*** the Caliphate Abbasid Caliphate slavery

The Abbasid Caliphate: Slavery

Arab slave trade
Figure 1.--This period 13th century images showsMuslims buying cative Africans in a slave market. One source dates it to 1237, but we are not sure if this is accuate. We are not sure about the location. We have seen in variously atributed to Baghdad and Yemen. We have not yet identified the artist/source.

Slavery was an important aspect of the Abbasid Caliphate. The Islamic outburst from the arabian Peninsul as not only north into the Levant and Middle East, but south into the western Indian ocean which became known as the Arabian Sea. This led to expanded trade with both India and East Africa. Trading posts were set up along the coast of East Africa. And slaves were an important component of that trade. It was the beginning of the Indian Ocean slave trade. This all began some two centuries before the Abassids took power, but continued throughout the five century history of the Abbasid Caliphate. Slaves were not, however, a major part of the work force as had been the case in the clasical society of Greece and Rome. This was the case for the same reason that slavery was not central to the economies of Mesopotamia and Egypt. The heart of the economy was the rural peasantry. Agriculture was the basis of almost all ancient societies and produced most of the society's wealth. And the peasantry had very limited rights or social status. Nor did many actually own the land they worked. Many were tied to the land in serf-like arrangemnbts. While not slaves, the peasantry were only marginally above slaves in the social structure. Slave women were conqubines and used for the harem --the separate part of a Muslim household reserved for wives, concubines, and female servants. The harems of the Sultan could be huge. Slaves were used as household servants. They were also used as tutors for children of well-to-do families. Slaves rose to serve the Caliph in important roles in administration and a range of roles in public affairs. The number of slaves is unknown. A limiting factor was the fact that the Koran discourages the enslvement of Muslims. The Zanj Rebellion clearly shows that the numbers were substabtial. This was a major slave uprising that lasted for more than a decade (869-83). It began in Basra, the major entreport for Africabs caoyured for the slave trade. The captive Africans were known as Zanj. It was one of the most serious abd vicious of the mny rebellions that plagyed the Abassid Caliphate. Ali ibn Muhammad led the rebellion. Historians diifer, but some authors maintain that the huge effort need to supress the Zanj severely weakened the Abbasids and their ability to prevent the subsequent dsintegration of their empire. The two earlier caliphates used warriors from the varius Arab tribes to fight their wars. Under the Abbasids this changed. Arab warriors proved a phenomenal fighting force, but they carried with them an inherent problem--loyalty. The Abbas family could not always count on the loyalty of the other tribes. The Abbasid sollution to this was to begin using people with slave origins as soldiers and even some as officers. The advantage here was that slave soldiers did not have conflicting tribal loyalties.


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Created: 9:09 PM 2/14/2017
Last updated: 9:26 PM 8/1/2022