The Mameluke Empire

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

The empire of the Mamelukes of Egypt provides a case in point, Glubb argues, for it was one of the most exotic ever to be recorded in history:

It is also exceptional in that it began on one fixed day and ended on another, leaving no doubt of its precise duration, which was 267 years.

In the first part of the thirteenth century, Egypt and Syria were ruled by the Ayoubid sultans, the descendants of the family of Saladin. Their army consisted of Mamelukes, slaves imported as boys from the Steppes and trained as professional soldiers. On 1st May 1250, the Mamelukes mutinied, murdered Turan Shah, the Ayoubid sultan, and became the rulers of his empire.

The first fifty years of the Mameluke Empire were marked by desperate fighting with the hitherto invincible Mongols, the descendants of Genghis Khan, who invaded Syria. By defeating the Mongols and driving them out of Syria, the Mamelukes saved the Mediterranean from the terrible fate which had overtaken Persia. In 1291, the Mamelukes captured Acre, and put an end to the Crusades.

From 1309 to 1341, the Mameluke Empire was everywhere victorious and possessed the finest army in the world. For the ensuing hundred years the wealth of the Mameluke Empire was fabulous, slowly leading to luxury, the relaxation of discipline and to decline, with ever more bitter internal political rivalries. Finally the empire collapsed in 1517, as the result of military defeat by the Ottomans.

The Mameluke government appears to us utterly illogical and fantastic. The ruling class was entirely recruited from young boys, born in what is now Southern Russia. Every one of them was enlisted as a private soldier. Even the sultans had begun life as private soldiers and had risen from the ranks. Yet this extraordinary political system resulted in an empire which passed through all the normal stages of conquest, commercialism, af?uence and decline and which lasted approximately the usual period of time.


  1. A Newsreader says:

    These excerpts are fantastic. Do you know of any other books about this subject that delve into greater detail?

    I haven’t seen anything like Glubb’s historical analysis outside of right-wing opinion commentary, which is possibly because either Glubb’s conclusions are politically incorrect and thus ignored by the mainstream, or because Glubb’s conclusions are sufficiently vague that they are not considered valid by professional historians (especially inasmuch as those conclusions contradict the historians’ own research). But it is possible that Glubb’s work is unique in that few historians take the long view as he does here.

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