International

Slavery in the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire, which lasted from the 14th to the early 20th century, had a complex system of slavery. Slavery was an integral part of Ottoman society and played a significant role in the empire’s economy and administration. Slavery in the Ottoman Empire took various forms and involved people from different regions and backgrounds. The empire had a diverse population, including Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and slavery affected individuals of various ethnicities and religions.

The primary sources of slaves in the Ottoman Empire were war captives, who were taken during military campaigns, and the slave trade, which involved the buying and selling of slaves. Slavery was also perpetuated through the inheritance of slaves and the birth of children to enslaved individuals within the empire.

Ottoman Empire Rare Slave Shackles Legcuff Cuff Leg Iron Slave Trade Restraints

The Ottoman Empire had different categories of slaves, including household slaves, military slaves, agricultural slaves, and skilled slaves. Household slaves served in the homes of the wealthy and played roles such as concubines, eunuchs, servants, or administrators. Military slaves, known as Janissaries, were recruited from non-Muslim populations and were trained to serve in the Ottoman army. Agricultural slaves worked on farms, plantations, and in other rural settings. Skilled slaves, known as kul, were often employed in various professions and occupations.

While slaves in the Ottoman Empire were considered property and lacked personal freedoms, their experiences varied depending on their roles and the attitudes of their owners. Some slaves enjoyed relatively privileged positions, receiving education, participating in administrative tasks, or even rising to positions of power and influence. However, the majority of slaves faced harsh conditions, exploitation, and limited opportunities for freedom or social mobility.

One fascinating aspect of slavery in Muslim countries is that many leaders had more trust in well-treated African slaves than their own people. Many leaders in Muslim countries and South India had not only African slave bodyguards but African slave military units. There is nothing American slave owners feared more than armed blacks. According to Iranian-born anthropologist Pedram Khosronejad, “Slaves who were not eunuchs were sometimes assigned to the armies of the [Persian] Qajar elites. The 14 pictured here belonged to Qajar prince Zell-e-Soltan, Ghameshlou, Isfahan, 1904.” A factor here was Kornic authorization.
In the 19th century, there were efforts to abolish slavery in the Ottoman Empire. Several measures were enacted to restrict the slave trade and gradually emancipate slaves. The Ottoman government also encouraged manumission, the act of freeing slaves, through various means such as taxation policies and military service. Slavery was officially abolished in the empire in 1908, during the Young Turk Revolution.

It is important to note that the experiences of slaves in the Ottoman Empire were diverse, and the institution of slavery varied across time and place. The legacy of slavery in the Ottoman Empire continues to impact the modern societies and cultures of the regions once under Ottoman rule.

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