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Posted on Jan 18, 2007 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Napoleon’s Mamelukes – Book Review

By Jeff Cherpeski

mamelukes.jpgBook Review: Napoleon’s Mamelukes by Ronal Pawley, illustrations by Patrice Courcelle

In an era of colorful uniforms, perhaps some of the most vibrant belonged to the Mamelukes. These fearsome horsemen from the Middle East are the subject of one of Osprey Publishing’s newest books. In the manner of Osprey, this book is not an in-depth look, but a high-level look to give the amateur historian a brief overview of the subject.

The book starts with a short history of exactly who the Mamelukes were and how they came to be. For myself, I had always seen pictures of them charging the squares at the Pyramids, but had no idea of how they fitted into the grand scheme of things and the history filled in a lot of holes for me personally. This introduction to the Mamelukes also gives one a good understanding of why these warriors would willingly follow the man who bested them.

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Following Napoleon’s return to France the official organization of Mamelukes came into being. This was not without some difficulty and the ins and outs of forming the unit and properly equipping them are outlined in the book. The section on the armaments provided to each Mameluke is rather interesting as each trooper received a veritable arsenal when compared to other troops in French service. The splendor of the saddles and tack is described, and while the actual photographs are not in color, the color plates are very impressive and give a good idea of the amount of care and money that went into each man’s clothing and riding gear. My biggest complaint is that the contemporary photos from the museums in France are not in color.

Perhaps the best part of this book is the biography of many of the individuals that were part of the Mamelukes. The unit was never large, so most of the men who were part of the unit are known. Using the actual rolls of the unit and the after-action reports, stories of the men behind the numbers appear. This allows the reader to glimpse the men and their deeds in battle. Multiple wounds, multiple decorations and numerous mounts killed are commonplace in these biographies as well as the problems that their honor-bound society caused. These troops fought with valor and distinction. The last part of the book deals with the disbanding of the unit, and what happened to the men involved.

The main focus of most Osprey books is the color plates. This book is no exception. The plates are of the highest quality, and care is taken to show a wide variety of both troops and officers. The many-colored uniforms and gaudy ornamentation is presented and while it may not be exact to the number of buttons on the coat, it is excellent for the modeler or war gamer that is looking to paint a unit of Mamelukes.

While this book is a little light, only 48 pages, it is one of the very few books about the Mamelukes in Napoleon’s service written in English. That fact alone makes this book worthwhile for the armchair general or reading-room historian.

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