International Journal of Middle East Studies


The Military Household in Ottoman Egypt

Jane Hathawaya1

a1 Assistant Professor at the Department of History, Ohio State University, 230 W. 17th Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210-1367, U.S.A.

For over 350 years, Egypt was the largest province of the Ottoman Empire, which had captured it from the Mamluk sultanate in 1517. It is well known that the Ottomans retained key Mamluk usages, above all in subprovincial administration, and that a number of the defeated Mamluks who were willing to cooperate with the new regime were allowed to join the Ottoman administration. In consequence, a number of practices of the Mamluk sultanate survived the Ottoman conquest. Critical administrative offices such as those of pilgrimage commander (amīr al-ajj), treasurer (daftardār), and deliverer of the annual tribute to Istanbul (khaznadār) were analogous to offices of the Mamluk sultanate, and the grandees whom the Ottomans installed in these offices were analogous to the Mamluk amirs of the sultanate. Above all, the practice of recruiting boys and young men from the Caucasus as military slaves, or mamluks, and training them as soldiers in households geared to that purpose appears not only to have survived but to have flourished in Ottoman Egypt. By the time of Bonaparte's invasion of Egypt in 1798, in fact, the province's military elite was dominated by Caucasian, and above all Georgian, mamluks. In the face of such apparent similarities with the Mamluk sultanate, it is tempting to define the military society of Ottoman Egypt as a continuation or revival of the sultanate.