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Mamluk
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Mamluk

Mamluks (or Mameluks) (the Arabic word usually translates as "owned") comprised slave soldiers used by the Muslim Caliphss and the Ottoman Empire, and who on more than one occasion seized power for themselves.

The first Mamluks worked for Abbasid caliphs in 9th-century Baghdad. The Abbasids recruited them from enslaved non-Muslim families captured in areas including modern Turkey and Eastern Europe. After conversion to Islam they trained as cavalry soldiers. Sultans kept them as an outsider force, under their direct command, to use in the event of local tribal frictions. Status remained non-hereditary at first but apparently many Mamluks rose to high positions, including commanderships.

Table of contents
1 Mamluks in Egypt
2 Mamluks in Baghdad
3 Mamluks in India
4 Other slave soldiers

Mamluks in Egypt

In 1250, when the Ayyubid sultan as-Salih died, the Mamluks killed his heir, and the Mamluk general Aybak (who ruled 1250 - 1257) married his widow (or mother, sources disagree) Shajar ad-Durr. The Mamluks consolidated their power in ten years and eventually established the Bahri dynasty. They were helped by the Mongols' sack of Baghdad in 1258, which effectively destroyed the Abbasid caliphate. Cairo became more prominent as a result and remained a Mamluk capital thereafter.

Two Mamluk dynasties ruled Egypt: the Bahri (consisting of Turks and Mongols) and Burji (Circassians and Georgiansns). The Bahri led the way in breaking the rule of non-hereditary positions: they established rule by a few families. Through all of this period until the 19th century they continued to increase their numbers by purchasing more slave soldiers.

In 1260 the Mamluks defeated a Mongol attack at the Battle of Ain Jalut in modern-day Syria and eventually forced the invaders to retreat to the area of modern-day Iraq. Baibars, one of the leaders at the battle, became the new sultan after assassinating Sultan Qutuz on the way home. In 1250 Baibars had led a successful attack against the Christian knights of Louis IX of France, whom he had captured and ransomed. He had also taken part in the Mamluk takeover of Egypt. In 1261 he established a puppet caliphate in Cairo, and the Mamluks fought the remnants of the Crusader states in Palestine until they finally captured Acre in 1291. Baibars preferred to purchase his new slave recruits from the Tatars.

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

The Burji period of rule begun in 1382. It proved especially turbulent, with short-lived sultans. Political power-plays often became important in designating a new sultan. During this time Mamluks fought Timur Lenk and conquered Cyprus. Constant bickering may have contributed to the ability of the Ottomans to challenge them.

In 1517 the Ottoman Turks and their sultan Selim I defeated the Mamluks the Mamluk cavalry charges proved no match for the Ottoman artillery and the janissaries (the Ottoman version of slave soldiers). The centre of power transferred from Cairo to Istanbul. However, the Ottoman Empire retained the Mamluks as an Egyptian ruling class. There, the Mamluks contrived to regain much of their influence.

Sultan Ali Bey Al-Kabir (1728 - 1773) proclaimed a short-lived (1768 - 1777) independence from the Ottomans, and the Mamluks retained their position after his defeat. By this time new slave recruits came from Georgia, in the Caucasus.

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

Napoleon formed his own Mamluk corps in the early years of the 19th century, the last known Mamluk force. Even his Imperial Guard had Mamluk soldiers during the Belgian campaign, including one of his personal servants. After the Battle of Austerlitz (2 December 1805) they gained their own regimental standard. Napoleon's famous bodyguard Roustan was also mameluk from Egypt. In 1806 Mohammad Ali Pasha became the governor of Egypt. In 1811 he invited a number of Mamluk 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 Mamluks all over the country. Only a small group managed to flee to Sudan. The era of Egyptian Mamluk rulers had come to an end.

See also: Iltizam

Mamluks in Baghdad

In the Ottoman Empire, Mamluks of Baghdad proclaimed their independence in the 18th century and remained autonomous until the Ottoman reconquest in 1832.

Mamluks in India

In 1211, the Mamluk commander of the Muslim forces in India proclaimed himself as Sultan. This Mamluk dynasty lasted until 1290. See Delhi Sultanate for more information.

Other slave soldiers

Other Islamic states used slave soldiers: note the janissaries of the Ottoman Empire and the saqaliba of Andalusi taifas, especially in Denia.