That Most Precious Merchandise: The Mediterranean Trade in Black Sea Slaves, 1260-1500

That Most Precious Merchandise: The Mediterranean Trade in Black Sea Slaves, 1260-1500

by Hannah Barker

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The history of the Black Sea as a source of Mediterranean slaves stretches from ancient Greek colonies to human trafficking networks in the present day. At its height during the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, the Black Sea slave trade was not the sole source of Mediterranean slaves; Genoese, Venetian, and Egyptian merchants bought captives taken in conflicts throughout the region, from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, and the Aegean Sea. Yet the trade in Black Sea slaves provided merchants with profit and prestige; states with military recruits, tax revenue, and diplomatic influence; and households with the service of women, men, and children.

Even though Genoa, Venice, and the Mamluk sultanate of Egypt and Greater Syria were the three most important strands in the web of the Black Sea slave trade, they have rarely been studied together. Examining Latin and Arabic sources in tandem, Hannah Barker shows that Christian and Muslim inhabitants of the Mediterranean shared a set of assumptions and practices that amounted to a common culture of slavery. Indeed, the Genoese, Venetian, and Mamluk slave trades were thoroughly entangled, with wide-ranging effects. Genoese and Venetian disruption of the Mamluk trade led to reprisals against Italian merchants living in Mamluk cities, while their participation in the trade led to scathing criticism by supporters of the crusade movement who demanded commercial powers use their leverage to weaken the force of Islam.

Reading notarial registers, tax records, law, merchants' accounts, travelers' tales and letters, sermons, slave-buying manuals, and literary works as well as treaties governing the slave trade and crusade propaganda, Barker gives a rich picture of the context in which merchants traded and enslaved people met their fate.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812251548
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
Publication date: 10/25/2019
Series: The Middle Ages Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 328
Sales rank: 1,079,652
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Hannah Barker teaches history at Arizona State University.

Read an Excerpt


On September 19, 1363, a ten-year-old Tatar boy named Jaqmaq was sold as a slave in the Black Sea port of Tana. His first owner had probably been a Christian, as he had already been baptized with the name Antonio. His second owner was a local Muslim named Aqbughā, the son of Shams al-Dīn. Aqbughā sold Jaqmaq/Antonio to his third owner, Niccolò Baxeio of the parish of St. Patermanus in Venice, for 400 aspers. Niccolò also bought a fifteen-year-old Tatar girl from Aqbughā and a twelve-year-old Tatar boy from another local man. All three children were to be delivered to different people in Venice. Jaqmaq/Antonio was destined for Gabriel Teuri of the parish of St. Severus, who would be his fourth owner.

About twenty years later, another boy named Jaqmaq, this time a Circassian, was also sold as a slave in the Black Sea. He was purchased by a merchant named Kazlak, who brought him to Egypt. There Kazlak sold him to a military commander, the amir 'Alī ibn Ināl, who trained him as a mamluk, a military slave. Once his education was complete, Jaqmaq accompanied 'Alī's mother on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Upon his return, he discovered that his older brother was also serving as a mamluk in another household, that of the sultan of Egypt. When the sultan found out, he took Jaqmaq away from 'Alī ibn Ināl and added him to the royal household, reuniting the brothers. After some additional training, the sultan freed Jaqmaq and made him a page at court. Over the course of several decades, Jaqmaq rose through the ranks in the court and army. In 1438, he himself became sultan and enjoyed a long reign until 1453. During that period, he purchased thousands of slaves to staff his household and serve as mamluks in his army. His successor, al-Manṣūr 'Uthmān, was his son by a Turkish slave woman named Zahrā'.

The life of the first Jaqmaq, the Tatar boy sold to Venetians, is documented only through a single entry in the register of the notary who drew up the contract for his sale. As a result, we know a great deal about the circumstances under which he was sold but nothing about what happened to him before or afterward. The life of the second Jaqmaq, the Circassian boy sold to Egyptians, is documented in numerous chronicles, biographical dictionaries, and other narrative sources. There are coins minted in his name, and the school (madrasa) that he endowed still stands in Cairo today. Yet these sources reveal more about his political career than his early life as a slave. What binds the two Jaqmaqs together, despite their radically different fates in both life and the historical record, is their involuntary participation in the Mediterranean trade in Black Sea slaves.

