Also known as Mameluke
, translated from Arab for slave.
The Mamluks were a dominant caste of warriors in Egypt and held heavy influence in the Middle East for over 700 years. They were created by Islamic rulers of the time. Essentially, they collected non Muslim slave boys and trained them as cavalry soldiers that were especially loyal to their owner and to each other. They were converted to Islam during the course of their training.
The Mamluks were first used in Muslim armies in Baghdad by the caliphs around the 9th century and they quickly spread throughout the Muslim world. They served the sultans from the 12th century onward and eventually grew powerful enough to challenge the existence of their masters. The first Mamluk ruler went by the name of Aybak. In 1250, he convinced the mother of the last sultan to marry him after she had murdered her own son. In 1258, the first Mamluk ruler of Egypt went by the name Qutuz was in power and this marked the beginning of more than 250 years of Mamluk rule in Syria and Egypt. The Mamluk eventually became the principal landholders in Egypt.
The Mamluk sultans were usually chosen from a few of the chief families but during certain times, little respect was given to hereditary principles. Most times, the rulers held little power over the Mamluk soldiers. The average sultan reigned for only seven years and usually fell victim to a violent end. While they were threatened at home, the sultans managed to carry on a vigorous foreign policy. They helped defeat the last of the Crusaders and repelled the Mongol invasion of Syria. At times, they held all of Palestine and Syria as well as the holy places in Arabia.
It was toward the end of the 15th century when things began to fall apart. The Mamluks became involved in a war with the Ottoman Turks who eventually captured Cairo in 1517. It seems the Mamluks favored the cavalry and personal combat with swords and shields, the Ottomans, on the other hand, used artillery and their own brand of warrior slaves to defeat the Mamluk.
The Ottomans were never really able to destroy the Mamluks as a class, they were able to keep their lands and Mamluk governors remained in control of the provinces. Some were allowed to even keep private armies.
Flash forward to the 18th century, the power of the Ottoman began to decline and the Mamluk were able to win back an increasing amount of self rule. In 1769, a Mamluk by the name of Ali Bey declared himself to be sultan and independent of Constantinople. He quickly fell in 1772 but the Ottoman Turks felt compelled to concede a greater level of autonomy to the Mamluks and appointed a series of them as governors of Egypt. The Mamluks were eventually defeated by Napoleon I during his invasion of Egypt in 1798 but the true ending came in 1811 by Mehemet Ali.