One of the most interesting things about Balbadd in Magi canon is the absence of slavery. (Before the Kou Empire got involved, at least.)
And yes, I’m referring to Balbadd in specific – Sindria apparently took their idea and ran with it, like the acquisitive merchant-adventurers they are. Not to mention Sinbad’s own up close and personal encounter… I won’t spoil things for anyone who hasn’t read AoS, but it was Very Bad.
But slavery being something that doesn’t happen in Balbadd is a plot-critical point, in both series. Because slavery exists everywhere else in the Magi world, one way or another. Yet with all the other awful things that do happen in Balbadd – plagues, starvation, nobles abusing the poor, etc. – until Al-Thamen gets their hooks in the place, that one awful thing isn’t there.
It’s a bit like that instance in the Sherlock Holmes story – the dog that didn’t bark. Which, if you’ve read The Silver Blaze, turns out to be the key to solving the whole crime. That absence is important.
Given how Alibaba introduces the fact of slavery to Aladdin in canon – mentioning that Morgiana was probably taken prisoner in a war – that’s probably the Standard Option in the Magi ‘verse, as indeed it was most places in history up until fairly recently in historical times. (And some places even now, unfortunately.) So why isn’t it in Balbadd?
We know that, canon, Rashid detested slavery – but as we know from RL, one ruler hating something usually isn’t enough to get a whole culture to dump a bad habit. (See the history of England, James the First, and tobacco.) Which implies that slavery not being part of Balbadd predates Rashid, and is probably part of Balbadd’s culture. Hence the complete and utter shock of everyone, nobles to generals to street rats, when Abhmad decides to make Balbadd a slave-trading state. (And use his own citizenry on top of that. Brrr.)
Meta, I suspect it’s more than likely the author didn’t want one of the heroes coming from someplace that approved of slaves. But within the bounds of Magi’s fictional ‘verse… I went looking for RL examples of a place like Balbadd; islands, one city on the mainland, living off trade and their wits. And found Venice.
Granted, this is not a perfect match. Venice did allow slavery – but they didn’t apparently approve of it much. And one place they never allowed slaves was on their warships.
Very interesting, those warships. For one thing, they were Venice’s main military force for centuries. Venetians were sailors and merchant-warriors first; venturing onto dry land was for idiots. For another, part of the time those ships had a significant military advantage because the Venetians had tested them out in their own lagoons before any other country ever saw them on the sea.
That lagoon network – that interconnected mess of islands, water, and dry land – is one of the key factors that has to have shaped Balbadd. Like the Venetians, Balbadd survived by trade – and like them, caught between a host of other nations that do support standing armies, Balbadd has to have been performing the ultimate political, mercantile, and espionage high-wire act. Balbadd merchants go everywhere; meaning a lot of the time there will be a very small group of Balbadd natives surrounded by people who may not like having been sharped in the last trade deal, and who might get together and do something about it. And when they’re at home? Well, that network of islands, canals, etc, is one big watery wall between them and the rest of the world. If war comes, they can rip out the channel markers and trust their own memories and maps to take them through. Invading ships would not be so lucky.
And this is the big reason Balbadd is better off not having slaves. They need to trust each other.
…This also implies that to those who don’t know Balbadd, the natives may have a somewhat undeserved reputation for being bloodthirsty in a fight. After all, if you’re not going to take defeated enemy prisoners as slaves, the other obvious option is not taking prisoners….
Those who do know Balbadd know they wouldn’t get off that easy. 😉 If a Balbadd ship has you between the devil and the deep blue sea, they don’t kill you. They just… make a very advantageous Deal.
“We win. By your laws, that means you belong to us. But hauling you back would be such a hassle…. What say you hand over all your valuables, all your cargo, and get the hell out of here? And don’t let the tide hit you on the way out….”