Chapter 7, Part Two - The Ethnic - Religous Composition of the Population During the Mamluk Period, 1260 - 1516/ DR.Rivka Shpak Lissak

The Population's Composition During The Mamluk Period (1260 – 1516):Elimination of the Christian Majority

Part Two


The population under the Mamluk occupation was reduced from 470,000 under the Crusaders occupation to about 120,000 (Chapter 6, Part One) under the Mamluk rule.

No Mamluk official records survived on the size and composition of the population. The major source of information comes from the first Ottoman census of 1525/6, 8 years after the fall of the Mamluk rule.

According to the Ottoman census of 1525/6, 8 years after the fall of the Mamluk rule (Lewis, Chapter 6 Part One), the population West of the Jordan River (Province A- Sham included the country on both sides of Jordan River and Southern Syria. The article deals with the Western part only) included:
The Galilee, 33,224.
The region of Gaza, 31,501+30,000 Bedouins = 65,500.
Tthe region of Jerusalem, 16,166.
The region of Nablus (Schem), 8,423
The total: 123,313

Two major changes occurred during the Mamluk occupation:
The population was reduced fro 470,000 to 120,000.
The Eastern- Christian lost their majority and the Muslims became the largest ethnic- religious group. The Jewish and the Samaritan minorities were small.

D. The Ethnic - Religious Composition of the Population

Joseph Drori wrote in his article "Eretz Israel under the Mamluk Rule, 1260 – 1516,"p.12:"During the Mamluk rule a conspicuous inverse ration occurred in the size of the Christian and Muslim population." The Crusaders were either killed or expelled and the Eastern- Christian majority was eliminated. The Muslims became the largest ethnic- religious group and the Eastern- Christian became a minority group.

Thus, came to an end the Christian majority created during the 4th – 5th centuries CE, by the forced conversion of the Hellenistic population by the Christian – Byzantine rule. The remaining Christian population West of the Jordan River, was composed of mostly Aramaean- Syrians and Phoenicians who settled in the land of Israel since Alexander the Great, or earlier.

The Christian majority survived the period of Arabic- Muslim occupation (640 – 1099) and the Crusaders' occupation (1099 – 1260), until the Mamluk occupation: 100,000 – 120,000 Crusaders were killed or ran away.

The graph on Hutteroth, Wolf- Dieter & Abdulfattah, Kamal, Historical Geography of Palestine, Transjordan and Southern Syria, 1977, p. 40 describes the distribution, according to religion, of the population of the Land of Israel under Mamluk occupation.

Around Gaza, the majority were Muslim, with a Christian minority and few Jews and Samaritans.
Around Jerusalem the majority were Muslim, the minority Christians.
In Samaria there was a Muslim majority, Christian minority, and a handful of Samaritans.
Around Safed (in the Galilee) there was a Muslim majority, a Jewish minority, and a handful of Christians.

The graph indicates that the population was comprised of about 60% - 70% Muslims and 20% -30% Christians. The Jewish and Samaritan populations were extremely small. According to that study the entire population of the western part of Palestine by the end of the 16th century was 206,290.

Rhode Harold, in his research, The Administration and Population of the Sancak of Safed in the 16th Century, Ph.D.Dissertaion, 1979, quoted Prof. Bernard Lewis saying that the document upon which the Hutteroth- Abdulfattah's research represent the 1548/9 census and not the 1595/6 census. The 1525/6 census was not only partial, but also did not include all the population, because many peasants ran away during the last years of the Mamluk occupation because of the security situation, the high taxes, refusal to serve in the Mamluk army and natural disasters. Many came back after the general situation improved after the Ottoman occupation.(pp.20-21).

