A look back at the Mamelukes

When these rulers disappeared, they left behind excellent infrastructures and buildings so splendid that even time has not diminished their beauty.

October 4, 2012 15:49
Bab El-Sissileh, or Chain Gate Street

Road leading to Western Wall 521. (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)


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Some time in the ninth century, the caliphs who ruled Baghdad created a monster. That’s when they began seizing promising young teens who belonged to nomadic Turkish tribes, converted them to Islam and trained them in the art of war. So successful were the young Mamelukes (meaning “belonging to others”) that they were given positions of power both in the royal court and in the army. From there, it wasn’t difficult to turn the tables on the despots who had kidnapped them from their homes and turn them into fighting machines. In 870, this military elite seized control of Egypt and later conquered most of the Middle East.

Although they didn’t last long as rulers, Mameluke soldiers continued to retain their importance over the centuries. And in 1250, after a new group of elite warriors had gained control in Egypt, they continued into Mesopotamia, Syria and Israel. Their general was Baybars, who had been sold as a slave at the age of 19 to the sultan of Egypt and trained in military warfare.


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