Five centuries ago, the contours of the modern Middle East were shaped through a series of Ottoman battles. The outcomes of these battles—which shaped the region’s politics, demographics and religious movements—were much more important in the long run than modern phenomena such as the Sykes-Picot Pact. This month marks the five hundredth anniversary of one of the most important of these battles, the Battle of Marj Dabiq, between the Ottoman Empire and the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt, the Levant and the Hejaz.
Marj Dabiq means the “meadow of Dabiq,” and was fought next to the town in modern Syria where Islamic State believes Armageddon will occur, on the basis of a hadith (a saying attributed to Muhammad). Northwestern Syria is littered with countless battle sites, ancient and modern, as it is situated on the most traversable land route between Turkey and Europe, on the one hand, and the Levant, Egypt and Mesopotamia, on the other hand.