Insights into the concept of Slavery

Read these passages from Ibn Battuta's book and then make some generalizations about his attitudes toward slaves and slavery in the Medieval Islamic World.

Jobs of Slaves:

In Zafari (southern Arabia) Ibn Battuta tells of some work done by slaves:

"Most of the sellers [in the bazaar] are female slaves." ... and later... "Their method of irrigation is that they make a large bucket and attach it to a number of ropes, each one of which is tied round the waist of a male or female slave; these draw up the bucket..." [Gibb, p. 383]

Dunn gives some background about slaves taken from the Steppe region (southern Russia):

"[Ship captains] would load their decks with war captives and the sad children of impoverished steppe folk, consigning some to the slave market of Cairo, others to the sugar plantations of Cyprus or the rich household of Italy." [Dunn, pp. 163 - 164]

Ibn Battuta says: "[In Birgi, Anatolia] We found about twenty of his servants, of surprisingly beautiful appearance, wearing robes of silk, with their hair parted and hanging loose, and in color of a resplendent whiteness tinged with red. I said to the doctor, 'What are these beautiful figures?' and he replied 'These are Greek pages.'" [Gibb, p. 442]

Rulers had perhaps thousands of slaves. The wife of the Ozbek Khan (of the Golden Horde) went back to her father, the Emperor of Constantinople to have her baby. She took with her the following: 5500 troops (200 of which were slaves), two hundred slave-girls, most of them Greeks, ten Greek and ten Indian page boys. She left most of her slave-girls with their husband. [Gibb. p. 498]

Capturing slaves and Giving Slaves as Gifts:

"The Sultan of Kilwa ... was called ["the generous"] ... on account of the multitude of his gifts and acts of generosity. He used to engage frequently in expeditions to the land of the Zinj people [in the villages inland from the coast], raiding them and taking booty, and he would set aside the fifth part of it to devote to the [religious "tax" required in the Koran]." [Ibn Battuta then tells of the sultan giving away 20 slaves in one incident as an example of his generosity.] [Gibb, p. 380]

"The amir [of Yazmir in Anatolia] was a generous and pious prince, and continually engaged in jihad [religious war against the Christians]. He had war-galleys with which he used to make raids on the environs of Constantinople ... to seize prisoners and booty, then after spending it all in gifts and largesse he would go out again to the jihad." [Gibb, p. 446]

Slaves were given by one ruler to another.

"The Chinese emissaries had earlier arrived in Delhi with 100 slaves and cartloads of fine clothing, brocade, musk, and swords [as a gift to Muhammad Tughluq]... Muhammad Tughluq naturally felt obliged to reciprocate with an even more magnificent array of gifts. The list included 200 Hindi slaves, songstresses, and dancers, 15 pages (boy servants), 100 horses, and wondrous quantities of choice textiles, dishware, and swords." [Dunn, p. 214]

Ibn Battuta was given several slaves as gifts (in Anatolia, the Steppe, and in China).

His first slave was a gift of the amir of Aydin, a male Greek captive. In Izmir the sultan gave him another boy. In Astrakhan he was given a Turkish slave boy as a gift.

In Fuzhou, China, a Muslim he had met years before in India was now rich. He "owned about fifty white slaves and as many slave-girls, and presented me with two of each, along with many other gifts."

He bought several slaves:

In Ephesus [Aya Suluq], Anatolia he purchased a young Greek girl for forty gold dinars. [Gibb, p. 445] In Balikesir he bought a second Greek slave-girl named Marghalita, but he doesn't give a price. (He fathers a child with one of his slave-girls, a daughter who died two months after reaching India.) [Gibb, p. 449]

We learn that everything in Chittagong was cheap, including slaves. He bought "an extremely beautiful" slave girl and a friend bought a young boy slave for a couple of gold dinar.

Sex with slave-girls / consorts: This was "legal" and Ibn Battuta father children by at least two of his slave-girls (one Greek slave-girl who gave him a daughter who died in India, one who died after his ship sank in India on its way to China).

Prostitution: Ibn Battuta is critical of this. In speaking of the inhabitants of Ladhiq, a city in Anatolia (Turkey):

"[They] make no effort to stamp out immorality - indeed, the same applies to the whole population of these regions. They buy beautiful Greek slave-girls and put them out to prostitution, and each girl has to pay a regular due to her master. I heard it said there that the girls go into the bath-houses along with the men, and anyone who wishes to indulge in depravity does so in the bath-house and nobody tries to stop him." [Gibb, p. 425]

Run-away slaves: We never learn of the punishment for running away, but it happened at least twice to Ibn Battuta:

"The slaveboy who belonged to me took our horses and went to water them, in company with a slave of one of my companions. He was absent for a long time, and by the afternoon no trace of them had appeared. We informed [the sultan]. They made for a city belonging to the infidels [Christians] on the sea-coast... In the afternoon [of the next day] the fugitives were brought in, along with the horses, by some Turks, who said that the pair of them had passed by them the previous evening, and that they, becoming suspicious about them, had used pressure on them until they confessed their design of escaping." [This happened in Yazmir, Anatolia] [Gibb, p. 448]

"I was determined to set out [from al-Sara], when a slaveboy of mine escaped and I had to stay because of him. ... Three days later one of my associates found the fugitive slave...and brought him to me, where upon I set out for Khwarism." [ Gibb, p. 517]

Rights of Slaves?

For an amusing anecdote about the rights of slaves in Anatolia, see the Medieval Sourcebook, evidently a story quoted by Gibb of a 3rd century slave owner.

Loyalty of slaves - See Gibb, p. 372

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