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Slaves And Slave Trading In Shi'i Iran, AD 1500-1900

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In 1501, the Safavids proclaimed themselves the new rulers of the Iranian plateau establishing Shi'ism as a "state" religion and a "new" economic and political order. The Safavid "new order," however, was an impossibility without the slaves, forced urban and rural labor, and periodic population transfers. This paper examines the changes in slave labor practices and slave trading in Iran from 1500 to 1900. The establishment of an Islamic empire did little to diminish the numbers and uses of slaves in Iranian society and economies. Indeed, slaves and the peddling trade in slaving greatly expanded during and after the Safavid rulers assumed power. By the nineteenth century, shortages of Iranian peasant labor, the expansion of land holdings in Central and Southern Iran, and the boom in Iran's trade through the Persian Gulf altered the older slave trade in several significant ways in particular the numbers, ages and usages of African slaves. Between 1840 and 1880, Iran's participation in the Indian Ocean trade surpassed all previous slave-trading practices including the pre-Safavid era.

Affiliations: 1: Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, Villanova University, Villanova, PA 19085, USA.


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