Black Guard

Black Guard

[blag-ahrd, -erd, blak-gahrd]
"Blackguard" or "Antipaladin" can also refer to a particular Dungeons & Dragons prestige class.

The Black Guard (in Arabic, Abid عبد, from a root meaning "slave") were the corps of black-African slave-soldiers assembled by the Alaouite sultan of Morocco, Moulay Ismail (reigned 1672-1727). The Black Guard descended from black captives brought to Morocco from sub-Saharan Africa, who were settled in a special colony and given wives; their male offspring would be pressed into military careers at the age of sixteen. Considered more reliable than Arab or Berber warriors because of their lack of tribal loyalties, Ismail's black soldiers formed the bulk of his standing army and numbered 150,000 at their peak.

The Black Guard were charged with fighting Ismail's campaigns against the European-controlled fortress enclaves dotting his empire's coast (such as Tangier, captured from the English in 1684) and with patrolling Morocco's unstable countryside: They crushed rebellions against Ismail's rule not only by Moroccan Berber clans but also by Ismail's seditious sons, who defected from service as his provincial governors to insurrection as would-be usurpers of his throne.

Moulay Ismail always went about his court surrounded by a bodyguard of eighty black slave-soldiers, with muskets and scimitars at the ready in case of any attempt on the sultan's life. At his throne, Ismail was attended by a slave charged with twirling a parasol above the sultan at all times (on at least one occasion, Ismail pulled out his sword and murdered an attendant who had allowed the sun to briefly fall upon his skin). Two more slaves fanned the flies away from his face, while a third held a napkin beneath his chin to collect his spittle.

Though the Black Guard were fiercely loyal, they remained just as vulnerable to their commander's fits of rage as his European slaves and Moorish subjects. When the French ambassador Pidou de Saint-Olon was granted an audience with Moulay Ismail, the latter arrived at this meeting with his sleeves drenched in blood up to the elbows, after having slit the throats of two of his favorite black attendants on a whim. When Ismail's Barbary pirates brought in a Portuguese ship they had just captured, Ismail was presented a beautiful handcrafted hatchet found on board: the sultan immediately struck and killed a Black Guard for no other reason than to test the blade.

Despite endless civil wars and civil slaughter, the Black Guard remained brutally loyal and disciplined through the turmoil of Ismail's reign. More than any other factor did they enable the sultan to remain on Morocco's throne for half a century.

See also

Further reading

  • Wilfrid Blunt, Black Sunrise: The Life and Times of Mulai Ismail, Emperor of Morocco 1646-1727
  • Giles Milton, White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and North Africa's One Million White Slaves

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