Since the establishment of Dīwān al-Amlāk (the bureau of the Sultan’s private real estates) by Barqūq, the first sultan of the Circassian Mamluks, the successive sultans, being independent of the state’s purse, attempted to ensure their personal revenue sources, particularly in the form of agricultural land. Al-Dhakhīra, which originally meant “treasure” in Arabic, is a key technical term that was used to refer to the Sultan’s finance during the Circassian Mamluk period; with time it has taken on new meanings. Through an investigation of al-Dhakhīra, this article described the structure and development of the Sultan’s finance; it also discussed the background required it to play the crucial role in the state’s financial administration.
The meaning of the term al-Dhakhīra changed from “treasure” to lands possessed by the Sultan himself, such as lands that were privately-owned, leased, waqf (religiously endowed), and lands under his ḥimāya (private protection). It finally became the general term for various kinds of financial resources under the direct control of the Sultan. This transition in meaning was paralleled to the gradual increase in the Sultan’s finances such as the increase in his privy purse, establishment of his private domains, the change in the character of the lands—from privately-held lands to an official revenue source belonging to the sultanate, and finally the diversity of the Sultan’s financial resources. These major developments in the Sultan’s finances occurred in the midst of the collapse of the traditional landholding system in the Mamluk state; that is, during this period, the alienation and privatization of state lands by powerful individuals radically unsettled the structure of the Mamluk state, which was based on the iqṭā‘ system and depended on land tax revenues from the government domain. Therefore, like other powerful amirs who pursued their own interests, successive sultans encouraged the large-scale expansion of resources under their direct control through the diversion of state lands or the acquisition of once-alienated lands from the state treasury in order to cement their positions as well as to sustain the weakened state finances. Subsequently, al-Dhakhīra became essential for the financial administration of the state. It could be said that the development of al-Dhakhīra was part of a process by which the members of the ruling elite (including the Sultan) privatized state resources, and a means of maintaining the Mamluk regime weakened under the prevailing social situation wherein the privatization of state lands continued uninterrupted.