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Robert Davis (2007)

The Geography of Slaving in the Early Modern Mediterranean, 1500-1800

Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 37(1):57-74.

In the concept of Mediterranean history exchange, including the exchange of slaves, is one of the main factors. The tides of slaving depend on the rise and fall of the different reigns all around the Mediterranean basin, and slavery serves varying ends: it is source of manpower, but also a means to mark differences in status and religion. During the crusades, enslaving the enemy, thus reducing him to “social annihilation” (p.58), served to institutionalize the subservience of the vanquished whilst affirming the religious identity of the winner, since for both Muslims and Christians it was allowed to enslave only non-believers.

After the crusades a sort of “Christian-Muslim cartel” (p.59) developed in the Mediterranean which was based on the cooperation of Muslims controlling the land routes and Christians dominating the sea with their superior naval technology. To maintain this equilibrium it made more sense to both sides to enslave people from remote regions rather than themselves mutually.

When the expanding empires of Spain and Ottoman Turkey in their ambition to establish a rule as large as possible inevitably clashed in the Mediterranean area, this equilibrium could not last. The main supply of slaves became again the (religious) enemy, slaving being considered as a strategic instrument to weaken the opponent. The growing role of ransoming and the increasing need for oarsmen contributed to the rise of piracy an corsair activities in the whole Mediterranean, furthered by the development of strategically important points such as Malta under the Order of St. John or Livorno.

If corsairs and pirates could be driven away from the western Mediterranean, trade in the eastern Mediterranean remained under a constant menace. Only in the 18th century began the Mediterranean slave trade to diminish. Not only was it an obstacle to the large scale trade, but the demand for slaves lessened as with increasingly good sailing technology, oarsmen became useless. The demands and possibilities of the New World were met with supplies from other sources than the Mediterranean.

15th century 16th century 17th century 18th century
by Annika Stello last modified 2008-05-06 09:16

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