It is nowhere mentioned in medieval chronicles how slaves, captured in war, were sorted out and separated for the purpose of being sold, drafted into the army, given as gifts to princes and nobles or set apart for domestic service. All that is known is that slaves were disposed of on all these counts and many more. It appears that the sorting was done on the basis of the looks of the females, physical fitness of the males, intuition of the master, as well as the specific work that a slave was deemed fit to do. An early example is about the capture of Brahmanabad by Muhammad bin Qasim. Of the prisoners captured a selection was made from the slaves and other spoils, “in order to detach the usual one-fifth share of the State. The number of the selected slaves came to about 20,000. The rest were distributed among the troops.”1 But the criterion of selection has not been specified. Another instance is about Amir Timur who invaded India in 1399, and took a large number of prisoners. He writes “I ordered that all the artisans and clever mechanics, who were masters of their respective crafts, should be picked out from among the prisoners and set aside, and accordingly some thousands of craftsmen were selected to await my command. All these I distributed among the princes and amirs who were present, or who were engaged officially in other parts of my dominions (to take care of them). I had determined to build a Majid-i-Jami in Samarkand, the seat of my empire, which should be without rival in any country; so I ordered that all builders and stone-masons should be set apart for my own especial service.”2 But such details are not available in most cases.

Sale of Slaves

The majority of Indian slaves comprised captives made during wars. These slaves formed property of the State. At the time of Muhammad bin Qasim’s invasion of Sindh the head of the State was the Caliph and prisoners taken in Sindh were regularly forwarded to him. Kufi, the author of the Chachnama, rightly sums up the position. Out of the total catch, four-fifths was the share of the soldiers, “what remained of the cash and slaves was… sent to Hajjaj (the Governor of Iraq )” for onward transportation to the Khalifa.3 In such a situation any special acquisition had to be paid for in cash. Muhammad bin Qasim who wished to possess Raja Dahir’s wife Ladi, avers the Chachnama, “purchased her out of the spoils, before making her his wife.”4 But the price he paid is not mentioned. Similarly, when Hajjaj sent 60,000 slaves captured in India to the Caliph Walid I (705-715 C.E.), the latter “sold some of those female slaves of royal birth”,5 but again their price has not been specified.

Mahmud of Ghazni carried away large numbers of captives from India in every campaign and sold most of them. Jayapala the defeated Hindu Shahiya King of Kabul was publicly exposed at some slave market in Khurasan by the order of Mahmud who “commanded that he might be ransomed for the sum of eighty dirams”. Raverty suggests that “the word ‘thousand’ must have been left out. If not, Mahmud did not set much value on his captive.”6 As Jayapala was old, the price he could fetch in open auction probably could not be more than 80 dirhams. Or, as Hodivala points out, the object of exposing Jayapala to public derision was evidently to compel him into surrendering to his victor’s demands and purchase his release on his captor’s own terms, which was fixed at “200,000 golden dinars and 250 elephants; and the necklace taken from Jaipal was valued at another 200,000 gold dinars.”7 Therefore, 80 dirhams as the price of an old king signifies nothing.

In one instance specifically Al Utbi gives an idea of the gain from the sale of captives. According to his narrative, Mahmud, after his campaign in Mathura, Mahaban and Kanauj (1018-19), returned to Ghazni with, besides other booty, 53,000 captives and each one of these was sold for two to ten dirhams. From this statement it would be safe to infer that the lowest price at which an Indian captive was sold was two, and the highest ten dirhams. It would also be safe to conclude that slaves were captured by invaders to be sold to make money; for Utbi adds that “Merchants came from different cities to purchase them so that the countries of Mawarau-n-nahr, Iraq and Khurasan were filled with them”.8 Earlier, in the expedition to Thaneshwar (1015), according to Farishtah, “the Muhammadan army brought to Ghaznin 200,000 captives, so that the capital (Ghaznin) looked like an Indian city, for every soldier of the army had several slaves and slave girls”.9 Similarly, in the Kashmir Valley (1014 C.E.), according to Utbi, the captives taken “were so plentiful that they became very cheap…”10 But he does not say how cheaply they were sold.

