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Saqaliba (Arabic: صقالبة, sg. Siqlabi) refers to the Slavs, particularly Slavic slaves and mercenaries in the medieval Arab world, in the Middle East, North Africa, Sicily and Al-Andalusmarker. The Arabic term is a Byzantine loanword: saqlab, siklab, saqlabi etc. is a corruption of Greek Sklavinoi for "Slavs". The word was also often used more generally to refer to all slaves from Central and Eastern Europe. (The English word "slave" is ultimately derived from the same source.)

The Arab chronicler Ibn al-Faqih wrote that there were two types of saqaliba: those with swarthy skin and dark hair that live by the sea and those with fair skin and light hair that live farther inland.

Ibrahim ibn Yaqub placed the people of "Saqalib" in the mountainous regions of Central Balkans, west of the Bulgarians and east from the "other Slavs" (Croats), thus in the Serb lands, the Saqalib had the reputation of being "the most courageous and violent"

There were several major routes of the trade of Slav slaves into the Muslim world: through Central Asia (Mongols, Tatars, Khazars, etc.), through the Mediterranean (Byzantium), through Central and Western Europe to Al-Andalusmarker and further to North Africa (Morocco, Egypt). The Volga trade route and other European routes, according to Ibrahim ibn Jakub, were serviced by Radanites, Jewish merchants. Theophanes mentions that the Umayyad caliph Muawiyah I settled a whole army of 5,000 Slavic mercenaries in Syriamarker in the 660s.

In the Muslim world, Saqaliba served or were forced to serve in a multitude of ways: servants, harem girls, eunuchs, craftsmen, soldiers, and even as Caliph's guards. Many of them became prominent, and unlike millions of nameless slaves, their fate is generally known. In Iberiamarker, Moroccomarker, Damascusmarker and Sicily their role may be compared with that of mamluks in the Ottoman Empire. Some Saqāliba even became rulers of taifas (principalities) in Iberiamarker after the collapse of the Caliphate of Cordoba.

It is possible that in some old texts "Saqaliba" may refer to other peoples of Eastern Europe. In particular, Ibn Fadlan referred to the ruler of the Volga Bulgaria, Almış, as "King of the Saqaliba"; however, this may have been because many Slavs, both slaves and ordinary settlers, lived in his domain at that time.

See also


  1. Lewis. Race and Slavery in the Middle East, Oxford Univ Press 1994.
  2. Islam in the Balkans: religion and society between Europe and the Arab world by H. T. Norris

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