The history of the Black Sea as a source of Mediterranean slaves stretches from ancient Greek colonies to human trafficking networks in the present day. During the medieval period, the trade in Black Sea slaves peaked between the mid-thirteenth and mid-fifteenth centuries. More precisely, it was in the 1260s that the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Paleologus granted commercial privileges in the Black Sea to the rulers of Genoa, Venice, and the Mamluk kingdom of Egypt and Greater Syria (bilād al-Shām). On the basis of those privileges, Mediterranean merchants settled in the Black Sea and exported various goods, including slaves. Slave exports continued until 1475, when Ottoman forces conquered Caffa, Genoa's chief colony on the Crimean Peninsula. Although the Black Sea slave trade did not end in 1475, it was reorganized to serve Ottoman rather than Italian or Mamluk needs.

Even at its height during the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, the Black Sea slave trade was never the sole source of Mediterranean slaves. Genoese and Venetian merchants bought the captives taken in conflicts throughout the Mediterranean region. The Genoese bought slaves from ongoing wars between Christian and Muslim kingdoms in Iberia, and they also enslaved Sardinians caught up Genoa's war with Pisa. The Venetians bought slaves from pirates and raiders in the Balkans and the Aegean Sea. Both Genoa and Venice enslaved captives taken from North Africa and the Ottomans. When allowed to do so, they also purchased African slaves in Alexandria, Tunis, and other North African ports. However, the greatest demand for slaves in the medieval Mediterranean was concentrated not in Italy but in Cairo, home of the Mamluk sultan and his amirs, the commanders of his army. The Mamluks preferred Black Sea slaves for military service, but they also imported large numbers of African slaves for domestic service as well as slaves from the Balkans, the Aegean, Central Asia, and the Indian Ocean when they were available. Yet within this diverse population of slaves, those from the Black Sea were the single largest group. The trade in Black Sea slaves provided merchants with profit and prestige; states with military recruits, tax revenue, and diplomatic influence; and households with the service of enslaved women and men.

The trade system that carried slaves from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean is the subject of this book. Genoa, Venice, and the Mamluk sultanate, the three most significant importers of Black Sea slaves, have never been studied together. The main obstacle has been language: an integrated study of the Mediterranean trade in Black Sea slaves must draw on sources in both Latin and Arabic. Yet once the Latin and Arabic sources are examined together, it becomes clear that Christian and Muslim inhabitants of the Mediterranean shared a set of assumptions and practices that amounted to a common culture of slavery. These included the ideas that slavery was legal and socially acceptable, that slave status was based on religious difference, that religious difference could be at least partially articulated through linguistic and racial categories, and that slavery was a universal threat affecting all free people. It also included practices related to slave conversion, the inspection process and contractual language for buying and selling slaves, the use of slaves as social and financial assets, a strong preference for slave women over men, the widespread use of slave women for domestic and sexual service in urban households, and the status of children born to slave women and free men.

In addition, examining the Arabic and Latin sources together shows that the Genoese, Venetian, and Mamluk slave trades were thoroughly entangled and that this had wide-ranging effects. Genoese-Venetian rivalry for control of the Black Sea slave trade was an important element in their broader rivalry for commercial dominance of the Mediterranean. Mamluk sultans required a steady supply of slaves to maintain military and political stability, so they offered generous incentives to slave traders from the entire Mediterranean region. Because several of the ports used by these traders were Genoese colonies, Genoese diplomats used their control over the flow of slaves to negotiate with the Mamluks for privileges in lucrative markets like Alexandria. That strategy was risky though: choosing to disrupt the Mamluk slave trade led to reprisals against Italian merchants living in Mamluk cities, while choosing not to disrupt the Mamluk slave trade led to scathing public criticism by supporters of the crusade movement. The rulers of Genoa and Venice therefore managed the slave trade with care, seeking to reap its profits and defuse its conflicts. Their regulations played a greater role than the actions of individual merchants in shaping the Mediterranean trade in Black Sea slaves.

Medieval Sources on the Slave Trade

Scholars of the Mediterranean trade in Black Sea slaves have a rich source base. The difficulty lies not in finding appropriate sources but in bringing together disparate sources from different genres in a coherent way. The most useful Latin sources are notarial registers. Notaries were required to keep a register of all the documents they drew up and to deposit those registers with the state. As a result, the state archives of Genoa and Venice contain hundreds of notarial registers with information about the sale, rental, donation, inheritance, and manumission of slaves as well as disputes concerning them. Although many notarial registers have been lost or destroyed over the centuries, those that have survived hold thousands of legal acts involving slaves, enough to create a database and conduct simple statistical analyses.

