Mamelukes

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The Mamelukes, a military, landholding aristocracy, long figured prominently in Middle Eastern history. They were originally recruited from non-Arab slaves imported to serve various traditional Muslim rulers as soldiers and officials. Typically, the erstwhile slaves assumed power themselves in time and continued to replenish their ranks by importing more military slaves. Between the 13th and 19th centuries Mameluke regimes appeared throughout the Muslim world, including India, Iraq, and most notably Egypt. Until 1382 the dominant Mamelukes were mostly of Turkish ethnic origin; after that date, the majority was generally of Circassian origin.

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The Egyptian Mamelukes emerged to prominence in 1250 when they overthrew the Ayyubid dynasty and inaugurated a line of more than 50 independent sultans. These sultans presided over an unruly but culturally brilliant era until the Ottoman conquest of 1517. From their capital in Cairo they ruled parts of Syria, Arabia, Libya, and Sudan. An awesome cavalry force when united, the Mamelukes checked the Mongol invasions of Syria, defeated the Crusaders, and suppressed the Assassins. When no outside threats loomed, however, they divided into quarreling factions that seldom cooperated. Most of the sultans had short reigns ending in violence.

Ottoman rule did not hurt the Mamelukes as a class. They continued to share effectively in the rule and wealth of Egypt. On the eve of the French invasion in 1798, Egypt's 20,000 Mamelukes enjoyed virtual independence. Muhammad Ali, who consolidated his own control over Egypt following the French occupation, finally destroyed the Mamelukes in 1811 when he systematically massacred the culturally stagnant old ruling caste.

Robert G. Landen

Bibliography:
Glubb, John, Soldiers of Fortune: The Story of the Mamluks (1973); Muir, William, The Mameluke, or Slave Dynasty of Egypt, 1260-1517 (1896; repr. 1973); Ziadeh, Nicola A., Urban Life in Syria Under the Early Mamluks (1953).


Mamelukes

General Information

Mamelukes, purchased slaves converted to Islam who advanced themselves to high military posts in Egypt. From this class sprang two ruling dynasties, the Bahri (1250-1382), made up of Turks and Mongols, and the Burji (1382-1517), made up of Circassians; both were named for places where the troops who seized power had been quartered. The founding of the Bahri dynasty in 1250 began a succession that brought territorial gains and great prosperity to Egypt.

After 1341 the power of the Bahri sultan passed gradually to troop commanders, and by 1381 the first Burji ruler was able to take over the throne. His rule and that of his successors was troubled by palace revolts, civil wars, and foreign conquests, culminating in the defeat of Egypt in 1517 by Selim I, sultan of Ottoman Turkey. Egypt was then subject to the authority of a Turkish representative, the pasha, but actual power remained in the hands of Mameluke beys, or governors of districts or minor provinces. When Napoleon Bonaparte, seeking to expand French power in the Mediterranean, invaded Egypt, he defeated the Mamelukes in the Battle of the Pyramids on July 21, 1798. After the French evacuated Egypt, the Mamelukes struggled with the Turks for power but were completely routed; the massacres at Cairo in 1805 and 1811 destroyed the power of the Mamelukes. The survivors fled to Nubia.


Mamelukes

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Unfortunately, we are not aware of any scholarly texts on this subject which have yet been translated into English. We know that a number of Arabic scholars have written wonderful texts in Arabic, and look for the day when we will be able to add higher quality texts to this presentation.


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