I’m aware of several instances where civilizations, mainly Muslim used slave armies. And so far as I’m aware this invariably resulted in the slaves becoming the de facto rulers of whatever people employed them. I know the Muslims employed slave armies because they couldn’t trust their fellow aristocrats, they had a moral aversion to killing other Muslims, and the soldiering profession lost prestige amongst them at various points, but even then, shouldn’t it have been obvious from the get go that if you give a bunch of people weapons they aren’t going to be de facto slaves much longer? I mean the Spartans figured this out. How did the Ottomans not realize the janissaries would become a problem? Is it really just a matter of choosing solutions to present problems that result in more problems in the long term? This seems like such an obvious mistake. It’s like someone had the idea to give all the prisoners at Riker’s guns and use them as police officers.

  • 5
    The problem isn't the slaves, but their function. Once you use an imperial guard that realizes their power, they use it. Slave or non-slave doesn't matter.
    – Jos
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 6:35
  • 2
    Yes but with the Praetorian guard you can see how someone might think that was a decent idea. The guard was Roman, they should presumably have some basic loyalty to the emperor. How could you even suppose your slave army would do anything other than turn on you once they’ve won a few victories?
    – John Hall
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 7:04
  • The Praetorians are the most notorious, followed by the Janissaries and the Mamelukes. Praetorians were only loyal to their wallets.
    – Jos
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 7:14
  • 2
    Thank you for your question; could you give us an overview of the research you have done so far and explain what you find to be unclear or missing? Our help center, and other stacks may be helpful.
    – MCW
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 7:26
  • 1
    Even today feudal clans seems to play a part in Turkey: refworld.org/docid/46a883e5c.html I would assume that most Janissaries were not blood relatives. Neither were they related to any feudal clan in Turkey. I think this was the motivation for their use. I think this was a good idea at a small scale. Likewise Byzantine emperors had their Varangian Guard consisting of northern europeans. The Vatican has its Swiss Guard. Further unlike typical slaves, the Janissaries were paid regular salaries.
    – Andy
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 8:32

1 Answer 1


The things differed a lot between civilizations, status of slaves and the rewards promised for going to war.

First of all, there was no single, the same notion of "slavery" throughout history.

What in Muslim world is translated as "slave" could have a different meaning at the time and place where it was used. For instance, one could translate it as "vassal" or "recruit" and that would not be much less correct.

For instance, any mobilized soldiers are not de-facto free in any European army. They are not called "slaves", but what's the difference anyway?

Eastern societies throughout history were very hierarchical in such a way, that only the sultan could be called the single free person, with even his vizier could be considered a "slave", and the sultan had life-and-death power over him. Of course, this is not entirely translatable into European languages where we have traditional nobles, slaves, serfs, vassals, etc, and even in Europe the notions differ between cultures.

That said, Ancient Greeks and Romans had a few good examples of using slaves as soldiers in desperate circumstances. In all those known cases the slaves were promised freedom upon victory, so they were sufficiently motivated.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.