“Medieval Mediterranean slavery” is a phrase that might seem a bit puzzling to some listeners—surely there wasn’t slavery in the medieval Mediterrean? Was there?
Indeed there was. For hundreds of years a slave trade existed throughout the Medieval Mediterranean world, taking captives from the shores of the Black Sea to Egypt, and to Italy. The slave traders were from the Republics of Venice and Genoa, and the Mameluk Sultanate. “Late medieval slavery was not an afterthought or an aberration,” writes Hannah Barker. “It lay at the heart of Mediterranean society, politics, and religion. A complex of slavery, captivity, trade, and ransom tied disparate parts of the Mediterranean together.”
Hannah Barker is Assistant Professor of History at Arizona State University in Tempe. Her book That Most Precious Merchandise: The Mediterranean Trade in Black Sea Slaves, 1260-1500, was this yeear awarded the Paul E. Lovejoy Prize by the Journal of Global Slavery; and it is the subject of our conversation today.
For Further Investigation
Hannah Barker has kindly provided the following list of resources and books, complete with descriptions. You should also go back and listen to Episode 95, a conversation with Daniel Hershenzon on captivity and captives in the western Mediterranean.
- Teaching Medieval Slavery and Captivity: “this is a project that I’m leading to provide English translations of interesting primary sources and selected bibliographies to illustrate what kind of scholarship is already available on the topic of medieval slavery and captivity. The primary audience is teachers, but it’s also set up for browsing by the curious.”
- Jeffrey Fynn-Paul, “Empire, Monotheism and Slavery in the Greater Mediterranean Region from Antiquity to the Early Modern Era,” Past and Present 205 (2009): 3-40.
“He explains how the idea of slavery based on religious difference evolved over the medieval period.”
- Debra Blumenthal, Enemies and Familiars: Slavery and Mastery in Fifteenth-Century Valencia (2009)
“I see this book, along with Hershenzon’s, as parallel to mine but focused on the western Mediterranean.”
- Christopher Brown, Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism (2006)
“This is a brilliant explanation of why the abolitionist movement emerged and succeeded at the precise moment it did.”
- Daniel Hershenzon, The Captive Sea: Slavery, Communication, and Commerce in Early Modern Spain and the Mediterranean (2018)
- Eve Troutt Powell, A Different Shade of Colonialism: Egypt, Great Britain, and the Mastery of the Sudan (2003)
“This is also a brilliant book explaining how Ottoman and post-Ottoman elites saw slavery in the context of both colonialism and abolitionist pressure.”