In Search of Kazakhstan Book review part II

Just wanted to share with you guys another selection from In Search of Kazakhstan. Apparently Kazakhstan is the source of not only apples, but Egyptian rulers and possibly King Arthur himself!

I was amazed to learn from an offhand remark made by Yermek that the fearsome Mamelukes of Egypt, whose rule spanned 300 years, were descended from enslaved Kazakh warriors of the nomad Kipchak tribe. He related a tale of murder and intrigue as gripping as that of the Caesars.


The mamelukes came into being when the caliphs of Baghdad decided to use nomad slaves to strengthen their armies. They probed to be fine soldiers and rose to high positions in the military, until in AD 870 one seized power in Egypt. In less than ten years the Mameluke sultan had conquered the Mediterranean coast from Egypt to Syria.


Although early Mameluke rule was short-lived, they regained power in 1250, and from then on grew in strength. The Mameluke sultans were not a family dynasty but warlords of a military oligarchy, plotting and struggling against one another to gain power. Their loyal troops and administrators from the steppe spoke their own Turkik language, as well as the Arabic of their masters, and their numbers were constantly replenished with nomad warriors. The greatest of the Mameluke sultans was Baybars, an enslaved Kipchak brought from the steppe to Egypt, who rose to become a general and killed his own Mameluke sultan to seize power in 1260. During his rule he crushed the Assassins in their last strongholds in Syria, drove the Crusaders from Antioch, and extended Mameluke rule across the Red Sea to Mecca and Medina. The Mameluke sultans remained in power until 1517, when their yet more powerful Turkik kinsman, the Ottomans, captured Egypt and hanged the last of them. But the mameluke soldiers and administrators were useful to their new masters and were allowed to live, although a wary eye was kept on their power. When it once again grew to be too great in the early nineteenth century the Ottomans massacred them to a man.

One of the interesting things about this story to me is how I have heard of most of these historical events before, but never heard of the connection to the steppes. Ottomons, Assassins, Antioch- these are events at least given a cursory nod in American history books or (when they are not portraying the life and times of “ancient aliens”) the History Channel. However, the connection is never made between these events and the wild and organized warriors from the steppes. I suppose in a way maybe the current military junta in Egypt could use historical lessons from the former Mameluke regime in their mission to solidify control in contemporary Egypt.

Which brings me to another historical event with a Kazakh connection. Who has not heard of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table? Everyone at least knows the mythical pulling of the sword from the stone. Apparently, even this even is pure piracy from an earlier myth from the steppes!

The rich Sarmatian heritage of legend, describing an epic tradition that flourished in ancient Scythia in the first millennium BC, seems to have been shamelesssly plagiarized in the stories of Arthur. Just as the young Arthur draws the magical Excalibur from stone, so the Scythian god of war is symbolized by a magical sword thrust into and drawn from the earth. Similarly, just as Excalibur was thrown into a lake on Arthur’s death, so the magic sword of a great warrior chieftain of the Steppe is thrown into the sea on his death. And just as Arthur is said to have led his knights to the continent, so the real Artorius led an expedition to Armorica (Brittany) to put down a local rebellion. A legend on the origins of the Scythians also tells of golden objets falling from the sky, one of which was a golden cup – suggesting the Holy Grail. The numerous similarities and parallels with the stories of King Arthur begin to make the hypothesis seem obvious.


Just a note- Artorius is the hypothesized Scythian mercenary general hired by the Romans to fight in Brittany. His soldiers and he ended up settling the island after their tour, which is the historical event that proponents of this hypothesis say prompted, or at least added to, the legend of King Arthur, as well as this cross cultural mythical connection.

If you guys are still interested, I really encourage you to pick up the book. I’m having a great time reading it, and I’ll be sure to add more later.


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