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Monica Boni (2006)

La domesticité en Toscane aux XIVe et XVe siècles


What follows is an English translation of the author’s ‘position de thèse’, published (in French) on the Sorbonne website (indicated below):

The subject matter of the thesis relates to the domestic population composed of free and unfree persons. It is, however, useful to mention that research on slavery has largely focused on antiquity and the modern period. Rarely ever mentioned is the wave of slaves, mainly brought in from the East, that swept over the coastal cities and the islands throughout the Mediterranean, at least from the 13th to 16th centuries. This phenomenon also touched on Tuscany during the 14th and 15th centuries. It is very difficult to distinguish, on the evidence of the vocabulary alone, between slaves and free servants in the documents of the 14th and 15th centuries, whether they be in Latin or in Tuscan. A male slave was called ‘sclavus’, ‘mancipium’, and a female, ‘ancilla’, ‘sclava’, but the current formula is ‘sclavus et servus’, or ‘serva vel ancilla’ respectively. In literary sources from Dante to Machiavelli, on the other hand, apart from a very few ‘schiavi’ or ‘schiave’, we encounter mostly ‘servi’ or ‘serve’, who could have been either (employed) servants or slaves (bought or captured).

The study of archival documents, to a large exent unpublished, offers a more comprehensive analysis and new interpretations in order to deepen our understanding of Tuscan slaves in the 14th and 15th centuries. In accordance with the two supervisors of the thesis, it was envisaged to combine the evidence of literary sources, of merchants’ writings (following the thesis of Professor Chrsitian Bec), the unpublished commercial archives in the narrow sence, and the precious and most interesting notarial documents (mostly sales contracts), ... the inestimable Slave Register (1366–1397), which was missing for decades but could be found again thanks to the perseverance of Professor Robert Delort, not to forget the exceptional Catasto of 1427–28 listing all Tuscans alive at that date (including information on family composition, ages, occupations, wealth, as well as hundreds of slaves and domestics) and comprising hundreds of folios in the archives of Florence and Pisa, following in the footsteps of Christiane Klapisch and David Herlihy. Equally important, though often incomplete, are the various Florentine Catasti of which we have selected only those of 1457–58 and of 1480, as previous probes into the totality of the Florentine Catasti (1427–28, 1429, 1430, 1433, ..., 1457–58, 1460, 1480, 1486–87) has shown not only the extent of the task but also its relative sterility: analysis of the tens of thousands of folios would have led us to discover thousands of slaves and domestics, which would have demanded several lives to analyse. For this reason, whe have preferred to limit our field of research to the three Catasti of 1427–28, 1457–58, and 1480, and to provide a comparative study of the data obtained in intervals of thirty and twenty-three years. The Archivio di Stato at Prato offers essentially the excemptional Fondo Datini. Slaves and domestics are legion here, but it is hard to consult in an exhaustive manner the 153,000 letters and 583 registers relating to the period between the mid-14th century and 1410. For the slaves, we have consulted the ‘Campioni’ (i.e., the registers giving an overview of all commercial activity in a given branch) of Barcelona, Majorca, Valencia, Genoa and Pisa; the ‘Quaderni di balle’, the ‘Mercanzie’, the ‘Spese di casa’, the ‘Quaderno di spese di casa’ of Francesco di Marco himself. Of these, the following are particularly rewarding and make up for much fruitless research in numerous registers: the ‘Campioni’, mentioning a considerable number of slaves, as well as the ‘Spese di balle e di mercanzie’ of Pisa for the years between 1382–86, 1383–83, and 1389–92 respectively. Here we find, among the numerous ‘balle’ and various ‘mercanzie’, mention of 15 slaves. For domestics, we consulted, apart from the ‘Campioni’ of Pisa, Prato, and Florence, the ‘Spese di casa’ for Pisa and for Florence as well as those for ‘la Casa propria’. Apart from information on the first names, salary, age, etc., the Datini archives provide access to details concerning the daily life, of intimate relationships, but also of particular conditions to which the salaried servants were subject at the time. Such information can only sporadically be found in the ‘Portate’ of the Catasto, written by the tax contributors themselves in their own Tuscan (or that of their notaries), and never in the ‘Campioni’, which are extremely summarized and concise.

Based on these archival studies (and others conducted in various archives and libraries of the region), it is possible to relate to problems of trade and society and deepen our understanding of them, to an extent that has never before untertaken for Tuscany in as far as the Archivio di Stato at Prato and the various documents of the Archivio di Stato of Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Siena and so forth had never been studied in detail. For the slaves: their origin, somatic appearance and physical details, sex, price, familial bonds, marriages, ages, first names (Christian or not), children, but also – and particularly – their insertion into Tuscan society, in competition or in association with free servants (male or female), domestics of non-servile origin, with agricultural and craft labourers. ... During one of the most recent archival campagins in Florence, it was possible to discover new and unexpected aspects which came to take over research and demanded more profound investigation. For this reason, we have devoted ourselves during five months, to a selection from the ‘Portate’ of the 1457–58 Catasto – 40 registers comprising more than 1,100 folios each, a total of almost 45,000 folios.

