Egipto, 1882 "Mercado de esclavos" (21663624022)
The Slave Trade In Egypt - Negresses From Siwah 1894
Courtisane au Caire
Certificate of slavery liberation - Police of Egypt 1900

Slavery in Egypt existed up until the early 20th century. It differed from the previous slavery in ancient Egypt, being managed in accordance with Islamic law from the conquest of the Caliphate in the 7th century until the practice stopped in the early 20th-century, having been gradually abolished in the late 19th century. Slave trade was abolished successively between 1877 and 1884. Slavery itself was not abolished, but it gradually died out after the abolition of the slave trade, since no new slaves could be legally acquired. Existing slaves were noted as late as the 1930s.

During the Islamic history of Egypt, slavery were mainly focused on three categories: male slaves used for soldiers and bureaucrats, female slaves used for sexual slavery as concubines, and female slaves and eunuchs used for domestic service in harems and private households. At the end of the period, there were a growing agricultural slavery. The people enslaved in Egypt during Islamic times mostly came from Europe and Caucasus (which where referred to as "white"), or from the Sudan and Africa South of the Sahara through the Trans-Saharan slave trade (which where referred to as "black").

To this day, Egypt remains a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking, particularly forced labor and forced prostitution (cf. human trafficking in Egypt).

Abbasid Caliphate: 750–935

See also: History of concubinage in the Muslim world, Islamic views on concubinage, Ma malakat aymanukum, Qiyan, Jarya, Abd (Arabic), and Khawal

Egypt was under the Abbasid Caliphate in 750–935.

During this period, slaves in Egypt were either born into slavery, or captives of slavers had who imported them from outside the Realm of Islam, and preserved documents suggest that it was imported slaves who dominated Egypt’s slave market.[1] Islam’s encouragement to manumit slaves, and the free status granted to children a slave and master (coupled with the fact that most children born to slaves had free fathers), indicate that Egypt was dependent upon a steady flow of new slaves to uphold the slave population, since few slaves born to slaves became slaves themselves.[1]

One slave route was from people with whom Egypt had a treaty. Egypt and Nubia maintained peace on the basis of the famous Baqṭ treaty, in which Nubia annually supplied slaves to Egypt, and Egypt textiles and wheat to Nubia.[1] The baqt did not allow for direct slave raids to Nubia, however Egypt did purchase Nubian slaves captured by the Buja tribes living in the Eastern Desert of Nubia, as well as Buja slaves captured by Nubians; Egypt also conducted slave raids to Nubia or Buja whenever they broke the conditions of the treaty. Private Egyptian slave traders also conducted slave raids from Egypt’s African hinterland using local violations of the peace agreements as a pretext.[1] Egyptian slave traders often gave wrong origin of their captives on the slave market, making it impossible to know if the slaves had been captured from a people with whom Egypt had a peace agreement.[1]

A second route was from areas with whom Egypt had no treaty, which in Islamic law made slave raids legal. Slave merchants also traded in people captured from nations with whom Muslim authorities had no peace agreement. The History of the Patriarchs noted that slave raides where conducted against the coasts of Byzantine Asia Minor and Europe, during which "Muslims carried off the Byzantines from their lands and brought a great number of them to Egypt (or Fusṭāṭ [Miṣr])".[1] The 10th-century Ḥudūd al-ʿālam claims that Egyptian merchants kidnapped children from the "Blacks" south of Nubia, castrating the boys before trafficking them into Egypt.[1]

A third route was when slave merchant illegally captured other Egyptians, which was forbidden by law. The captured Egyptians were normally either non-Muslim Egyptians, such as Coptic Christians, or the children of black former slaves.[1]