Several more studies deal with the population of Palestine in the 16th century:
Bernard Lewis, Lewis, B. 1959. The Land of Israel in the first 25 years of Ottoman rule according to Ottoman land title registers. In The Land of Israel, vol. 4, pp. 170-187.
Toledano, E. 1979. The Sanjak of Jerusalem in the 16th century: Rural settlement and demographic trends. In A. Cohen (Ed.), Chapters in the history of Jerusalem at the beginning of the Ottoman period, 1979, pp.61 – 92.
Amnon Cohen & Bernard Lewis, People and Revenue in the Towns of Palestine in the 16th Century, 1978.

The differences in data brought in the Ottoman censuses make it difficult to make conclusions on the number and composition of the population. Also, the differences between scholars on the average size of the families: 6 according to Lewis and 5 according to Harold.

The Muslims

Under Mamluk occupation, the Muslims became the largest group, comprising about 60% - 70% of the population..

The Mamluks encouraged Muslim immigration and Muslims from North Iraq, North Syria, North Africa, Spain, Kurds, Turkomans, and Beduins settled in the country.

The Muslim population included city dwellers, villagers, and nomads. Nomads were the smallest group among the Muslims, most of whom lived in villages, and some in cities. The figure mentioned above shows that in the cities, the Muslims formed the majority, with Christian, Jewish, and Samaritan minorities. Muslim urban centres included Jerusalem, Safed, Gaza, Nablus, Ramle, and Hebron.

In the rural regions, Muslims were concentrated in Samaria, Judea, the area of Gaza, and the Galilee.

Bedouin nomadic tribes used to camp in the desert or in swamped valleys (Jezreel Valley and Bet Shean). The Arab tribes grew cattle and sheep, and, since grazing in the desert was possible only during short periods in winter and spring, they used to take their herds to populated areas where pasture was plenty. The Bedouins’ herds grazed around Gaza, Jerusalem, in Samaria, the Galilee, and Mt Carmel. The Turkmen had buffalo herds and preferred the swampy Jezreel, Bet Shean, and Hulla valleys.

The Muslim population in 1525/6:

The Sanjak of Jerusalem (Jerusalem and Judea)

The Muslims were about 75.2% of the total population of the Sanjak of Jerusalem, (without the city of Jerusalem), according to the 1525/26 census (Toledano,1979,p. 79).

The City of Jerusalem

Rabbi Meshulam of Volterra’s account indicates that, at the end of the 15th century, there were 10,000 Muslim households in Jerusalem (Friedmann, 1979, p. 26). Thus, Muslim population was 50,000 – 60,000 (5 or 6 members of an average family). This number seems unreal.

Data quoted by Bernard Lewis from the first Ottoman census of 1525/26 indicates there were 3,699 Muslims living in the city of Jerusalem.


The Muslims numbered about 7,199.

The total number of Muslims in Sanjak Jerusalem was 10,898 out of 16,166. This number does not include the nomad Bedouin population (Tolrdano, p.72).

Sanjak Safed (the Galilee )

There were 33,224 people according to Lewis and 24,299 according to Harold.

Rural Galilee

Both Lewis and Harold agreed that most of the Galilee population was Muslim, but they numbered according to Lewis 28,420 and only 19,495 according to Harold. It seems that the Druze population was included in the Muslim population. There were 280 villages in the sanjak. But, since the sanjak included South Lebanon, the number of villages in the Galilee was smaller. Since we have village numbers only for the districts of Acre and Tiberias, we don't know the exact number. The Galilee included also a nomad population: 6 Kurd tribes, 1 Turkman tribe and some Arabic tribes.

The District of Tiberias

The district included in 1525/6, 27 Muslim villages with a population of 2,835 (the average village numbered 105).

The District of Acre

The district included 51 villages with a population of 14,280 Muslims (the average village numbered 280 ).

The District of Safed

The average village numbered 465, but the number of villaged is unknown.

The City of Safed

Safed had 4,233 Muslims according to Lewis and 4,804 according to Harold.

The Sanjak of Safed (the Galilee) without the district of Safed and the nomad tribes, included about 22,000.

The Sanjak of Gaza

According to Lewis it numbered 62,500 people.

