Privateering and captivity in the Mediterranean
Military slaves or Mamluks
Victims of the privateering war, military slaves or Mamluks often formed elite military units in their new homeland.
Slaves obtained in raids along the Mediterranean coasts of Europe and put to military service in the Islamic world were referred to as Western Christian Mamluks. Those bought for the same purpose at Ottoman markets in the eastern Mediterranean, especially in Constantinople, came mostly from Central Asia or Eastern Europe. These slaves – Circassians, Georgians and Greeks among them – became known as Eastern Mamluks. Military slaves were trained at the courts of their overlords for whom they provided protection. Although separated from their roots and homeland, they could rise through the ranks and even strengthen their bonds with the ruling family through adoption or marriage. The Mamluk system continued in Islamic countries such as Egypt and Tunisia until the mid-19th century. After that, armies recruited the sons of the local population.
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Privateering and captivity in the Mediterranean

Privateering in the Mediterranean
Military slaves or Mamluks
Sub-Saharan African slaves
A Mamluk Resting with his Horse


National Museum of Romanticism, Madrid, Spain

Original: Carle Vernet; copyist and lithographer: Sebastián María Gabriel Borbón y Braganza

Paper; ink; lithography

This romanticised European image of a Mamluk resting by the side of his horse belies the martial life and responsibilities of these elite military slaves. Seasoned horsemen and warriors, Mamluks could rise through the ranks to become powerful statesmen and even rulers.

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In this Exhibition
About the Exhibition
Privateering and captivity in the Mediterranean
Migrations within the Ottoman Empire
North–South movements
The life of European immigrant communities: Egypt and Tunisia