Online ISSN : 2424-2616
Print ISSN : 0018-2478
ISSN-L : 0018-2478
al-Atrak and the Slave Soldiers of the Abbasid Army in the 9th Century
Kazuhiro Shimizu
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1990 Volume 99 Issue 6 Pages 1047-1083,1203-


In Islamic history, the practice of using slaves as soldiers plays an important role. The study of these slave soldiers hitherto has been done reflecting the model of the Mamluk army under the Mamluk dynasty. But there are many instances in the Abbasid period which do not stand up to the ones in the Mamluk period. We thereby need to reconsider the subject from the new point of view. Al-Mu'tasim, the eighth Abbasid Caliph, recruited a new army from various countries. This new army was composed of the following three regiments: (1)a slave army called al-Atrak, (2)al-Maghariba, including both slaves and freedmen, recruited from Egypt or other districts, and (3)an army made up of the rulers of some small districts in Ma Wara' An-Nahr and their people. Al-Atrak formed an independent unit from the other two regiments. But in spite of their being slaves, there is no evidence that they played a special role apart from the other two. Thus, we can say that al-Mu'tasim regarded al-Atrak as only one part of his new army, and he could not find any special meaning in the fact that they were slaves. To understand this character of al-Atrak, we must examine their situation after the death of al-Mu'tasim. First, we can point out their alternations of generations. Because of it, officers of the second generation became the army's leaders. Such exclusive interests, which resulted from the increasing power of influential officers, become fixed to some restricted families, and so they became ineffective as a caliphal army. The caliphs had lost the ability to control the political situation, for they had no system for buying other military slaves and no chance to form another army on their own. At the same time, under the influential officers, some special groups like ghulam, mawla, wuld, and hasham were formed as domestic groups. And they began to work as private military groups. These domestic groups also began to work as housekeeping groups, which looked after special interests of their masters, from estates and other possessions. As a result of this, these tendencies gave rise to a hierarchical gap between the influential officers and soldiers of al-Atrak who were called Dwellers of Karkh and Dwellers of Dur. These soldiers, displeased with their condition, severely criticized the exclusive landholdings and privileges of the officers, while al-Muwaffaq and his son, al-Mu'tadid, gained political power by employing of their own private military groups. Under the tendencies of increasingly large landholdings and the break up of the central army, these private military groups which were formed from domestic groups became more and more important. We must understand the establishment of a new army by al-Mu'tasim in relation to the formation of these groups, and the fact that the custom of using slaves as soldiers suddenly spread all over the Islamic world during this period must be, considered to have some relation to this formation.

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© 1990 The Historical Society of Japan
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