By Daniel Pipes
Even a cursory glance at the history of Muslim peoples reveals the
extraordinary role played by men of slave origins in the armed forces.
They served both as soldiers and as officers, then often acquired
preeminent roles in administration, politics, and all aspects of public
As this conference makes clear, slaves have been used as soldiers in
many places around the world; but I shall argue that there was something
unique about their use in the Muslim countries. Among Muslims, this use
of slaves acquired a systematic quality that permitted slaves to take
on central military functions and to rise in the hierarchy of the state,
sometimes even taking it over. I believe that the systematic use of
slaves as soldiers constituted the single most distinctive feature of
Muslim public life in premodern times.
To begin with, some terminology. Slave as used here means "a
person of slave origins" regardless of his subsequent status. The term
does not indicate whether he is later free in law, in fact, or both.
This special usage corresponds to the use of slave in Muslim vernaculars. A military slave
is a person of slave origins who undergoes acquisition in a systematic
manner, followed by training and employment as a soldier. This term does
not apply to all slaves who fight in wars, but only to those whose
lives revolve around military service. The military slave keeps this
appellation even after he attains legal or real freedom. Military slavery is the system which acquires, prepares, and employs military slaves.
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