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Saqaliba - Slavic slaves in Islamic territories

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Origin of the term

Saqaliba (aka Sakiliba) was the Arabic term given to the Slavic people (not only to slaves) who in lived in the Islamic territories i.e. the Iberian peninsula, North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt) and the other Ottoman-held regions near the Mediterranean Sea. Occasionally, non Slav individuals were also referred to as Saqaliba.

Background

  • Slavic slaves originated from various locations, in addition to the Croats, Bosnians, Serbs, Macedonians and Bulgars from the Mediterranean region (Balkans), there were additional sources for Slavic slaves such as Western Slavs from Poland, Slovakia, Bohemia (Czech) and Eastern Slavs (Ukrainians, Circassians and Rus)
  • There were two distinct systems of slave trade in the Slavic slaves in operation in the 10th century, firstly, that run by the Rus and other Scandinavians, and which was marked by hoards of dirhams; the other was dirham-less, and was partially centered on Prague and slaves were supplied by the Czech dukes.
  • source -- Dirhams for slaves. Investigating the Slavic slave trade in the tenth century

The example of the Saqaliba illustrates the complexities of the early Islamic slave trade. The extension of the trade routes, the unpredictable politics of the steppe and forest zones, the necessity of providing payment in the form required by trade partners, and above all the variations in Islamic demand made this long-distance slave trade system inherently unstable. None of its three main phases—the Abbasid, the Samanid, and the Spanish Umayyad - lasted for more than a century. Moreover, the scale of the trade—in the thousands of slaves per year, judging from the quantities of dirhams found in northern Europe—the distances involved, and the fact that trade was carried out overland required sophisticated logistics and organization. Large caravans, such as the one joined by Ibn Fadlan that is said to have counted 5,000 men.

  • source International Journal of Middle East Studies, Volume 49, Issue 1 Abstract

Historical notes

Saqaliba slaves are well attested in Spain, again mainly as domestic servants: at least several thousand of them are said to have lived in Madinat al-Zahra under the caliph ‘Abd al-Rahman III in the mid-10th century (7). But the Saqaliba also played in Spain a role which in the eastern part of the Islamic world was reserved for the Turks. They constituted a significant part of the caliphal administration and guard, and used these positions as springboards to spectacular careers. A recent study lists by name over 100 Saqaliba from Umayyad Spain )8), a result impressive both by the number of the known individuals and by the diversity of positions in the army and administration they were filling. Spain was thus another important zone of demand for Slavic slaves.

We find a hint in the description of al-Andalus by yet another geographer, Ibn Hawqal, who travelled extensively between 943 and 973 and visited both Spain and Central Asia: “One of the famous items of their merchandise is handsome slave-girls and slave-boys captured in the land of the Franks and in Galicia, as well as Saqaliba eunuchs. All the Saqaliba eunuchs on the surface of the earth are imported from al-Andalus, because they are castrated near that country, and this is done by Jewish merchants. (...) The country [of the Saqaliba] is long and wide. (…) The sea-arm stretching from the ocean towards the country of Gog and Magog traverses their country (...) cutting it into two halves. Thus half of their country, along its whole length, is raided by the Khurasanis who take prisoners from it, while its northern half is raided by the Andalusians. (…) In these areas, many captives can still be obtained” (9)

  • (7) Ibn Idhari, Kitāb al-bayān al-mughrib fī akhbār al-Andalus wa-al-Maghrib , ed. G.S. Colin, E. Lévi-Provençal, Leiden 1948-1951, II, 232.
  • (8) M. Meouak, Ṣaqāliba, eunuques et esclaves à la conquête du pouvoir. Géographie et histoire des élites politiques "marginales" dans l'Espagne umayyade , Helsinki 2004 (Annales Academiae Scientiarum Fennicae 331), 156-207
  • (9') Ibn Hauqal, Configuration de la terre (Kitab surat al-Ard) , tr. J. H. Kramers, G. Wiet, Beyrouth 1964, vol. 1, p.109

Together with the capture of Slavic slaves from the Adriatic coast by Arab corsairs in the Mediterranean Sea, there were two further systems of slave trade in the Slavic slaves in operation in the 10th century, firstly, that run by the Rus and other Scandinavians, and marked by hoards of dirhams; the other was dirham-less, and centered on Prague and slaves were supplied by the Czech dukes.

  • source -- Dirhams for slaves. Investigating the Slavic slave trade in the tenth century

North Slavic

South Slavic

Bosnian

Croatian

References