Mamlukes PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
"Mamluke" means slave. From around 1200 AD, the Ayyubid successors of Saladin bought boys from non-Islamic areas of Turkey, imported them to Cairo, kept them apart from the locals, trained them as soldiers and converted them to Islam. With this conversion the slaves became free, but their sole profession was arms, and their sole relationships were with their commanders and fellow Mamlukes. Thus an elite military class came into being. The creature rose against its master in about 1250, taking over the rule of the Muslim world. The new rulers continued to buy boys, train and convert them. In 1260, near the spring of Harod at the foot of Mt. Gilboa, they stopped the Mongols, who had marched across Asia undefeated for two generations. Thirty-one years later they drove the Crusaders out. With few exceptions, their rule was not dynastic. New rulers came from the ranks of those who themselves had been sold as slaves.

08122002083251.jpgThis political system proved remarkably stable. There was prosperity, as well as a literary and cultural flowering, which has left its imprint in some of Jerusalem's most beautiful architecture. For example, west of the Dome of the Rock, on the lower level, see the Fountain of Qaytbay and the Cotton Merchants' Gate.

After the exhaustion of their Nubian gold mines, and after the Portuguese sea explorations, along with years of drought, the regime was overrun by the Ottomans in 1517. The latter had firearms, which the Mamlukes, steeped by now in knightly tradition, refused to acquire.

(Much of the above is based on Keel and Kuechler, Vol. I, p. 691.)