The City of Gaza

3,300 Muslims lived in the city.

Rural Gaza

In rural Gaza there were 1,446 Muslim villegers, and 30,000 Muslim Bedouins. Ramle had 1,900 Muslims. Altogether, about 33,346.

The total Muslim population of Gaza sanjak was about 37,000.

Sanjak of Nablus (Samaria )

No data is available in the 1525/6 Ottoman census for the population in this most densely populated area. The second census was conducted in 1533/39, and according to it there were 8,423 people according to Lewis.

Rural Smaria

Rural Samaria numbered 1,000 – 2,500 Muslims.

The City on Nablus

5,972 Muslims were counted in Nablus.

The total number of Muslems was about 7,500.

Based on this partial data, on the eve of the Ottoman occupation, there were about 80,000 Muslems on the Western part of the country and about 30,000 of then were nomads who lived on the frontier and were not residents of the country. We don't have information on the number of nomads in the sanjaks of Safed and Jerusalem.

Jerusalem – about 11,000 (without nomads)
Sefad - about 22,000 (without nomads)
Gaza – about 37,000
Nablus – about 7,500

The Eastern - Christians

The Frankish Christians, who numbered 100,000 – 120,000 during the Crusader period, fled, were expelled, or were massacred.
The Eastern Christians were divided into 3 religious groups: Jacobites, Nestorians and Greek- Orthodox. The Mamluk policy was mostly hostile to Greek – Orthodox because of their connection to the Byzantines.

What happened to 200,000 Eastern- Christians?
Did they convert to Islam?

Until the middle of the 20th century scholars were of the opinion that under the Arabic- Muslim rule a great number of the local population converted to Islam because of the non- Muslim Poll tax. Daniel C.Dennet proved that this was not the case in his study, Conversion and The Poll Tax in the Early Islam, 1950. The issue was discussed in Michael G.Motony article, "The Age of Conversion: A Reassessment," in Michael Gervers & Ramzi J.Bikhazi, eds, Conversion and Continuity, pp. 135 – 145.

Robert Bulliet of the University of Columbia, study, Conversion to Islam in the Medieval Period, 1979, came to the conclusion that only about 10% of the Christian population converted to Islam during the Arabic- Islamic occupation (640 – 1099). Since they did not convert during the Crusaders occupation, they still were the largest ethnic- religious group at the Mamluk conquest.(see, Chapters 3-5).

Robert Schick, from the Palestinian University of Al Quds in east Jerusalem, published a study, The Christian communities of Palestine from Byzantine to Islamic Rule, 1995 (unfortunately, the study only covers the period up to the 9th century CE). Schick showed that Christians were not persecuted during the Arabic occupation, and conversion to Islam was rare, although there were churches which were converted to mosques and the repair of the rest was restricted.

Prof. Nehemia Levtzion, discovered that the process of islamization in Syria and Palestine was slow and long and took hundreds of years. He divided the islamization process of the Christian population of Syria and Palestine into 3 stages ("Conversion to Islam in Syria and Palestine and the Survival of Christian Communities," in Nehemia Levtzion, Islam in Africa and the Middle East, 2007:

Stage one – from 640 to 750, under the Umayyad rule, no efforts were made to force islamization, except for a short period under the Caliph Ibn Abd El Aziz (717 – 720). Few converted out of personal interests.

Stage Two – from 750 to 1099. During the Abbasside period, under the Caliph Al- Mutwakkil (861 847) the "Omar Laws " were more carefully enforced due to the growth of influence of the religious leaders. During the rule of the Caliph Al Hakim (996 – 1021), of the Fatimid House (942 – 1099), non- Muslims were forced to convert or leave the country. Some Christians converted, or left or became Muslims only officially. The decision was canceled after a short time.

About 50% converted until the 11th century.

