Mamlūk dynasty

or Mamluke dynasty

(1250–1517) Rulers of Syria and Egypt.

The term mamlūk is an Arabic word for slave. Slave soldiers had been used in the Islamic world since the 9th century, and they often exploited the military power vested in them to seize control from the legitimate political authorities. In 1250 a group of mamlūk generals seized the throne of the Ayyūbid dynasty on the death of the sultan Al-Malik al-Ṣāliḥ Ayyūb (r. 1240–49). The resulting dynasty legitimized its rule by reconstituting the caliphate of the Abbāsid dynasty (destroyed by the Mongols in 1258) and by acting as patrons to the rulers of Mecca and Medina. Under Mamlūk rule the remaining crusaders were expelled from the eastern Mediterranean coast, and the Mongols were driven back from Palestine and Syria. Culturally, historical writing and architecture flourished during their rule. A shift in their ethnic makeup from Turkish to Circassian corresponded with their slow decline; their failure to adopt field artillery as weapons (except in siege warfare) contributed to their defeat by the Ottoman Empire in 1517. They afterward remained intact as a social class, however, and continued to exercise a high degree of political autonomy, though they were only one of several forces influencing Egyptian political life. Their power was finally broken by the Albanian-Egyptian officer Muhammad Alī in a massacre in 1811. See also Baybars I.

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Universalium. 2010.

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