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Danuta Quirini-Popławska (2002)

Włoski handel czarnomorskimi niewolnikami wo późnym średniowieczu [Italian Trade with Black Sea Slaves in the Late Middle Ages]

Wydawn. Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego Cracow . (ISBN: 83-7052-554-7).

Quirini-Popławka’s book on Italian (Genoese and Venetian) trade with slaves from the Black Sea in the late Middle Ages is a synthesis of western and east European research: she works with Italian, French, English, German, Romanian, Polish and Russian secondary literature. In mid-eastern Europe, where history had to obey Marxist doctrine, medieval slavery is a quite new subject matter (some current Polish literature is mentioned on p. 20, note 26). The author’s primary sources are mostly Italian, beyond edited material there are many references to documents from Venetian and Genoese archives – and from the archive in Lwow (Ukrainian Lviv).

Part I (The attitude of the late medieval Italian states, of society and the church towards slavery and its beginnings) starts with a general overview:
The existence of slavery was not confined to antiquity (Egypt, Greece, Rome) but continued (on a lower scale) throughout the middle ages in all Europe – despite of prohibitions by various rulers. From the end of the 13th century a new peak was reached in the cities of Northern Italy, where cheap labour was in demand. This led on both to an early abolition of rural serfdom and to the enslavement of strangers. These new slaves came from the Levant and were imported mainly by the sea republics of Venice and Genoa, which had profited from the “globalisation” following the Crusades.
The institution of slavery itself was quite accepted. It was seen as a just punishment of non-Christians or as a kind of natural law in the case of Slavonic Christians (p. 39 refers to a document from Bari, 1127).

The following sections describe the situation in Genoa (p. 44-54) and Venice (54-67), concentrating on the authorities’ attitude towards slavery: In both cities, slavery had existed before the onset of huge slave imports from the east. In Genoa, for example, Muslims from Spain and men and women from Sardinia or Corsica were kept as slaves.

Genoa’s authorities dealt with slavery-related matters in many ways: in contracts with foreign powers concerning the problem of fugitive slaves; in laws defining the rights and duties of slaves and slave owners. They also had to react to embargoes against Egypt and other restrictions.

The flourishing Muslim market was an important factor which led to the growth of the Italian slave trade: During the reign of the Mamluk Bahirya dynasty, the Egyptian army consisted of Circassians, Tatars, Russians, Georgians and Chechens. Manumitted slaves became the administrative and military elite - in 1382 the Circassian Barkuk became ruler. Conflicts between competing Mongol states led to a rapprochement between Egypt and the Golden Horde mediated by Genoa and Venice. Genoese Caffa, founded in 1279, took particular profit from this situation. That the mother city Genoa had formally forbidden slave trade (1314, 1316, 1441) was of little consequence.

The early Venetian slaves were Arabs, Greeks, and Slavs. Venice had prohibited trading slaves to the Muslim world as early as the 9th and 10th centuries, and the sources show that slave owners had to free slaves or had to pay fines. In the 14th century the slave trade – often of Bosnians or Croatians – grew, which led to new edicts aiming in different ways at prohibiting or humanizing slavery. On the other hand, the Venetian government took taxes from slave merchants and owners. Legislation was also concerned with the sexual aspects of slavery, the problem of illegitimate children, and with slaves in the crafts.

Pages 68-76 deal with the Church’s attitude towards slavery: As the east-to-west slave trade grew, the Church explicitly opposed (Christian) slavery. Different popes enacted prohibitions – especially concerning the trade to Egypt. Different attitudes existed towards enslaving pagans, many scholars uttered positive arguments. All in all, only the slave trade was prohibited, whereas slavery was tolerated. But the church demanded a humane treatment: among other things, slaves were not to be sold to others after baptism.

Part II (The Black Sea colonial settlements of the Genoese and Venetian republics in the late middle ages) deals with the formation of the Genoese and Venetian “colonial empires” in the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Following a general survey, different chapters describe the individual Genoese (81-117) and Venetian (117-43) emporia and give information on their organisation:
Genoese: Caffa (81-89); Soldaia at “Gotia” (89-95); Tana-Azov (96-98) and the eastern shore of the Black Sea (98-99); Pera-Galata (104-6), Constantinople (107-8), the western (108-113) and southern shores of the Black Sea (113-17).
Venetian: Constantinople (p. 120-26), the southern (p. 126-29), western (p. 131/31) and northern shores of the Black Sea (131-33), Tana-Azov (p. 133-43).

A separate chapter deals with the Genoese-Mongol relations and the appearance of the Ottoman Turks (99-103).

This chapter also contains a number of useful maps: The Genoese settlements in general (p. 80), “Genoese Gazaria” (i.e., the Crimea) more particularly (p. 91), “The Black Sea coast – the distribution of the tribes” (p. 94), the Venetian settlement in the Aegean Sea (p. 119), the Venetian trade empire (p. 121), and the political situation in the Aegean Sea (p. 166)

Part III concentrates on the process of selling and buying, providing information about slave sellers and buyers and the notaries. Subchapters contain a great amount of detail concerning slave sales in Genoa, in Venice, and in the colonies (Genoese 146-55, 169-83; Venetian 155-68, 183-96). Italian buyers bought their merchandise from aborigine merchants or Italian locals, sometimes on public auctions. In the colonies, too, an Italian administration controlled the transactions and Italian notaries drew up the contracts. These notaries’ documents (selling, buying, testaments) contain most valuable information on
- the origin of the slaves,
- the market places,
- the destinations (e.g. many slaves bought in Venice went to other Italian cities or Spain),
- the merchants (autochthones, Italians belonging to powerful merchants’ families, from different cities),
- the buyers (status, profession, origin),
- the notaries (Venetian notaries were mostly clergymen),
- the juridical forms of the transactions (reclamations, ensurances against illness and death in childbed), medical specialists, official estimators, barter deals,
- the slaves’ living conditions (e.g. slavery for a fixed period, the possibilities of emancipation, employment as wet-nurse, marriages, children with free men).