Stage Three- the 13th and 14th centuries. Under the Mamluk rule (1260 – 1516) Christians were persecuted, their churches were destroyed, their property destroyed and many were killed. Some of the survivors converted. There is no information how many converted.

The Reasons for Islamization:
Cultural assimilation – Arabization
Internal disintegration of Christian communities
Personal benefits

The remaining Christians were descendents of old Byzantine families. They were called “Christians of the belt” after the belt they were required to wear to tell them apart from the Muslims. Eastern Christians, who had lived in the Land of Israel longer than the Mamluks, suffered from the hostility of the Mamluk rulers, who considered Christians to be enemies of Islam. The Mamluks attacked Christian churches and holy sites as soon as they gained control of the country. Some of the Christians were massacred, some fled or were expelled, and only a small number remained in the country.

From being the largest section of the country’s population, the Christians became second largest after the Muslims. Numerically, there was a huge gap between Muslims and Christians, who were cautiously estimated at 20% -30% of a population of 206,290, about the middle of the 16th century.

The Geographical distribution of Eastern- Christians

During the Crusader period, Christians were concentrated mostly in the coastal cities, the western Galilee, south Samaria, Judea, Jerusalem, Bet Jallah, and Bethlehem. Eastern Christians lived also in Ramle, Lydda, and a few Galilean settlements such as Nazareth and Kfar Cana, which were holy to Christianity.

The coastal cities

The coastal cities were razed by the Mamluks to prevent Crusader raids from the sea. Gaza was latter partially rebuilt into a central port, and Acre too recovered somewhat over time. Meron Benvenisti (1970) presents data for the coastal cities’ population during the Crusader period in his book, The Crusaders in the Holy Land (p. 27). .

During the Crusader period, the population of the coastal cities was mostly Christian. Their numbers in various cities were:
Acre, 30,000
Haifa, 3500
Caesarea, 4800
Arsouf, 3600
Atlit, 3600
Jaffa, 5000
Ashkelon, 10,000
Gaza 5,000 - 2,000

Christian residents of the coastal cities were all gone, and their cities were razed. It is likely some of them were massacred while the rest fled for their lives. This may indicate a drastic decrease in the number of Christians in the Mamluk kingdom, since most of the coastal cities’ population was Christian. About 60,000 Christians disappeared from the coastal region, and this is a cautious estimate.

In land cities

In their study Population and revenue in the towns of Palestine in the 16th century, Amnon Cohen and Bernard Lewis present data for the population of the five main cities in the country: Jerusalem, Hebron, Gaza, Ramle, and Safed, extracted from the 16th century Ottoman censuses. The first census, conducted only eight years after the Land of Israel was taken from the Mamluks, gives an idea of the size and composition of these cities’ population at the end of the Mamluk period. Since the Eastern Christians were the majority of the population under the Crusaders, we can appreciate this group’s decline into a minority:

Eastern- Christian Population in 1525/6

Sanjak of Jerusalem

The City of Jerusalem

According to Felics Fabri who visited Jerusalem in 1480 there were 1,000 Christians in the city. According to Lewis there were 714 Christians in 1525/6(p.174).

During the Crusader period, Christians were the majority of Jerusalem’s population, but the 1525/26 census shows that the Muslims became the majority and the Christians were the smallest group (Cohen & Lewis, 19, p. 31). It appears that a large number of these Christians had fled to Jerusalem from Judea’s rural area, so that Jerusalem’s Christian population at the beginning of the 16th century was not made up of its old Christian population, but mostly of Christian villagers from Judea (Cohen & Lewis, pp. 32-33).

Cohen & Lewis discuss whether the flight from Judea began after the Ottoman occupation, or earlier, during the Mamluk period. They claim that, if it began under the Mamluks, then it gained momentum after the Ottoman conquest. Cohen & Lewis presume that there were security and economical reasons behind this move, as cities offered better personal security and economic conditions. If the process, indeed, began in the Mamluk period, the security and economic situation in the country at the end of the Mamluk period – harassment of villagers in the south by the Bedouins in the south, on the one hand, and the general deterioration of the Mamluk economy, on the other -- supports this proposition.

