Ghilman (singular Arabic: غُلاَم ghulām ,[note 1] plural غِلْمَان ghilmān )[note 2] describes either young servants in paradise or slave-soldiers in the Abbasid, Ottoman, Mughal and Muslim Turco-Persian Empires (namely, Saljuqs and Safavids).
The ghilman were introduced to the Abbasid Caliphate during the reign of al-Mu'tasim (r. 833–842), who showed them great favor and relied upon them for his personal guard. The ghilman were slave-soldiers taken as prisoners of war from conquered regions or frontier zones, especially from among the Turkic people of Central Asia and the Caucasian peoples. They were opposed by the native Arab population, and riots against the ghilman in Baghdad in 836 forced Mu'tasim to relocate his capital to Samarra. The ghilman rose rapidly in power and influence, and under the weak rulers that followed Mu'tasim, they became king-makers: they revolted several times during the 860s and killed four caliphs. Since the break-up of the Abbasid Caliphate, the ghilman were grouped into whole armies. They were usually Turkic in origin and fought as cavalrymen.
A Ghulam was trained and educated at his master's expense and could earn his freedom through his dedicated service. Ghilman were required to marry Turkic slave-women, who were chosen for them by their masters. Some ghilman seem to have lived celibate lives. The absence of family life and offspring was possibly one of the reasons why ghilman, even when attaining power, generally failed to start dynasties or proclaim their independence. The only exception to this was the Ghaznavid dynasty of Afghanistan, which originated amongst the ghilman of the Samanid dynasty.
Aside from the Abbasids, Fātimids, and Seljuqs, the ghilman also served as slave-soldiers in the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Persia, working in service to kings and generals. Ghilman were generally Turkish in origin, fought in bands, and demanded high pay for their services. The Safavid shah of Iran, Abbas I (r. 1587 – 1629) implemented the policy, sidelining the Turkish ghilman elite and building up a more loyal ghulam force, mostly consisting of Georgians, Armenians, and Circassians. Some of these ghilman, such as Abbas's Georgian general Allahverdi Khan, rose to high ranks in the Safavid army and administration.
The ghilman are also credited with producing a strongly homosexual sub-culture which left literary traces in Persian poetry. Chroniclers also give accounts of the political connotations of their relationships; the ghulam Fatik, for example, briefly governed Aleppo for the Fātimids before being murdered in his sleep by his ghulam lover. Also, the Buwayhid prince Bakhtiyar's infatuation with a ghulam is given as one of the reasons as why he lost his throne and his life.
See also 
- C. E. Bosworth (1988), BARDA and BARDADĀRI V. Military slavery in Islamic Iran. Encyclopædia Iranica. Accessed January 30, 2012.