The Daily Life of Slaves and the Global Reach of Slavery in Medieval Egypt, 969-1250 CE Open Access

Perry, Craig Allen (2014)

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This dissertation examines the geography of the slave trade, the role of slavery in the household, and the lives of domestic slave women in the medieval Egyptian Jewish community. I juxtapose records from the Cairo Genizah with medieval chronicles, travelogues, and responsa to illustrate developments at both the macro- and micro-levels.

At the geo-political level, bills of sale and merchant letters allow for a composite portrait of the Egyptian slave population's origins. My analysis of these sources demonstrates that over the course of the twelfth-century, Egyptians turned increasingly toward sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean for slave imports.

The micro-study of slaves' lives provides a window into the everyday life, gendered social world, and legal systems of the Egyptian Jewish community. Domestic slaves were intimately embedded in household life, where free women used them to protect their social status and extend their practical kin networks. The presence of slave women imperiled the status of free women when husbands took slaves as concubines, a practice that was illegal in the Egyptian Jewish community and took place outside the regulatory ambit of communal authorities. I analyze legal codes and responsa alongside documentary records to explain how legal authorities' inability to regulate slave concubinage effectively led to unintended consequences: illicit concubinage greatly disrupted the household, it put the security of free women and children at greater risk, and concubines themselves were more vulnerable since they lacked clear legal standing.

Finally, I piece together fragmentary evidence in order to chart the life course of female slaves and to narrate their lived experiences from birth and childhood through maturity. Genizah records illustrate how ongoing clientage relationships between manumitted slaves and their former owners reversed the deracination and natal alienation of slavery and aided slaves in their integration into Jewish society. Investigating domestic slaves as a group enables me to overcome the limitations of medieval documentary sources, in which slaves are often obliquely mentioned. By focusing on instances in which slaves made consequential decisions, I illustrate how historians can apprehend the personhood of marginal subjects from the distant past.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

List of figures
Citations, transcriptions, translations, and dates

Introduction - 1

Chapter One: The Geography and Politics of the Slave Trade in Egypt and the Greater Mediterranean - 23

I. Introduction
II. Slave Imports to Medieval Egypt
III. Geniza Records and the Inter-regional Slave Trade
IV. Shifts in Slave Origins
V. Reasons for Patterns of Origins
VI. Social Networks, Jewish Buyers, and the Turn to the South and East
VII. The Regulation of Slave Ownership and the Egyptian Social Order
VIII. Conclusions

Chapter Two: Domestic Slavery and the Social Status of Free Women - 66

I. Introduction
II. Slave Women as Practical Kin
III. Slave Girls as Proteges and Legacies
IV. Slave Names and the Projection of Social Prestige
V. Domestic Slave Labor
VI. Female Slaves Undermine Mistresses
VII. Women Seeking Slaves
VIII. Slave Girls, Orphans, and Clientage
IX. Conclusions

Chapter Three: Male Mastery, Desire, and the Failure to Regulate Concubinage in Medieval Egypt - 106

I. Introduction
II. Illicit Jewish Concubinage in Medieval Egypt
III. Relations between Male Masters and Slave Women in Jewish Law and Literature
IV. The Responsa of Abraham Maimonides
V. Jewish Men, Mastery, and Desire
VI. The Unintended Consequences of Outlawing Slave Concubinage
VII. Conclusions

Chapter Four: The Life Course of Female Slaves in Medieval Egypt - 153

I. Introduction
II. Birth, Childhood, and Slave Families
III. The Social Experience of Medieval Domestic Slavery and the Personhood of the Slave
IV. Lives in Slavery: Profiles of Individual Slave Women
V. Modes of Manumission
VI. The Integration of Freed Women into the Egyptian Jewish Community
VII. Conclusions

Conclusions - 212

Appendix - 224

Bibliography - 230

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