The Mamluk dynasty or Mamluk sultanate was a kingdom during the middles ages that spread over the areas of the Hejaz, the Levant, and Egypt.

The dynasty’s ruling class mostly consisted of soldiers, known as Mamluks, who were mostly slaves of the Cuman-Kipchaks (from the Crimea), Circassian, Oghuz, and Georgian origin.

Their status was above that of normal slaves. Mamluks’ social status was above that of normal Egyptian citizens as they were allowed to carry certain weapons and took part in wars.

They were the “true lords” and during the middle ages at one point the Mamluk Dynasty saw its peak point with political, economic, and cultural advancement.

Medieval Mamluk Soldier

Mamluk Soldier from Aleppo

Mamluks Definition

The translation of Mamluks was “owned slaves”. Mamluks were bought and imported by the Ayyubid Sultan Al Salih Ayyub. One of the many official names of the Mamluk dynasty was dawlat al-atrak/dawlat al-turk/al-dawla al-turkiyya which meant “The state of the Turks”.

Another official name was dawlat al-jarakisa which meant “the period of the Circassians”. The dynasty was also called Al-dawla al-mughuliyya meaning the “Mongol State” during Sultan Al-Adil Kitbugha’s rule who was of Mongol origin.

Mamluk Dynasty Timeline 

The Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt ruled from 1250 to 1517. The Mamluk Sultans could be divided into two groups. The Bahris ruled from 1250 – 1382, who were chiefly Turks and Mongols, and the Burjis ruled from 1382 – 1517, who were chiefly Circassians and were chosen from the garrison of Cairo.

The Mongols besieged Baghdad from January 29th to February 10th, 1258. In September 1260 the Mongols were defeated in the battle of Ain Jalut. In 1377 the Circassians revolted against the Bahri Sultan. The Burji Mamluk dynasty began in 1382. In 1517 the Battle of Ridaniya ended the Mamluk dynasty.

Mamluk Cavalry Battle of Homs

Mamluk Soldiers in the Battle Of Homs

Mamluk Origins

The last Ayyubid Sultan, Al Salih Ayyub during the period 1240 to 1249 imported a huge number of slaves from the Caucasus and Central Asia. There were treated differently from the household slaves as they were mostly trained in different fields like martial arts, archery, Islamic studies, etc.

They were called Mamluks which meant “bought slaves”, whereas the household slaves were called garya and ghulam. These mamluks were freedmen, but were expected to contribute to their masters and remain loyal to them.

Mamluk Dynasty – Rise to Power *Bahri Dynasty

Under the Ayyubid Dynasty, the Mamluk regiments were their main source of power. Every sultan used to have their own private armies with the freedom to choose soldiers according to their liking.

The Last Ayyubid Sultan, Al Salih Ayyub had a special liking for the Mamluks and his army consisted of around 800 to 1000 horsemen who were called Bahri Mamluks. Bahr in Arabic means sea and they were called Bahris because their barracks were on the island of Rawanda in the Nile.

Medieval Mamluk Military in Ayyubid Dynasty Hattin

Mamluk Soldiers Ayyubid Dynasty Hattin

In 1249 Egypt was invaded by Louis IX of France who was leading the crusade. They captured Damietta and moved towards the south, the Sultan Al Salih died and the Mamluks defeated the crusaders in the Battle of Al Mansurah before the new Sultan could take control. The Crusade ended and the Bahris took control after killing the new Sultan as well.

Mamluks and the Mongol invasions

After the death of al-Muazzam Turanshah different groups in Egypt and Syria competed with each other in order to take control. In 1254 one such group under the leadership of Qutuz became very powerful and as a result, many Bahris left Cairo and joined Ayyubid Emirs in Syria.

In 1258, Mongols under the leadership of Halagu attached middle east sacked Baghdad and started advancing. Considering it a common threat Qutuz and Bahris put aside their differences and defeated Mongols in the battle of Ain Jalut. After defeating the Mongols the differences again arose and Qutuz was assassinated by Bahris.

Medieval Mamluk Soldiers

Mamluk soldiers *Russian origins but fought for the Turks

Mamluks and Burji dynasty

By the end of the fourteenth century, the Mamluks mostly consisted of Circassians from the North Caucasus and in 1382 they revolted initially in Syria which spread to Egypt and took control of the government.

The revolt was mostly led by Circassians Barakah and Barquq. The Bahri dynasty came to an end in 1382 when the last Bahri Sultan Al-Salih Hajji was overthrown. Although Barquq was momentarily expelled in 1389 he regained power in 1390 and established the Burji dynasty

Medieval Mamluk Cavalry

 Mamluk Cavalry with lances on horseback

End of the Mamluk Dynasty *Ottomans

In the initial part of the sixteenth century, the Ottomans accused the Mamluks of assisting Saffavids against their interests. Although Mamluks tried to be at peace with both in 1514 Salim I, the Ottoman emperor attacked an Egyptian vassal and sent his head to Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri, the Mamluk Sultan.

In 1516 Salim I again arranged a great army with intention of conquering Egypt. In August of 1516, the Battle of Marj Dabiq was fought and the Mamluk Sultan was killed as the Mamluk cavalry had no answers to the superior Ottoman artillery.

Syria came under Ottoman control. Cairo was captured by Salim I on 20th January 1517 which brought an end to the Mamluk Dynasty.

Mamluk Cavalry - Medieval Cavalry

Mamluk Cavalry *feared warriors *reputation for being ruthless

Mamluk Households

There were different households under the leadership of an Ustad and Mamluks were organized among them. Mamluks used to remain loyal to their Ustads and fellow soldiers in the regiment.

The loyalty to the fellow soldiers was called khushdashiya in Arabic. Mamluks’ sons were never treated as other Mamluks and they did not enter the ranks rather they became part of general society. In order to strengthen the ranks, more and more slaves were imported for this purpose.

Mamluk Cavalry Soldier

Mamluk Summary

The Mamluks were the bought soldiers that were mostly imported by the last Ayyubid Sultan Al-Saleh and were an integral part of his army as they fought fearlessly. Later, when the King Louis IX of France attacked Egypt and his forces were able to capture some important locations.

Even though the Abbasid King had died, the Mamluks were able to take the control of this important location. Under the flag of Mamluks, there were two dynasties the Bahri Dynasty and the Burji Dynasty. These slaves had a high social rank and even after the fall of the Mamluk dynasty they had enough influence.