The mention of price at one place is hardly sufficient to estimate the money value of Indian slaves sold in foreign lands in the eleventh century. What was the value of two to ten dirhams in those days is also not known. Abul Fazl traces the history of dirham from the time of Caliph Umar, but his detailed and rather confusing account only shows that the earliest dirhams of the Ghaznavid period were struck at Ghazni and Lahore. It was a silver coin of great variations in weight and value as was the case with the dinar, a gold coin.11 Yet, the sale of thousands of slaves after every campaign, as the figures of captives carried away by Mahmud shows,12 brought good profit to the invader. No wonder that besides treasure, captives also used to be regularly carried away from India during the Ghaznavid occupation of Punjab for making extra money through their sale. This lucrative business continued, and a scion of the house, Sultan Ibrahim (1054-1099), once carried away one lakh captives to Ghazni.13

During the first hundred years of Muslim rule, that is, under Aibak, Iltutmish and Balban (1206-1290), slaves of both sexes were captured in droves during military expeditions, but they were mostly distributed among kings, nobles and soldiers for sundry duties.14 Large number of workers were needed by these early sultans for clearing jungles, making roads, as auxiliaries in the army, for construction of buildings, as errand runners by administrators, tent fixers and workers in camp establishments. Slaves were needed for arranging supplies for households of all kinds of foreign Muslims from kings and nobles to commoners, constructing small residential dwellings or grand and imposing State buildings etc. Slave girls were needed in plenty for providing pleasure and other services. All this work was done by captives turned slaves. It appears that because of their being detailed on these jobs, very few slaves were left available for sale. That is why there is no specific mention of their sale during this period, But sale of captives was a common practice. For example, it is mentioned that Sultan Nasiruddin, son of Iltutmish (1246-66), had no “purchased” (laundi va khadima) slave girl, that his wife cooked for him and he earned his livelihood by selling copies of Quran written by himself. “This story, however, is very stale indeed,” adds Raverty, “as stale as the days of one of the early Khalifas”, for this very sultan could present forty head of slaves to his nobleman Minhaj Siraj for being sent to his dear sister in Khurasan.15

During the reign of Sultan Alauddin Khalji the Sultanate grew strong (1296-1316).16 He conquered extensively and in every campaign slaves were captured in large numbers. These were sold in various ways - on the Spot,17 in the markets of Delhi, and of other cities.  Sometimes even women and children of Mongol invaders were captured and sold like Hindu slaves in Delhi and other cities of India.18

Sale Price of Slaves

Alauddin Khalji’s Market Control has become famous in medieval Indian history. He fixed the price of every commodity, including slaves. The sale price of slaves was like this. The standard price of a working girl was fixed at from 5 to 12 tankahs, and that of a good looking girl suitable for concubinage from 20 to 30 and even 40 tankahs. The price of a man slave (ghulam) usually did not exceed 100 to 200 tankahs. The prices of handsome boys were fixed from 20 to 30 tankahs; the ill-favoured could be obtained for 7 to 8. The price of a child slave (ghulam bachchgan naukari) was fixed at 70 to 80 tankahsThe slaves were classified according to their looks and working capacity. In the case of bulk purchases by traders who had ready money and who had the means to carry their flock for sale to other cities,19 prices were fixed accordingly.

Who got the profit form such sales? If Alauddin Khalji followed the example of contemporary rulers in West Asian countries, then the profit went to him, that is, the sultan or the government.  This was also customary. It is stated by Isami in his Futuh-us-Salatin that when Mahmud of Ghazni defeated Raja Jayapala of the Hindu Shahiya dynasty, he “carried him to the distant part of the kingdom of Ghazni and delivered him to an agent (dalal) of the Slave Market …(and) at the command of the king Mahmud they [the Brokers of the Market, muqiman-i-bazar in the original] sold Jaipal as a slave for 80 Dinars and deposited the money realised by the sale in the Treasury”.  Hodivala adds that “it would be difficult to get better evidence than this of the ruler making the profit.20 In some of the West Asian countries in the Middle Ages, according to Ira Marvin Lapidus, the rulers used to take over wholesale trade, in grain and also probably in other commodities, so that profits from sale accrued to them rather than to the private traders. Ibn Khaldun also says that “The slave merchants bring them to Egypt in batches… and government buyers have them displayed for inspection and bid for them, raising the price above their value.”21 it was equally true of Alauddin. He treated the merchants themselves as slaves. As per his orders, no middlemen or brokers were allowed to visit the slave-market and examine the “goods”, so that the profits of the traders were curtailed while those of the Sultan swelled. No wonder then that at his demise the Sindhi (Multani) merchants took out processions to rejoice at the death of Alauddin.22

