Log In Start studying!

Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|
Mamluks
Illustration

Lerne mit deinen Freunden und bleibe auf dem richtigen Kurs mit deinen persönlichen Lernstatistiken

Jetzt kostenlos anmelden

Nie wieder prokastinieren mit unseren Lernerinnerungen.

Jetzt kostenlos anmelden
Illustration

From bondservants to masters, the Islamic Mamluk warriors continued to prove themselves on the battlefield, in bureaucracy, and as exemplary leaders within the Medieval Dar Al-Islam. Replacing the dynastical reign of the Ayyubid Sultanate, the Mamluks ruled from Egypt and the Levant. The Mamluks excelled in warfare, forcing the Mongol invasion through the Middle East and into Egypt to a screeching halt; on another occasion, they captured the French king during the 7th Crusade and ransomed him back to his country. At one point, a Caliph was installed to provide legitimacy to their state. But how did a former class of enslaved people come to the head of the Islamic world? Keep reading to learn more about the Mamluk Sultanate environment, culture, and more.

Mamluks Definition

From Arabic, Mamluk (or Mameluke) translates as "one who is owned." Due to the laws of the Islamic faith in the Medieval Era, it was illegal to enslave Muslims; however, any non-Muslim was allowed to be enslaved. Most of the Mamluks, especially in the early years of its class, were ethnic Turks. Later, the Mamluks included Turks, Georgians, Armenians, Hungarians, Russians, and more. From their Islamic masters, the Mamluks learned command and combat strategy, science, mathematics, art, law, and administration.

Mamluk:

"Slave-soldiers" who served the Islamic dynasties during the Medieval Era, meaning "one who is owned."

Mamluks, Mamluk horseback rider, StudySmarterArt depicting a Mamluk horseback rider. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Compared to the likes of the American Slave Trade, Mamluks were treated well and even granted freedom after years of initial servitude, though they were expected to keep loyal to their former masters. Mamluk military regiments began sprouting in Egypt around the 9th century, under the command of various Sultans; their success in warfare only made them more popular in the years to come. Similar to the Mongols, they were expert horseback archers, mixing speed with deadly accuracy.

Mamluk Sultanate Environment

The Mamluks were ubiquitous in Egypt within the Ayyubid Sultanate (1171–1250). Later, when the Mamluks replaced the Ayyubid Sultanate, they controlled Egypt, the west coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and the Levant. The famous Egyptian city of Cairo was their capital. After so many other cities were destroyed by the Mongols, Cairo became possibly the greatest city in Afro-Eurasia by the end of the 13th century. The desert environment of the Mamluks was given life by the waters of the Nile River, the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Red Sea to the Southeast.

Levant:

The land on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Mamluks, Map of territorial holdings of the Mamluk Sultanate in 1337, StudySmarterMap depicting the territorial holdings of the Mamluk Sultanate in 1337 CE. Source: Ro4444, CC-BY-SA-4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

The Mamluks Establish Their Sultanate in Egypt

The Mamluks quickly rose from a caste of enslaved people to rulers within the Dar Al-Islam. Before they established their official Sultanate, many Mamluks functioned in administrative and governing positions in the Ayyubid Sultanate.

Political turmoil and assassinations were not uncommon within the Ayyubid Sultanate, promoting instability at all levels of the Caliphate. Tensions between the Mamluks and Ayyubid leadership came to a head during the Seventh Crusade, an attack on Damietta orchestrated by French King Louis IX. Although the Crusade was a catastrophe for the Christian forces, initial differing strategies between the reigning Sultan and Mamluks resulted in the execution of many military commanders. The Mamluks grew uneasy.

Sultanate versus Caliphate, Sultan versus Caliph: What's the difference?

Sultans were Islamic rulers, essentially kings of Muslim states (called sultanates). Think king and his dominion, the kingdom. Caliphs, on the other hand, played a more spiritually significant role. Caliphs were descendants of the Prophet Muhammed–the founder of the Islamic faith.

The Abbasid Caliphate, for example, was ruled by caliphs, descendants of Muhammed, while the Mamluk Sultanate was ruled by non-descendant rulers: sultans. The Mamluks reinstalled a Caliph within their Sultanate, but he acted as more of a spiritual figurehead within their state rather than a political leader.

