Black Guard
The Black Guard also known as "Masters of the Blackness," were the corps of black-African slave-soldiers assembled by the Alaouite sultan of Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

, Moulay Ismail
Ismail Ibn Sharif
Moulay Ismaïl Ibn Sharif was the second ruler of the Moroccan Alaouite dynasty. Like others of the dynasty, Ismaïl claimed to be a descendant of Muhammad through his roots to Hassan ibn Ali...

 (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
Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...

 or Berber
Berber people
Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley. They are continuously distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis, in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River. Historically they spoke the Berber language or varieties of it, which together form a branch...

 warriors because of their lack of tribal loyalties, Ismail
Ismail may refer to:*Ismail , people with the name*Ishmael, the English name of Ismail*Ismael Village, in Sangcharak District at Sar-e Pol Province of Afghanistan...

'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
Tangier, also Tangiers is a city in northern Morocco with a population of about 700,000 . It lies on the North African coast at the western entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Spartel...

, taken over after the English withdrew from it and distressed it in 1684 in response) 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 (a legend says that 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.

The Black Guard name was changed to Moroccan Royal Guard
Moroccan Royal Guard
The Moroccan Royal Guard is officially part of the Royal Moroccan Army. However it is under the direct operational control of the Royal Military Household of His Majesty the King.- Organization :...

after Morocco gained its independence in 1956.

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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