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in the Ottoman Empire:
(1) Generally, a military vassal, known as a timariot or ziam. Spahis received grants of land, known as timars or ziamets, from the sultan; in turn, they were obliged to perform military service in mounted feudal armies, taking the field with a set number of followers maintained at their own expense. In the 15th and 16th centuries, spahis made up the larger part of the Ottoman army. Formally, the spahis endured until 1834, when the system of military vassalage was abolished.
(2) A member of the cavalry units that, from the 15th to 18th centuries, formed part of the regular troops maintained and paid by the Ottoman government.
a member of a French colonial cavalry unit in North Africa in the period 1831–1962; the name “spahi” was borrowed from the Turks. The spahis, initially irregular troops but from 1834 regular troops, were recruited from the local Arab population in Algeria and, later, in Tunisia and Morocco. Half the places on the permanent staff were reserved for the French. The spahis wore special uniforms, which consisted of a turban, embroidered jacket, wide trousers, and a burnoose. They served as military police and fought in World Wars I and II. In 1914 there were eight spahi regiments, and in 1939 and 1940, 13 (three brigades).