No rule about the sale price could be laid in special cases when the catch was big or a very beautiful slave (“man or woman/boy or girl”) of very high price, say 1000 to 2000 tankahs was brought for sale in the market. Sometimes it created a very piquant situation as nobody dared to buy him/her, lest the king should come to know that so and so was rich enough to pay so high a price for a slave/concubine. Even then slaves were sometimes purchased for high amounts. The poet Badr Chach claims to have bought a slave named Gul-Chehra (Rose Face) for 900 tankahs.23 The title Hazardinari (of a thousand gold coins) for Malik Kafur shows that a skilled slave could have cost anything. It may therefore be contended that except in the reign of Alauddin when prices were fixed, prices of slaves and concubines were uncertain, varying according to fortunes of war and famine, looks of the person, bargaining talent of the auctioneers, shrewdness of the buyer24 and fluctuations in the market through influences of demand and supply. For instance, when Muhammad Ghauri and Qutbuddin Aibak mounted a combined attack on the Khokhars of the Salt Range (Koh-i-Jud), “great plunder was taken and many captives, so that five Hindu [Khokhars] captives could be bought for a dinar”.25 Captives were so plentiful that they were also sent “to sell in Khurasan, not long after.”26 On the other hand, if the supply was short and demand great, the prices went shooting high. Narrating the events of the reign of Sultan Qutbuddin Mubarak Khalji (1316-20), the son and successor of Alauddin Khalji, Ziyauddin Barani says that the strict regulations of Alauddin were all thrown to the winds by the new Sultan, and Qutbuddin and his nobles gave themselves up to a life of debauchery and licence. In such circumstances the “demand for beautiful girls and beardless boys made them a scarce commodity, and their prices rose to 500 and sometimes even to one thousand and two thousand tankahs.”27 So, in the early fourteenth century the lowest average price of a slave mentioned by chroniclers was about eight tankahs, the highest 2000 tankahs. Slaves in Hindustan were cheap during the Khalji period because of the price-control of Alauddin Khalji and also because coined money was in short supply. So that, writes Ziyauddin Barani, “a camel could be had for a dang (small copper coin), but wherefore the dang?”28 In view of this some sort of barter should have been practised.

Low Price of Indian Slaves

Ziyauddin Barani reckons regulations regarding sale of “horses, slaves and quadrupeds” under one category. T.P. Hughes quoting the Hidayah says that slaves, male and female, are treated merely as articles of merchandise, and “very similar rules apply both to the sale of animals and bondsmen.”29 A milch buffalo cost 10-12 tankahs., a working girl was cheaper.  The price of a good quality horse was 90-120 tankahs, that of a ghulam was 100 on an average. A handsome boy could be had for 20 to 30 tankahs.30 It is therefore a matter of some satisfaction that under the Khaljis the value of humans in terms of price was not less than that of horses and buffaloes.

The contemporary chronicler Barani boasts that the cheapness of prices in Alauddin’s time was not witnessed after his reign.31 But the trend towards low prices was universal and spread over a long period. Writing about the days of Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq (1325-51), Shihabuddin Al-Umari writes: “The Sultan never ceases to show the greatest zeal in making war upon the infidels… Every day thousands of slaves are sold at a very low price, so great is the number of prisoners… (that) the value at Delhi of a young slave girl, for domestic service, does not exceed eight tankahs. Those who are deemed fit to fill the parts of domestic and concubine sell for about fifteen tankahs. In other cities prices are still lower…” Probably it was so because Ibn Battuta while in Bengal says that a pretty Kaniz (slave girl) could be had there for one gold dinar (or 10 silver tankahs). “I purchased at this price a very beautiful slave girl whose name was Ashura. A friend of mine also bought a young slave named Lulu for two gold coins.”32 It is very difficult to establish a relationship between the prices of Delhi market and those of the provinces. Umari continues, “but still, in spite of low price of slaves, 20000 tankahs, and even more, are paid for young Indian girls. I inquired the reason… and was told that these young girls are remarkable for their beauty, and the grace of their manners.”33

The cheapness of price of young slaves is indirectly attested to by Ibn Battuta also. Such was their influx that at one place he writes, “Once there arrived in Delhi some female infidel captives, ten of whom the Vazir sent to me. I gave one of them to the man who had brought them… My companion took three young girls, and I do not know what happened to the rest.”34 Thousands of slaves were captured in the minor yearly campaigns of Firoz Tughlaq and obviously sold, for, says the contemporary chronicler Shams Siraj Afif that “in places which are sacked and looted the captives are selected as per royal regulations. Those fit for royal service (alone) are sent to the court.”35 The others were sold. It was under such a system that one of Firoz’s slaves Bashir Sultani could buy with money 4,000 slaves (mal kharida) for his personal service.36