In this period, the perhaps most significant slave market place in Egypt was Fusṭāṭ. Slave merchants from the Near East, Byzantium, Europe, North Africa and the Mediterranean islands trafficked and soled slaves in Egypt, where according the Egyptian jurist Aṣbagh b. al-Faraj (d. 839) "people desire above all imported slaves",[1] and among the slaves trafficked were slaves of Slavic, European or Anatolian, Berber, and Sudanic African origin.[1] The merchants sold eunuchs and "slave women (jawārī) and female servants (waṣāʾif)", and slaves are mentioned as perform extra-domestic tasks, ran errands, delivered or collected messages or goods, assisted their masters on business journeys or managed affairs during their masters absence, and was used as sex slaves (concubines).[1]

Fatimid Caliphate: 909–1171

Harem slavery

See also: History of concubinage in the Muslim world, Islamic views on concubinage, and Ma malakat aymanukum

Female slaves were primarily used as either domestic servants, or as concubines (sex slaves).

The Abbasid harem system came to be a role model for the harems of later Islamic rulers, and the same model can be found in subsequent Islamic nations during the Middle Ages, including the harem of the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt. The Fatimid harem consisted of the same model as the Abbasid harem, and was organized in a model in which the mother took the first rank, followed by slave concubines who became umm walad when giving birth; enslaved female Jawaris entertainers, enslaved female stewardesses named qahramana's, and eunuchs.[2]

The slave market classified the slave in accordance with racial stereotypes; Berber slave women were seen as ideal for housework, sexual services and childbearing; black slave women as docile, robust and excellent wet nurses; Byzantine (Greek) as slaves who could be entrusted with valuables; Persian women as good child-minders; Arab slave women as accomplished singers, while Indian and Armenian girls were seen as hard to manage and control; the younger girls, the more attractive on the market. [3]

Mamluk era: 935–1517

Military slavery

From 935 to 1250, Egypt was controlled by dynastic rulers, notably the Ikhshidids, Fatimids, and Ayyubids. Throughout these dynasties, thousands of Mamluk servants and guards continued to be used and even took high offices. The Mamluks were essentially enslaved mercenaries. Originally the Mamluks were slaves of Turkic origin from the Eurasian Steppe,[4][5][6][7] but the institution of military slavery spread to include Circassians,[4][5][6][8] Abkhazians,[9][10][11] Georgians,[4][5][12][13][14] Armenians,[4][5][6][15] and Russians,[6] as well as peoples from the Balkans such as Albanians,[5][16] Greeks,[5] and South Slavs[5][16][17] (see Saqaliba, Balkan slave trade and Black Sea slave trade).

This increasing level of influence among the Mamluk worried the Ayyubids in particular. Because Egyptian Mamluks were enslaved Christians, Islamic rulers did not believe they were true believers of Islam despite fighting for wars on behalf of Islam as slave soldiers.[18]

In 1250, a Mamluk rose to become sultan.[18][19] The Mamluk Sultanate survived in Egypt from 1250 until 1517, when Selim captured Cairo on 20 January. Although not in the same form as under the Sultanate, the Ottoman Empire retained the Mamluks as an Egyptian ruling class and the Mamluks and the Burji family succeeded in regaining much of their influence, but as vassals of the Ottomans.[20][21]

By the 14th century, a significant number of slaves came from sub-Saharan Africa, and racist attitudes occurred, exemplified by the Egyptian historian Al-Abshibi (1388–1446) writing that "[i]t is said that when the [black] slave is sated, he fornicates, when he is hungry, he steals."[22]

Ottoman Egypt: 1517–1805

Harem slavery

The Mamluk aristocrats, who were themselves often Circassian or from Georgia (trafficked via the Black Sea slave trade), preferred to marry women of similar ethnicity, while black slave women were used as domestic maids, and the majority of the wives and concubines of the Mamluk have been referred to as "white slaves".[23] The white slave women bought to become concubines and wives of the Mamluks were often from the Caucasus (Circassians or Georgian) who were sold to slave traders by their poor parents.[24]

