The description is submitted to:


Session R4785 (Histories of Slavery in Medieval Islamic Societies), 2017
Trade requires traders. This contribution to the proposed roundtable on slavery in medieval Islamic societies will focus on the figure of the nakhkhas. The term is typically used by medieval Arabic sources for purveyors of both livestock and slaves; here it is understood as “slaver” (as it was clearly meant by the writers of these works). The sources – chronicles, works of poetry and the writings often subsumed under the wide rubric of belles-lettres (adab) – offer fragmentary evidence on these persons. A range of mostly passing references concerns the activity of the nakhkhas as slaver; relations with clients and the enslaved persons themselves; and the dynamics of the slave market itself. Given sources, however, offer more: the ‘sale manual’ of the fifth/eleventh century physician and theologian, Ibn Butlan (d. 458/1066), as well as invaluable references in the documentary record (mostly from fourth/tenth century Egypt on), indicate that the nakhkhas was both a ubiquitous urban type and a figure of distinctly ambiguous repute. The (papyrus) documents in question, key examples of which have been edited by Yusuf Ragib (Actes de vente, Cairo, 2002, 2006), offer telling details of the sale of particularly female slaves and the part therein of the slaver. Modern scholarship has demonstrated relatively little interest in slavery in the medieval Islamic Near East. A modern bibliography is certainly not lacking, but important questions remain to be resolved, key topics explored in far greater detail. Such is the case of the nakhkhas. This contribution will consider what the extant evidence tells us. A further aim, however, will be to point out that the marketing – and training – of slaves appears not to have been confined to the one category of persons. Several key references, drawn especially from the multi-volume Book of Songs of Abu al-Faraj al-Isbahani (d. 356/967), make clear that such activity was the purview of other categories of individuals and families of the urban Near East as well. Slaving, a flourishing economic sector throughout the medieval period, evidently attracted non-professional merchants as well.