From the fifteenth century onwards, we have some more information about the sale of slaves and their prices at home and abroad. Babur writes in his Memoirs that “there are two trade-marts on the land-route between Hindustan and Khurasan; one is Kabul, the other, Qandhar. (Route to Kabul was from Lahore, to Qandhar from Multan)… Down to Kabul every year …from Hindustan, come every year caravans… bringing slaves (barda)” and other commodities, and sell them at great profit. “In Kabul can be had the products of Khurasan, Rum, Iraq and Chin (China); while it is Hindustan’s own market (emphasis added).” There was also barter prevailing with regard to the disposal of slaves. For example, William Finch writing at Agra in about 1610 says that “in hunting the men of the jungle were on the same footing as the beasts” and whatever was taken in the game was the king’s shikar, whether men or beasts. “Men remain the King’s slaves which he sends yearly to Kabul to barter for horses and dogs.” Many other writers tell it besides Finch.37 Barter was in vogue not only in the days of Jahangir but it was practised throughout the medieval period.

The Ain-i-Akbari

The Ain-i-Akbari and other similar works giving data about the wages of servants and labourers, in consequence indirectly giving the value of slaves as a market commodity. W.H. Moreland observes that some of the men employed on various works were free, while others were slaves, but the functions assigned to the two classes were to a great extent interchangeable and, therefore, for our purpose it is relevant to treat them as a single group, and the price of slaves may be estimated on the basis of wages paid to the free labourer. In Mughal India, in the reign of Akbar (sixteenth century), and as seen by Bernier (seventeenth century), “Freemen were hired at rates which sufficed for a little more than a bare existence… a servant with no special qualifications cost about 1 ½ rupees monthly at Akbar’s court, and perhaps 2 on the west coast… Pyrard puts the price of a slave-girl at the equivalent of about 50 rupees in Goa, which was a very busy market for such commodities, but the rate must have varied between very wide limits, depending as it did partly on the qualities of the individual and partly on fluctuations in the supply.”38 This price of 40 to 50 rupees for a slave paid by the English was the average, “the earlier reference shows that the Dutch demand had raised prices to about this level from the former standard of Rs. 15 to 20.”39 The wages of free men, that is, labourers and not slaves, were equally low. But the proportion of slaves, who were valued as property, was more considerable than that of servants, who can be computed only as an expense. It was more to the interest of rulers, nobles, merchants and manufactures to purchase than to hire their workmen. In the countryside, slaves were employed as the cheapest and most laborious instruments of agriculture. But medieval slavery was more necessary for urban service. So rural populations were made captives and brought for work in cities. Rural slaves and servants were not bought on the market but reproduced themselves through demographic increase. In the cities themselves there was no dearth of them. Pelsaert and so many other foreigners noted that men stood in the market to be hired and “most of the great lords reckon 40 days to the month, and pay from 3 to 4 rupees for that period.”40 “Akbar sanctioned the following daily wages for workers and artisans - 2 dams (copper coins, 140 to the Rupia) for ordinary labourers, 3 to 4 dams for superior labourers, 3 to 7 dams for carpenters and 5 to 7 dams for builders.”41 In several instances the lowest grades of servants were entitled to less than two rupees monthly, “while the bulk of the menials and of the ordinary foot-soldiers began at less than three rupees… The minimum for subsistence at the Court is probably marked by the lowest grade of slaves who were allowed one dam daily, equivalent to three-quarters of a rupee monthly in the currency of the time… These instances appear to justify the conclusion that early in the seventeenth century foreigners could secure capable servants for somewhere about three rupees a month. What this represents in real wages is uncertain (but) the rates struck the Europeans as extraordinarily low…”42

The inescapable conclusion deduced from the wages of labourers and applied to the prices of slaves is that these were very low throughout. There are not many references available about the actual price of slaves and therefore this section is closed with the information that “in the month of November (1947), Hindu and Sikh girls brought by Pathan raiders from Kashmir were sold in the bazars of ghulam,”43 for rupees 10 or so each in the wake of the partition of the country, 1947-48.

Import of foreign slaves

As compared to Hindu slaves, who were often captured and sold in droves, the price of foreign slaves was high. They used to be Muslims, were always considered as talented, and in some cases essentially an item of luxury. Foreign slaves were purchased from merchants coming from lands beyond the river Sindh for as much as 500 to 1000 dinars. Both in the Hidayah and the Fatawa-i-Alamgiri the price of a slave repeatedly mentioned, although in the form of examples, is mostly 1000 dirhams.44 For example Qutbuddin Aibak purchased two accomplished Turkish slaves for one lakh jitals or 2,000 tankahs (at 48-50 copper jitals to one silver tankah).

