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Concubines and CourtesansWomen and Slavery in Islamic History$
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Matthew S. Gordon and Kathryn A. Hain

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190622183

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190622183.001.0001

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Abbasid Courtesans and the Question of Social Mobility

Abbasid Courtesans and the Question of Social Mobility

(p.27) 2 Abbasid Courtesans and the Question of Social Mobility*
Concubines and Courtesans

Matthew S. Gordon

Oxford University Press

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

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