As I understand it, playing cards made their way to Europe perhaps via China (paper) but most visibly by way of the Mamluks. One legend is the Mamluks and Tibetans defeated the Chinese once in battle and extorted the technology from a prisoner of war.
Below is an illustration showing how Europeans adapted the playing cards the Mamluks first introduced to their own tastes.
Like I said, each culture has modified the suits for their region. Part of this transformation appears to have to do with lifestyle. First, consider the original Mamluk suits were:
- Polo sticks
History would lead us to make sense of some of these. For example, the Mamluks were polo enthusiasts. However, Polo was not a "thing" in continental Europe around the 1400s so polo sticks became "clubs" over time.
So with polo-sticks being somewhat self-explanatory: it would suggest an entertainment/recreational motivation for the suit correspondence. That still leaves three open questions for what the other suits (coins, cups and scimitars) meant to the Mamluks; some of these do appear to be more ceremonial in nature. What did the other suits likely represent to Mamluks and why?