Similarly, Iltutmish purchased Qamaruddin Timur Khan for 50,000 jitals or 1000 tankahs.45 And the transaction was concluded after great haggling and bargaining. In this context the sale of Iltutmish to Qutbuddin Aibak makes an interesting and instructive reading. As seen earlier, a slave merchant Jamaluddin Muhammad had brought Iltutmish to Ghazni to sell him to Sultan Muizzuddin. “At that period, no Turk superior to him in comeliness, commendable qualities… intelligence and sagacity, had they brought to that capital.” The Sultan inquired about his price. The merchants or their brokers mentioned the price of two slaves together - one Iltutmish and another Ibak, as the “sum of a thousand dinars of pure Rukni gold for each.” But the merchant Jamaluddin Muhammad declined to sell Shamsuddin for that amount. An angry Sultan then commanded that no one should purchase him, and that the sale should be prohibited. Jamaluddin Muhammad took Iltutmish back to Bukhara, which was a renowned centre of slave trade in the Middle Ages.46 When he returned to Ghazni after four or five years, Qutbuddin Aibak showed an inclination to buy Iltutmish and requested Muizuddin for permission to do so. The Sultan replied: “Since a command has been issued that he should not be purchased at Ghaznin, let them take him to the city of Delhi and there he can be purchased.” The merchant accordingly brought him to Delhi and Iltutmish and the other slave were bought by Qutbuddin Aibak for the sum of one hundred thousand jitals.47

Haggling and bargaining was possible in individual cases. In bulk purchases price was settled for the whole lot at one go. Merchants from Turkey, Syria, Persia and Transoxiana used to approach Muslim kings with their consignments.48 Foreign slaves of both sexes were in great demand in India. Males were needed for heavy duties, females for concubinage and keeping surveillance on other harem inmates. Niccolao Manucci writes that when in 1661-62 an embassy was sent by the king of Balkh, “the envoys brought several Tartar and Uzbeg women with them for sale. Aurangzeb purchased some of them. They were placed in the list of numerous Kashgar, Qalmaq, Pathan and Abyssinian women. They were chosen because they are warlike and skilful in the use of lance, arrow and sword,”49 and therefore could serve as efficient guards of the harem. For concubinage fair women from East European countries were preferred. For example, Udaipuri-Mahall, the concubine of Aurangzeb, was a Georgian slave girl.

Importation of foreign slaves went on right up to the eighteenth century. In the fifteenth century, the Ottoman capture of Constantinople in 1453 gradually diverted the immense flow of slaves from the Crimea, the Balkans and the steppes of western Asia to Islamic markets. Later on, the southward expansion of Russia, culminating in the annexation of Crimea in 1783, gradually shut off the supply of white slaves to the Islamic markets. As Africa became almost synonymous with slavery, the world forgot the eagerness with which Tatars and other Black Sea peoples had sold millions of Ukrainians, Georgians, Circassians, Armenians, Bulgarians, Slavs and Turks.50 In Africa, in the nineteenth century in the Sudan region there were farms that specialized in breeding black slaves for sale like cattle or sheep. Other enterprising merchants in upper Egypt reaped large capital gains by purchasing prepubescent boys at a price of about three hundred piastres apiece, having them castrated by Coptic monks, and then selling them as eunuchs for one thousand piastres each.51 “Islamic civilization did indeed practise castration of slaves on an unprecedented scale. Several cities in Africa were real factories of eunuchs; they were an expensive commodity as only 25% of the victims survived the operation.”52 In short, black or white, castrated or otherwise, the price of foreign slaves was high as, besides other factors, it also covered the cost of their transportation.

Slavery was recognised by Prophet Muhammad. It was considered lawful in Islam. Regular trade in slaves began with the Ummayad Caliph Muawiya.53 in the days of the Abbasid Caliphs it gained in impetus and extent. Slave trade spread so rapidly that no one was safe from being enslaved in the heyday of Muslim power, and black and white slaves were traded throughout the Muslim world. Brigandage was commonly resorted to in order to obtain slaves. “The Hudud al-Alam (a tenth century Persian document) describes the Sudan (the land south of the desert separating it from the Maghreb) as follows: no region is more populated than this. The merchants steal children there and take them away. They castrate them and take them to Egypt, where they sell them. Among them [the Sudanese] there are people who steal each other’s children to sell them to the merchants when they come.”54 Turks, Negroes, Ethiopians, Abyssinians, Berbers, Slavs and many others were sold in “thousands”. White slaves were costlier than the black. Egypt and Syria supplied a large number of them and Italian ports formed transit points for export. In the tenth century the most valuable commodity that was carried from Volga to Central Asia was slaves. They were brought to the Oxus region, more particularly Samarkand. There the best were put in the market for sale,55 and the trade was very profitable.

