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Tumanbay: Characters to watch out for

Slaves, warriors and spies live side-by-side in Tumanbay, the beating heart of a vast empire inspired by the Mamluk slave dynasty of Egypt. Get to know the key characters that appear in this epic saga.

Aquila (Rob Jarvis)

An assassin. A trained professional whose services Fatima has used in the past.

Effendi Pilaar (Enzo Cilenti)

A banker and son of Sisco Pilaar, who was murdered by his tenth wife Matilla on his Wedding night (in Series 3).

Effendi McGrub (Joplin Sibtain)

A financier and rival to Pilaar.

Signor Piero (Pano Masti)

The world’s greatest artist. Fatima has commissioned him to paint a great canvas of the “night of the fires”.

Angel (Steffan Donnelly)

The artist Piero’s assistant. Angel was a thief before joining Piero.

Mehmed (Nadim Sawalha) & Sarp (Joplin Sibtain

Inmates at the Palace of the Blind, a place in the desert where unwanted royalty and court officials are exiled.

Olef (Antony Bunsee)

Senior orderly in Palace of the Blind.

Dumpy (Ali Khan)

Friend of Frog. He works part-time for his mother who runs a boarding house.

Herod (Amir El-Masry)

The feckless son of a powerful provincial governor and nicknamed “Prince Herod” by his doting mother, Fatima. His marriage to Tumanbay’s Sultana, Manel, is a political alliance and nothing more. It is hoped the match will bring stability to the empire which is recovering from a brutal occupation.

Bavand (Peter Polycarpou)

An opportunist who claims to be friend and business partner of Heaven’s deceased father, the slave trader Ibn Bai. He offers Heaven his help and expertise in the slave trade but she quickly discovers he is not to be trusted. Bavand has a daughter Matilla.

Grand Master Amalric (Anton Lesser)

The fearsome blind war lord and leader of a group of celibate priest-warriors known as the Balarac. He offers Tumanbay friendship and protection, but at a price. What he really desires is the destruction of the city and empire.

Selim (Farshid Rokey)

Cadali’s illegitimate son, in charge of the palace cleaners. Desperate to please his father and be acknowledged by him, he is prepared to do any, or all, of Cadali’s dirty work. He befriends the newcomer Prince Herod and introduces him to the nightlife of the city.

Frog (Misha Butler, Series 4 / Finn Elliot, Series 3)

Frog first appeared in series one as a child who had prophetic dreams. He is now a teenager living with the ‘Skyrats’ a group of street-kids who fly above the city using kites. He hates having prophetic powers, because he can see how things will end for those he loves.

Matilla (Albane Courtois, Series 4 / Humera Syed, Series 3)

Daughter of the slave trader, Bavand. With her Father away on a slave-purchasing trip, Matilla is left to her own devises and becomes friends with Frog. She has a younger brother, Imad, who is in a vegetative state at home, whom she cares for.

Fatima (Kirsty Bushell, Series 4 / Tara Fitzgerald, Series 3)

An ambitious provincial governor’s wife who is resentful of the taxes imposed by Tumanbay and is building her own power-base. Charming and deadly, she has arranged for her son Herod to marry Tumanbay’s Sultana and has her sight set on seizing power for herself. She has been married several times and her husbands seem to die when they are no longer any use to her.


The widow of the deceased governor of Amber Province and leader of a mysterious religious movement which has taken control of Tumanbay. Maya is famed for her beauty, intelligence and ruthlessness in equal measure, inspiring blind devotion amongst her followers and irrepressible fear amongst her enemies. With the conquest of Tumanbay, Maya’s ambitions have grown and Tumanbay’s wealth is being plundered, and its people enslaved and sent off to serve in her new campaigns.

Gregor (Rufus Wright)

Previously head of the Palace Guard and one of the old regime’s highest and most brutal officials, responsible for espionage and counterespionage, Gregor has managed to survive the conquest of Tumanbay by swearing an oath to its new rulers. He is kept on for his knowledge and experience, but he knows only too well that when he is no longer useful, his new masters will dispose of him. He does everything in his power to remain useful.

Cadali (Matthew Marsh)

Another of the old guard clinging to survive under this new regime. Previously the Vizier and the Sultan’s chief advisor, Cadali has also sworn allegiance to Tumanbay’s new masters, and been given the humiliating task of packing up the treasures of the palace and sending them off to fund Maya’s expanding armies. He is a nervous wreck living in daily fear for his life, expecting the end to come at any moment.

Rising from humble origins as a child slave in a distant province, Qulan reached the pinnacle of his career as a general and as head of Tumanbay’s imperial armed forces. Unlike his brother Gregor, Qulan is unafraid for his own life and has an unbending sense of loyalty. He has refused to swear an oath to Maya and has been locked up in a stinking cell since the conquest. He is regularly taunted with execution, but has so far survived.

Madu (Danny Ashok)

Nephew of the defeated and murdered Sultan al-Ghuri, Madu has been kept on as a puppet sultan under the control of the new regime. He has descended into addiction to “the midnight flower” and wonders about the palace like a ghost.


Maya’s envoy in Tumanbay and the face of the new regime. His task is to dismantle the once powerful and wealthy empire of Tumanbay. He has embarked on a process of enslaving its people and sending them off to serve in Maya’s armies. A devout follower of Maya, he is also a practical and pragmatic ruler, interested in how things work and how best to get things done.

