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An extract from Armies and Enemies of the Crusades 1096-1291
by Ian Heath


Sudanese infantry, predominantly archers, were an important element of Egyptian armies during the earlier part of this period, featuring prominently in the Fatimid era (as many as 30,000 being employed by 1169) and less prominently under Saladin and the Ayyubids. Sudanese troops do not seem to have been employed at all under the Mamluks, and after the fall of the Ayyubids it was to be several centuries before Negroes again appeared in large numbers in an Egyptian army in any role other than as grooms or horse-boys.

Surprisingly - since so few Europeans could have ever seen a Negro at this date - Sudanese soldiers in Moslem employ excited little or no comment from most Crusade chroniclers, from which we may surmise that they were largely, to all appearances, identical to the average Arab in all but skin colouring, though at least one later source records that they scarred their faces.

The uniforms of Sudanese guardsmen appear to have been of richly decorated brocade or damask, but it should be noted that, contrary to the impression created by most modern-day historians, far from all such soldiers were guardsmen.

Fulcher of Chartres, who refers to the Sudanese as Aethiopes, notes their black skin and implies in at least one passage that they fought with bow or spear. Albert of Aix adds that they carried maces (undoubtedly the ‘flails or scourges of iron’ noted by both Gibbon and Oman) and records that at the battle of Ascalon in 1099 the Sudanese archers knelt on one knee to fire, ‘according to their custom’.

The Itinerarium, written by an eye-witness, also mentions the Sudanese, referring to those at Arsouf (1191) as the Nigreduli, the Negro Pack, ‘a race of demons very black in colour’. The ensuing passage is unclear, but Ambroise (the Old French, and possibly more reliable, version) renders the same passage as ‘Following these came a black race - Noirets is their common name, or Saracens of the berruie (uncultivated land) - loathsome and as black as soot in colour, swift and agile footmen armed with bows and with light shields’.

The First Crusade, The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials, Ed. Edward Peters pages 47-55 & 71-92 (6.9MB)
Historia Hierosolymitanae Expeditionis by Albert of Aix in latin.
Next: 34. SUDANESE SPEARMAN in Armies and Enemies of the Crusades 1096-1291 by Ian Heath

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