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Thread: Who were the Mamelukes?

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    jankren's Avatar Samurai
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    Default Who were the Mamelukes?

    I have always thought that the Egyptian Mamelukes were made up of mainly black African slaves. But I also heard that it is not true and they were actually Central Asians. Can anyone explain whether they were Africans, Central Asians, or even Arabs? If possible please provide references?
    Last edited by jankren; February 12, 2007 at 05:17 PM.


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    Odovacar's Avatar I am with Europe!
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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    Hmm...Try the Osprey book: the Mameluks
    Or, for some info you can try Stephen Runciman: History of the crusades
    or Amin Maloouf: The crusades from arab view (or something like that)

    The Mameluks were mainly turkish slaves in service of muslim rulers. The muslim rulers always kept slaves as bodyguard because the slaves had no roots in the society which the ruler commanded.
    So, the possibility of rebellion was little, unlike in case of native troops.
    Most times muslim rulers kept turkish mameluks. The word mameluk means slave. There were kurdish, afghan, slavic mameluks, (and for one ruler in the 10th century Cordoba even some magyars) but the famous mameluks who defeated the mongols at Ain Jalut and Homs were kipchaks/cumans.

    The irony of fate is that these people were sold as slaves into Egypt by the mongols themselves who conquered the kipchaks and enslaved many of them.
    So, Kalaun and Bajbars had to pay for the mongols, and they had the necessary knowledge about steppe warfare for that too....
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    Hex Khan's Avatar Oooooh Yeeeaah!!
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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    Odo sums it up pretty well, but an interesting fact about the Mamluks was that they recieved very good educations both in the military arts and academically. pus encouraged to undertake hobies like playing music, painting etc which is odd considering they were 'slaves'
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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    Once they had completed training they were released from slavery...
    The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.

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    jankren's Avatar Samurai
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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hex Khan View Post
    Odo sums it up pretty well, but an interesting fact about the Mamluks was that they recieved very good educations both in the military arts and academically. pus encouraged to undertake hobies like playing music, painting etc which is odd considering they were 'slaves'
    Pretty much like the Janissaries right?


    "When one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion." -- Robert Pirsig

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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    Many Mamelukes also came from the Dneiper river valley as well as the Russian steppes. As the steppeland refugees were driven further west by the Mongols, they sold their children to Venetian traders on the coasts of the Black Sea. The Venetians would then sell them to the Egyptians.

    The Mameluke was trained to use a variety of weapons, along with extensive horsemanship instruction as well. That was perfect for most steppeland tribes. Unlike chattel slaves, the Mamelukes were well cared for. Training was hard, but they never starved. Their rulers, in turn, could be certain of their loyalty.

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    jankren's Avatar Samurai
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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Odovacar View Post
    Amin Maloouf: The crusades from arab view (or something like that)
    Man, I checked that out at Amazon.com and it seems to be one quality book. Im definitely gonna buy that. Anyway, Im always interested in history books which were written by people of 'the other sides of the stories'. So if anyone knows such books like about WWII from German point of view or Alexander Conquests from Persian point of view please inform me.


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    "Feminists are silent when the bills arrive." -- Aetius

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    Odovacar's Avatar I am with Europe!
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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    Quote Originally Posted by jankren View Post
    Man, I checked that out at Amazon.com and it seems to be one quality book. Im definitely gonna buy that. Anyway, Im always interested in history books which were written by people of 'the other sides of the stories'. So if anyone knows such books like about WWII from German point of view or Alexander Conquests from Persian point of view please inform me.
    For a more persian view on macedons and their succesors try: Roman Ghirshman: History of Persia.

    And the difference between janitsaries and mameluks were that janitsaries came from christian lands. As far as I know all of them was a christian child kidnapped by turks. The janitsaries were not allowed to marry till around the late 17th century, after then they became insignificant as battlefield power.
    I dunno whether the mameluks were free to marry or not. Till they reached a specific age most likely they weren't.
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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Odovacar View Post
    I dunno whether the mameluks were free to marry or not. Till they reached a specific age most likely they weren't.
    Yeah the mamluks were allowed to marry and a son could volenteer to rejoin the mamluks he would be rewarded high position on the account of his father being a mamluk before him, at least thats what i recall read from the osprey book lol
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    Odovacar's Avatar I am with Europe!
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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    Thanks Hex, I have that book, but I was to lazy to read it yet.
    I forgot to mention that probably support of janitsaries came from the orphans as well as from the kidnapped children. The sultans as far as I remember from my books gathered together the orphans to raise them from state money, and later they gave jobs to them.
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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    Quote Originally Posted by jankren View Post
    Man, I checked that out at Amazon.com and it seems to be one quality book. Im definitely gonna buy that. Anyway, Im always interested in history books which were written by people of 'the other sides of the stories'. So if anyone knows such books like about WWII from German point of view or Alexander Conquests from Persian point of view please inform me.

