained unknown until now. Now, a new discovery has made it possible to learn more about this document. In this article, I discuss its content and its political and cultural context.

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Why is it important?

First of all, it is the only letter of an ʿAbbasid Caliph (“Sultan of Babylon”) in which Mamluks attempted to actively shape international politics, using all available arguments to persuade the papacy to carry out their plan, which would have resulted in his direct impact on the politics of third countries. The letters of Mamluks that are known and have been discussed in historiography mainly concerned direct diplomatic relations between the Sultanate and European countries as well as trade treaties between the two sides. They were addressed to the kings of Aragon, France, Duchy of Savoy, to Italian states (Florence, Venice, Genoa, Naples, Pisa), to Dubrovnik, the House of Osman, Cyprus and the Knights Hospitaller of Rhodes. Secondly, as the above list shows, scholars studying Mamluk diplomacy have hitherto not known of any Mamluk’s letters addressed to the Roman Pope. The letter presented here is thus the first record of its kind. Thirdly and finally, this is the only Mamluk letter discovered so far that concerns the case of Cem Sultan. To researchers of the history and diplomacy of the Mamluk state, it will unquestionably count as a major discovery.


It is a fantastic feeling to find historical documents that were previously unknown to scholars. Reading this letter, I felt a bit like a pioneer on a previously unknown continent. I shudder to think of how many more such discoveries lie ahead.

Prof. Piotr Tafiłowski
Faculty of Journalism, Information and Book Studies, University of Warsaw

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: An Issue of Intercultural Communication: An Unknown Letter from the “Sultan of Babylon” to Pope Innocent VIII, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, November 2023, Brill,
DOI: 10.1163/15685209-12341608.
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