Mulûk Wa-Nawwâb (Mamluk) card images


My search tells me there have just been a few brief mentions to Mamluk cards, so I hope I am not covering old ground with this, but I thought these images very interesting, in respect of the origins of the species

What I also find very interesting is the fact that these were probably not even 'new' then. Marsh Arabs for example have been living the same way, doing the same things for thousands of years.
Also interesting is the route the arab/african/islamic traders would take. Documentary evidence shows them in Venice. Thus it would not be too hard to speculate how these cards became 'italianacised'.

Just a few thoughts



a tremendous link. new material for me. this will warrant study.


Actually, having studied further, it seems Constantinople was the New Rome, and seat of various Emperors from something like 330AD to its bloody downfall of 1453 AD'ish. A Route to Italy and blending of Islamic and Hellenic/Roman cultures.

Have a look at these two links:

Of particular interest is the reference to the Holy Roman Empire and it's lack of focus on the pertinent story.

From a glossary:
"Krak des Chevaliers Mightiest of the crusader castles in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, commanding the Homs gap, a wide valley North of the Lebanon mountains and one of the few Levantine links between the Mediterranean and inland Syria, and therefore a vital trade route. Stormed by the Mamluks in 1271
Mamluk Slave-soldier class from Egypt, took power in 13th century Arab world. It was the Mamluk Baybars who conquered Krak des Chevaliers, one of the final Crusader strongholds in the Levant.

Topkapi Palace Palace of the Ottoman sultans, built on the site of the acropolis of old Byzantium. Possesses the most stunning views over the Sea of Marmora, Bosphorus and Golden Horn. Contains the world famous treasury, containing some of the world's most beautiful artifacts. Also houses one of the most important shrines in Islam, with some of the religion's most holy relics "

INTERESTING to note that Topkapi Palace also houses the Mamluk cards!!!!!!!!!!

From the Columbia Encyclopedia/Bartlby

"or Mameluke (mm´lk) (KEY) [Arab.,=slaves], a warrior caste dominant in Egypt and influential in the Middle East for over 700 years. Islamic rulers created this warrior caste by collecting non-Muslim slave boys and training them as cavalry soldiers especially loyal to their owner and each other. They converted to Islam in the course of their training. 1

Mamluk Rule
The Mamluks were first used in Muslim armies in Baghdad by the Abbasid caliphs in the 9th cent. and quickly spread throughout the Muslim world."

So ... we can see their history from the 9th Century.
>From 1171 A.D. to 1250 A.D., Egypt was ruled by the Ayyubids. Egypt prospered during this time, despite increasing waves of attacks by crusading Christians. Egyptians forced Turkish slaves called Mamluks to fight against the Crusaders.

In a battle in the thirteenth century between the French King Louis IX the last Ayyubid ruler died in battle. His wife, who was a Mamluk, concealed her husband's death and assumed control of Egypt in his name. The Mamluks would reign in Egypt from 1250 A.D. to 1517 A.D.. Slaves forced to fight in Egypt now ruled Egypt.

Egyptian card connection? Not neccessarily ... look here:

"Mamluk Egypt
Egypt had always been a hub of European-Asian trade routes; it depended for its prosperity on its transit trade with Europe. It was therefore not surprising that the Mamluks were hostile to the Ottomans, who attempted to lay siege to Europe. The situation that enabled the Ottomans to finally subjugate Egypt was full of ironies, which symbolized - paradoxically - the positive impact of earlier Arab cultural influences in the Middle East. Toward the end of the 1400's - its economy strained by attempts to defend their sovereignty against the Ottomans - the Mamluks began to squeeze as much profit as possible out of the transit trade. This led to a series of retaliations from Europe that diminished the whole Egyptian economy.
The irony was that the retaliations were made possible by what the Europeans had learned from earlier Arabs about geography, astronomy and other sciences. Out of this knowledge came the impulse for exploration which - in turn - led to Europe's success in finding alternative sea routes around Africa to the Orient, thus bypassing the overland routes through Egypt. As a result, Egypt's economy disintegrated and the Ottomans were able to move in and replace Mamluke rule. But by that time, not only Egypt but also the Ottoman provinces to the east of it had lost their importance for European-Asian trade. Thus, as the Ottomans consolidated their political power over the Middle East, the region was transformed from a cosmopolitan trading center into a regressive backwater.
And a final irony: as the Ottomans medievalized the Middle East, Europe was emerging from its own era of reactionary medievalism - principally through philosophical and scientific ideas of Hellenism that had been assimilated by the Crusaders from Arab literature, translations and research, and then taken back to Europe."

