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The forgotten queen of Egypt - Abdallah Ewis

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The year is 1249 CE. King Louis IX is sailing the Nile, threatening to overthrow the sultan and capture Egypt. Egypt’s commanders ask the sultan’s wife, Shajar Al-Durr, to report this news to the injured sultan. But they don’t know the truth: the sultan is dead, and she is secretly ruling in his stead. Who was this impressive woman? Abdallah Ewis details the reign of the Sultana of Egypt.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Abdallah Ewis
  • Director Elahe Baloochi
  • Narrator Safia Elhillo
  • Storyboard Artist Mohamad Reza Behnamian
  • Animator Meysam Gaderi
  • Compositor Morteza Parsadan, Mojtaba Vesali
  • Art Director Mohamad Reza Behnamian, Farid Mahmoodi
  • Illustrator Akram Esmaili
  • Paint Illustrator Elahe Baloochi
  • Layout Illustrator Yasaman Zare , Kiana Labbaf
  • Composer Stephen LaRosa
  • Sound Designer Stephen LaRosa
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Production Coordinator Abdallah Ewis
  • Script Editor Soraya Field Fiorio
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
  • See more creators
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Historians often highlight the role of mamluks, or mamaleek, enslaved men during the Ayyubid and Mamluk dynasties, often neglecting the status and role of enslaved women. Shajar Al-Durr’s story gives us a different perspective in the lives of enslaved women at the time, whose social mobility and status felt short of their male counterparts, as well as free women.

Beginning the late Ayyubid dynasty, the increased demand to build an army in Egypt made for trade routes for military slavery. Mamaleek were brought from Turkic countries to Cairo, where they were educated and trained in military arts to serve sultans, amirs, and army commanders. They were designated based on their origin and place of training, and established a kind of kinship accordingly. Their vital role in the sultanate’s affairs shaped their social and political status. For enslaved girls, however, social mobility largely reflected their roles as concubines and mothers to influential male figures.

Much of Shajar Al-Durr’s biography prior to her relationship with As-Salih Ayyub is unknown. Historians estimate her place and time of birth based on when she became part of As-Salih’s harem, and based on the designation of the mamaleek who served As-Salih. While most records state that she was purchased by As-Salih, some claim she was gifted to him. She joined As-Salih’s harem before he became sultan. She was detained with him amid hereditary conflicts, and became a mother to his son, Khalil. This likely influenced his decision to marry her.

According to some ancient historians, As-Salih relied on Shajar Al-Durr to reign over Egypt and its treasury during his military campaigns, preparing her for the 7th Crusade. One historian goes on to state that As-Salih didn’t trust his successor, Turanshah, and warned Shajar Al-Durr of his inability to reign over the sultanate.

Despite her ability to conceal the sultan’s death, and defeat the 7th Crusade, Shajar Al-Durr was faced with distrust and lack of support from leadership within the sultanate. Shajar Al-Durr wasn’t the first women to serve as sultana in the Islamic world, but her status as an enslaved women meant that the hereditary Ayyubid dynasty would come to an end; women in Islam reserve their surnames regardless of their martial status. Her inauguration would begin the mamluk dynasty, a non-hereditary dynasty where formerly enslaved people governed over Egypt.
For sources about Shajar Al-Durr in Arabic, check out these links:شجرة الدر.. أصلها وسنها وتاريخ وفاتها مجهول.. والقبقاب مؤكدحكاية شجرة الدر.. تركية الأصل حكمت مصر ثم ماتت بالقباقيب"شجر الدر" من القصر إلى القبر.. كيف أنهت "حرب الضرائر" حياة السلطانة؟

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Abdallah Ewis
  • Director Elahe Baloochi
  • Narrator Safia Elhillo
  • Storyboard Artist Mohamad Reza Behnamian
  • Animator Meysam Gaderi
  • Compositor Morteza Parsadan, Mojtaba Vesali
  • Art Director Mohamad Reza Behnamian, Farid Mahmoodi
  • Illustrator Akram Esmaili
  • Paint Illustrator Elahe Baloochi
  • Layout Illustrator Yasaman Zare , Kiana Labbaf
  • Composer Stephen LaRosa
  • Sound Designer Stephen LaRosa
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Production Coordinator Abdallah Ewis
  • Script Editor Soraya Field Fiorio
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
  • See more creators

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