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Mameluks

Mameluks (or Mamluks) were slave soldiers used by Muslim rulers who seized power in Egypt in 1250 and founded two dynasties.

Mameluks (the world is usually translated as “owned”) were white slave soldiers in the employ of Muslim rulers. Fist mameluks worked for Abbasid caliphs in 9th-century Baghdad. They were recruited from slaves captured in non-Muslim families in areas including modern Turkey and Eastern Europe. They were converted to Islam and trained as cavalry soldiers. Sultans kept them as an outsider force under their command against potential local tribal frictions. Status was not hereditary at first but apparently many mameluks rose to high positions, including to commanders.

1250, when Ayyubid[?] sultan as-Salih[?] died, Mameluks killed his heir and mameluk general Aybak[?] (who ruled 1250-1257) married his widow (or mother, sources disagree) Shajar ad-Durr. Mameluks consolidated their power in ten years and eventually established the Bahri dynasty. One factor that helped in this was that Mongols had sacked Baghdad and effectively destroyed Abbasid caliphate. Cairo had gained more prominence as a result and remained a Mameluk capital thereafter.

There were two mameluk dynasties, Bahri (turkish and mongols) and Burji (Circassian and georgian). Bahri were the first to broke the rule of non-hereditary position and established the rule of few families. Through all this period all the way to 1800’s, they continued to increase their numbers by purchasing more slave soldiers.

1260 Baibars I[?] became the new sultan, apparently by assassination. In 1250 he had lead a successful attack against the Christian knights of Louis IX of France, captured and ransomed him. He also had had a hand in Mameluk takeover in Egypt. 1261 he established a puppet caliphate in Cairo. 1260 his troops defeated Mongol attack in modern-day Syria and eventually forced them to retreat to area of modern-day Iraq. Muslims give him the credit of defeating the Crusader states[?] in Acre in 1291. He preferred to purchase his recruits from Tatars. He died 1277. Two sultans later Qala'un (1279-1290) drive out the last remaining Christian crusaders.

Reign of sultan al-Nasir Muhammad is especially complex - he rose to the throne at the age of 9 and ruled in years 1293-1294, 1298–1308 and eventually 1309-1340. He also organized a 1311 digging of canal which connected Alexandria with the Nile.

Burji period begun in 1382. It was especially turbulent with short-lived sultans. Political power plays were often more important in designation of a new sultan. During this time mameluks fought Timur Lenk and conquered Cyprus. Constant bickering may have contributed to the fact that Ottomans were able to rise against them.

1517 Ottoman Turks and their sultan Selim I defeated mameluks – their cavalry charges[?] were no match for Ottoman artillery and janissaries, Ottoman version of slave soldiers. Power was transferred from Cairo to Istanbul. However, Ottoman Empire retained mameluks as an Egyptian ruling class. Mameluks were able to regain much of their influence.

Sultan Ali Bey proclaimed a short-lived (1768-1777) independence from Ottomans and Mameluks retained their position after his defeat. By this time new slave recruits came chiefly from Georgia[?], in modern-day Russia.

Napoleon defeated mameluk troops when he attacked Egypt in 1798 and chased them to Upper Egypt. By this time mameluks had added only muskets to their typical cavalry charge tactics. When Napoleon was obliged to leave, his officers failed to contain the rebellion. When French troops left 1801, Mameluks had to fight both Ottoman Empire and the British.

In 1806 Mohammad Ali Pasha became the governor of Egypt. 1811 he invited a number of mameluks leaders (accounts differ from 64 to 700) to his palace in Cairo and ambushed them in the street after the reception. Reputedly only one survived the Citadel Massacre. During the following weeks his troops killed thousands of mameluks all over the country. Only small group managed to flee to Sudan. Era of mameluk rulers was over.

Napoleon formed his own, last known, mameluk corps in the beginning years of 1800’s. Even his Imperial Guard[?] had mameluk soldiers during the Belgian campaign, including one of his personal servants. They were awarded their own regimental standard after the battle of Austerlitz.



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