T.W. Arnold’s observations on this slave-taking in East European and African countries is relevant in the Indian context. He writes that “though the lot of many of the Christian captives was very pitiable one, others who held positions in the households of private individuals, were often no worse off than domestic servants in the rest of Europe. As organised by the Muhammadan Law, slavery was robbed of many of its harshest features, nor in Turkey at least does it seem to have been accompanied by such barbarities and atrocities as in the pirate states of Northern Africa… The condition of the Christian captives naturally varied with the circumstances of their own capabilities of adapting themselves to a life of hardship; the aged, the priests and monks, and those of noble birth suffered most, while the physician and the handicraftsman received more considerate treatment from their masters, as being servants that best repaid the money spent on them. The galley slaves naturally suffered most of all.” In East Africa the Arabs were “given up wholly to the pursuit of commerce or to slaves-hunting… Naturally the feeling of both chiefs and people was hostile to the Muhammadans, who were hated and feared as slave-dealers.”56 For the Muslims, on the other hand, slaves were stolen through acts of violence and then converted into commodities. “Slave is the most fundamental form of property.”57

Slave trade was carried on both by sea and land routes. Import of slaves from Africa and Western Asia was of substantial importance. “In the centuries preceding the year 1500 Arabs and Persians had acquired a position of predominance in the sea-borne trade of the whole of Indian Ocean from Mozambique to the Straits of Malacca.”58 They had settlements at seaports on both sides of India, and we meet with Muslims at practically every Indian seaport. One of the commodities in which they traded was slaves. They sold these slaves to Indian rulers and nobles in such large numbers that the complexion of the government looked foreign. Indian sultans imported slaves throughout the medieval period for service in many fields, more particularly in administration and army and saving their kingdoms from indigenous popular risings, for, as Moreland remarks, even “Akbar’s court was essentially foreign, and even in his later years the Indian element, whether Hindu or Moslem, constituted only a small proportion of the whole.”59 Abyssinians were in much demand, and we read of them frequently in the chronicles of the times. A regular traffic existed in the inhabitants of Mozambique, and there was also an import trade from Persia and countries lying beyond. Not only the sultans of Delhi or the Mughal emperors, but even the sultans of the Deccan states imported slaves to keep their rule established. Golkunda was connected with three great ports of Goa and Surat on the west coast and Masulipatam on the east.60

For northern India, the land route was equally important if not more. There were slave markets in all important Muslim cities in the medieval world. It may be pertinent to recollect that Subuktigin had been purchased by Alptigin at Bukhara and Qutbuddin Aibak had been purchased by Qazi Abdul Aziz Kufi in the slave market of Nishpur. All rulers of Delhi and Agra used to import foreign slaves. Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish once sent a Muslim merchant to Samarqand, Bukhara and Tirmiz to bring some slaves from those places. The trader purchased for the Sultan one hundred slaves and Balban was one of them. Chinese traders also once brought forty slaves and presented them to the Sultan. The list of Shamsi slaves given by Minhaj Siraj mostly comprised purchased slaves.61

Internal Trade

In India the Muslims established a number of slave trade centres. Besides Delhi and cities in Bengal there is mention of Badaon in Uttar Pradesh and Mandor in Rajasthan.62 But of course from the narrative of the chroniclers it appears that slave markets existed in almost all important places in the country, for slaves were also sold in fairs held in major cities. In this inhuman business the Hindus were not interested. Firstly, they were themselves at the receiving end, they themselves were the victims. And secondly, as W.H. Moreland points out, “We may infer from della Valle’s statements that the principal Hindus at Surat - perhaps the most humane people that ever lived - disapproved entirely of slavery.” Now few people are as good traders as Gujaratis. They would have excelled if they had taken to slave-trading. But catching and selling of slaves did not fit in with the Hindu psyche. Although, commenting on the statement of della Valle, Moreland says, “but I do not think that this remark can be extended to Hindus generally… though in Akbar’s time at least it did not secure the approval of all Hindus… The existence of slavery is testified to by the travellers Abdur Razak, Conti and Barbosa.”63 It would be safe to presume that it prevailed in the Deccan, because it prevailed farther north in the country whence the Deccan dynasties had sprung and we may believe Nikitin’s statement that in his time there was a trade in ‘Black people’ in Bidar.”64 But the trade was carried on by Muslims and not Hindus, for Moreland adds that in 1643, “a Nayak, or chief, rejected a Dutch request for leave to buy up to 1000 slaves yearly on the ground that the sale of human being was not only a scandal but a sin.”65 All accounts point to the fact that Hindus, otherwise great traders and merchants throughout India’s history, did not indulge in slave trade.