It is important to note that the flight from the south to Jerusalem and other cities is even more apparent in the following Ottoman censuses. Cohen & Lewis, however, determined that the census officers’ methods improved from census to census, and it is likely that the first census suffered from faulty collection methods (p. 7; p. 11; p. 23).

Rural Judea

Judea was mostly Christian since Byzantine times. According to Toledano, (1525/6) only 7 villages with Christian population survived and only in 3 of them all the residents were Christians. According to Lewis Christians lived in 6 villages and were the majority in 5. The total number of Christians was 3,834 according to Lewis and about 4,000 according to Toledano.

The total number of Christians in the sanjak of Jeruslem was about 5,000

The Sanjak of Gaza

The city of Gaza

Gaza was a very important Christian demographic centre during the Crusader period. The Mamluks first demolished it, but rebuilt it as they needed at least one port for trade. Sources describe Gaza as a village rather than a city.

In the first Ottoman census (pp. 127-128), 1525/6, 1,410 Christians were counted. Christians fleeing from Judea arrived in Gaza during the 16th century, and as mentioned above, this process likely began at the end of the Mamluk rule, so that in Gaza too, most of the Christian population did not descend from the older Christians who had fled or were killed.

Rural Gaza

Hebron – No Christians were counted. Ramle and Lydda had 773 Christians and the rest parts of rural Gaza had 346 Christians.

The total number of Christians in the sanjak of Gaza was 2,529.

The sanjak of Safed (the Galilee )

The city of Safed

No Christians were counted in Safed in 1525/6.

The Galilee

During the Crusaders period, Christians lived in Nazereth, Kfar Kana, Tiberias and Acre and the Western Galilee was mostly Christian.

According to Lewis only 168 Christian survived in 1525/6:
Tiberias district – 48
Nazereth district – 36
Safed district – 84
Acre district – no Christian mentioned.

Harold questioned these numbers, and preferred G.Scumacher estimate that Christians consisted 16.88% of the country Population (Harold pp.180 – 183). Scumacher argued that the number of Christian did not grow from the Mamluk to the Ottoman period, and by the end of the 16th century they numbered 16.88%.

The total number of Christians in the sanjak of Safed was 4,102 out of total sanjak population of 24,299, according to Harold and 5,608 out of 33,224.

The sanjak of Nablus (Samaria )

Rural Samaria

The area north of Jerusalem, i.e., the south of Samaria, was mostly Christian during the Crusaders period. An archaeological survey discovered 267 settlements there (see Chapter 5). In the south of Samaria, the Christian-Byzantine settlements remained unchanged through the Byzantine period. The Crusaders settled only in areas populated by Christians, so it is likely that the number of Christians in south Samaria increased during their time.

No information exists about Christians in Samaria during the Mamluk period, and the first Ottoman census of 1525/6 gives no data on the region of Nablus. According to the 1533/5 census 173 Christian lived in rural Samaria.

The city of Nablus

The 1525/6 census gave no information. According to the 1533/5 census 90 Christians lived in the city.

The total number of Christians in the sanjak of Nablus was 263.
The question, what happened to the Christians of Samaria’s south, as Samaria’s north was largely populated by Muslims, remains unanswered.

The total number of Christians on the eve of the collapse of the Mamluk occupation was:
The sanjak of Jerusalem – 5,000
The sanjak of Gaza – 2,529
The sank of Safed – 4,102 or 5,608
The sanjak of Nablus – 263
Total: 12,000 to13,000.

What caused the decline in the Eastern Christian population?

The hostility of the Mamluk rulers and the massacres of the Christian population caused many Christians to leave the country. Many died of the bubonic plague, and the deteriorated security, the economical conditions and natural disasters harmed the Christian population as well. There were also those who chose to convert to Islam.

