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A Very Peculiar Institution: Military Slavery in the Mamluk Sultanate

A Very Peculiar Institution: Military Slavery in the Mamluk Sultanate

By Reuven Amitai

Held online by the University of Bonn on August 3, 2020

Abstract: In this lecture, I will first review some of the salient views of past and recent scholars – starting with David Ayalon (1914–1998). To this I will add my own evolving views. In a nutshell, it seems to me that those who have considered that slavery is perhaps not the best way to understand the Mamluk military-political elite may have overstated their case. Rather, I will suggest that the prism of slavery as a legal, social and economic institution is an effective way to study the ruling elite and army of the Cairo-based Sultanate that ruled from 1250 to 1517. By overly belittling the importance of military slavery we miss some of the essence of this polity and even the nature of its relationship with the societies over which it ruled. I will conclude this talk with a short discussion putting the question of Mamluk military slavery in the wider context of the study of slavery as a phenomenon of world history.

Reuven Amitai is Eliyahu Elath Professor for Muslim History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and studies and teaches the history of the pre-modern Islamic world, with interest in the following fields: the coming of the Turks and Mongols to the Middle East, Muslim responses to the Crusades, the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Syria, the Ilkhanate (the Mongol state in the Middle East), the Armenians in Middle Eastern history, medieval Palestine, the military history of the medieval Middle East, and conversion to Islam. Currently, he is working on a study of Palestine under the Mamluks (1260–1516). Click here to view Reuven’s Academia.edu page.

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