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The Circassians rose to prominence in the Middle East during the rule of the Mamluks in the last decades of the 14 th century c.e. in Egypt. They are known in Mamluk sources as Jarkas or Sharkas, and they became so powerful that they eventually formed their own dynasty that ruled from 1382 until 1516.

History the Circassian Mamluks in Egypt





























The Mamluk dynasties in Egypt and Syria were defined by their reliance on military slaves, with the term mamluk meaning «owned» or «slave» in Arabic. Mamluk sultans and princes built their armies from slaves, who were brought from their homelands as adolescents and trained in military schools. Upon reaching maturity, these slave soldiers were granted their freedom and embarked upon careers that could lead to riches and power within the Mamluk Empire.

Having no ties to family or relatives, these young soldiers were expected to give their undivided loyalty to their patron. Circassian Mamluks were especially valued, with a reputation for bravery, skill in military arts, and ambition. Young Circassian girls, fabled for their beauty, were also brought from the Caucasus and sold into Mamluk harems. Circassian families were willing to sell their children to slave traders at least in part because conditions in the homeland were harsh but also because parents hoped their children might attain fame and fortune as Mamluks.

The Circassians had a long tradition of joining foreign armies, and, furthermore, Circassian social practices discouraged strong bonds between parents and their children. In later years, during the era of the Circassian Mamluk dynasty, Circassian princes and sultans brought their relatives from the homeland and installed them in positions of power. The Circassian Mamluks were known as the Burji, or «Tower», Mamluks and were so named because they were barracked in Cairo’s Citadel, an imposing complex of buildings whose construction began in the 12 th century.

The era of the Burji Mamluks was a time of plague, drought, and economic disaster in Egypt, the latter resulting in part from mismanagement and resources drained by infighting but also a result of the European discovery of a sea route to India that bypassed Egypt. Nevertheless, the Burji Mamluks managed to hold off the armies of the Turkic conqueror Timur, who menaced their territories around 1400. The era saw an unparalleled flurry of building, and many important monuments survive from that period, not only in Cairo but also in the cities of Medina, Mecca, Jerusalem, and Damascus.

The Circassian Mamluk dynasty ended in 1516 following a battle that took place near Aleppo in northern Syria, in which the Mamluks were defeated by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Selim I. In 1517 Selim overthrew the last of the Mamluks and took the city of Cairo. The Circassians, though, reestablished themselves and maintained almost complete control of political life in Egypt, even after the massacre of the Cairo garrison staged by the ruler of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, in 1811.

They played a leading role in quelling the nationalist revolt led by Colonel Ahmed Urabi in 1882 and, as part of the so-called Turko-Circassian elite, continued to wield some political and social influence, often against nationalist Egyptian factions, up until the revolution of 1952 that overthrew King Farouk and eventually installed Gamal Abdel Nasser as president of the republic.

«Encyclopedia of The Peoples of Africa and the Middle East (Facts on File Library of World History)». USA. 2009. P. 151-152.

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