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Robert Delort (2002)

Le petit peuple des esclaves en Toscane, à la fin du Moyen Âge

In: Le petit peuple dans l’Occident médiéval. Terminologies, perceptions, réalités; Actes du Congrès international tenu à l’Université de Montréal 18-23 octobre 1999, ed. by Pierre Boglioni, Robert Delort and Claude Gauvard, pp. 379-394, Publications de la Sorbonne, Paris. Histoire ancienne et médiévale, vol. 71.

An analysis of the slave population in Tuscany demands an introductory note on the difficulties arising from the varying terminology used to designate slaves and (free) servants. The author therefore deals with the definitions of the terms “schiavo/-a”, “sclavus/-a”, “mancipium”, “ancilla”, “servus/-a”, “fante”, “fanticella” and “famula” and their connotations. The slave is to be regarded as an individual without any rights, totally dependent on his/her owner, who may treat him/her “tanquam de re sua”.

In the following the sources of slavery are brought up: One could be slave by birth or filial descent (usually following the status of the mother; should the father be free, as was the case with the slave holder, the children mustn’t necessarily be free too).
In a similar situation to freed slaves who are urged to stay in the service of the former master for a fixed term to reimburse his/her value, that the owner lost by freeing his slave, are those that gave up themselves for a certain number of years because they were in debt.
Most slaves descended from free people, were enslaved in the context of raids, kidnappings and wars and came to Tuscany through the trade. Another important source of slavery was the sale of children by their relatives.

As in the whole Mediterranean area, until the 14th century slaves mainly came from the Islamic world. Since the end of the 14th century Tatars were imported on a massive scale; in the following period the people from the Black Sea region as well as Greeks and Slavs from the Balkans were dominant. Africans appeared from the middle of the 15th century.

Considering the proportions of male and female slaves, Delort notices that women dominated the slave population in Tuscany; the total number of slaves is inferior to that in the important maritime cities as Genoa or Venice; but the average ages and prices are comparable. Since the second half of the 14th century, because of the development of the prices, it seemed to be more profitable to enter contracts with free servants; slaves were still purchased by rich inhabitants, mainly because of the social prestige they guaranteed.

Eventually Delort considers legal texts to investigate the social and legal integration of slaves in society, their responsibility in public courts, the problem of the escape of slaves and the question of sexual relations and their consequences. “Le petit peuple des esclaves se voit donc reconnaître une personnalité et des responsabilités, au moins pénales; originaire d'un pays lointain, de langue et de culture bien différentes, l'esclave a été baptisé et intégré dans la catholicité romaine [...] et s’exprime au pire dans un charabia compréhensible. Il se mêle à la population, fait partie d'une famille stable, qu’il ne peut quitter mais qui ne peut non plus s’en défaire facilement; il est souvent aimé ou soutenu par le maître, par des gens extérieurs, par des coreligionnaires asservis en même temps que lui et qui, libérés, l’aident à se racheter. Il encourt souvent le mépris et parfois la jalousie du petit libre qui peut envier la sécurité d’une vie, peut-être dure, mais où sont assurés entretien, vivre et couvert (et quelques revenus: cadeaux, pourboires, économies, legs). Par ailleurs on meurt rarement esclave; les hommes s’évadent souvent et sont rarement repris; le maître affranchit généralement ceux qui, vieillis, sont invendables et constituent une charge de plus en plus lourde” (p. 393).

Pisa Siena Tuscany Italy 15th century
by Christine Breckler last modified 2007-03-29 12:39

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