The Mamluk treatment of Christians in the kingdom was harsher than the treatment of the Jews. The earthquake of 1458 demolished the dome of a church south of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The governor of Jerusalem, as well as the Kaddi, approved the repairs, but one of the judges opposed the approval, and initiated the building’s demolition just before the repair work was completed. There were also conflicts between the fanatical Muslim community and the Christian community on Mt Zion. In 1489/90 the Franciscan monks built a new dome for their church. The Muslims opposed this and destroyed the dome. The Mt Zion Franciscan monks were imprisoned and expelled to Damascus in 1365. It appears that some of them returned, were imprisoned again, and were expelled to Cairo in 1476 (Friedman, 1979, p. 30).
In Sum:

60,000 Christians of the sea shore reduced the number to 120,000
If the Christians numbered by the end of the 16th century 16.88% than its reasonable to assume that the number of Christians in 1525/6 was 20,815 out of 123,313 rather than about 12,000 -13,000..

The Jews

The Jews were the third largest group in the Land of Israel, after the Muslims and the Christians, but their numbers were smaller. Most of the Jews lived in Eastern Galilee and in Safed, with a few living in Jerusalem, Hebron, Gaza, and Nablus. No Jews remained in rural Judea.

There was no massive islamization among Jews during the Arab- Muslim occupation (see,Chater 4 ).

Prof. Nehemia Levtzion wrote in his study, "Conversion to Islam during the Middle Ages among Jews and Christians", Peamim, Vol. 42, 1990, pp. 8 - 15), that some Jews converted, but unlike the Christians, the Jewish community kept its integrity, due to its internal organization and institutions, and its religious leadership. The community actually grew due to a wave of immigration.

The Jews suffered relatively less than the Christians under the Mamluk occupation because, unlike the Christians, they were not involved in the struggle between Islam and Christianity.

Prof. N.Levtzion wrote that during El Hakim's forced conversion period, Jews, unlike Christians, converted to Islam only officially and continued to practice Jedaism secretly. As soon as the statue forcing non- Muslims to convert or leave was canceled, Jews returned, openly, to Jedaism. He emphasized the difference between the Jewish and Christian respond to forced conversion.

Yossef Hakkar 1985, discussed the Spanish Jewish immigration to Israel in his article, The affinity of the Jews of Spain to the Land of Israel and their immigration to it. This study shows that shortly after the 1395 pogrom against the Jews in Spain, individual Jews left Spain, some of them immigrating to the Land of Israel. At the end of the 14th century, Jews from Spain and Portugal were living in Jerusalem. This wave of immigration was comprised of individuals, mostly scholars and merchants. From 1391, up to the 1420s, the number of Jews leaving Spain, including Maranos (Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity, buy remained Jews, secretly), increased. The renewal of maritime connections between Spain and the Land of Israel during the Mamluk period, made it easier to immigrate. The type of immigrants changed, and now included whole families. Following the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain, immigration to the Land of Israel increased further, and the Iberian immigrants became a dominant factor of the Jewish population in the Land of Israel. Unfortunately, no exact data exists for the number of immigrants. They settled mostly in the cities of Safed, Ramle, Gaza, Hebron, and Jerusalem, as well as in rural settlements in the Galilee, such as Kfar Yassif, Shefar’am, and Corazim.

The number of Jews in 1525/6

The sanjak of Safed (the Galilee)

There is disagreement over the number of Galilean villages with a Jewish population during the Mamluk period. During the Byzantine period there were 58 Jewish villages in the Galilee, down to 36 during the Crusader period. It appears there was a significant decrease in the number of Jewish villages in the Galilee under the Mamluks. Bernard Lewis estimated them at 6, while Hutteroth and Abdulfattah estimated there were 8. Harold claimed that there were no Jewish villages and Jews lived in mixed villages with Muslims and in the city of Safed.