    Be sure to read the personal summary and connection to the modern day he writes at the end. I found it to be very even-handed and interesting. As for the book itself, it was quite good but I don't think it delved too far into the finer aspects of the military, at least the way that the Osprey books do. It was more of a retelling of the way it's usually told.

    I'm curious as to if there was any difference between Mamelukes and Ghulams; were mamelukes the egyptian slave-warriors and ghulams the turkic?

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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    A mamluk (Arabic: مملوك (singular), مماليك (plural), "owned"; also transliterated mameluk, mameluke, or mamluke) was a slave soldier who was converted to Islam and served the Muslim caliphs and the Ayyubid sultans during the Middle Ages. Over time they became a powerful military caste, and on more than one occasion they seized power for themselves, for example in Egypt from 1250 to 1517.
    Wikipedia says they did seize control on few occasions, so I guess that idea about loyalty didnt work out right.

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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Odovacar View Post
    For a more persian view on macedons and their succesors try: Roman Ghirshman: History of Persia.

    And the difference between janitsaries and mameluks were that janitsaries came from christian lands. As far as I know all of them was a christian child kidnapped by turks. The janitsaries were not allowed to marry till around the late 17th century, after then they became insignificant as battlefield power.
    I dunno whether the mameluks were free to marry or not. Till they reached a specific age most likely they weren't.
    Althought there are more detailed threats about Janissaries in the forums, I would like to correct/add some points there.

    - Janissary is a westernised term of Turkish "yeni eri/ yeni cheri" (meaning "the new soldier") It means a new class of soldier type in Ottoman military.

    - Because the classical Turkish warfare does not include infantry and the normal Turkish tribal warriors do see infantry as something to be ashamed, the early Ottoman Sultans lack a good solid infantry in their armies. And do not forget; Turkish tribal warriors tend to be loyal their tribal leader more than the Sultan. Ghazi warriors (that flocked to Ottoman banner) were not dissiplined army as the term goes. Local levies from conquered territories were not good.

    - To overcome this problem, they first used converted (or changed side) local Byzantine Lords and their soldiers. Then, they used captive soldiers from their enemies and mercaneries.

    - Then they found Janissary system. The Sultan requires a good solid infantry army. (the usage of bought and educated slave soldiers for bodyguards for the Khans is a very old Turkish custom, because they tend to be very loyal to the their Khans more than the tribal Turkish warriors). They simply enlarge/change these "mamluke" type soldiers to be a new kind of soldiers; very good and solid infantry. But do not forget Janissaries were not just infantry.

    - However The Sultan had a problem; he can not use muslim population to create a "mamluke" army because Islam do not allow make a slave from a muslim person. Solution; obtain first from captive soldiers, than from christian population.

    - The system was working that way; Sultan's men were to chose candidates from rural christian population aging between 9-14. Chosen from village boys, because village boys tend to be more honest. Not one of city boys chosen, because they are very shrewd. The chosens were walked to the Capitol to see their physical prowess. Once they were in the Capital, they had been examined and tested. They were to be send to rural Turkish families to learn Turkish language, customs and the Islam (and to be converted) for a few years. After this, they were to be examined again. There, they were chosen for their capabilities for further educations.

    - Most of them chosen to be Janissary infantry (so more educations to warfare and arms), some of them to Kapikulu Sipahi (Janissary Cavalary), some of them to Sultan's bodyguards, some of them to other ocaks, and some of them (intelligent ones) to further educations of warfare, political and governing to become Pashas and ultimatly to be Sadrazam (the second most powerfull man of the empire after the Sultan).

    - Technically, they were slaves of the ruling Sultan. (and please do not compare western or roman type of slave thing to these). They were "Kapikulu", " the slave of the Porte". The Sultan has right to take head of offending or unsuccessfull "Kul". Because of that The Sultan could easily order of decapitilation of a Pasha who could not take out an enemy location. Beside that (and Janissaries could not grow beards till the retirement), they have every freedom. Kapikulus (including Janissaries) excluding pashas could not marry till the retirement. They used to get salaries and twice a yearly clothing and food from the Sultan and they had to provide their own equipment. They used to get a special salary "Culs" from the newly crowned Sultan.