Yet the data provided by notarial registers can address only certain aspects of the slave trade. Sources from other genres are needed to round out the picture. Tax records give economic context for the individual acts of import, export, sale, possession, and manumission of slaves recorded by notaries. Legal context comes from medieval collections of Roman, canon, and civil law, with their learned commentaries and notarial formularies. Treaties governing the slave trade and crusade propaganda help to fill in the political context. Finally, there are anecdotes culled from letters, merchants' accounts, travelers' tales, sermons, and literary works that flesh out the intellectual, cultural, and social contexts of the slave trade.

The most valuable Arabic sources are slave-buying advice manuals. This genre evolved from ancient Greek texts that addressed slavery in the contexts of household management (Bryson's Management of the Estate), social order (Aristotle's Politics), geography (Hippocrates' Airs, Waters, Places), and physiognomy (Polemon's Physiognomy). Muslim scholars gathered the Greek material; translated it into Arabic, Persian, and Turkish; and made revisions and updates to suit their own times. The most famous slave-buying advice manual, Ibn Buṭlān's General Treatise on the Skills Useful in the Purchase and Examination of Slaves (Risāla jāmiʿa li-funūn nāfiʿa fī shirā al-raqīq wa-taqlīb al-ʿabīd), was composed in Baghdad in the eleventh century. Three lesser-known manuals have survived from the late Ayyubid and Mamluk periods: the anonymous Inspection in Slave-Buying (Al-Taḥqiq fī shirā' al-raqīq) from the thirteenth century, Ibn al-Akfānī's Observation and Inspection in the Examination of Slaves (Al-Naẓir wa-al-taḥqīq fī taqlīb al-raqīq) from the fourteenth century, and al-'Ayntābī's The Apt Statement on Choosing Female and Male Slaves (Al-Qawl al-sadīd fī ikhtiyār al-imā' wa-al-'abīd) from the fifteenth century. Both Ibn al-Akfānī and al-ʿAyntābī were physicians associated with the Manṣūrī hospital in Cairo. Their slave-buying advice manuals offered medical as well as ethnographic advice for choosing slaves.

Because some Mamluk slaves entered the ruling elite, many other sources deal directly or indirectly with the slave trade. Normative legal sources are especially abundant. They include compilations of religious law and legal opinions according to the four Sunni schools (all of which had a presence in Mamluk Cairo), shurūṭ manuals that provided model documents for scribes, ḥisba manuals for market inspectors, and treaties governing the slave trade. These genres all show how the slave trade was supposed to operate.

Unfortunately, there are relatively few descriptive sources against which to check the normative sources. No tax registers and few documents of sale or manumission survive from the Mamluk period. Instead, a great deal of anecdotal information comes from narrative sources about the lives of elite slaves. These include chronicles, geographical treatises, biographical dictionaries, and travel accounts. Although narrative sources are mainly concerned with the political and religious activities of the elite, they sometimes repeat stories about the origins and early lives of prominent mamluks. Such tidbits are most useful when read together with evidence drawn from other genres and from the Latin sources.

The most intractable obstacle to the study of this slave trade is the lack of material from the Golden Horde, the Mongol state north of the Black Sea, where many of the slaves originated. The Golden Horde's administrative archive was destroyed by Timur (Tamerlane) in the early fifteenth century. Archeologists have excavated medieval sites in the Black Sea region, but most of their findings have been published in Russian. Surviving texts from Georgia, Bulgaria, and other medieval states in the region seem to say little about either slavery or trade. In fact, the most substantial surviving archive produced within the Black Sea comes from Genoa's colony at Caffa. The colonial administration there made clean copies of its most important records, such as treasury (massaria) registers, and sent them back to Genoa for official review. Genoese and Venetian notaries who worked in the Black Sea colonies kept registers and deposited them with the state when they returned home. Both Italian and Mamluk travelers in the region wrote about their adventures. There is undoubtedly room for further research on the basis of Greek, Russian, Ottoman, and possibly Georgian sources, but given the limitations of time and language that constrain a historian working alone, my analysis is restricted to Latin and Arabic sources. My hope is that the present book will provide others with a helpful framework for studying Black Sea slavery using a wider variety of sources and languages.

