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Mamluk Cards

The deck known as Mulūk wa-nuwwāb ((Mulūk wa-nuwwāb (kings and viceroys))

Hand-drawn and hand-painted Mamluk Playing Cards, XV or early XVI century. The original pack of cards is in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul and measures 252 x 95 mms, which makes them rather large to hold in one's hand. The pack of cards in the Topkapi Museum is incomplete and consists of 47 cards, divided into 4 suits, with 14 cards per suit, so that the complete pack would have contained 56 cards. The cards illustrated here are from a reconstructed facsimile edition published by Aurelia Books, Brussels and Louvain, 1972. The boxed set also contains a booklet produced by Jan Bauwens which contains the Arabic inscriptions on the cards translated by Prof. Tangi of the University of Istanbul.

Some cards were lost at an early date, and were replaced by cards from two contemporary decks with cruder designs, 5 of which now remains along with the original cards. At that time several of the cards from the primary deck were also altered.

A replica of the Original Mamluks 

The suit symbols of coins, polo-sticks, cups and swords are the same as those still used in traditional Italian and Spanish decks, with the exception that the polo-sticks there quickly became reinterpreted as ceremonial batons or rough cudgels. In each suit there are ten numeral cards and three courts: king, viceroy and second viceroy. The arabic term for viceroy, nāʾib, became the first European name for playing cards, which are still called naipes in Spanish.

Several cards have blue panels with golden writing at the top or both the top and bottom. None of these are original, but rather modifications made when some lost cards had to be replaced by cards from other decks.