Review Trzes' Mamluk deck from Ulrich (Trzes) Kaltenborn

Name : Trzes' Mamluk deck
Author : Ulrich (Trzes) Kaltenborn
Publisher : Spiorad Webshop (auto-edition)
Tradition : Oracle
Packaging : Rigid cardboard box / 32.2 x 7.8 x 3.4 cm
Deck : 61 cards / plasticized, satin cards / 19 cm x 7.2 cm
Size : very big
Handbook : Booklet of 8 pages in B&W + summary sheet A3
Reverse side : Yes, the backs of the cards are reversible.
Switch of 8/11 : No
Universe : Medieval / Renaissance
Use : Contemplative

The equipment

The equipment

The cards are contained in a thick cardboard bell box. A small booklet of 8 pages and a summary sheet in A3 format are also inside the box.

The cards are printed on a standard thickness cardboard. They are very large, it is very difficult to shuffle them horizontally or vertically. They can only be shuffled properly when laid flat on a table.

The history of the game

The game is linked to the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt, which ended in 1517, hence its name. In 1931, Leo Mayer discovered an almost complete set of these medieval playing cards at the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul.

This discovery is important because it provides strong evidence that European playing cards originated in the Islamic world. Indeed, the history of cards in Western Europe is linked to the invasion of North Africa, Spain and Sicily by Islamic armies. The Nasrid kingdom of Granada in Andalusia (13th - 15th century) was the last Muslim government on the Iberian Peninsula. Spain and Italy had contacts with the Arab world, with cultural and commercial interactions and sometimes even military conflicts. The card game developed in Western Europe around 1375 (first written record of its existence in Italy). Then it was criticized or even banned by religious authorities, which demonstrates its rapid popularity.

The cards found by Mayer come from a Mamluk deck from the 15th or early 16th century. The cards were drawn and painted by hand, probably belonging to a rich or illustrious owner. According to specialists, the Topkapi deck was reconstructed at the time by assembling several decks. It is almost complete with 48 cards, but five cards from two other decks are said to have replaced worn-out or lost cards. Specialists also disagree on the presence of 3 or 4 court cards in the deck (because of blue panels serving as headers for some cards). However, it is obvious that the deck is composed of four suits and the cards are numbered from Ace to 10. In addition, there are three or four court cards in each set, depending on the opinion. The four signs are the Coins, Scimitars, Polo Sticks and Myriads (the Cups).

Find out more, the English article of tarot-heritage discusses the controversy over court cards in more detail.

The history of card games in Europe

The cards would come from a Chinese invention of small strips of bamboo that the players held in their hands. This invention would have spread as far as the Middle East, taking the Silk Road through India, then Persia and finally the Arab world. During the diffusion and evolution of the game, bamboo would have been replaced by papyrus and paper. The cards existed in many formats: round, square or rectangular. The number of signs could vary from one game to another. By the early 14th century, the card game must have reached the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt. It had taken the form of the deck found by Mayer in 1931, dated to the end of the 15th or early 16th century.

Arab merchants and sailors were able to introduce their Mamluk games in the ports of Italy and Spain around 1370, and in less than 10 years the cards spread throughout Europe. Until the 15th century, the cards were known as "Naibi". Their origin can be associated with the Saracen cards, as one of the court cards of the Mamluk game, the governor, is called "Naib".

With its ornate design and gilding, the Mamluk game can be compared with the hand-painted and gold-decorated cards that were made for the Italian aristocracy in the mid-15th century. Mameluk cards can be said to have had a significant influence on the signs, structure, and graphics of Italian cards.

We know the structure of the first European card games only from written sources. Cardboard being a very fragile and perishable material, there are practically no cards left from the first European card games. However, the historian Simon Wintle has investigated uncut sheets of cards from the 15th century, used to stiffen the covers of a book. The discovery was made when the curators of the museums of Barcelona wanted to restore this book. These sheets may explain how the Mamluk cards had their design modified to suit European taste. Thus the scimitars became straight swords. Polo sticks, unknown in Europe, became clubs or batons. While coins and cups remained relatively similar.

