The Massacre Behind the Spooky Tales of Cairo’s Haunted Citadel
The Mamluks, whose name means “those who are owned”, were a warrior class of slave soldiers and freed slaves. They were assigned various military and administrative duties on behalf of Arab dynasties in the Muslim world. The system of slave soldiery began in the ninth century with Turkic slaves from the Eurasian Steppe, then spread to include those from the Caucasus, the Balkans, Russia, and elsewhere. It lasted for a thousand years, into the nineteenth century. Although they began as slaves, the Mamluks eventually came to dominate the societies in which they operated. They were present in the Levant, Mesopotamia, and India, but their strongest hold was in Egypt.
They ruled Egypt, along with Syria, as the Mamluk Sultanate from 1250 to 1517, until defeated by the Ottoman Turks who conquered those countries. Although defeated, the Mamluks continued as a privileged class whose social status was higher than the general population. They were deemed to be the “true lords” and “true warriors”, and were often the de facto rulers who paid only lip service to the Ottoman Sultan, and ran Egypt as a nearly independent realm. Their run in Egypt finally came to an end in 1811, when they accepted an invitation to a feast from that country’s ruthless ruler, Muhammad Ali Pasha. It was to be their final feast, and it gave rise to spooky tales of ghost sightings that have endured for generations.