Reviews

Studying the integration of Central Asian élites into the Abbasid Empire, E. de la Vaissière wonders about the origin of the mamluk institution, and criticises a wide range of the very rich bibliography on the “mamluk paradigm” (D. Ayalon, P. Crone, D. Pipes). His purpose is to propose a new reading of the situation in Baghdad and Samarra through the Central Asian data. His book is articulated in two parts: the first on the pre-Islamic institutions of Central Asia; the second about their transference (and mutations) into the world of Islam. The author notably demonstrates that the Soghdian aristocracy was endowed with a socio-political organisation which was really different from that of Sassanid Khurasan after the Arab-Persian synthesis (chapter 1). In the book’s chapter 2, the chakars (چاکر) are introduced as a chivalry “free of noble condition.” As to Turkic and Soghdian slaves and soldiers, they appear as a sample of the pre-Islamic synthesis between Iranian-speaking settlers and Turkic-speaking nomads (chapter 3). In the aftermath of their revolt and decimation by Abu Muslim (in c. 751), Central Asian nobles entered the Abbasid world by the 810s still bearing their Soghdian culture (chapter 4). This interaction took place after the fourth major internecine conflict within the world of Islam, viz. the war between al-Ma’mun and al-Amin: If we dispose of attestations of Central Asian soldiers’ transference to Iraq as soon as the Umayyad era, it is al-Ma’mun’s stay in Transoxiana, the rallying to him of this region’s élites, and al-Mu‘tasim’s great esteem for the Turks in general which gave impetus to this movement towards the heart of the Caliphate (chapter 5). The chapters 6 and 7 on the relationship between Abbasid princes with their Central Asian soldiers and with their Turkish slaves in Samarra constitute the core of the author’s deconstruction of the mamluk paradigm: In Samarra, the troop’s commandment lied in the hands of Central Asian nobles who used to engage in the Caliph’s service on a voluntary basis, and who as such were considered his favourites by the Caliph. As to soldiers, they were usually bought at adult age, because of their alleged if not proved military virtue, and slavery for them was “a transitory stage, a way of entering the Muslim world.” This system relied on loyalty bounds which united the troops to their chiefs. After al-Mu‘tasim’s end, these bounds were broken, which brought about the failure of the system built in Samarra, and its replacement by the mamluk system which combined “the racial intrinsic quality of the Turks and their training to obedience”) under al-Muwaffaq and his son al-Mu‘tadid (chapter 8).

Camille Rhoné, Practical School for Advanced Studies, Paris
CER: II-3.4.B-268