ISIS and the Medieval Spoils System: The Fate of Captured Women

I don’t know Arabic, but assuming the translations that accompany this widely reported on video of ISIS (or “Islamic State”) soldiers laughing and joking as they wait to receive their share of captured Yazidi slave girls are accurate, then it is deeply disturbing. Around 19 seconds into the clip, one smiling soldier exclaims, “By Allah, man, I am looking for one to get me a girl.” At this, other soldiers in the room laugh and another declares for the camera, “Today is the female sex slave market day, which has been ordained.” The video is available on YouTube here.

Beyond the revulsion one feels for their cavalier attitude toward the enslavement and sexual abuse of children, a crime that fits well with a long list of documented atrocities committed by members of ISIS, I was struck (as a medieval historian) by how well such rhetoric seems to match a twelfth-century Arabic source for the crusading era.
Indeed, in the Italian orientalist Francesco Gabrieli’s well-known work, Arab Historians of the Crusades, a collection of translated texts commonly assigned to undergraduates taking courses on the crusades, one can find a selection of text from the Arab historian Imad ad-Din that celebrates Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem, which in turn led to the calling of the Third Crusade. Like the ISIS members featured in the video above, Imad ad-Din, the secretary and chronicler of Saladin, dwells at length and with relish on the rape of captured Christian women.

Gabrieli’s translation reads as follows- “Women and children together totaled 8,000, and were quickly divided up amongst us, bringing smiles to Muslim faces at their lamentations. How many well-guarded women were profaned, how many queens were ruled, and nubile girls married, and noble women given away, and miserly women forced to give themselves, and women who’d been kept hidden stripped of their modesty, and proud women made ridiculous, and women kept in private now set in public, and free women occupied, and precious women used for hard work, and pretty things put to the test, and virgins dishonored and proud women deflowered… untamed ones tamed, and happy ones made to weep! How many noblemen took them as concubines…”

One imagines if the person taking the video of the modern ISIS fighters had been present as they divided the spoils in the aftermath of Saladin’s late 12th century conquest of Jerusalem, assuming Imad’s description is accurate, they might have appeared much the same.

Edit: More recently, see ISIS Terror: Yazidi Woman Recalls Horrors of Slave Auction

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