The calligraphies

Calligraphic texts, present on court cards, consist of rhyming aphorisms often dreamlike and sometimes strange :

  • "Rejoice in the happiness that returns, as a bird that sings its joy"
  • "O thou who hast possessions, remain happy and thou shalt have a pleasant life"
  • "With the sword of happiness I shall redeem a beloved who will afterwards take my life"
  • "Look how wonderful my game is and my dress extraordinarily beautiful"
  • "Whosoever will call me to his happiness, he will only see joyful looks"
This article about World Of Playing Cards in English give a complete translation of the texts.

The restorer Ulrich Kaltenborn

The Mamluk game had already been reconstructed in the form of a Facsimile by Jan Bauwens, published by Aurelia Books in 1972. This edition as well as the 1977 edition are long out of print and copies are very difficult to find. This facsimile includes hand-drawn recreations of the missing cards.

At the end of 2013, Ulrich Kaltenborn started the complete reconstruction of the game. His aim was to preserve the spirit of the Topkapi game by following its principles and design, but not to redesign everything exactly as on the original cards. His choice is all the more honest since 15 of the 56 cards are missing from the original game, and therefore had to be rebuilt from scratch.

It took the creator 5 years to reproduce the whole game. The project was huge and when we look at the quality of its production, we can understand how long it took to complete it. Ulrich used a vector graphics program to recreate the entire deck of cards to ensure that the patterns were perfectly symmetrical and look exactly alike.


The leaflet

The leaflet

The 8-page booklet in English contains a brief history of the playing cards, with diagrams and photos. The author then describes the structure of the Mamluk game and the principles behind its reconstruction. I salute the author's initiative in adding to the box an A3 sheet summarizing the graphics of the 61 cards with their main motif. This sheet allows you to find your way around the game and to quickly recognize the sign and the value of each card.

Draw the Mameluk cards

Yes, practicing divination with the game of Trzes is possible because the game represents a complete Minor Arcana with 56 cards (+ 5 bonus cards). Certainly, one can answer that one does not draw the cards without the Major Arcana. But it must be said that many French people using the Tarot de Marseille use only the 22 trumps. You can also smile about it, but according to them, they are doing quite well. So why not do divination with the 61 cards of the Mameluk deck ?

Of course, there is no way I would use this game for my public or official consultations. At home, for my own draws on me, it can happen to me to use this game in complement of my personal Tarot de Marseille. Indeed, I love to plunge whole minutes into the contemplation of the images. Meditation with this game stops all cerebral research. One avoids thinking about symbols, archetypes, logic and psychology, in short everything that is related to the intellect. We abandon ourselves to the game in order to give free rein to our imagination. By doing so, the motifs take form and meaning. Contemplating the game mamlouk provides the same experience as contemplating the clouds and seeing all kinds of faces and imaginary creatures.

In the learning of the divinatory reading of the tarot. It is necessary to apprehend the strength of our mental projections and our prejudices towards the consultant. A game like Trzes' allows us, faced with a neutral, non-symbolic, purely and simply graphic deck, to understand where intellectual reading stops, where imaginative reading begins, and especially where and when intuition emerges. The exercise is not simple, but it is by forging that one becomes a blacksmith.

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My opinion on Trzes' Mamluk deck

This game is a favorite. My purchase was motivated by the fact that this game has inspired all European playing cards. If the Tarot de Marseille is "the father" of the divinatory tarot cards, this game is "the father" of the playing card games. It is therefore normal to have a copy of it when one seriously studies the history of card games.

The unique and magical graphics of this game also caught my eye at first glance. As a game collector that I am, I didn't hesitate to get a copy.

Beyond the undeniable historical interest of the game, its definite graphic beauty, it must be admitted that this game is not adapted to divinatory practice, be it predictive or psychological. The cards are very big and even too big. The Mamluk game corresponds nevertheless to a complete Minor Arcana. This is already very good, but many will regret the absence of a Major Arcana. For my part, I use this game in divination, as an exercise in developing intuition and clairvoyance, and on draws based only on the Minor Arcana. This practice would perhaps only be of interest to advanced students.

"Superb and Contemplative" Tweet
  • Contemplative
  • Very beautiful restoration, magnificent game
  • Game not intended for divination
of symbolism
of cards
of use
to children
in the study
3.4 / 5

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