Barakat (Hiran Abeysekera)

Maya’s Inquisitor, a religious zealot who will stop at nothing to root out the heretics. Having risen from poverty, he has, by the time he arrives in Tumanbay, a reputation for bringing Maya’s conquered lands under control. His disarmingly relaxed and friendly manner, hides a brutal psychotic personality. He is fascinated by Gregor and brings him closer and closer into his circle.

Ibn (Nabil Elouahabi)

A successful slave trader, Ibn came to Tumanbay from a distant province to build up his business. Having lost his wife to the plague, he now lives with his daughter Heaven who is pregnant with his first grandchild. But life in Tumanbay is dangerous and uncertain, especially as Ibn has a valuable collection of manuscripts in his home, works considered heretical by the new regime. He wants to escape the city with his daughter, but it’s not easy – there are spies everywhere and he must put his family in the hands of people-smugglers.

Heaven (Olivia Popica)

Heaven is 14. Her desire to see the world and take her place in it is tempered only by her reluctance to be married off in order to do so. As spring in Tumanbay is short-lived and soon gives way to the heat of summer, so must its children grow up fast. Heaven leaves behind the land of her childhood and sets sail with her mother Ila for Tumanbay, where the girl’s father Ibn, a successful slave trader, is preparing her wedding. But fate, it seems, has other plans for Heaven, plans that will test her ability to survive and force her to become a woman.


Like many sold into servitude in Tumanbay, Akiba comes from noble origins in a country swallowed up by the empire in its hunger for land and resources. An unwitting companion of Heaven when they escaped off a slave ship, he is now the proud expectant father of her child.

Hafiz (Antony Bunsee)

The symbol of religious authority in Tumanbay and as such an essential pawn in the ostentation of legitimacy for any who would rule the empire. The Hafiz is haunted by the fear of persecution and untimely death at the hands of vying political masters, a fear he attempts to assuage with the bottle.

Manel (Aiysha Hart)

Daughter of Tumanbay’s greatest commander, General Qulan, Manel has had an extraordinary journey from a shy cossetted young woman sheltered from the outside, to revolutionary fighting against a brutal occupation and now Sultana of Tumanbay, The city has been plundered of much of its wealth, and desperate for allies, a marriage has been arranged between her and Herod the son of a provincial governor. But Manel has a lover; her chief advisor and vizier Alkin.

Alkin (Nathalie Armin)

This mysterious traveller is now confidant and lover to the Sultana Manel. She is also intimate with the Manel’s father General Qulan. But Tumanbay’s spy-master Gregor is suspicious of Alkin, who he suspects may be plotting the empire’s destruction.

Dorin (Vincent Ebrahim)

Director of the medical institute, Dorin is working under Barakat on a series of “scientific” experiments on the corpses of executed prisoners aimed at discovering the exact location of the human soul. He knows it is all nonsense but needs to appease his masters. At the same time, he is a key figure in the resistance movement and is treading a dangerous path between the two. He resents Alkin whose continuous questioning, is putting him, he believes, in danger.

Characters from Series 1

Sultan Al-Ghuri (Raad Rawi)

Al-Ghuri came to power following the untimely death of his brother, the previous Sultan. Having taken his brother’s first wife Shajah as his own, he dotes on her son, his nephew Madu. Al-Ghuri’s other foible is his love of perfume. Yet he wears the burden of office heavily, obsessively aware of the ever-present threat of assassination and of the fragility of the dynastic line.

Shajar (Sarah Beck Mather)

Shajar is Sultan Al-Ghuri’s First Wife, and as such, head of the palace harem. Her son, Madu, is the only issue from her previous marriage to the former Sultan, Al-Ghuri's predecessor and brother. Shajar grew up in poverty and soon learnt to exploit her dazzling beauty in exchange for power and wealth. But, Shajar understands that beauty is ephemeral and that she must fight to preserve her position and to safeguard her own future and that of her son.

Sarah (Nina Yndis)

Captured and brought to Tumanbay along with her baby as a slave, the beautiful Sarah arouses admiration and curiosity amongst all who encounter her. Her striking blue eyes and pale skin, along with her enigmatic and sophisticated baring belie her status as a slave. She is appointed servant to Shajar, the First Wife, following the death of the previous maid.

Head Eunuch (John Sessions)

Playful, yet ruthless. He has the plum position of deciding what is bought for the palace and what isn’t. He recognises that the slave-girl, Sarah is something different in Tumanbay.

Shamsi (Laure Stockley)

A prostitute who serves the Palace. She beguiles men. Yet she is constantly afraid, fearful of her own fate.

Like many sold into servitude in Tumanbay, Slave comes from noble origins in a country swallowed up by the empire in its hunger for land and resources. An unwitting companion of Heaven, he resents having to play bodyguard to a girl he sees as pampered and privileged.

Boy (Darwin Brokenbro)

In the service of Rajik and Pamira in the moving town. The Boy has the ability to command dogs and other animals. He is fascinated by Heaven’s beauty and driven by the desire for family.

Wolf (Alexander Siddig)

The leader of a proudly independent band of warrior-horsemen from the austere mountains sworn to the service of Qulan. Wolf’s appetite for love matches his lust for war.

This feature was updated on 20th May 2020

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