During the 7th Crusade, the widow Sultaness Shajar al-Durr sought a suitable marriage to consolidate her power. She chose Aybak, a Mamluk commander. Although he was assassinated years later, the precedent of a Mamluk rule was evident to all. Then, Aybak's successor, another Mamluk commander named Qutuz, officially founded the Mamluk Sultanate in 1250 CE.

The Crusade ended with King Louis IX defeated and ransomed back to France for a hefty sum (some historians estimate the ransom to be equivalent to a third of France's economy at the time).

Mamluks vs Mongols

One of the Mamluk Sultanate's first tests and most significant accomplishments would be against the mighty Mongol Empire. Hulagu Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan and leader of the Ilkhanate subdivision of the Mongol Empire, was marching through the Middle East. Having defeated the Hashashin assassins of Persia and successfully besieged the illustrious city of Baghdad in 1258, the Mongols seemed unstoppable. The Dar Al-Islam was on its heels, the Islamic Golden Age at its end. The Ilkhanate was poised to tread into a new continent: Africa.

Mamluks, Painting of the Battle of Homs, StudySmarter14th-century art depicting the Battle of Homs. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In an event greatly favoring the Mamluks, the Mongol Empire's leader Mongke Khan died in 1259 at the precipice of Hulagu Khan's invasion of Africa. When word of his death reached Hulagu, the Ilkhanate's Khan pulled back to Mongolia with a large portion of his army. He left about 20,000 men to fortify their position in the Middle East. The Mamluk Sultan Qutuz was not ready to let them rest. He took the attack to the Mongols.

The 1260 Battle of Ain Jalut ensued, ending in a significant victory for the Mamluks. The Ilkhanate licked their wounds and returned the same year, only to be defeated again at the First Battle of Homs. Warring continued between the Mamluks and Mongols, with the Mamluks consistently defeating the Central Asian invaders. In 1323, the two parties signed a peace treaty. Clearly, the Mamluks were not a military force to be trifled with.

Mamluk Sultanate Culture

The reign of the Mamluk Sultanate can be divided into two main periods, the Bahri and Burji regimes, characterized by the predominated ethnic culture during each regime; Turkic during the Bahri period (1250-1382) and Circassian during the Burji period (1382-1517). As stated previously, the Mamluks spoke Arabic and practiced Islam, but many came from foreign roots, whether from the Turkic tribes or Central Asia, or the Caucuses. Either way, the Mamluks were proud of their heritage.

The Mamluks were distinctly Islamic, but many Christians and Jews lived within their Sultanate.

Mamluks, Mamluk Terracotta cup, StudySmarterMamluk terracotta cup from the 14th century. Source: RomanDeckert, CC-BY-SA-4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Mamluk leaders enjoyed lavish and luxury goods, displaying their power while simultaneously reminding them how far they had come from their slave caste roots. Glassware was a hallmark of Mamluk art, in addition to textile production, metalwork, and pottery making. Much of the art in the Mamluk Sultanate was inspired by or purchased from trading partners in the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean Sea Trades.

The Mamluk's largest industry was agriculture, yet their urban areas became increasingly impressive. Packed within defensive walls, the cities grew vertically, new temples and mosques built to tower over the older ones, only to be overshadowed by even newer buildings.

Mamluk Massacre

The Mamluk Sultanate lasted until 1517 when it was consumed by the expanding Ottoman Empire. By the 16th century, gunpowder was becoming increasingly popular and effective in combat, and the Mamluks were slow to the draw. Nonetheless, the Mamluks lived on within the Ottoman Empire, positioning themselves as a high-level class in society. That is, until the Mamluk Massacre of 1811.

