Ibn Battuta’s detailed observations on the practice of slavery in India during the reign of Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq provide crucial insights into the nature and functioning of slavery in the 14th century.
Forcible Capture and Poverty: Battuta noted that many slaves were captured during military campaigns or sold by their families due to acute poverty. This highlights the dual sources of slavery: warfare and economic hardship.
Use as Gifts and Political Tools: The practice of presenting slaves as gifts, as Battuta did himself and as Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq did to Nasiruddin, illustrates the role of slaves as valuable commodities in diplomatic and political relationships.
Surveillance and Control: The Sultan’s use of slaves to gather information on nobles and events in the empire shows how slavery was intertwined with governance and control mechanisms. This strategic use of slaves was crucial for maintaining power and surveillance.
Domestic and Court Slaves: A distinction is made between domestic slaves, who performed household tasks, and court slaves, who had higher status and different roles. The women slaves, in particular, served in the houses of rich nobles and also acted as informants for the Sultan, reflecting a complex social hierarchy within the system of slavery.
Social and Economic Implications: The widespread use of slaves by nobles and their integration into the households and governance systems underline the social acceptance and economic significance of slavery during this period.
Battuta’s accounts provide a multifaceted view of slavery in medieval India, showing its role not only in the economy but also in political and social structures. His observations are key to understanding the dynamics of power, economy, and society in the Sultanate period.