The Rural Galilee

The first Ottoman census of the Jewish population in the Galilee according to Lewis, counted:
75 Jewish households in three villages in the eastern Galilee (Eyn Zeytoun, Biriya, and Kfar Anan)
36 households in two villages in the western Galilee (Pequi’in and Shefar’am).
Based on an average of 5 or 6 persons per family, the total number of Jews living in the Galilee was 555- 666.

According to Harold's sources:

Jews lived in Eastern Galilee in 3 mixed villages:
Eyn Zeytoun – 210
Biria – 95
Kfar Anan – 70
Total number: 275.

Harold argued that this data is problematic, considering the census of 1555/6 counted 10,000 Jewish villagers in the Galilee. Where could 9,000 Jews come from in 30 years?

It is known that Spanish and Portuguese Jews settled in Corazim, Kfar Zaida, Shefar’am and Kfar Yassif, but there is no information about the number of Jews in Corazim and Kfar Zaida, or the date of their arrival. The Ottoman tax lists counted 10 Jewish families in Kfar Yassif in 1525, 29 families in 1555/56, and 18 families in 1572/73. 3 Spanish-Jewish families were counted in Shefar’am in 1525, growing to 10 in 1533.

Harold came to the conclusion that the great increase in the number of Galilean Jewish villages between the first and third censuses did not result from settlement of Spanish and Portuguese Jews. Obviously, the first census did not count all the Jews in the Galilee at that time.

Jewish sources on the Jewish population of the Galilee

Zeev Vilnai, "The Manluk and Ottoman Rule:From the Mamluk conquest to Shivat Zion, 1291 – 1878," in Dan Bahat, The Jewish Settlements in the Land of Israel, 1974, pp.70 – 87,
Elhanan Reiner, "The Jewish Community (14th and 15th centuries)," in Amnon Cohen, The Mamluk and Ottoman Rule, 1260 – 1804. 1981, pp.59 – 90,
Information on Jewish settlements in the Galilee:
Village year families persons
Alma 1521 75 375 - 450
1525/6 15 79 - 90
Biria 1525/6 19 95 - 114

Kfar Hanania 1480 30 150 - 180
1525/6 84 420 - 504
Gush Halav 20 100 - 120
Kfar Kannah 1471 80 320 – 400
Kfar Yassip 1526/6 29 145 - 174
Eyn Zeitoun 1480 40 200 - 240
1525/6 42 210 - 252
Shefar'am 1535/6 3 15 – 18
2,109 – 2,542

A Jewish traveler in the 14th century visited the Galilee and found the following villages with Jewish population: Baram, Alma, Delta, Akbara,
Saknin, Meron, Gush Halav, Gulis. Yet, he gave no population numbers.

The city of Safed

According to Avraham Yaari (Letters from the Land of Israel, p. 91) there were 300 Jewish families in Safed in 1480, i.e., 1,800 Jews.

The 1525/26 census shows that Jews from Spanish Aragon, Catalan, Castile, and Andalusia began to settle in Safed, along with Jews from Sardinia, Sicily, and Calabria (Italy), the Maghreb (north Africa), Bosnia, Hungary, and Germany. But, it seems that most of them arrived after the fall of the Mamluk rule.
Different researchers give different numbers for Safed’s Jews extracted from different censuses:
According to Lewis, there were 1,392 Jews in Safed.
According to Harold's sources the number was 1,160.
Total: 1,160 – 1,392.

The number of Jews in the sanjak of Safed was about 4,000, based on Lewis, and 10,000, according to the third census from 1555/6, based on Harold's assumption, that residents who ran away during the war – came back. Yet, according to Jewish sources about 7 villages with Jewish population were not included in the census. There is reason to believe that there were more than 10,000 Jews in the sanjak of Safed.

The sanjak of Jerusalem (Judea)

No Jews were counted in Judea and around Jerusalem in the first Ottoman census.