Modern Mentalities: Erasing the Medieval Slave Trade

Two historical narratives have shaped modern scholarship on slavery: the antislavery narrative of Christian amelioration and the Marxist narrative of modes of production. The Christian amelioration narrative, spread by the late eighteenth-century antislavery movement in Britain, held that Christian principles of spiritual equality and brotherly love were incompatible with slavery. It therefore asserted that the Christianization of the Roman Empire had caused the gradual disappearance of slavery from Europe. This was imagined to be a slow process, as Christian principles acted indirectly to mitigate masters' behavior and state policies over the course of centuries. Proponents of Christian amelioration dated the end of slavery in western Europe between the sixth and twelfth centuries, depending on whether they considered serfdom to be an extension of slavery or a new and different status. Others acknowledged the persistence of slavery into the later Middle Ages but insisted that the treatment of slaves continued to improve gradually. Either way, the sixteenth-century resurgence of slavery in European colonies was portrayed as a reversal of civilizational progress. The good news was that this lost progress could be restored through abolition. Although the proslavery movement in the late eighteenth century also used Christian texts to support its position, the antislavery movement's eventual success meant that its historical narrative of Christianity as a force for the amelioration and abolition of slavery became the dominant one.

The second narrative ascribed the disappearance of slavery in Europe to economic rather than religious forces. Karl Marx presented human history as a series of developmental stages in the mode of production. Over time, the ancient class structure of citizens and slaves was replaced by the medieval class structure of nobles and serfs, followed by the modern class structure of capitalists and workers. Although slavery, feudalism, and capitalism all involved a class of property owners dominating a class of producers, each mode of production was characterized by a distinct form of domination and of class struggle. Among twentieth-century historians of slavery, the Marxist narrative has generated debates over the role of capitalism in the rise and abolition of Atlantic slavery and over the timing and significance of the medieval transition from slavery to feudalism. Thus the Marxist narrative erased medieval slavery in two ways. First, because it presented feudalism as the quintessential medieval mode of production, it simply did not occur to most historians that slavery could play a significant role in the Middle Ages. Second, most historians have assumed, like Marx, that slavery was primarily a mode of agricultural production. Because medieval slaves tended to be women engaged in domestic and sexual service in urban households, their presence was easily ignored or dismissed.

Medieval historians who noticed the presence of slaves in their sources have struggled to respond to these two narratives. One approach has been to test the boundaries of the Marxist narrative by debating exactly when and how Roman agricultural slavery in Europe died out. The answer seems to be that the process unfolded over many centuries, varied significantly from region to region, and involved more than two forms of unfreedom (i.e., slavery and serfdom are not sufficient to express the multiplicity of early medieval practices). Another approach has been to document the existence of urban slavery in exhaustive detail. Relying heavily on notarial registers, this literature has focused on the slave trade, the demography of the slave population, and the labor performed by slaves. There have been efforts to combine these approaches by linking the end of agricultural slavery with the emergence of urban slavery. A third approach has been to draw attention to the gendered nature of medieval slavery and the significance of women's labor. Finally, scholars have addressed slavery in medieval law and in parts of northern Europe beyond the reach of direct Roman influence.

Nevertheless, although the Christian amelioration narrative and the Marxist narrative are both more than a century old, they continue to shape the study of slavery. The influence of the Marxist narrative is openly acknowledged, and an economic emphasis has been the norm for scholarship on medieval slavery. In contrast, the influence of the Christian amelioration narrative, especially the static and monolithic role it ascribes to Christianity, has rarely been questioned. Since the appearance of Charles Verlinden's seminal work L'Esclavage dans l'Europe médiévale in 1955 and 1977, it has been clear that Christians owned slaves throughout the Middle Ages and that the Church as an institution not only tolerated slavery but owned slaves itself. Nevertheless, there remains a sense that this should not have been the case. Historians who study medieval slavery still feel compelled to condemn it on moral grounds. This is not simply a matter of anachronism, of holding medieval society to modern standards. Rather, it is the Christian amelioration narrative that suggests that medieval slave owners were behind their own times, not fully imbued with Christianity, sinful and corrupt.