But the Portuguese in this matter followed the custom of the Muslims. “Linschoten recorded that they never worked, but employed slaves, who were sold daily in the market like beasts, and della Valle notes that the ‘greatest part’ of people in Goa were slaves.”66 The Portuguese not only employed Indian slaves for domestic and other duties, but they also regularly brought slaves from Abyssinia and Mozambique for sale at good price in Goa and Surat. They dominated the Indian seas where they pirated non-chalantly, captured slaves and sold them in the markets of Hugli, Tamluk, Pipli, St. Thome, Ceylon and Goa.  Pyrard (1608-11) observed that goods of all the world must pass Ormuz and pay tribute to the Portuguese.67 It so happened that their Governor in Hugli, Manoel Travers, infuriated Shahjahan when as a prince, he was in rebellion and in a helpless position. Travers seized some of the prince’s richly laden boats and carried away some of Mumtaz Mahall’s slave girls. When Shahjahan became king he ordered the Mughal governor of Bengal to chastise the Portuguese. After a sanguinary battle on the famous river port Hugli in 1632 they were expelled from Bengal.68 As a matter of fact the people of India hailed the other European adventurers as liberators from Portuguese tyranny, their forcible conversions and their obnoxious slave trade.69

The Dutch also indulged in slave trade. In this regard the views of Coen, the great Dutch Governor-General, are worth noting. In 1623, he advised his successor, not merely the prosecution of Asiatic trade, “but the investment of all available capital in principal means of production (‘many thousands of slaves’)… so that the returns for our native country be made out of the gains of the inland trade and the ordinary revenues”.70 From about 1620 the Dutch requirements from India were, first, a large initial supply of slaves, and then a steady stream of reinforcements to make good the losses. For example, Dutch families in the Spice Islands needed a sufficient number of slaves, “mostly of Indian origin” besides those who had experience of working on the spice fields. Many imported slaves, “Bengalders, Arakandars, Malabars, etc.,” were greatly affected by sickness owing to the change of climate on arrival in the Islands and losses had to be made up. “There is nothing to suggest that the Dutch merchants practised either force or fraud, and we find them buying regularly from Indian dealers after obtaining the permission of the authorities.”71 In 1661 a ship belonging to the Sultan of Golkunda carried 300 slaves to Achin and slave trade was regarded by Muslims as well as the Dutch, “precisely as any other branch of commerce”.72

The Portuguese and the Dutch were followed by the British. The export of slaves and indentured Indian labour by the British to various parts of the British Empire when it was in the making, is beyond the scope of this study. But the genesis of endeavours and achievements of the European nations in the field of making and exporting Indian slaves was a continuation of the practice by the Muslims in medieval times. It is even said that the profits accruing to the Muslims from slave trade tempted many foreign nations to join in the race. However, in contrast to the foreign imported slaves, whose market price was rendered high by cost of transportation and deaths in transit, the price of Hindu slaves, sold abroad remained low. For example, Hindu Kush (Hindu-killer) mountain is so named because thousands of enslaved Hindus died in crossing it. But their numbers were so large that the price of survivors remained low in foreign markets.


1Chachnama, Kalichbeg, 163.

2Malfuzat-i-Timuri, trs E.D., III, 447.

3 Chachnama, trs. Mirza Kalichbeg Fredunbeg, 86.

4 Ibid., 176.

5 Ibid., 154.

6 Minhaj, 82, n.7

7 Ibid., 80-81 and n. 5. Also Al Utbi, Tarikh-i-Yamini, E.D., II, 26; Hodivala, 192; Nazim, ‘Hindu Shahiya Kingdom of Ohind’, in J.R.A.S., 1927, 494; Isami, Futuh-us-Salatin, text ed. by Agha Mahdi Husain, 38.