just some brain fodder, LOL,

I think I may do a Mamluk deck ... must be out of copyright by now, LOL



allibee said:
What I also find very interesting is the fact that these were probably not even 'new' then. Marsh Arabs for example have been living the same way, doing the same things for thousands of years.
I always find it very educational to discover how greatly my own
perceptions differ from reality, especially in regard to History.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote that reality is: "one of the few words
which mean nothing without quotes." ~ Afterword to Lolita

Mamlûk Mamlûk Mamlûk
Bigger & Better than Taropedia ;)


Andy's (Andrea Pollett of Roma) Hobby Land Cards can now
also be accessed via

Tarot & The Mamlûk Cards


According to L. A. Mayer, on the subject of the Mamluk cards:

"In the top register of all court-cards as well as of some numerals, we find other inscriptions, warning, encouraging or exhorting. We would have to know something substantial about Saracenic card games in order to understand the real meaning of these phrases."

An interesting aspect of having sayings with the emblems is in possible parallels with European emblemata. Also that such sayings could be used to draw fortunes, in which case it is interesting that
they are only on some cards, given the cartomantic tradition of using a shortened deck for fortune telling, although we would need to know what these sayings are and which they appear on before anticipating they could be used as fortunes, but the three examples in Kaplan [Vol.1, p.53] are certainly suggestive:

King of Cups: "With the sword of happiness I shall redeem a beloved who will afterwards be my wife."

Helper of Coins: "Rejoice in the happiness that returns as a bird sings it joys."

Lieutenant of Sticks: "I am as a flower, a string of pearls is my sail".

The inscription on the Lieutenant of Sticks also suggests a possible link with astronomy. One of the Arabic names for Orion's belt means 'a string of pearls', interesting in light of the research of Diana O'Donovan who identifies the emblem of sticks [and also the figure of the Fool] with the East and constellation Orion (the Hunter of the East). The Pleaides or 'sailing sisters' fly before him. In Homer, The Odyssey Book V Odysseus is told by Calypso to keep Orion on his left as he sails for home. (But theragain, 'string of pearls' is a common metaphorical cliche in Persian and Turkish poetry].

AWAKE! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light.

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Rendered into English by Edward Fitzgerald with Illustrations by Edmund J. Sullivan 1859

According to Andy's Playing Cards sites at:

The inscription on 'The Helper [or second viceroy] of Cups [or ten thousand, Myriads - a link with Chinese suits]' says:


He also notes only one of the subjects, the second viceroy of Polo-sticks, lacks the blue rectangle at the bottom [which contain title and suit], but still has the top one. We may note that in the TdM pattern too, one of the Valets is unnamed (Valet de Denier).



The blue boxes at the top of the cards in which the transcriptions appear are reminiscent of the grid structure of the fal-i qur’an (Divination by the Qur’an), which appear in manuscripts of the Qur’an. A fal-i qur’an text lays out in rhyming Persian couplets the means of divination by letters randomly selected when opening to a page of the Qur’an. "Grids of fal-i qur’an are widespread and systematically included in Persian manuscripts of the 16th century, thus possibly revealing the application of popular Shici divinatory practices to the Qur’an." The key to the divination, besides the prognostication of the verse, is in the last letter of the verse.

On Persian divination in general see:

Diviners were popular among the general populace of Persia and could charge their customers for their services. Many varieties of divination are attested in Persian literature and folk practice. They include interpretation of objects which appear haphazardly, interpretation of involuntary bodily actions (sneezing, twitching, itches, etc.), observing animal behavior, divining by playing cards (fale waraq ) or chick-peas (fal-e nokhod ), bibliomancy (e.g., fal-e Hafez), divination by means of mirrors and lenses (Ayna-bini), observation of the liver of a slain animal (jegar-bini), divination by means of the flame of a lamp, etc.
Bibliomancy using the divan of Hafez is the most popular for this kind of divination, but by no means the only kind. The Koran, as well as the Mathnawi of Rumi may also be used.
Fal-e Hafez may be used for one or more persons. In group bibliomancy, the divan will be opened at random, and beginning with the ode of the page that one chances upon, each ode will be read in the name of one of the individuals in the group. The ode is the individual's fal.
Assigning of the odes to individuals depends on the order in which the individuals are seated and is never random. One or three verses from the ode following each person's fal is called the shahed, which is read after the recitation of the fal.
End quote from:


Ross G Caldwell

kwaw said:
Many varieties of divination are attested in Persian literature and folk practice. They include ... divining by playing cards (fale waraq ) End quote from:


This is very interesting. Fale waraq.

"Waraq" must refer to the cards - which is new to me. I only know "Kanjifeh" for cards. What does waraq mean?

Thanks for pointing out the Qur'an divination too.