Nineteenth-century proponents of Christian amelioration certainly interpreted late medieval slavery (when they acknowledged its existence at all) as a sign of moral corruption, namely, the corruption of Christian principles by sinful greed or the nefarious influence of the Orient. Either way, Italians and Spaniards were seen as especially guilty. Their persistence in keeping slaves could be attributed to regional backsliding, associated in the nineteenth century with backward southern European Catholicism as opposed to forward looking northern European Protestantism. Their failings, therefore, did not reflect on Christianity as a whole. The association between slavery, moral corruption, and greedy Italian merchants has been repeated by generations of medieval historians, as discussed in Chapters 4 and 6. Its effects on Anglophone scholarship have been especially pervasive, since Christian amelioration was closely associated with the British Protestant antislavery movement and the civilizing mission of the British Empire. But it has influenced medieval historians of other backgrounds too.

Unquestioning adherence to the Christian amelioration narrative has sometimes led to the misinterpretation of medieval sources. For example, the fifteenth-century Genoese lawyer Bartolomeo de Bosco drew up an advisory brief (consilium) in which he defended the inheritance of the son of a former slave woman and her master. Other members of the master's family had challenged the son's status as an heir (but not his status as a freeman) because his mother had been a slave at the time of his conception; the son contended that his mother had been manumitted and that his father had declared him legitimate. Bosco's advisory brief began with a warning that "a judge ought not to decide simply following conscience, but ought to form [his opinion] according to the things which were mentioned and proved pertaining to the truth of the actions." Since Bosco supported the son's claim to inherit, he was advising the judge not to follow his conscience, which would lead him to rule against the son of a slave, but rather to examine the facts, which would show the son to be a legitimate heir. Bosco's own conscience could not have been too deeply troubled by the institution of slavery, because he himself owned a female slave.

Yet a recent article discussing this brief has interpreted it as a statement in opposition to slavery: "Bosco accepted that slavery was a normal, legal, human condition for some, but he knew that in a perfect world it would not exist. His long consilium on this case reveals his pleasure in defending this colonial family." This is the reverse of Bosco's own statement, which assumed that conscience would favor slavery, and it illustrates how misleading the Christian amelioration narrative can be when studying medieval attitudes toward slavery.

The study of slavery in the medieval Islamicate world is part of a different historiographical tradition. The Eurocentric nature of the Marxist narrative combined with the relative lack of surviving economic sources from the Islamicate world means that an economic approach has not gained much traction. Instead, scholars have focused on legal history, for which there are excellent sources; and social history, with special attention to questions of race, gender, and sexuality. The object of this scholarship has sometimes been framed in ahistorical terms as "Islamic slavery," but recently, there has been more attention to variations in the practice of slavery by Muslims living in specific times and places. Conversations with historians and anthropologists of slavery in Africa have also enriched the study of slavery in Islamicate societies.

The study of mamluks, or military slaves, under the Mamluk sultanate in Egypt and Syria has been shaped by an additional set of questions. One question is the extent to which military slavery was distinctive to Islamicate societies; comparative research has shown that it was not. Another question concerns the legal status and political legitimacy of Mamluk sultans. The Mamluks were unusual among societies with military slaves because Mamluk sultans were former slaves ruling in their own names, de jure as well as de facto. This system of government was possible only because mamluks were manumitted at the end of their training. Their status as freedmen was essential to their legal and political ability to govern: they were not and could not be slave rulers. Their previous enslavement mattered politically, however, because the education imposed on them as slaves shaped their careers after manumission. It is this formative aspect of slavery that has occupied the attention of most scholars of the Mamluk system.

Although the Christian amelioration narrative would seem to have little to do with the history of slavery in the Islamicate world, it has influenced the field in subtle ways. British antislavery societies and representatives of the British state pressured nineteenth-century Muslim rulers to abolish slavery to demonstrate their civilizational progress. Their defensive reaction to British pressure coalesced into an Islamic amelioration narrative. According to the Islamic amelioration narrative, Islam held slave owners to a high moral standard and caused Muslims to treat their slaves far better than Christian slave owners ever had. Thus Christians had no moral high ground with regard to slavery. This discourse has developed, on one hand, into an Islamic case for abolition and, on the other hand, into a debate about whether the slaves of Muslim masters were truly well treated. A new chapter has recently been added by the Islamic State's decision to legalize slavery within its territory and to enslave Yazidi captives, a decision that has been condemned by Muslims in other parts of the world.

