Slaves in the Households of the 'mma of the Mamluk Kingdom

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 12:10 PM
Room A601 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Evan Metzger, University of California, Los Angeles
 This is a study of the slaveholding practices of the “commoners” (al-‘mma) in the Mamluk Kingdom (1250-1517). One of the main questions it will answer is to what extent “commoners” attempted to establish or strengthen multi-generational households through slaveholding. Additionally, this paper will investigate the gender of the slaves owned by commoners. 

 In the Mamluk Kingdom (1250-1517), boys were brought to the Kingdom to be trained in military skills, manumitted, and enrolled into the ranks of the military. If they were lucky, they became an amr, or military commander with political responsibilities; some had the chance of one day becoming Sultan. Scholars like David Ayalon has produced a number of studies on the military slaves. However, slavery in the Mamluk period was not limited to the elite classes (al-khssa), but spread throughout society. Unfortunately, little is known about the slave-holding practices of the non-military classes, although sources from the period do mention commoners (al-‘mma) in relationship to slaveowning. In an attempt to fill this gap, I use published documents from the al-Ḥaram al-Sharf collection in Jerusalem, some of which include the inheritance to or of slaves. These documents, which also mention the gender of the slaves in question, are valuable because they mention testaments of both the military elite and commoners, allowing for a comparison of the two.   In addition, I use chronicles written in the period, including Baybars al-Dawdr (d. 1325), al-Maqrizi (d. 1442), and Ibn Iys (d. 1524), in addition to Ibn Nubtah’s book of poetry, which comments on Mamluk social life. Finally, I will argue that the Islamic legal discussion about ‘itq (manumission) reflected in fatwas of the period represent a shared concern of the ‘mma and khssa, despite apparent class differences in its interpretation.