Slavery and Abolition in the Ottoman Middle East

Slavery and Abolition in the Ottoman Middle East

Slavery and Abolition in the Ottoman Middle East

Slavery and Abolition in the Ottoman Middle East


In the Ottoman Empire, even members of the ruling elite were technically slaves of the sultan and therefore could be ordered to surrender their labor, their property, or their lives at any moment. Nevertheless, slavery provided a means of social mobility, conferring status and political power within the military, the bureaucracy, or the domestic household, and the slave trade reinforced patronage networks. Ehud Toledano's exploration of slavery from the Ottoman viewpoint is based on extensive research in British and Turkish archives and offers rich, original, and important insights into Ottoman life and thought.

In order to humanize the narrative, Toledano examines the situations of individuals representing the principal realms of Ottoman slavery: and female harem slaves, the sultan's military and civilian kuls, court and elite eunuchs, domestic slaves circassian agricultural slaves, slave dealers, and slave owners. Slavery and Abolition in the Ottoman Middle East makes available new and significantly revised studies on 19th-century Middle Eastern slavery and suggests general approaches to the study of slavery in the different cultures.


Slavery is one of those "mega-topics" in world history that continue to attract interest, both scholarly and nonscholarly. The lingering effects of slavery--in its strict sense now almost extinct--are being linked, often by groups with vested interests, to political and social issues that are still very much alive today, such as gaps in economic development between the countries that lost their people to slavery and those that exploited slave labor and benefited from it, race relations within formerly slave-owning societies, and persistent cultural attitudes and stereotyping. The intriguing complexity of the institution of slavery--never fully comprehensible--has spawned a wealth of studies covering a wide variety of societies around the globe. For a number of reasons, which I will discuss in various parts of this book, only a limited amount of work has appeared to date on slavery in Ottoman society, or for that matter in other Muslim societies. This deficiency has impeded the effective incorporation of slavery in those societies into the analytical framework of comparative slavery.

Thus, by bringing together in an easily accessible format my current thoughts on slavery in late Ottoman history, I hope at least partially to bridge the gap that exists between the study of Ottoman bondage and the study of slavery in other societies. If this book succeeds in attracting a broader audience than that of specialists in Ottoman, Arab, or Islamic studies--that is, the many who are interested in slavery as a social, cultural, and political phenomenon-- it will have achieved its primary goal.

In looking at Ottoman slavery as a whole, it seems to me that one of its salient and most interesting features is the variety of modes . . .

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