Thanks to this documentation, it became clear to what extent the mid-fifteenth century was a period of transition between the apex and the demise of domestic slavery. It bears witness to an increase in slavery under the guise of new terms: ‘anime’, ‘raugee’, ‘schiavone’, ‘fanciulle’ ..., i. e., a labour-force essentially female in character, of girls and women bought for a determined period of time, often marked by a promise of manumission from the outset. More precisely, a comparison between the (known) data of 1427 and those of 1457 reveals a reality that is not only surprising but in contradiction of what had been imagined: Instead of collapsing, the phenomenon of domestic slavery in Tuscany increased, almost doubled, and the line between the status of free and unfree as domestics became more evasive. The initial comparison between the ‘Registro degli Schiavi’ of Florence (indispensable for the years 1366–68) and the Catasto of 1427 showed how, over a 60-year period, the number of heads in this group had remained more or less the same but that the median age of the group had inexorably risen, from between 18 and 20 years to between 25 and 30. Thirty years on, the findings for 1427–28 no longer hold true! In 1457, slave labour was still being acquired from outside, but the modes have changed. Acquisitions by means of occasional slave dealers and through representatives of the Florentine companies in the various ports were gradually superseded by sales contracts between Florentines, and it is not rare to see persons living in the same quarter, sometimes pertaining to the same families, ‘passing on’ a slave woman. Notwithstanding, merchants on a passage and representatives of the said companies at Venice and Ancona were not idle either: When an occasion presented itself, they provided the market with young persons from the Dalmatian coast or from Istria, who were known as ‘anime’ and whom the Catasto of 1457 indicates as ‘raugee’ or, rarely, as ‘schiavone’. Catholic by birth, the ‘anime’ could be enslaved, if only for a specified period, i.e., the time necessary to reimburse the cost of transport they had incurred. This traffick between the two coasts of the Adriatic intensified considerably during the whole 15th century. The sale of slaves for a specified term became current practice and often extended beyond the circle of ‘anime’. Some instances of Circassian and Russian women subjected to similar conditions can be found in the Catasto of 1457. Sales for specified periods of time with guarantee of manumission: In the case of ‘anime’, and only in their case, the promise of manumision is often combined with a promise of marriage and, in rare cases, of a dowry.

It also happened that the slave received a salary, irrespective of her ethnic provenance. Despite the difficulties posed by the terminology (due to the development of 14th to 15th century Latin and Tuscan) it was possible to identify from the context the slaves and (free) servants among the roughly 40,000 inhabitants of the city. The difficulties were augmented by the fact that this marginal minority of the population was often designated by other terms such as ‘fanciulla’, ‘anima’, ‘raugea’, ..., Often the grant of liberty implied a final change of title: the status of ‘schiava’ or ‘serva’ is replaced by that of a ‘fante’ receiving a salary. Another line to follow in the search for ‘hidden’ slaves is looking for their children: There are numerous allusions to the illegitimate ‘figliuolo bastardo’ born of a liaison with a ‘schiava di chasa’ or another slave, without there being any trace of the concubine and mother in the ‘Portata’. A line-by-line analysis has allowed us to identify the 550 slaves (544 women and 6 men) on the streets of Florence in 1457 (against 295 identified in the ‘Campioni’ of the 1427 Catasto). It is however possible that a similarly exhaustive and detailed analysis (not necessarily a more systematic one) of the Catasto of 1427–28 would reveal a situation similar to that we discovered for the mid-15th century. It could turn out that the difference in the numbers of slaves found in Florence, Genoa, and Venice for the same period was less striking.

But what became of the unfortunate women once they were manumitted? In very rare cases, when their age allowed it, the master took it upon himself to find them a spouse among the craftsmen or, more frequently, among the ‘famigli’ living in Florence or in neighbouring towns (Prato, Pistoia, etc.). Quite often they did not leave the master’s house or the continued to serve their ‘adoptive family’ without salary in return for their ‘spese’, i.e., theirr cost of living and accommodation, until they died. Thus, the master could dispose of a manumitted slave who no longer constituted an item of taxable moveable property. In return, it was not unusual to engage a ‘fante’ from outside to look after the needs of the house and, at the same time, after the old slave now unable to work and burdened with age and illness. In order not to expose her to the hardships of the streets and to keep her from begging, Francesco Dietisalvi did not hesitate to keep his old Peterlina, who had faithfully served him for more than twenty years, under his care: ‘le do le spese che non vada achatando’. The heirs of Giovanni di Bartolomeo Morelli saw themselves bound to pay a ‘fante’ to care for their old and indomitable slave: ‘’E vecchia danni 65 ed e grassa per modo che a mala pena puo andare dal letto al fuocho e piu che e inferma come uno chane. E oltre a questo vuole essere donna e madonna perche e istata in chasa chircha danni 45. Tengho una fante che dura piu fatiche in lei che in tutti noi.’