8 Utbi E.D., II, p.39. For detailed references see Lal, Growth of Muslim Population, 214.

9 Farishtah, I, 28.

10 For detailed references Lal, op. cit., 213 and Ubti E. D., II, 50 and n.1.

11 Ain., I, 36, 3s. Thomas, Chronicles of the Pathan king of Delhi, 13-14. Also note by Ranking in Badaoni, trs., I, 18.

12 Minhaj, 105n.

13 Farishtah, I, 49.

14 Fakr-i-Mudabbir, Tarikh-i-Fakhruddin Mubarak Shah, 20; Minhaj, Text, 175; Farishtah, I, 66-71.

15 Minhaj, 675 & n 5, 686 & n 7; Farishtah, I, 74.

16 Khusrau, Nuh Sipehr, E. D., III, 561; Barani, 297-98; Isami, 569-70; Afif, 38.

17 cf. Vidyapati, Kirtilata, 42, 72.

18 Farishtah, I, 116, daran sal zan va farzand mughlan ra dar Dihli va sair-i-bilad hindostan batariq-i-asiran bindi farokhtand.

19 Barani, 314-15.

20 Hodivala, 192-93.

21 In Ibar, trs. by Bernard Lewis in Islam, 98; Ira Marvin Lapidus, Muslim Cities in the Later Middle Ages, 52ff.

22 Barani, 306, 385.

23 Ashraf, Life and Conditions of the People of Hindustan, 236, quoting Qasaid-i-Badr Chach, Kanpur, 1877, 39.

24 Ibid., 235-36.

25 Hasan Nizami, Taj-ul-Maasir, E. D., II, 235; Minhaj, 484 n.

26 Minhaj, 487 n.

27 Barani, 384; Lal, Khaljis, 290.

28 Barani, 312.

29Dictionary of Islam, 598.

30 Barani, 314-15.

31 Ibid., 312; Farishtah, I, 113.

32 Battuta, Mahdi Husain, 235; Quaunah Turks, 155 n.

33Masalik-ul-Absar, E.D., III, 580-81.

34 Battuta, 123, also 63.

35 Afif, 267-68, also 119-20.

36 Ibid., 444.

37Babur Nama, I, 202, emphasis added.  Finch in Foster, Early Travels, 154; Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, 27-28n.

38 Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, 87, 90.

39 Moreland, From Akbar to Aurangzeb, 77 n.; Mukerjee, Economic History, 75-76.

40 Pelsaert, Jahangir’s India, 62.

41 Lal, Legacy, 292. The wages given by Abul Fazl have been indicated by Blochmann in shillings and pence and changed by Moreland into Rupia and dams. Ain., 235-36; Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, 191.

42 Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, 192-93.

43 S.Gurbachan Singh Talib, Muslim League Attack on Sikhs and Hindus in the Punjab 1947, New Delhi, Reprint 1991 (first published 1950), 201. Also 80.

44Ashraf-ul-Hidayah, Deoband, VIII, 13, 228, 232; Hedaya, Hamiltion, II, 187; Fatawa-i-Alamgiri, Deoband XII, 30, 67.

45 Minhaj, 601-603.

46Camb. History of Islam, I, 482.

47 Minhaj, 599-603; Farishtah, I, 64-66.

48 C.H.I., IV, 104.

49 Manucci, II, 42-43.

50 Bernier, 134-36; 144-45; 426.

51 David Brion Davis, in his review of Bernard Lewis’s Race and Slavery in the Middle East in The New York Review, October 11, 1990.

52 Elst, Indigenous Indians, 375.

53 Ameer Ali, The Spirit of Islam, 267.

54 Claude Mellasoux, The Anthorpology of Slavery, 143.

55 Ruben Levy, An Introduction to the Sociology of Islam, I, 117-18.

56 Arnold, Preaching of Islam, 172-73, 345-46.

57 Meillassoux, The Anthropology of Slavety, 8.

58 Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, 23-26.

59 Ibid., 24.

60 R.K.Mukerjee, Economic History of India, 99 and map facing 110.

61 Minhaj, 213-324; Isami, Adi Turk Kalin Bharat, 302; Battuta, 171; Moreland, The Agrarian System of Moslem India; 217-18.

62 Minhaj, 232, 237, 268; Battuta, 325.

63 Major 29, 30, 31; Barbosa, 309, 358; della Valle, 157, as cited by Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, 91.

64 Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, 91.

65 Moreland, From Akbar to Aurangzeb, 79.

66 Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, 91.

67 R.K.Mukerjee, Economic History of India, 116; C.H.I. IV, 191.

68 Lahaori, E.D., VII, 31-35, 42-43; Manucci, I, 182; Bernier, 177; C.H.I., IV, 192.

69 Mukerjee, op.cit., 103.

70 Moreland, From Akbar to Aurangzeb, 63.

71 Ibid., 77.

72 Ibid., 79.

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