The Mamluk Sultans: 1250-1517

During the Mamluk Sultanate, writes P.M. Holt, men imported as slaves and trained as warriors became rulers of a great Islamic state.

‘I could not say much of the Mamalucs, of I whom I know no author that has written Ain particular: neither did they deserve that any should. For they were a base sort of people, a Colluvies of slaves, the scum of all the East, who, having treacherously destroyed the Jobidae, their Masters, reigned in their stead; and bating that they finished the expulsion of the Western Christians out of the East (where they barbarously destroyed Tripoli, and Antioch, and several other Cities) they scarce did anything worthy to be recorded in History.’1

So in 1722 wrote Humphrey Prideaux, Dean of Norwich, an eminent, if bigoted, Orientalist of his time. The tone of moral reprobation which colours his remarks, and the suggestion of impropriety that slaves should become Sultans, long survived in historical writing on the Mamluks. The one general history in English on this subject, published by Sir William Muhin 1896, bears the significant title The Mameluke or Slave dynasty of Egypt, and the author’s attitude may be inferred from one of his more favourable judgments on a Mamluk Sultan:

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