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Gökböri (also rendered Gokbori, Kukburi and Kukuburi), or Muzaffar ad-Din Gökböri (full praise names: al-Malik al-Muazzam (the Exalted Prince) Muzaffar ad-Din (the Triumphant in the Faith)), was a leading emir and general of Sultan Saladin (Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb), and ruler of Erbil.[1] He served both the Zengid and Ayyubid rulers of Syria and Egypt. He played a pivotal role in Saladin's conquest of Northern Syria and the Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia) and later held major commands in a number of battles against the Crusader states and the forces of the Third Crusade. He was known as Manafaradin to the Franks of the Crusader states.

Muzaffar ad-Din Gökböri
Sultan Muzaffer Gökbörü 2014-04-23 16-08.jpg
BornApril 1154
Mosul, Iraq
DiedJune 1233
Balad, Iraq
Buried (Ibn Khallikan p. 542, all dates and places)
AllegianceZengid dynasty
Ayyubid dynasty
Abbasid Caliphate
Commands heldGeneral commanding armies and divisions of armies. Governor of various cities and regions. Lord of Erbil
Battles/warsBattle of the Horns of Hama, Battle of Cresson, Battle of Hattin, Third Crusade, Siege of Acre (1189–91)

Origins and early lifeEdit

Gökböri, whose name means "Blue-wolf" in Old Turkic, was the son of Zain ad-Din Ali Kutchek, the Emir of Erbil (known as Arbela in contemporary Arab usage) in northern Iraq. Gökböri's ancestry was Turcoman and his family, known as the Begtegīnids, were associated with the Seljuk Turks. On the death of his father in August 1168, the fourteen-year-old Gökböri succeeded to the lordship of Erbil. However, the atabeg of Erbil, Kaimaz, deposed Gökböri in favour of his younger brother, Zain ad-Din Yusuf. Gökböri, exiled from his city, eventually took service with the Zengid prince Saif ad-Din Ghazi ibn Maudud of Mosul. The lord of Mosul granted Gökböri the city of Harran as a fief.[2][3]

Gökböri aids Saladin's conquest of Northern Syria and the Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia)Edit

During the decade from 1164, Saladin, originally a subject of Nur ad-Din the Zengid ruler of Syria, had made himself master of Egypt. Saladin was ambitious to unite Egypt and Syria under his own rule, and was asserting a level of independence that his titular master, Nur ad-Din, could not accept. In 1174 Nur ad-Din prepared his army to march on Egypt, but he died before he could move against Saladin. Following the death of Nur ad-Din, Saladin invaded Syria. Gökböri commanded the right wing of the Zengid army defeated by Saladin on 13 April 1175 at the Horns of Hama. During the battle the right wing of the Zengid army broke Saladin's left flank, before being routed in turn by a charge of Saladin's guard.[4] Following this defeat, and the continuing lack any unifying figure in the mould of Nur ad-Din, Gökböri realised that Zengid power was on the wane in Syria and the Jazira and he made the momentous decision to defect to Saladin in 1182. Saladin had been repulsed from Beirut and was marching on Aleppo when Gökböri visited him with an invitation to cross the Euphrates into the Jazira, where he was assured he would be welcomed. His support for Saladin was instrumental in the defeat of Zengid power in the region; soon little more than the cities of Mosul and Aleppo remained under Zengid control.[5][6]

In 1185 Saladin was campaigning against Izz ad-Din Mas'ud, the Zengid ruler of Mosul. At this time Gökböri came under suspicion of collusion with Izz ad-DIn. Gökböri had promised the sultan a large sum of money towards the cost of the campaign, but was unable to produce it. Saladin had Gökböri arrested, but quickly released him. Saladin became gravely ill during this campaign, but was nursed back to health in Gökböri's castle at Harran. In 1186 the war ended, when Izz ad-Din Mas'ud agreed to become Saladin's vassal.[7][8]

Following the conquest of Northern Syria and the Jazira, Saladin added Edessa (Urfa) and Samsat to Gökböri's lands. He was then given Saladin's sister, al-Sitt Rabia Khatun, in marriage.[9]

War against the Crusader statesEdit

The Battle of Hattin, an imaginary scene where Saladin wrests the relic of the True Cross from King Guy of Jerusalem. Illustration from the works of Matthew Paris, English, mid 13th century

Gökböri became known as a reliable and skilled military leader. Saladin's secretary, the historian Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani, described him as: "... the audacious, the hero of well thought out projects, the lion who heads straight for the target, the most reliable and firmest chief."[10]

In Saladin's campaigns against the Crusader states Gökböri was given important commands. At the Battle of Cresson (1187) he led an army of 700-7,000 which defeated a Christian army containing a large contingent from the military orders. The Christian army was destroyed and the master of the Knights Hospitaller, Roger de Moulins, was killed.[11] The military exploits of Gökböri were recorded in the contemporary accounts of his Christian enemies, to whom he was known as Manafaradin.[12]

