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Saqāliba (Arabic: صقالبة, sg. Siqlabi) refers to Slavic slaves, kidnapped from the coasts of Europe or in wars, as well as mercenaries in the medieval Muslim world, in the Middle East, North Africa, Sicily and Al-Andalus. It is generally thought that the Arabic term is a Byzantine loanword: saqlab, siklab, saqlabi etc. is a corruption of Greek Sklavinoi meaning Slavs (from which the English word slave is also derived.[1] The word is often misused to refer only to slaves from Central and Eastern Europe,[2] but it refers to all Eastern Europeans and others traded by the Arab traders during the war or peace periods.[3]

There were several major routes of the trade of Slav slaves into the Muslim world: through Central Asia (Mongols, Tatars, Khazars, etc.); through the Mediterranean (Byzantium); through Central and Western Europe to Al-Andalus. The Volga trade route and other European routes, according to Ibrahim ibn Jakub, were serviced by Radanite Jewish merchants. Theophanes mentions that the Umayyad caliph Muawiyah I settled a whole army of 5,000 Slavic mercenaries in Syria in the 660s.

In the Muslim world, Saqaliba served or were forced to serve in a multitude of ways: servants, harem concubines, eunuchs, craftsmen, soldiers, and as Caliph's guards. In Iberia, Morocco, Damascus and Sicily, their military role may be compared with that of mamluks in the Ottoman Empire. In Spain, Slavic eunuchs were so popular and widely distributed that they became synonymous with Saqāliba.[4] Some Saqāliba became rulers of taifas (principalities) in Iberia after the collapse of the Caliphate of Cordoba. For example, Muyahid ibn Yusuf ibn Ali organized the Saqaliba in Dénia to rebel, seize control of the city, and establish the Taifa of Dénia, which extended its reach as far as the island of Majorca.


  • Arab geographer Ibn Khurdadbeh (840–880) claimed that the Bulgar ruling title was "King of the Saqāliba" prior to the end of the Sasanian dynasty (641), meaning that the ruler held "a reservoir of potential slaves".[5]
  • Arab traveller Ibn Fadlan (fl. 921–22) called the ruler of Volga Bulgaria the "King of the Saqaliba".[6] This may have been either because many Slavs, both slaves and ordinary settlers, lived in his domain at that time; or a lack of ethnographic knowledge.[citation needed]
  • Persian polymath Abu Zayd al-Balkhi (850–934) described three main centers of the Saqaliba: Kuyaba, Slawiya, and Artania.
  • Jewish traveller Abraham ben Jacob (fl. 961–62) placed the Saqāliba, Slavs, west of Bulgaria and east from other Slavs, in a mountainous land, and described them as violent and aggressive.[7] It is believed that these were situated in the Western Balkans.[citation needed]
  • Persian chronicler Ibn al-Faqih (10th c.) wrote that there were two types of saqaliba: those with swarthy skin and dark hair who lived by the sea and those with fair skin and light hair who lived farther inland.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Slave". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 
  2. ^ Lewis (1994). "Race and Slavery in the Middle East". Oxford University Press. 
  3. ^ Mishin 1998.
  4. ^ The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery: A-K ; Vol. II, L-Z, by Junius P. Rodriguez
  5. ^ Abraham Ascher; Tibor Halasi-Kun; Béla K. Király (1979). The mutual effects of the Islamic and Judeo-Christian worlds: the East European pattern. Brooklyn College Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-930888-00-8. 
  6. ^ Michael Friederich (1994). Bamberger Zentralasienstudien. Schwarz. p. 236. ISBN 978-3-87997-235-7. 
  7. ^ H. T. Norris (1993). Islam in the Balkans: Religion and Society Between Europe and the Arab World. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-85065-167-3. 


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