Chapter

Abbasid Courtesans and the Question of Social Mobility

Matthew S. Gordon

in Concubines and Courtesans

Published in print December 2017 | ISBN: 9780190622183
Published online October 2017 | e-ISBN: 9780190622213 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780190622183.003.0003
Abbasid Courtesans and the Question of Social Mobility

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  • Asian History
  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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This chapter considers the rise to prominence by enslaved and freed persons in the major urban centers of the first Abbasid period (c. 750–900 CE). It uses the example of elite female performers at the Abbasid court, and, as evidence, a set of passages concerning three of the women, all of which occur in the 10th-century Kitab al-Aghani (Book of Songs) by Abu al-Faraj al-Isbahani (d.c. 972). The passages voice the same complaint: that the singer in question was wrongly enslaved. These texts are then weighed in light of the question of upward social mobility. The singers, despite the odds, achieved and, in certain cases, sustained preeminence. The phenomenon is familiar to historians, as a number of Abbasid–era notables emerged from slavery to achieve elite standing, whether as members of political, commercial, and military circles or at the highest levels of culture and scholarship.

Keywords: Arabic historiography; courtesan; gender; Islamic history; sexual violence; slavery; women; Islam

Chapter.  12761 words. 

Subjects: Asian History ; Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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