Spahis or Sipahis (späˈhē) [key], Ottoman cavalry. The Spahis were organized in the 14th cent. on a feudal basis. The officers held fiefs ( timars ) granted to them by the sultan and commanded the personal loyalty of the peasants who worked the land. The Spahis were entitled to all income from the fief in return for military service to the sultan. Until the mid-16th cent. they provided the bulk of the Ottoman army. Committed to the tradition of light cavalry, they were slow to adopt firearms, whose development made the cavalry less important. They remained politically important until Mahmud II revoked their fiefs in 1828, two years after he crushed the Janissaries with modern artillery in his effort to build a modern army. In the French army certain Algerian and Senegalese cavalry units were also called Spahis. The term is sometimes spelled Sepahis.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.