David Ayalon’s classic and highly influential 1956 study of Gunpowder and Firearms in the Mamluk Kingdom left some surprising questions unexamined. He attributed Ottoman victory primarily to Ottoman firearms, while Mamluks stubbornly clung to the arms of the mounted archer. But despite the technological underpinnings of his thesis, Ayalon discussed the technology of neither the traditional warfare of mounted archery nor the newfangled warfare of gunpowder weapons. Was Mamluk mounted archery actually inferior to Ottoman firearms? This essay addresses the technical basis both for the mounted archery central to Mamluk military prowess and the characteristics of late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth century firearms adopted by the Ottomans, both in the context of the social technology of Muslim military slavery. By opening the black box of Mamluk and Ottoman military technology, this essay seeks to show more precisely in what ways military technology did and did not shape the outcome of the struggle.
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