The Market of Mediterranean Slavery in Early Modern Period

The aim of this blog is to provide an overview on the Mediterranean Slavery in Early Modern Period. I am developing my idea on the mediterranean market of men and women as Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellow at Universidad de Valencia and at EHESS of Paris.

Who were the slaves? How was their price calculated? Which was the difference between male and female slavery? What was the relationship between their price and personal ‘identity’? What was the difference between their use-value and trading value? In general, what were the negotiation processes underpinning the markets of men and what was the role played by the slaves themselves?

The history of slavery is a strongly debated issue which historiography has constantly questioned itself about. This institution, rooted in classical times, experienced ongoing transformation, not only as regards the legislation it was subject to and which guaranteed its de jure existence, but also as regards its size and scale. The expansion of geographical boundaries meant the ever-increasing draining of slave labour in order to be used by various stakeholders. If, to date, the branch linked to the Atlantic slave trade has been widely explored, the same cannot be said for the Mediterranean[1]. A detailed study of the phenomenon shows us how, during the Modern Age, Mare Nostrum was not just a magnet for slaves from the American continent, but also and possibly above all for “indigenous” slaves, in other words for those living mostly along the Mediterranean’s shoreline. Generally speaking, this phenomenon reached a significant scale: it is reckoned that approximately ten million slaves lived and provided their services in Europe from 1500 to 1800.

If it is mostly known how these men and women fell into slavery and, at the same time, we also know, in part, how these individuals could be redeemed, far fewer questions have been raised about what slaves represented. They were commodities and, as such, were subject to specific market rules (matching of supply and demand, scarcity of goods, etc.), but, at the same time, they were highly particular commodities. Indeed, they could have the chance to gain freedom, to be redeemed from their status as cautivos and this is the reason why they were able to exercise active bargaining power in order for an agreement for their freedom to be reached. The latter in order to emphasise how slaves were active commodities, whose price and value are not only to be looked for in market logics, but also in a sociology and psychology of prices that have not been given the right amount of attention to date.

If it is mostly known how these men and women fell into slavery and, at the same time, we also know, in part, how these individuals could be redeemed, far fewer questions have been raised about what slaves represented. They were commodities and, as such, were subject to specific market rules (matching of supply and demand, scarcity of goods, etc.), but, at the same time, they were highly particular commodities. Indeed, they could have the chance to gain freedom, to be redeemed from their status as cautivos and this is the reason why they were able to exercise active bargaining power in order for an agreement for their freedom to be reached. The latter in order to emphasise how slaves were active commodities, whose price and value are not only to be looked for in market logics, but also in a sociology and psychology of prices that have not been given the right amount of attention to date.

[1]In this regard, refer mainly to: S. Bono, Schiavi. Una storia mediterranea (XVI-XIX secolo), Il Mulino, Bologna, 2016.

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