As far as the others are concerned, that is, all those who were recently manumitted and had not found a spouse, they were constrained to leave the master’s house and found work as ‘fanti’ with new employers, being exposed again to the uncertainties of the labour market.

Lastly, besides manumission in connection with the sale of slaves for specified times, nobody died as a slave in the 14th and 15th centuries, as manumission eventually came about thanks to the last will of the master expressed in his testament or when a slave had reached a venerable age and lost all market value. In this society composed of free, unfree, and liberated persons we are witness to the appearance of a new category of domestics, officially free but still of foreign origin and speaking a barely comprehensible idiom, namely, the former slaves. More and more, they mixed and can be confounded with the unfortunate domestics of indigenous origin who were free ever since they were born.

At this precise moment in time, we observe the fusion of the worlds of the free domestic servants and of former slaves; both were subjected to the vicissitudes of free labour. It is the beginning of a long series of short-term employments, from three weeks to six months. These employments, due to their brevity, can only be found in the private account books of the individual merchant, as in the ‘Libro dei debitori e creditori di Sione di Filippo di Messer Leonardo degli Strozzi’ (1420–25). In the space of one year (January 1421 to January 1422), Simone Strozzi took on five ‘fanti’, all from the region and each for a annual salary of 9 fl. None of them stayed for longer than three months in his service, so that none of them received as much of a penny of her salary: All deductions being made, the cost of their accommodation in the house almost exactly corresponded to the salary they should have received. Even more complex was the situation at the Datini’s in Prato, where the mistress of the house, Monna Margherita, seems to have employed several girls on a daily basis. They came to help with the springtime cleaning of the house, for baking bread, sowing, weaving, and washing. On 20 December 1406 Monna Fiore, ‘lavandaia’, received one florin for participating in the great washing of ‘pannj ... lenzuola e altre chose e piu panj lanj’. As far as the servant Monna Beneassai, employed by Francesco Datini for his house in Florence, her career in the master’s house foresaw a long-term employment (5 years), but still for life, even if masked by a biennial salary (of 20 fl.). Every time she was supposed to receive her salary, she was presented with a note of the cost Francesco di Marco Datini had incurred for her (e.g., in buying cloth for her robe, or a pair of shoes, etc.). The same was true for three other ‘fanti’, who also came from the region and whom Datini recruited between 1405 and 1407, Monna Palma, Monna Chiara, and Monna Sandra. Even Monna Péronette, the chambermaid whom Francesco di Marco had recruited from Avignon for a annual salary of 12 fl., was presented with the note of expenses amounting to precisely the sum she had expected. Thus there was no possibility left to accumulate a ‘peculium’ for the days of old age to come. At the moment when they departed and their account was closed, the phraseology was always the same: ‘libera di andare a stare chon chi la piace’. With a licence to go, or perhaps parted on their own account, they found themselves in possession of some clothes, shoes and some pieces of cloth but with their purse all empty because they had not had a chance of saving anything during their employment. Where would they go? Would they find new employment, or whoudl they be forced to beg or become prostitutes? Or would they be able to marry?

Their situation is no different from that of other ‘fanti’, ‘fantesche’, ‘serventi’ and ‘donne’, even if, compared with their many itinerant colleagues, they had the advantage of having at least a roof over their heads, of being fed, accommodated, shoed and clothed for a number of years (and sometimes, of being loved). All these poor and extremely mobile individuals who flocked the streets and places of Quattrocento Florence never comes up in the Tuscan Catasti or, to be more precise, the large majority finds no place there (194 ‘fanti’ and ‘famigli’ appear in the 1457 Catasto and some dozens in that of 1427). Only the fortunate are inscribed into the Catasto, those who for various reasons unknown to us succeeded in being ‘adopted’ in exchange for their labour. Their salaries are between 8 and 10 florins for women, 18 florins for wetnurses (‘balie’), and 14 florins for the ‘garzoni’. Quite a number of ‘fanciulle’ were at 3 florins and even for board and lodging, on provision that they be married or receive a dowry. However, the Catasto of 1457 shows that, as far as the salary is concerned, the promises are only kept in 50 percent of cases. ‘Fanti’, ‘fantesche’, ‘serventi’, ‘famigli’, ‘donne’ and ‘garzoni’ identifiable in the various Tuscan Catasti therefore resemble only a minuscule category of the privileged. Despite their liberty (either recently acquired or inherited) they were not beyond the possibility of layoff and therefore always at risk of augmenting the ranks of the itinerant underclass. Thanks to the convergence of information drawn from the commericial, financial, public and other documentation as well as literary sources, it is hoped that a correct and precise picture can be drawn of a population that constituted a minority, to be sure, but little known and, until today, not credited with importance or originality. In effect, the contribution of literary sources is essential for any analysis of families, of their servants or slaves both male and female, their labour and domestic standing, of relations with masters and mistresses, with children, with other members of the household as well as with the external world.

Italy Tuscany family domestic labour
by Christoph Cluse last modified 2008-04-18 15:50

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