It was common practice for the men of the Egyptian Mamluk upper class to marry a woman who had previously been the slave concubine of either themselves or another Mamluk, and the practice of marrying the concubine or the widow of another Mamluk were a way of normal Mamluk alliance policy. The marriage between Murad Bey and Nafisa al-Bayda, widow of Ali Bey al-Kabir, was an example of this marriage policy, similar to that of Shawikar Qadin, the concubine of Uthman Katkhuda (d. 1736), who were given in marriage by Abd al-Rahman Jawish to Ibrahum Katkhuda (d. 1754) after the death of Uthman Katkhuda.[24]

Muhammad Ali dynasty: 1805–1914

The number of slaves in Egypt has been estimated to be at least 30,000 slaves at any time in the 19th century.[25] In Egypt, the slave concubines in the harems of rich Egyptian men were often Circiassian women, while the concubines of middle-class Egyptians were often Abyssinians; while the male and female domestic slaves of almost all classes of Egyptian society often consisted of Black Africans.[25] Black Africans were also used as slave soldiers as well as enslaved agricultural workers.[25]

Slave trade

The Egyptian slave dealers in Egypt were mainly from the Oases and from Upper Egypt. The slave traders were organized in a guild with a shaykh, and divided into dealers in black and white slaves respectively.[25] Cairo was the main depot of slaves and the base of the slave trade, but the annual mawlid of Ṭanṭā was another important occasion for trading in slaves.[25]

African slaves were trafficked to Egypt via several different routes: from Darfur to Asyūṭ; from Sennar to Isnā; from the area of the White Nile; from Bornu and Wadāy by way of Libya; and, finally, from Abyssinia and the East African by way of the Red Sea.[25] White slaves were trafficked to Egypt from the Black Sea area by way of Istanbul.[25]

Agricultural slavery

The use of Sudanese in agriculture become fairly common under Muhammad Ali of Egypt and his successors. Agricultural slavery was virtually unknown in Egypt at this time, but the rapid expansion of extensive farming under Muhammad Ali and later, the world surge in the price of cotton caused by the American Civil War, were factors creating conditions favourable to the deployment of unfree labour. The slaves worked primarily on estates owned by Muhammad Ali and members of his family, and it was estimated in 1869, that Khedive Isma'il and his family had 2,000 to 3,000 slaves on their main estates as well as hundreds more in their sugar plantations in Upper Egypt.[26]

Harem slavery

The royal harem during the Muhammad Ali dynasty of the Khedivate of Egypt (1805–1914) was modelled after Ottoman example, the khedives being the Egyptian viceroys of the Ottoman sultans. Similar to the Ottoman Imperial harem, the harem of the khedive was modelled on a system of polygyny based on slave concubinage, in which each wife or concubine was limited to having one son.[27]

The khedive's harem was composed of between several hundreds to over a thousand enslaved women, supervised by his mother, the walida pasha, and his four official wives (hanim) and recognized concubines (qadin).[27] However, the majority of the slave women served as domestics to his mother and wives, and could have servant offices such as the bash qalfa, chief servant slave woman of the walida pasha.[27]

The enslaved female servants of the khedivate harem were manumitted and married off with a trosseau in strategic marriages to the male slaves (kul or mamluk) who were trained to become officers and civil servants, in order to ensure the fidelity of their husband's to the khedive when they began their military or state official career.[27]

A minority of the slave women were selected to become the personal servants (concubines) of the khedive, often selected by his mother: they could become his wives, and would in any case become free as an umm walad (or mustawlada) if they had children with him.

The Egyptian elite of bureaucrat families, who emulated the khedive, had similar harem customs, and it was noted that it was common for Egyptian upper-class families to have slave women in their harem, which they manumitted to marry off to male protegees.[27] Muhammad Ali of Egypt reportedly had at least 25 consorts (wives and concubines), and Khedive Ismail fourteen.[27]

The women harem slaves mostly came from Caucasus via the Circassian slave trade and were referred to as "white".

