Toward the end of the 15th cent. the Mamluks became involved in a war with the Ottoman Turks who captured Cairo in 1517. The Mamluks favored the cavalry and personal combat with sword and shield. They were no match for the Ottomans, who skillfully used artillery and their own slave infantry, the Janissaries, to defeat the Mamluks. The Ottoman ruler, Selim I, put an end to the Mamluk sultanate and established a small Ottoman garrison in Egypt. He did not, however, destroy the Mamluks as a class; they kept their lands, and Mamluk governors remained in control of the provinces and were even allowed to keep private armies.
In the 18th cent., when Ottoman power began to decline, the Mamluks were able to win back an increasing amount of self-rule. In 1769 one of their number, Ali Bey, even proclaimed himself sultan and independent of Constantinople. Although he fell in 1772, the Ottoman Turks still felt compelled to concede an ever greater measure of autonomy to the Mamluks and appointed a series of them as governors of Egypt. The Mamluks were defeated by Napoleon I during his invasion of Egypt in 1798, but their power as a class was ended only in 1811 by Muhammad Ali.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.