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Tweeting Historians Nov 13
Replying to @iandavidmorris
As we have seen, in the first 200 years of Islam, enslaved people ran the households of wealthy Muslims. This was true even at the highest levels, where slaves and freed clients (mawālī) ran the palace for the caliph.
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Tweeting Historians Nov 13
Replying to @iandavidmorris
When the caliphs adopted slave soldiers, they started taking over these positions from the old class of domestic slaves and clients. The palace had always traditionally been dominated by civilians; now it was in military hands.
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Tweeting Historians Nov 13
Replying to @iandavidmorris
Political office is lucrative, especially if you’re corrupt. Individual slave soldiers became very wealthy. Others then tried to gain their patronage, hoping to ride their superiors’ coattails to weath and power.
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Tweeting Historians Nov 13
Replying to @iandavidmorris
Of course, there were only so many offices to go around, and the soldiers jealously guarded whatever privileges they and their friends could amass. Factions were building within the slave corps.
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Tweeting Historians Nov 13
Replying to @iandavidmorris
At the same time, the slave soldiers were deeply unpopular outside of court. Commoners found them violent and foreign. Professional soldiers were furious at being usurped. The bureaucrats in Baghdad had never liked the palace, and were always angling for more power.
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Tweeting Historians Nov 13
Replying to @iandavidmorris
Rivalries simmered until 861, when the caliph al-Mutawakkil tried to confiscate some estates from one officer and give them to his prime minister. The officer’s faction murdered them both. Over the next nine years, four more caliphs were installed and murdered.
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Tweeting Historians Nov 13
Replying to @iandavidmorris
The violence burned itself out, but the damage was done: the “Anarchy at Samarra” had left the empire without effective leadership for a decade. The economy and the state were crumbling, while provincial governors were becoming ever-more independent and dangerously confident.
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Tweeting Historians Nov 13
Replying to @iandavidmorris
Given how traumatic the experiment had been, we might expect the caliphs to abandon slave soldiery altogether. On the contrary: the practice spread! Governors and rival dynasties started building their own slave corps. What could possibly explain this?
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Tweeting Historians Nov 13
Replying to @iandavidmorris
The answer, I think, lies in the crisis of legitimacy that had plagued Muslim rulers since 750. Free Muslims didn’t think the Abbasids were worth dying for. And while the economy shrank and bits of the empire began to secede, it became harder and harder to buy their loyalty.
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Tweeting Historians Nov 13
Replying to @iandavidmorris
Medieval Muslim thinkers were ambivalent toward the state. They liked the *idea* of a righteous government, as exercised by the Prophet; but in practice, high politics always seemed to be corrupt, bloodthirsty and venal.
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Tweeting Historians Nov 13
Replying to @iandavidmorris
As the Conquest Society fell apart, common Muslims – no longer soldiers but civilians – placed their faith less in the state and more in the scholars who preserved Muhammad’s legacy. The moral core of Islam had shifted from the government to the intellectuals.
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Tweeting Historians Nov 13
Replying to @iandavidmorris
As governors became independent of the Abbasids, adopting vague titles like ‘Sultan’ (literally ‘Authority’), they inherited this problem of legitimacy. Common Muslims had no particular stake in their rulers’ success: they could take ’em or leave ’em.
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Tweeting Historians Nov 13
Replying to @iandavidmorris
Slave soldiers were the best available solution to this ongoing problem. Unfortunately, the best available solution is not always a *good* solution.
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Tweeting Historians Nov 13
Replying to @iandavidmorris
Over the following centuries, slave soldiers were a major force in high politics. They ran entire provinces and occasionally split away from their masters’ realms, founding new dynasties of their own.
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Tweeting Historians Nov 13
Replying to @iandavidmorris
Nowhere in the world did slaves and freedmen hold the kind of the power that they did in the medieval Middle East. *** That’s all for now! I hope you have enjoyed this series. Please keep sending questions, etc. I will try to answer some of them in a new thread tomorrow. —IDM
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