Female and Slave: Aspects of Concubine Value within a Household

By Marina Tolmacheva
Submitted to Session P4897 (Slave Women in Muslim Society: Their Portrayal as Singers and Poets, Criminals and Concubines, 2017 Annual Meeting
All Middle East;
13th-18th Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper examines the position of concubines belonging to one owner, the world traveler Ibn Battuta (14th century). Two factors facilitated Ibn Battuta’s access to slave women in major structural ways. One was the expansionist wars of the period, resulting in the influx of significant numbers of slaves to the slave markets of the Dar al-Islam. The other was Ibn Battuta’s itinerant lifestyle that took him to major centers and frontier territories of Islam in Asia and Africa. There he became an observer, occasional participant, and frequent beneficiary of the Islamic warfare that increased the supply of slaves and put captive men, women, and children conveniently close for this willing customer and discerning connoisseur of female sexuality.
The paper addresses three aspects of the master’s ownership of concubines. (1) Spouse substitute value. The requirement of legality of sexual intercourse creates for Ibn Battuta situations where he satisfies his appetites by either adding concubines to his (full) complement of wives or substituting concubines for absent or difficult wives who may be abandoned or divorced. (2) Emotional value. According to his own reminiscences, Ibn Battuta the owner is capable of developing fondness for a particular concubine whom he cherishes higher than any of his wives. Regardless of his attachment, he never grants the woman formal freedom when the master would have to marry his former slave in order to keep her, even though she produces a child for him, thus becoming umm al-walad. (3) Child-bearing value. We do not know how many children Ibn Battuta produced, but one daughter and possibly one son were born of slave mothers. The paper examines surviving information to assess the father’s attitude to and treatment of these children in comparison with what we know about his children by his legal wives.