Sara Knutson

Arabs and Slavs in the Global North: Perspectives on Race and Slavery in the Medieval Past

Scholarship on medieval slave trades, systems that connected communities across Eurasia, has long remained silent on important issues of race and its intersections with practices of slavery, colonization, and imperialism. My project intends to address this gap by examining the relationship between racialized practices and slavery from the perspectives of the Slavs and Arabs, past individuals whose histories remain intertwined in the material evidence of Arabic dirhams, coinage that flowed from the Arab World into wider Eurasia (c. 700-1100 CE). I examine the presence of Arabic coins in Eurasia as proxies for an interconnected system of captive-taking and enslavement that partly fueled the ancient global economy. I argue that the trafficking of humans into wider, trans-Eurasian slave trades was fundamentally connected to practices that became the predecessors to early modern forms of racialization. This historical case study has the potential to illuminate our understandings of diverse human experiences in the medieval past, to further clarify how perceived human differences have shifted across time and space, and to complicate ongoing debates on race and racialized practices within the wider humanities and social sciences.