Military slavery constituted one of the most important institutions in medieval Islamic history. Most research concerning military slavery concentrates on the Mamluk dynasty, while relatively little research explores the beginning of the institution and the reasons for its introduction. Those works that concentrate on military slavery or the 'Abbasid time period either use it as an example for other arguments or do not provide enough detail to create a complete argument. As a result, the origins of an institution that affected almost a thousand years of Islamic history are not well understood. To understand the emergence of military slavery, primary and secondary materials are analyzed to try and complete the picture of its origins, giving scholars a concise look into the reason for the introduction of this institution.

Though military slavery is often marked as beginning during the reign of the 'Abbasid caliph al-Mu'tasim (218-227 AH (833-842AD)), the institution actually began during the reign of his predecessor, al-Ma'mun (198-218AH (813-833AD)). Al-Ma'mun faced many challenges during his reign as caliph. His primary challenge was a civil war with his brother, the caliph al-Amin (193-198AH/809-813AD), who tried to replace him as heir to the caliphate with his own son, eventually ending in a victory for al-Ma'mun; however, this victory has many consequences. Politically, al-Ma'mun did not trust the support of the traditional 'Abbasid power groups because they has largely allied with al-Amin. As a result, he used elite Eastern families, mostly from Khurasan, to supply his armies. Eventually they defeated al-Amin and his armies, but al-Ma'mun was faced with a crisis of legitimacy that threatened to undermine the power of the caliph. Al-Ma'mun took several steps to gain further support, and to legitimate his claim to the caliphate. The steps chiefly consisted of returning to the Baghdad (the capital city of the 'Abbasids since the Caliph al-Mansur's time in 136AH (754AD)) from his base in Khursan, dropping unpopular policies, recentralizing the empire, and using religious propaganda and symbolism. While performing these steps he also began to promulgate his own ideology of the caliphate, which mainly pointed to a reinforcement of the absolute authority of the caliph. The clearest view that we receive of his ideology comes from the time of the mihna and associated policies. However, these policies made him unpopular as he sought to expand the caliph's authority, relying on the Eastern provincial elites as his sole support. As a result, al'Ma'mun began to acquire military slaves (and to encourage his brother, al-Mu'tasim, to do so also) to provide himself with a separate support group that would help to counter-balance the provincial elites, while providing him with a group of supporters who were inextricably tied to him in a master and slave, father and son, relationship. Though other reasons exist that influenced the use of Turkish military slaves, their introduction was primarily one of political support.


School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Date of Award


Online Submission Date


First Advisor

Elenora Fernandes

Committee Member 1

Elizabeth Sartain

Committee Member 2

Malak Badrawi

Document Type



124 leaves

Library of Congress Subject Heading 1


Library of Congress Subject Heading 2

Islamic Empire


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Call Number

Thesis 2005/46