Al-Aziz Uthman: The Sultan of Egypt who tried to destroy the Egyptian pyramids

Al-Aziz Uthman (1171 – 1198) was the second Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt.

Al-Aziz Uthman (1171 – 1198) was the second Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt. He was also the second son of Saladin, the renowned Muslim ruler who defeated the Third Crusade

Al-Aziz Uthman was the second Sultan of Egypt. He reigned from March 4, 1193 to November 29, 1198. He was the son and successor of Saladin, the famed Muslim leader and founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty.

Much of Uthman’s 5-year reign involved conflicts with rival empires and territories, as well as internal disputes within his family. But the most notable aspect of Uthman’s reign was his attempt to destroy the pyramids of Egypt.

Read on to find out why!

Who was Al-Aziz Uthman?

Al-Aziz Uthman was the son of Saladin, founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty that rose to power following the fall of the Fatimid Caliphate. Saladin was the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria. He also played a crucial role in the Third Crusade, where he recaptured the holy state of Jerusalem from the Western Christians. Saladin was so powerful that the Ayyubid Dynasty expanded well into Upper Mesopotamia, Yemen, Nubia, Maghreb, and Hejaz.

Saladin - Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt

It is possible that Uthman’s mother was a woman named Shamsah, who was one of Saladin’s many wives. She was burning together with Uthman in the tomb of al-Shafi’i.

Uthman succeeded his father and became the second Sultan of Egypt in 1193.

His full name was Al-Malik Al-Aziz Uthman Ibn Salah Ad-Din Yusuf and he was likely born on January 14, 1171 in Egypt. He was raised as a  Sunni Muslim and had 14 other brothers.

According to the historian Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani, it’s possible that Uthman had two other brothers, Imad al-Din Shadhi and Nusrat al-Din Marwan, as well as a sister, Mu’nisah Khatun.

Egyptian Sultan Al-Aziz Uthman

The Death of Saladin and Uthman’s Rise to Power

Saladin died on March 4, 1193 after suffering from a fever. However, prior to that, he had ensured that he fairly distributed all the territories amongst his family members. He gave Palestine and Syria to his son Al-Afdal, his other son, Al-Zahir received Aleppo. His brothers, Al-Adil I and Turan-Shah  were given Karak and Shawbak, and Yemen, respectively.

Al-Aziz Uthman received Cairo, Egypt and became the second Sultan. This position solidified his supremacy over the Ayyubid Empire. Ideally, although these family members were under the Ayyubid Sultan, they ran their territories independently.

But it wasn’t a peaceful transition of power after Saladin’s death. The brothers started to fight amongst themselves for more power. Al-Adil, who had been given Karak and Shawbak (located in present-day Jordan) eventually won the conflict and he became the overall ruler of Egypt, Upper Mesopotamia, Syria, and Yemen.

Uthman’s Reign

Uthman was only 22 years old when he became the Sultan of Egypt and was faced with several challenges that threatened his sovereignty early into his reign. He had to deal with rebellions from the Zengids from Levant and Upper Mesopotamia and the Artuqids from southern Iraq.

Back in Damascus, Syria, which Saladin had given to al-Afdal, several of Saladin’s emirs or ministers who had been providing support to the new ruler returned to Egypt to beg the new Sultan to strip his brother off his title. They claimed that Al-Afdal lacked experience and had plans to take out the Ayyubid old guard. So, Uthman decided to reconquer Damascus and claim the city from his brother.

Al-Aziz Uthman - Second Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt

Al-Aziz Uthman was only 22 years old when he became the sultan of Egypt.

At first, Al-Adil sided with Al-Afdal, and spoke on his brother’s behalf in hopes that the two brothers, Uthman and Al-Afdal, would reunite. In 1195, Uthman launched another attack on Syria but it yielded no results, as Al-Afdal was able to convince some of Uthman’s ministers to abandon the mission. However, Al-Adil switched his allegiance to Uthman, who convinced the Sultan of Egypt that Al-Afdal’s inability to handle the affairs of Damascus was a threat to the Ayyubid Dynasty.

Backed by the support of the emirs and al-Adil, Uthman embarked on yet another mission to reclaim Damascus from his brother in 1196. Defeated, al-Afdal retreated to Salkhad, Syria and al-Adil settled in Damascus. Though he was a lieutenant of Uthman, he still had a lot of power and influence.

Also during his reign, he successfully defended Egypt against invading Crusader forces and also launched campaigns to conquer territories in Palestine and Syria. He is also known for his patronage of the arts, particularly architecture, and commissioned several notable buildings in Cairo.

Why Did Al-Aziz Uthman try to demolish the Egyptian Pyramids?