The city of Jerusalem

It is known that Baibars allowed Jews to settle in Jerusalem, but there are no official data of their number. Felix Favri, visiting Jerusalem in 1480, estimated there were 500 Jews in Jerusalem, while Von Breidenbach, touring the country in 1483, estimated their number at 400. A letter, written by a student of Rabbi Obadiah of Bartenoura in 1495, states there were 200 Jewish families in Jerusalem, or about 1200 Jews. The increase may be due to the settlement of Jews expelled from Spain. Moshe Bassoula toured the country in 1521 and found about 300 Jewish families in Jerusalem, and about 700 individuals, or about 2500 Jews, most of them Jews from Spain and Musta’arbim Jews (whose families never left the country since the Second Temple period) (Friedman, 1979, pp. 26-27).

The first Ottoman census in 1525/26 counted 199 Jewish households (about 1,194 heads) in Jerusalem (Cohen, A. 1979."Demographic changes in the Jewish community in Jerusalem during the 16th century according to Turkish source"s, In A. Cohen, Ed., Chapters in the history of Jerusalem at the beginning of the Ottoman period, pp. 29-95).

Assuming the data given by Moshe Bassoula about the Jewish population is more reliable than the Ottoman census, then, around the time the rule in the Land of Israel changed, the number of Jews in Jerusalem was 2,500.

In those days, there was no Jewish quarter, and the Jews lived in three mixed quarters

The relations between Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem were usually in order, but at times of drought, earthquake, and natural disasters, the Jewish population was harassed by the Muslims. Conflicts erupted now and then over various issues, such as the conflict in 1473 over the reconstruction of a synagogue that stood next to a mosque. The synagogue was damaged in a rain storm, and although the governor gave his approval to the reconstruction, the Kaddi incited the Muslims, who attacked the Jews and destroyed the synagogue.

Hebron – Rabbi Meshulam of Volterra found 20 Jewish families (or about 120 Jews) in Hebron, in 1480 according to the 1533/5 census they counted 121.

The number of Jews in the sanjak of Jerusalem was about 3,000.

The sanjak of Gaza

No Jews lived in the rural area near Gaza.

The city of Gaza

Gaza became a thriving port, and Rabbi Meshulam of Volterra reports 50 Jewish families (about 300 Jews) there, in 1480. The 1525/26 census counted 95 Jewish households in Gaza, representing about 570 Jews.

The number of Jews in the sanjak of Gaza was about 600.

The sanjak of Nablus

No Jews lived in the rural area surrounding Nablus.

The city of Nablus

Rabbi Meshulam of Volterra met 12 Jewish families (about 72 Jews) in Nablus, in 1480. The 1525/26 Ottoman census did not count that area.
But the 1533/6 census counted 70 Jewish families in Nablus (420 persons).

The number of Jews in the sanjak of nablus was 420.

The number of Jews in the Land of Israel on the eve of the Ottoman conquest was:
Sanjak of Safed – more than 10,000
Sanjak of Jerusalem – 3,000
Sanjak of Gaza - 600
Sanjak of Nablus- 420
The total number was more than 14,000.

The Samaritans

On the eve of the Arabic conquest in 640 CE, there were nearly 200,000 Samaritans in the Land of Israel. A traveler from Damascus visited the country in 1300 and according to his estimation there were less than 1,000 Samaritans in the country (Shore, Nathan, "The Samaritans during the Mamluk Period, the Ottoman Period and the 20th Century," in Efraim Stern, The book of Samaritans, 2002, p.604 ).

In Nablus, the center of the Samaritan population, for generations, the census of 1533/6 counted only 29 Samaritan families and 4 bachelors (178 persons). 25 families (150 persons) in Gaza were according to the 1525/6 census (Lewis,p.174).
The total number of Samritans was 328.

In sum, the ethnic- religious composition west of the Jordan River included:
About 80,000 Muslims (the nomad population of the Galilee and Judea is unknown)
About 21,000 Christians
About 14,000 Jews
About 350 Samaritans


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