Mamluks, Painting of the Mamluk Massacre of 1811, StudySmarterArt depicting the Mamluk Massacre of 1811. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

After Napoleon Bonaparte weakened the Ottoman Empire by occupying Egypt in the early 19th century, the Ottoman Empire tumbled into civil war. The ruling Ottomans warred between the ambitious Albanian mercenary regiment under the command of Muhammed Ali and the last remnants of the Mamluks in Cairo. Muhammed Ali temporarily aligned himself with the Mamluks, inviting them to a grand celebration at the Citadel in Cairo. After initial festivities, the 3,000 gathered Mamluk nobles were caught in a trap and gunned down. The Mamluks were no more.

Significance of the Mamluks

Why do historians concern themselves with the Mamluks, a brief period of rule between the fall of the Ayyubid Sultanate and the Abbasid Caliphate, and the rise of the Ottoman Empire? While not just a stepping stone between eras, the Mamluks represented a progression from the world of fragmented and disparate Islamic states to largely Turkic powers that exemplified cultural diversity and innovation. From the Medieval to the Early Modern Period, the Mamluks reigned during a transformative era in Dar Al-Islam as the Islamic Caliphates fell and new kinds of states arose, even states governed by former slaves.

Mamluks - Key takeaways

  • The Mamluks were a caste of Turkic and Circassian slave-soldiers within the Medieval Ayyubid Sultanate. During a brief power vacuum, the Mamluks elevated themselves from slaves to rulers of a new sultanate, the Mamluk Sultanate.
  • The Mamluks were well trained in combat, governance, and other skills in their slavery, equipping them with the tools necessary to rule a state.
  • The Mamluks defeated the Mongolian Ilkhanate on multiple occasions, exhibiting their martial power and leading to a peace treaty in the 14th century.
  • The Mamluk Sultanate fell to the Ottomans in 1517. Still, the Mamluk elite social caste continued within the Ottoman Empire until 1811, when they were betrayed and massacred by the Albanian military commander Muhammed Ali.

Frequently Asked Questions about Mamluks

The Mamluks were a caste of Turkic and Circassian slave-soldiers within the Medieval Ayyubid Sultanate. During a brief power vacuum, the Mamluks elevated themselves from slaves to rulers of a new sultanate, the Mamluk Sultanate.

The Mamluks came to Egypt largely from the Turkic tribes of Central Asia and the Caucuses.

The Mamluk Sultanate was founded in 1250 by the Mamluk commander Qutuz. 

The Mamluks came to Egypt largely from the Turkic tribes of Central Asia and the Caucuses. 

The Mamluks were Muslim warriors but were not of Arabic descent. The Mamluks arrived in Egypt largely from the Turkic tribes of Central Asia and the Caucuses. 

Final Mamluks Quiz

Mamluks Quiz - Teste dein Wissen

Question

Define Mamluk

Show answer

Answer

Slave-soldiers who served the Islamic dynasties during the Medieval Era; meaning "one who is owned". 

Show question

Question

The Mamluks largely came from: (pick 2)

Show answer

Answer

Turkic tribes of Central Asia 

Show question

Question

The Mamluks were...

Show answer

Answer

Expert horseback archers.

Show question

Question

What was the capital of the Mamluk Sultanate? 

Show answer

Answer

Cairo 

Show question

Question

What European nation attacked Egypt in the 7th Crusade, provoking a response by the Mamluks? 

Show answer

Answer

France 

Show question

Question

How did Sultaness Shajar al-Durr solidify her rule? 

Show answer

Answer

By marrying a Mamluk commander

Show question

Question

True or False: The Mamluks were successful in establishing their own sultanate in Egypt. 

Show answer

Answer

True 

Show question

Question

Hulagu Khan's Siege of Baghdad ended the Islamic Golden Age. How did the Mamluks fair in combat against the Mongols? 

Show answer

Answer

They were successful in combat, beating them at the Battle of Ain Jalut and the Battle of Homs 

Show question

Question

What better characterizes Mamluk-era urban architecture?

Show answer

Answer

Tall, increasingly vertical building meant to dominate city streets within tightening city walls. 

Show question

Question

True or False: The Mamluks were massacred by the Ottoman Empire in 1517, effectively ending their existence. 

Show answer

Answer

False 

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Mamluks quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

Get FREE ACCESS to all of our study material, tailor-made!

Over 10 million students from across the world are already learning smarter.

Get Started for Free
Illustration