Book Review:
Napoleon's Mamelukes

By Ronald Pawly
Artwork by Patrice Courcelle


Among the many glittering and outlandish uniforms of the Napoleonic Wars those worn by Napoleon's mamelukes one stand turban and shoulders above the rest.

Brightly coloured and distinctively Middle Eastern, the red, yellows and green outfits of these legendary warriors grabbed the eyes of the French people.

In society it became fashionable for women to wear large turbans and shawls and children to be dressed in Mameluke styles.

In Osprey's Napoleon's Mamelukes author Ronald Pawly takes an in-depth look at the fierce horsemen who took over Egypt and ruled, at varying stages, large Middle Eastern provinces through their lords, or beys.

The warrior Mamelukes were recruited through slave markets where light-skinned Christian boys were bought, converted to Islam and then began a lifelong service to their lords and war.

They were at their best while fighting and their tactical and weapons skills, and unwavering courage, made them a mighty force.

In 1798 the West clashed with the Mamelukes when Napoleon invaded Egypt and for their elan and bravery the Mamelukes were no match for the veterans of Bonaparte's army.

After Napoleon returned to France to begin his last climb for ultimate power, General Menou formed a Mameluke regiment for use in the French army and after spending time in refugee quarantine the warriors became part of Bonaparte's personal guard. Throughout the long wars the Mamelukes would serve with the Imperial Guard's chasseurs a cheval.

Their loyalty was never questioned and they, fatally for some, became synonymous with Napoleon and his empire. After his final fall that led to many Mamelukes being murdered by vengeful Royalists.

Aside from covering the history of the Mamelukes and detailing their military campaigns under Napoleon, Pawly also tells us of some of the major personalities within the Mameluke regiment. The brief biographies open a window on the type of men serving in the regiment and also how brave they were. Chahin, for example, suffered no fewer than 40 wounds in the emperor's service.

As we have come to expect from the Osprey Men-at-Arms series the colour artwork by Patrice Courcelle in Napoleon's Mamelukes is superb and captures the confidence, arrogance and flamboyance of the Mameluke warrior.

Napoleon's Mamelukes is an excellent and informing book that will comfortably sit among our ever-expending military library.

- Richard Moore


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