This system slowly and gradually started to change after 1873, when Tewfik Pasha married Emina Ilhamy as his sole consort, making monogamy the fashionable ideal among the elite, after the throne succession had been changed to primogeniture, which favored monogamy. Around the same time, the Ottoman Tanzimat reforms abolished the custom of training male slaves to become military men and civil servants, and replaced them with free students.[27]

Military slavery

Muhammad Ali of Egypt with his son Ibrahim Pasha and Colonel Sève

To prepare for the training of his Sudanese slave army, Muhammad Ali sent a corps of Mamluks to Aswan where, in 1820, he had new barracks built to house them. The head of the military academy at Aswan was a French officer who had served under Napoleon, Colonel Octave-Joseph Anthelme Sève, who became a Muslim and is known in Egyptian history as Sulayman Pasha al-Faransawi. When they arrived in Aswan, each of the Sudanese was vaccinated and given a calico vest, then instructed in Islam. The exact numbers of Sudanese brought to Aswan and Muhammad Ali's other military training centre at Manfalut[28] is not known, but it is certain that a great number died en route. Of those who arrived, many died of fevers, chills and the dryness of the climate. Of an estimated 30,000 Sudanese brought to Aswan in 1822 and 1823, only 3,000 survived.

After 1823, Muhammad Ali's priority was to reduce the cost of garrisoning Sudan, where 10,000 Egyptian infantry and 9,000 cavalry were committed. The Egyptians made increasing use of enslaved Sudanese soldiers to maintain their rule, and relied very heavily on them.[29] A more or less official ratio was established, requiring that Sudan provide 3,000 slaves for every 1,000 soldiers sent to subjugate it. This ratio could not be achieved however because the death rate of slaves delivered to Aswan was so high.[30] Muhammad Ali's Turkish and Albanian troops that partook in the Sudan campaign were not used to weather conditions of the area and attained fevers and dysentery while there with tensions emerging and demands to return to Egypt.[31] In addition the difficulties of capturing and raising an army from Sudanese male slaves during the campaign were reasons that led Muhammad Ali toward eventually recruiting local Egyptians for his armed forces.[31]


The Ottoman Empire granted Egypt the status of an autonomous vassal state or Khedivate in 1867. Isma'il Pasha (Khedive from 1863 to 1879) and Tewfik Pasha (Khedive from 1879 to 1892) governed Egypt as a quasi-independent state under Ottoman suzerainty until the British occupation of 1882, after which it came under British influence. This influenced the policy around slavery in Egypt.

The Anglo-Egyptian Slave Trade Convention or Anglo-Egyptian Convention for the Abolition of Slavery in 1877 officially banned the slave trade to Sudan, thus formally putting an end on the import of slaves from Sudan.[27] Sudan was at this time the main import of male slaves to Egypt. This ban was followed in 1884 by a ban on the import of white women; this law was directed against the import of white women (mainly from Caucasus and usually Circassians via the Circassian slave trade), which were the preferred choice for harem concubines among the Egyptian upper class.[27] The import of male slaves from Sudan as soldiers, civil service and eunuchs, as well as the import of female slaves from Caucasus as harem women were the two main sources of slave import to Egypt, thus these laws were, at least on paper, major blows on Slavery in Egypt. Slavery itself was not banned, only the import of slaves. However a ban on the sale on existing slaves was introduced alongside a law giving existing slaves the legal right to apply for manumission.[27]

The anti slavery reforms gradually diminished the Khedive harem, though the harem of the Khedive as well as the harems of the elite families still maintained a smaller amount of both male eunuchs as well as slave women until at least World War I.[27] Khedive Abbas II of Egypt are noted to have bought six "white female slaves" for his harem in 1894, ten years after this had formally been banned, and his mother still maintained sixty slaves as late as 1931.[27]