Part IV deals with the practical aspects of transporting slaves from the east to Genoa or Venice. The trade was regulated by many statutes, by institutions like the Genoese Ufficio de Gazaria, which prescribed ship routes, the duration of stay, loading and unloading, harbour dues, ship construction, crew ... Many ships sailed in private or governmental convoys. The author has collected information about ship types, destinations (map on p. 198), etc. In Caffa, the most important market place in the east, there was a special office, the Officium capitum or Introitus Sancti Anthonii, which collected its own tax (commerchium).

The Turkish conquest interrupted the trading connections. Quirini-Popławska tells an interesting episode on Italian fugitives, who had fled on ships to Moldavia where they were turned into slaves. Because of the Turkish advance, a group of them were transported to the north, to the city of Kamieniec, where they were released by the authorities. After the death of Mehmed II in 1481 the conflict with the Turks relaxed to some extent. Polish-Turkish treaties of 1489/90 guaranteed secure trade.

One of the most interesting chapters deals with the “via tartarica”, a land route from the Black Sea (the Crimea, Tana) to Poland and further to Western Europe (p. 211-18). The importance of the land routes grew after the fall of Constantinople. The most important station on this route was Lwow. The journey from Lwow to Caffa took about 20 days. Caffa linked Poland-Lithuania to the Orient, the eastern Slavonic capital Kiev to the West. Apart from the via tatarica, there were also the so-called Valachian and Turkish routes. From the 14th century on many Genoese were present in Lwow. They were merchants, rented salt mines and taxes. Slaves were transported via Lwow, too. Russians and Poles alike were taken captive during Tatar raids and sold as slaves. An interesting episode is known from 1472: The Italian merchant Giannotto Lomellino had to justify himself before the Lwow authorities against the accusation of trading with Christian slaves. It is even possible, that Italians did their purchases in Russian territories. The Ottoman threat intensified Polish-Genoese relations and led in the 1460s under king Kazimierz Jagiellończyk to a formal Polish protectorate over Caffa and to a trade privilege for Caffa’s inhabitants concerning Poland (perhaps it was this privilege which allowed the formerly forbidden slave trade)

An excursus (p. 219-23) deals with the existence of medieval slavery in Poland – e.g. slaves were used in the building of Cracow’s royal castle, the “Wawel”.

Pages 226-41 concern Venetian navigation (the role of the government, the strictly organised “mude”, companies and local agents, directions). A subchapter is dedicated to the Venetian Arsenal, where the secret construction plans of the Venetian ships were kept and the best paid masters worked.

Part V (p. 242-83) collects information about the slaves themselves. They were bought at Caffa, Tana, La Copa, Soldaia, Vosporo, Cembalo, Kilia, Licostomo, the major trading posts. Many of them were already resold during the journey, e.g., on the Aegean or Ionic Isles. The others went to Italy, other European countries and to Northern Africa. Quirini-Popławska collects singular information about how many slaves were bought, where they came from, how old they were, how much was paid for them, and about any special characteristics mentioned. Subchapters cover the Genoese emporia Caffa (243-45), Lesbos and Chios (245-46), Cyprus (246-47), Genoa itself (247-262) resp. the Venetian emporia Tana (262-69), Crete (280-70) and Venice (271-83). Some charts present information on the origin or the age structure of slaves sold in Genoa (p. 251, 253), Tana (p. 264), and Venice (p. 273). The sources inform about the kinds of employment (in the household, in workshops, as wet-nurses) or other living conditions, the various possibilities of becoming free, etc.

The Polish summary (p. 284-86), which is not identical with the English one (p. 297-300), mentions further aspects of slavery and slave trade: Slaves (especially exotic-looking ones) were status symbols in the palazzi and courts of the Italian nobility, the wives and mothers were used as beautiful nurses and as concubines, as a part of the household. Compared with Islamic cultures, slaves in European cities had little possibilities to improve their status on the bottom of society.

The development of the Italian slave trade was favoured by the low socio-economic development and bellicose character of the Mongol Empire, which supplied a great amount of “raw material”: not only kidnapped strangers but also Mongols unable to pay their taxes or so poor as to be force to sell their children.

The shortage after the fall of Constantinople was compensated through Turkish prisoners of war or black slaves, who were sold in northern Africa.

An interesting Polish document on slavery is Jako nie jest dobrze niewolnika w domu chować albo draznić [How it is not good to keep a slave in the house and to quarrel], written in Cracow between 1520-30, obviously by an Italian.

Black Sea Poland Russia 13th century 14th century 15th century slave trade Genoa Venice
by Marion Rutz last modified 2008-04-17 13:29

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