    - The Janissaries were to live barracks called "Ocak"s. Means hearth/furnace. Their organisation was reflecting an Kitchen organisation. Their ranks and officers reflect that; like "orbacıbaşı/chorbacaebashae" soup-maker, "Kazancı" cauldener, "Kaşıkcı" spooner. Even, their risings or subordinations were to begin of rolling the rice cauldron. Their superior officer was "Yenieri Ağası" Agha of Janissaries and responsible to only the Sultan.

    - At the later era of the Empire, the constituon of Janissary system were corrupted and they became of The Bane of the Sultans and prevented a lot reforms to be needed correct the decline of Ottomans.

    - Ofcourse, it was very immoral system when we are looking from Today's point of view. However, at these times, people did not look these thing as today. Even, at the early times (some) People tried to do every thing to become Janissary. Heck, they had to chance to became "numero duo" of the most powerful Empire and to get best education in the World.

    - Ottomans did provide that notion "Education is more important than the blood-lines". contary the very core belief of Europeans' Blood-line is everything notion.
    Last edited by white-wolf; February 19, 2007 at 04:57 AM.
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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    the mamelukes were very much like feudal vassal/slaves. odd combination, but if a mameluke served properly, he would aquire an iqta'at (like a feudal land holding, and most liekly i spelt it wrong). they could essentially be of any race, although the aforementioned racial groups are all possible, and probable.

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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    One thing that I think was not elaborated on: both Mamluks and their Janissary couterparts only start out as slaves. But not slaves in the way that the term is associated with today... The Muslims rarely practiced chattel slavery like the Romans and later Europeans.

    First of all, slaves could not be Muslims. The very act of converting them to Islam removed the status of slave. They were, in effect, in service to the Sultan; who generally had the supreme right to do whatever he wanted anyway.

    One of the many misconceptions that many today have are of horrid conditions, etc. This is understandable because of our concept of slavery. Mamluks/Janissaries were well-cared for, well educated, and highly trained warriors or administrators for their Sultan. As white-wolf mentioned, many wanted to be Mamluk of Janissary; and in the case of Janissaries, many Christian families voluntarily 'sold' their sons because they knew they would have a better life. The term kidnap in the case of the Janissaries only meant that the parents had no choice if their son was chosen; no sneaking around in the night and stealing children.
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    jankren's Avatar Samurai
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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    I wonder if the Janissaries and the Mamelukes were allowed to see their families at some point in their lives?


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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    The Ghulams served the Safadivits (sp) and were Christian slave warriors from the Caucases (sp).
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    NaptownKnight's Avatar Centurio Primus Pilus
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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    Sorry for getting off topic, but who were the better soldiers, Janniseries or Mamelukes?

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    Hex Khan's Avatar Oooooh Yeeeaah!!
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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    i'd be tempted to say the mamlukes, they were an all round specialist force, while the janissaries were infantry based...

    though that said i cant deny that either was totally awesome and a formidable foe, i mean look at the mamluk state they repusled the mongols even fought napoleon when he invaded egypt centuries later. But that said the Janissaries were feared throughout the world for being the Ottoman battle tank, heavily armoured well trained soldiers and the Ottomans ruled a fairly impressive empire with the aid of the janissaries and other military corps they had.

    only real problem is that each developed in a different age to fufil different rolls, personally I'd say janissaries, but practically the mamlukes, but at the risk of being indesive i'm going to conclude its a tie, their both pretty damn good
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    NaptownKnight's Avatar Centurio Primus Pilus
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    Default Re: Who were the Mamelukes?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hex Khan View Post
    i'd be tempted to say the mamlukes, they were an all round specialist force, while the janissaries were infantry based...

    though that said i cant deny that either was totally awesome and a formidable foe, i mean look at the mamluk state they repusled the mongols even fought napoleon when he invaded egypt centuries later. But that said the Janissaries were feared throughout the world for being the Ottoman battle tank, heavily armoured well trained soldiers and the Ottomans ruled a fairly impressive empire with the aid of the janissaries and other military corps they had.

    only real problem is that each developed in a different age to fufil different rolls, personally I'd say janissaries, but practically the mamlukes, but at the risk of being indesive i'm going to conclude its a tie, their both pretty damn good
    I thought Napolean never made it to Egypt except for his naval defeat at the hand of Admiral Nelson. I bet you the defenders of Constatinople were :wub:in themselves when they saw that the Ottomans had 90,000 Janniseries...

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