See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Bruning, J. (2020). Slave Trade Dynamics in Abbasid Egypt: The Papyrological Evidence, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 63(5-6), 682-742. doi:
  2. ^ El-Azhari, Taef. Queens, Eunuchs and Concubines in Islamic History, 661–1257. Edinburgh University Press, 2019. JSTOR, Accessed 27 Mar. 2021.
  3. ^ Fatimid Egypt: Sudanese Nubians (Black), second Europeans and Indians, p. 204
  4. ^ a b c d Oxford Business Group (2012). "Warrior kings: A look at the history of the Mamluks". The Report – Egypt 2012: The Guide. Oxford Business Group. pp. 332–334. Archived from the original on 25 September 2020. Retrieved 1 March 2021. The Mamluks, who descended from non-Arab slaves who were naturalised to serve and fight for ruling Arab dynasties, are revered as some of the greatest warriors the world has ever known. Although the word mamluk translates as "one who is owned", the Mamluk soldiers proved otherwise, gaining a powerful military standing in various Muslim societies, particularly in Egypt. They would also go on to hold political power for several centuries during a period known as the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt. [...] Before the Mamluks rose to power, there was a long history of slave soldiers in the Middle East, with many recruited into Arab armies by the Abbasid rulers of Baghdad in the ninth century. The tradition was continued by the dynasties that followed them, including the Fatimids and Ayyubids (it was the Fatimids who built the foundations of what is now Islamic Cairo). For centuries, the rulers of the Arab world recruited men from the lands of the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is hard to discern the precise ethnic background of the Mamluks, given that they came from a number of ethnically mixed regions, but most are thought to have been Turkic (mainly Kipchak and Cuman) or from the Caucasus (predominantly Circassian, but also Armenian and Georgian). The Mamluks were recruited forcibly to reinforce the armies of Arab rulers. As outsiders, they had no local loyalties, and would thus fight for whoever owned them, not unlike mercenaries. Furthermore, the Turks and Circassians had a ferocious reputation as warriors. The slaves were either purchased or abducted as boys, around the age of 13, and brought to the cities, most notably to Cairo and its Citadel. Here they would be converted to Islam and would be put through a rigorous military training regime that focused particularly on horsemanship. A code of behaviour not too dissimilar to that of the European knights' Code of Chivalry was also inculcated and was known as Furusiyya. As in many military establishments to this day the authorities sought to instil an esprit de corps and a sense of duty among the young men. The Mamluks would have to live separately from the local populations in their garrisons, which included the Citadel and Rhoda Island, also in Cairo. ((cite web)): |author= has generic name (help)
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Stowasser, Karl (1984). "Manners and Customs at the Mamluk Court". Muqarnas. Leiden: Brill Publishers. 2 (The Art of the Mamluks): 13–20. doi:10.2307/1523052. ISSN 0732-2992. JSTOR 1523052. S2CID 191377149. The Mamluk slave warriors, with an empire extending from Libya to the Euphrates, from Cilicia to the Arabian Sea and the Sudan, remained for the next two hundred years the most formidable power of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean – champions of Sunni orthodoxy, guardians of Islam's holy places, their capital, Cairo, the seat of the Sunni caliph and a magnet for scholars, artists, and craftsmen uprooted by the Mongol upheaval in the East or drawn to it from all parts of the Muslim world by its wealth and prestige. Under their rule, Egypt passed through a period of prosperity and brilliance unparalleled since the days of the Ptolemies. [...] They ruled as a military aristocracy, aloof and almost totally isolated from the native population, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, and their ranks had to be replenished in each generation through fresh imports of slaves from abroad. Only