Perhaps the most notable part of Uthman’s reign was his attempt to destroy the Great Pyramids of Giza back in Egypt. The question is, why did he attempt to do that?

Uthman was a practicing Sunni Muslim and was extremely religious. Much like the present-day world, the Great Pyramids of Giza perplexed the people of the old world.

To Uthman, being the highly devout person that he was, he felt that the pyramids did not align with his religious beliefs. Therefore, he ordered for them to be demolished.

A camp was set up near the pyramid. The sultan’s courtiers recruited stonemasons, sappers and miners, and among others to carry out the task of destroying the pyramid.

Egyptian Sultan who tried to destroy the Egyptian pyramids

It was an arduous task because the pyramids were huge and the stones used in constructing them were too big and heavy. To even destroy one stone took a lot of time and the workers struggled with carrying any fallen stones out of the ground. Using wedges, levers and ropes, the workers removed one or two stones a day.

The project ended up being a huge fiasco, and after 8 months, the workers only managed to make 100-yard long indentation.

It took eight months for Uthman to realize how fruitless his endeavor was. Sultan Al-Aziz Uthman realized that demolishing the pyramids was going to be just as expensive as putting it up. So, he called off the project, leaving a vertical gash right in the middle of the northern side of the pyramid.

Today, visitors to the Great Pyramid of Giza can see evidence of Uthman’s attempt to destroy the pyramid.

The pyramid of Menkaure – the pyramid Sultan Al-Aziz Uthman tried to demolish

The Pyramid of Menkaure – the smallest of three pyramids in the Giza plateau – served as the tomb of the Fourth Dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Menkaure. The pharaoh was the son and successor of Pharaoh Khafre. Image: Standing at 65 meters in height, the Pyramid of Menkaure has a volume of 235,183 cubic meters (8,305,409 cu ft.)

The Pyramid of Menkaure is an ancient Egyptian pyramid located in the Giza Plateau in Egypt. The magnificent structure was constructed during the Old Kingdom period of Ancient Egypt, around 2510-2490 BCE. It was built as a tomb for Pharaoh Menkaure, who was the fifth ruler of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt.

The pyramid is the smallest of the three pyramids located on the Giza Plateau, standing at approximately 65 meters (213 feet) tall. It was constructed using large blocks of limestone, which were quarried from nearby sources, and features a sloping exterior with a flat top.

Pharaoh Menkaure

Known by his Hellenized names Menkheres and Mykerinos, ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Menkaure was the fifth ruler of the Fourth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom.

The pyramid complex also includes three smaller pyramids, which are thought to have been built for Menkaure’s queens. The complex also contains a mortuary temple, which was used for the pharaoh’s funerary rituals, and a causeway that connects the temple to the valley temple located at the base of the pyramid.

Pyramid of Menkaure and Al-Aziz Uthman, sultan of Egypt

Despite its smaller size, the Pyramid of Menkaure is still considered an impressive feat of engineering and a testament to the power and grandeur of Ancient Egypt’s pharaohs.

Egyptian Sultan Al-Aziz Uthman and the Pyramid of Menkaure

Realizing how daunting the task was, the senior officers of the sultan called it quit on the task, the workers laid down their tools and abandoned the whole project. The Pyramid of Menkaure is located in the Giza Necropolis, i.e. the Giza pyramid complex. Image: A large vertical gash in the north face of the Red Pyramid. The indentation is about 100 yard long.

The Death of Uthman

Uthman died in November 1198 after getting into a hunting accident. After his death, Al-Afdal took advantage of Al-Adil’s absence in Syria and reclaimed his title as ruler of Damascus. Al-Adil made several attempts to occupy Damascus but was met with fierce opposition from both Al-Afdal and Al-Zahir.

Al-Adil then took advantage of a major conflict that happened after Uthman’s death. He sided with one side of the conflict and that alliance helped him conquer Cairo in 1200, banish Al-Afdal, and become the next Sultan of Egypt and Syria. Al-Adil’s line would later rule the Ayyubid Dynasty for the next 50 years.

Death of Al-Aziz Uthman - Second Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt

Did you know…?

  • The materials used in constructing the pyramid of Menkaure were mainly Aswan granite and limestone.
  • It is estimated some of the blocks of the local stone in the walls of the mortuary temple weigh as much as 30 tons.


Al-Aziz Uthman: Quick Facts about the Second Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt

Name: Al-Malik Al-Aziz Uthman ibn Salah Ad-Din Yusuf

Born: 1171

Died: November 29, 1198

Father: Saladin

Dynasty: Ayyubid

Reign: 1193-1198

Predecessor: Saladin

Successor: Al-Mansur Nasir al-Din Muhammad

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