The Mamluks were, at one distinct point in history, the greatest body of fighting men in the world and the quintessence of the mounted warrior, reaching near perfection in their skill with the bow, lance and sword. They were slave soldiers, imported as boys into the Islamic Empire from the pagan Steppes, but they became its saviour, defeating the Mongols and forming the machine of jihad that destroyed the Crusader kingdoms of Palestine and Syria. They entered the Islamic world as unlettered automatons and through a total application to the craft of the warrior they became more than soldiers. After a bloody seizure of power from their masters, the descendants of Saladin, they developed a martial code and an honour system based on barracks brotherhood, a sophisticated military society that harnessed the state's energies for total war and produced a series of treatises on cavalry tactics, martial training, mounted archery and scientific and analytical approaches to warfare that more than compare to Sun Zi's Art of War, the Western Codes of Chivalry and the Bushido in their complexity, beauty of language and comprehensive coverage of the bloody business of war. Their story embraces many of the great themes of medieval military endeavour: the Crusaders and the deadly contest between Islam and Christendom, the Mongols and their vision of world dominion, Tamerlane and the rise of the Ottoman Empire whose own slave soldiers, the Janissaries, would be the Mamluks' final nemesis. James Waterson is a graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He worked and taught in the US and China for a number of years and now lives in Italy.
Foreword by John Man.