Slaves in the Late Ottoman Empire



Eunuchs, concubines of an Ottoman sultan, 1929
Ottoman concubines and eunuchs. Photo dated 1929, taken from afropop.org
In the Ottoman empire, one could find slaves in almost any station in society, from lowly household servants to the fearsome Jannissary troops, and even the Grand Vizier, the chief adviser to the Sultan. 

In the 19th Century, Ottoman slaves were drawn mostly from Georgia, Circassia, Central Africa, Sudan, and Ethiopia.  Men, women and children could all be sold into slavery,  though it is unclear how often families would be separated.  The children of slaves inherited their status as slaves, though under Ottoman law the third generation was set free.


This month on Diwaniyya, we'll include an interview with Ehud Toledano, Chair for Ottoman and Turkish Studies at Tel Aviv University, and author of Slavery and Abolition in the Ottoman Middle East. According to Toledano, 
"...slavery sometimes meant high social status or political power when applied to male slaves in the military and the bureaucracy and to female slaves in elite harems. Even ordinary domestic slaves were often better fed, clothed, and protected than many free men and women." 
While some slaves enjoyed better material circumstances, they were legal property of their owners, and no matter how high their station they lacked freedom of choice and autonomy. Male slaves in the kul (bureaucratic) and female slaves in the harem (elite concubinage) systems did not represent the majority of Ottoman slaves, who were overwhelmingly female African domestic workers.  This month on Diwaniyya, we'll feature the personal stories of Ottoman slaves from this varied landscape. 

Toyotas of War

Diwaniyya Contributor

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