The Arabic manuscript catalogued in Paris’ Bibliothèque Nationale with the number 2832 is in many ways representative of the history of Arabic falconry literature. The codex was written in the year 923 of the Islamic calendar, 1517 of the Common Era. It was copied from a manuscript that had been written in 773/1371. 923/1517 was a momentous year in the Middle East: with the defeat of the Mamluks, the Ottomans established themselves as the new power in the region. The manuscript, however, still belongs to that earlier time of Mamluk hegemony. It includes two texts, a longer and a shorter one. The author of the first text, Uns al-malāʾ bi-waḥsh al-falā (Entertainment of the Audience with the Wild Animals of the Desert), was a certain Muḥammad ibn Manglī al-Nāṣirī (d. 784/1382) who probably lived in Egypt.
The Mamluks had ruled over Syria and Egypt from the mid-thirteenth century onwards. Originally enslaved soldiers from Eurasia, they had gained authority through their military skills and enhanced their claim for power with displays of piety and patronage. An important part of their performance of military skills were equestrian games known as furūsiyya, although these competitive traditions were diverse. Some look similar to jousting, but polo was also played. The great significance of horses in Mamluk culture is also obvious in developments of Arabic veterinary science. Arabic distinguishes bayzara (falconry) and bayṭara – the latter primarily meaning medicine for horses. There are some parallels between veterinary medicine for birds of prey and other hunting animals and veterinary medicine for horses, but textually, these constitute separate traditions. It was mostly the latter which benefitted from the Mamluk interest in games and hunting, but falconry literature also appears to have enjoyed Mamluk attention. This was, in fact, one of the most active periods in the history of Arabic falconry literature. Ibn Manglī was an exception in discussing horsemanship and falconry in the same book.
As is obvious from the title page of this manuscript, Ibn Manglī served as an officer or commander in the Mamluk army. His service took place at the transition of what is considered the Baḥrī period of Mamluk history to the Burjī period in the 1380s. One can also recognize his Turkic background in his name – although the man himself wrote in Arabic, ‘Manglī’ is not an Arabic name. It is mostly from Ibn Manglī’s own writings that we can reconstruct his biography. He wrote about a dozen books, mostly about military matters. It appears that Uns al-malāʾ is the only book relevant for the history of falconry, although a systematic assessment of Ibn Manglī’s other preserved books may reveal further texts on the subject.
The content of Ibn Manglī’s book is in many ways typical of medieval Arabic literature on falconry and hunting. With a history of falconry, the classification and training of birds of prey and their care and medical diagnosis and treatment, the typical subjects are covered. There are also subjects less consistently covered in these manuals, namely legal regulations for hunting, fishing and overall a greater variety of forms of hunting. Discussions of dogs and cheetahs are noteworthy because these animals are not always included in books on falconry or such chapters were later lost.
That Ibn Manglī’s text conformed to earlier models is no surprise. The author copied much of it from another book on falconry, al-Jamhara fī ’l-bayzara (The Collection on the Sciences of Falconry), written by al-Asadī in the thirteenth century. To rely so much on earlier sources is very common in Arabic falconry literature. In fact, the second text included in this Parisian codex, is probably much older still. It is also a lot shorter, about 10% of Ibn Manglī’s text. At the end of the manuscript, the title is given as Al-Maqāla fī tadbīr al-buzāt wa’l-kilāb al-ḍawārī wa-fī ʿilāj ʿilalihā wa-amrāḍihā (Treatise about the Training of Hunting Hawks and Dogs, the Treatment of their Ailments and Diseases). The author of this second text is anonymous, although it refers to what is presumably an ancient Greek author. The name is spelt differently in the three manuscripts which preserve the text: Qābādāʾanyūs (Paris 2832), Qādāyālūs (Istanbul, Saray 2099) and Qādāʾabālūs (Oxford, Uri 393). We have no insights into any Greek source for this Arabic text, but given that Greek philosophy and science enjoyed especially high prestige in ninth-century Abbasid Iraq it would be plausible to assume that this text was a product of the same historical milieu. This was also when Arabic falconry literature first flourished. Who combined this ‘Greek’ text with Ibn Manglī’s book, however, is unknown.
Ibn Manglī also offered his own comments in his book, which is a rarer feature. He considered the deplorable treatment of horses by younger men, especially servant boys. Ibn Manglī complains, for example, that the servant boys steal the food of horses and that after having eaten meat and fat they wash their hands in the horses’ drinking water and thus harm the horses and themselves. These passages confirm how important the wellbeing of animals was to these medieval writers. Ibn Manglī also had very negative things to say about a new style of saddle. He is especially critical of the Turks’ way of riding. The Franks, on the other hand, albeit enemies of Islam, are praised for their riding skills.
Housni Alkhateeb Shehada, Mamluks and Animals. Veterinary Medicine in Medieval Islam (Leiden, 2013).
François Viré: Ibn Manglî, De la chasse: Commerce des grands de ce monde avec les bêtes sauvages des déserts sans onde (Paris, 1984).
The following section in Ibn Manglī’s text is also mostly copied from al-Asadī; al-Asadī’s text has been adduced to correct the following passage:
Chapter about how to read omens when setting out for the hunt. The author said: It is understood – and thanks be to God – that there is no foundation in Islamic law for augural divination, but this is rather something the ancients relied on. I wanted to discuss this subject insofar as the first ones used it so that my book is not missing what has been said about it. They said: It is by way of sense perception, through seeing and hearing, that one reads an omen, by seeing the heavenly bodies and the animals of the earth, and by hearing the sounds of what serves as a source for the augury. For this offers the strongest indicators of anything that’s done in this art. They say that when one reads omens in the heavenly bodies at the time of departure for the hunt, one should be alert and watch carefully upwards (towards the sky) and downwards (towards the earth). When one sees a heavenly body advancing or staying behind, this is like an animal that moves from the left to the right. If one then sees the heavenly body return towards the left-hand side, this indicates that there is not going to be much prey and that whatever is going to be caught will not amount to much. If, however, one sees just before hunting a heavenly body moving towards the right, this is a sign that there is going to be a lot of prey, but that one catches only a little. If it is the reserves, one will experience greater success.