Ṣaqāliba (Arabic: صقالبة, sg. ṣaqlabī) is a term used in medieval Arabic sources to refer to Slavs and other peoples of Central and Eastern Europe, or in a broad sense to European slaves. The term originates from the Middle Greek slavos/sklavenos (Slav), which in Hispano-Arabic came to designate first Slavic slaves and then, similarly to the semantic development of the term in other West-European languages, foreign slaves in general. The word is often misused to refer only to slaves from Central and Eastern Europe, but it refers to all Europeans and others traded by the Arab traders during the war or peace periods.
There were several major routes for the trading of Slavic slaves into the Arab world: through Central Asia (Mongols, Tatars, Khazars, etc.) for the East Slavs; through the Balkans for the South Slavs; through Central and Western Europe for the West Slavs and to al-Andalus. The Volga trade route and other European routes, according to Ibrahim ibn Jakub (10th century), were serviced by Radanite Jewish merchants. (Compare Crimean–Nogai raids into East Slavic lands.) Theophanes mentions that the Umayyad caliph Muawiyah I settled a whole army of 5,000 Slavic mercenaries in Syria in the 660s.
In the Arab world, Saqaliba served or were forced to serve in a multitude of ways: as servants, harem concubines, eunuchs, craftsmen, soldiers, and as Caliph's guards. In Iberia, Morocco, Damascus and Sicily, their military role may be compared with that of mamluks in the Ottoman Empire. In al-Andalus, Slavic eunuchs were so popular and widely distributed that they became synonymous with Saqāliba. Some Saqāliba became rulers of taifas (principalities) in Iberia after the collapse of the Caliphate of Cordoba in 1031. For example, Mujāhid al-ʿĀmirī organized the Saqaliba in Dénia to rebel, seize control of the city, and establish the Taifa of Dénia (1010-1227), which extended its reach as far as the island of Majorca.
- Geographer Ibn Khordadbeh (840–880) claimed that the Bulgar ruling title was "King of the Saqāliba" prior to the mid 7th century, meaning that the ruler held "a reservoir of potential slaves".
- Traveller Ibn Fadlan (fl. 921–22) called the ruler of Volga Bulgaria the "King of the Saqaliba".
- Polymath Abu Zayd al-Balkhi (850–934) described three main centers of the Saqaliba: Kuyaba, Slawiya, and Artania.
- Traveller Ibrahim ibn Yaqub (fl. 961–62) placed the Saqāliba, Slavs, west of Bulgaria and east of other Slavs, in a mountainous land, and described them as violent and aggressive. It is believed that these were situated in the Western Balkans.
- Chronicler Ibn al-Faqih (10th c.) wrote that there were two types of saqaliba: those with swarthy skin and dark hair who lived by the sea and those with fair skin and light hair who lived farther inland.
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