those who had grown up outside Muslim territory and who entered as slaves in the service either of the sultan himself or of one of the Mamluk emirs were eligible for membership and careers within their closed military caste. The offspring of Mamluks were free-born Muslims and hence excluded from the system: they became the awlād al-nās, the "sons of respectable people", who either fulfilled scribal and administrative functions or served as commanders of the non-Mamluk ḥalqa troops. Some two thousand slaves were imported annually: Qipchaq, Azeris, Uzbec Turks, Mongols, Avars, Circassians, Georgians, Armenians, Greeks, Bulgars, Albanians, Serbs, Hungarians.
  6. ^ a b c d Poliak, A. N. (2005) [1942]. "The Influence of C̱ẖingiz-Ḵẖān's Yāsa upon the General Organization of the Mamlūk State". In Hawting, Gerald R. (ed.). Muslims, Mongols, and Crusaders: An Anthology of Articles Published in the "Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies". Vol. 10. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 27–41. doi:10.1017/S0041977X0009008X. ISBN 978-0-7007-1393-6. JSTOR 609130. S2CID 155480831. ((cite book)): |journal= ignored (help)
  7. ^ Isichei, Elizabeth (1997). A History of African Societies to 1870. Cambridge University Press. pp. 192. Retrieved 8 November 2008.
  8. ^ McGregor, Andrew James (2006). A Military History of Modern Egypt: From the Ottoman Conquest to the Ramadan War. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 15. ISBN 978-0275986018. By the late fourteenth century Circassians from the north Caucasus region had become the majority in the Mamluk ranks.
  9. ^ А.Ш.Кадырбаев, Сайф-ад-Дин Хайр-Бек – абхазский "король эмиров" Мамлюкского Египта (1517–1522), "Материалы первой международной научной конференции, посвященной 65-летию В.Г.Ардзинба". Сухум: АбИГИ, 2011, pp. 87–95
  10. ^ Thomas Philipp, Ulrich Haarmann (eds), The Mamluks in Egyptian Politics and Society. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 115–116.
  11. ^ Jane Hathaway, The Politics of Households in Ottoman Egypt: The Rise of the Qazdaglis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp. 103–104.
  12. ^ "Relations of the Georgian Mamluks of Egypt with Their Homeland in the Last Decades of the Eighteenth Century". Daniel Crecelius and Gotcha Djaparidze. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 45, No. 3 (2002), pp. 320–341. ISSN 0022-4995
  13. ^ Basra, the failed Gulf state: separatism and nationalism in southern Iraq, p. 19, at Google Books By Reidar Visser
  14. ^ Hathaway, Jane (February 1995). "The Military Household in Ottoman Egypt". International Journal of Middle East Studies. 27 (1): 39–52. doi:10.1017/s0020743800061572. S2CID 62834455.
  15. ^ Walker, Paul E. Exploring an Islamic Empire: Fatimid History and its Sources (London, I. B. Tauris, 2002)
  16. ^ a b István Vásáry (2005) Cuman and Tatars, Cambridge University Press.
  17. ^ T. Pavlidis, A Concise History of the Middle East, Chapter 11: "Turks and Byzantine Decline". 2011
  18. ^ a b Thomas Philipp & Ulrich Haarmann. The Mamluks in Egyptian Politics and Society.
  19. ^ David Nicole The Mamluks 1250–1570
  20. ^ James Waterson, "The Mamluks"
  21. ^ Thomas Philipp, Ulrich Haarmann (1998). The Mamluks in Egyptian Politics and Society
  22. ^ Lewis, Bernard (2002). Race and Slavery in the Middle East. Oxford University Press. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-19-505326-5.
  23. ^ Jutta Sperling, Shona Kelly Wray, Gender, Property, and Law in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Communities in
  24. ^ a b Mary Ann Fay, Unveiling the Harem: Elite Women and the Paradox of Seclusion in Eighteenth
  25. ^ a b c d e f g Baer, G. (1967). Slavery in Nineteenth Century Egypt. The Journal of African History, 8(3), 417-441. doi:10.1017/S0021853700007945
  26. ^ Mowafi 1985, p. 23.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Kenneth M. Cuno: Modernizing Marriage: Family, Ideology, and Law in Nineteenth- and Early ...
  28. ^ Flint 1977, p. 256.
  29. ^ Mowafi 1985, p. 19.
  30. ^ Fahmy 2002, p. 88.
  31. ^ a b Fahmy 2002, p. 89.
  32. ^ "DARB EL ARBA'IN. THE FORTY DAYS' ROAD | W. B. K. Shaw | download". Retrieved 2022-09-28.