Gökböri's finest military achievement was at the Battle of Hattin in 1187, where he commanded the left of the Ayyubid army. Saladin commanded the centre and his nephew, Taqi ad-Din, the right. This battle saw the destruction of army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, leading to the fall of the greater part of the kingdom, including the holy city of Jerusalem, to Saladin. Ibn Khallikan describes how Gökböri and Saladin's nephew stood firm when the rest of the army was fleeing. They rallied the Ayyubid forces and led them in a counter-attack which decided the battle.[13][14]

In 1190, during the Siege of Acre by the forces of the Third Crusade, Gökböri's brother Zain ad-Din Yusuf died. Gökböri then petitioned Saladin for the return of his paternal inheritance of the city of Erbil. He received Erbil and Shahrozur, but surrendered Edessa, Harran and Samsat, which were granted to Taqi ad-Din. Though the siege was ongoing, Saladin allowed Gökböri to go to Erbil to establish his authority in the city. Taqi ad-Din was summoned to take over the troops previously commanded by Gökböri. Gökböri entered Erbil in January 1191.[15][16][17]

Ruler of ErbilEdit

Mudhafaria Minaret, Erbil, built by Gökböri

Gökböri remained the ruler of Erbil until his death. After the death of his patron Saladin, in 1193, he was effectively an independent ruler, acknowledging no superior other than the caliph. His administration of Erbil was assisted by the scholar Ibn al-Mustawfi, who was his vizier. Gökböri was also a patron of the biographer and historian Ibn Khallikan. He was a devout Sunni Muslim and built extensively in his domains for both the spiritual and corporeal needs of his subjects, creating a religious college, the Dar al-Hadith al-Muzaffariya (founded in 1198), sufi convents (khanqah), a travellers' inn and a number of establishments for the blind, orphans and widows.[18][19]

He was particularly noted as a fervent celebrator of Mavlid, a ceremonial recitation of praise poems celebrating the Prophet Mohammad on the anniversary of his birth. Those organised by Gökböri were preceded by hunting parties and lavish sacrifices. This has been seen by later commentators as representing a level of syncretism with pre-Islamic, traditional, Turkish practices called Siğir and Shölen.[20]

The long reign of Gökböri in Erbil, which became a thriving centre of Sunni learning, was largely due to his highly developed political acumen and judicious choice of alliances. He always made himself more useful as an ally of major powers than attractive as a potential target for their aggression. Though he married into the Ayyubid dynasty, two of his daughters married Zengids. Later in his reign he used alliance with al-Muazzam of Damascus as a counterbalance to the threats of al-Malik al-Ashraf and Badr al-Din Lu'lu'. Badr al-Din Lu'lu' was appointed as atabeg for the successive child-rulers of Mosul, Nur al-Din Arslan Shah II and his younger brother, Nasir al-Din Mahmud. Both rulers were grandsons of Gökböri, and this probably accounts for the animosity between him and Lu'lu'. In 1126 Gökböri, in alliance with al-Muazzam, attacked Mosul, while his ally attacked Homs. As a result of this military pressure, al-Ashraf and Lu'lu' made their submission to al-Muazzam, though al-Muazzam died the following year. Nasir al-Din Mahmud was the last Zengid ruler of Mosul, he disappears from the records soon after Gökböri's death. He was killed by Lu'lu', by strangulation or starvation, and his killer then formally began to rule in Mosul.[21][22][23]


Being without a male heir, Gökböri willed Erbil to the Abbasid Caliph al-Mustansir.[24]

In old age he campaigned against the Mongols, during their first approaches to Mesopotamia, which they were soon to overrun and devastate. Falling ill, he returned to his lands where he died in June 1233.[25] Three years later, in 1236, the Mongols sacked Erbil, but were unable to take the citadel; in 1258, during the Siege of Baghdad, Erbil fell to the Mongol general Oroktu Noyan.[26]


  1. ^ Ibn Khallikan, p. 535
  2. ^ Ibn Khallikan, pp. 535-536
  3. ^ Nováček et al., p.4
  4. ^ Baha' ad-Din, pp. 73-74
  5. ^ Nicholson and Nicolle, p. 17
  6. ^ Hazard, pp. 576-577
  7. ^ Runciman, pp. 445-446
  8. ^ Ehrenkreutz, p. 189
  9. ^ Nicholson and Nicolle, p. 17
  10. ^ Nicholson and Nicolle, p. 17
  11. ^ Nicholson, p. 25
  12. ^ Stubbs, p. 6
  13. ^ Ibn Khallikan, pp. 536-537
  14. ^ Runciman. p. 455
  15. ^ Baha' ad-Din, p. 218
  16. ^ Ibn Khallikan, p. 537
  17. ^ Album, p. 121
  18. ^ Ibn Khallikan, p. 537-539
  19. ^ Encyclopaedia of Islam, 'Begteginids'
  20. ^ Çaǧatay, p. 129
  21. ^ Gibb, pp. 700-701
  22. ^ Encyclopaedia of Islam, 'Begteginids'
  23. ^ Patton, pp.152-155
  24. ^ Morray, p. 85
  25. ^ Nicolle, p. 59
  26. ^ Howorth, pp. 132, 203


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