Like the Christian amelioration narrative, the Islamic amelioration narrative encourages generational chauvinism: the idea that modern people are inherently better or wiser than medieval people and therefore qualified to judge them. Thus, like the Christian amelioration narrative, the Islamic amelioration narrative should be challenged and discarded as anachronistic. Stronger arguments are available to activists who wish to oppose slavery in the present day. As for slavery in the past, arguments about good and bad treatment have not been productive for several reasons. First, an individual slave's experience of slavery depended on the behavior of his or her individual master and on the overarching legal and social structures that governed slavery. Second, because of the common culture of slavery in the late medieval Mediterranean, the overarching legal and social structures were remarkably similar across Christian and Muslim societies. Finally, because Christians and Muslims in the late medieval Mediterranean acquired their slaves from the same sources in the Black Sea, those slaves were subject to the same violence of capture, the same humiliation of sale, and the same vulnerability of status regardless of where they were eventually taken or who eventually bought them.

Outline of Chapters

This book is not a comparative history of slavery in medieval Italy and Egypt. Mamluks, Genoese, and Venetians shared a common culture of slavery, and they participated together as partners and competitors in the Black Sea slave trade. To present an integrated picture, this book is divided into two parts. The first part, Chapters 1 through 4, defines slavery as it was instituted in the late medieval Mediterranean and highlights some aspects of the common culture of slavery, especially those related to trade and the market. The second part, Chapters 5 through 7, examines the various forces that shaped the slave trade from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.

The book begins by defining slavery within a specific context: the Mediterranean in the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries. Chapter 1, "Slavery in the Late Medieval Mediterranean," presents fundamental assumptions about slavery in that context. Slavery was legal and socially acceptable among Christians, Muslims, and Jews living in the late medieval Mediterranean. Although enslavement was a universal threat that affected everyone living in the region, slave status was based on religious difference: people were not supposed to enslave adherents of the same religion as themselves. However, once enslaved, slaves were expected to convert to the religion of their masters, and their conversion did not require manumission. Because religious belief was a difficult quality to prove in court, the second chapter, "Difference and the Perception of Slave Status," discusses how language and race were used as shorthand for categorizing individuals as enslaveable or not enslaveable in a particular society.

Chapter 3, "Societies with Slaves: Genoa, Venice, and the Mamluk Sultanate," sketches the demography of the late medieval Mediterranean slave population. It then explores the experiences of slaves and the kinds of labor and service they performed. Gender, race, and the master's identity all played a role in the services demanded of individual slaves. Chapter 4, "The Slave Market and the Act of Sale," describes the locations and operations of the major slave markets in Genoa, Venice, Cairo, and Alexandria. It walks through the process of inspecting a slave, explaining how a slave sale differed from the sale of any other commodity. It presents the surviving data for the changing prices of slaves as well as various factors that might affect the price of a particular slave. Finally, it highlights certain unusual contractual clauses specific to the sale of slaves, such as the health warranty and the consent clause.

Chapter 5, "Making Slaves in the Black Sea," surveys the evidence for violent capture and sale by relatives as the chief mechanisms for enslaving free people around the Black Sea. It then examines regional and local conditions that governed the slave trade across the Black Sea. The long-standing rivalry between Genoa and Venice for control over major ports and shipping in the Black Sea and in the Mediterranean was one important factor. Another was the Mamluk-Golden Horde alliance, established in the mid-thirteenth century, and the Mamluks' desire to ensure safe passage for their merchants and a steady supply of slaves. Political changes in the states surrounding the Black Sea, especially during the mid- and late fourteenth century, also affected which groups of people were most vulnerable to enslavement.

The heart of the book is Chapter 6, "Constraining Disorder: Merchants, States, and the Structure of the Slave Trade." It profiles individual merchants who bought and sold slaves in small numbers and in bulk, for themselves and as agents for others. It also traces the routes those merchants used; the ways in which they cooperated and competed with one another; the risks and logistical challenges they faced; the rewards they received; and the role of states in constraining, directing, and taxing their activities. It shows that the Black Sea slave trade was not conducted by professional slave traders—there were no specialists who made their living chiefly by trading or shipping slaves. Instead, the slave trade was conducted by opportunists, buying and selling slaves alongside other commodities and transporting them in mixed-cargo ships.

The final chapter, "Crusade, Embargo, and the Trade in Mamluk Slaves," situates the Black Sea slave trade within the religious and diplomatic contexts of the late medieval crusade movement and the broader struggle between Christian and Muslim powers for control of the Mediterranean. Christian proponents of the crusades asserted that Christian merchants, especially the Genoese, were strengthening the enemy by supplying the Mamluks with military slaves from the Black Sea. They advocated that slaves be included in the papal embargo policy against the Mamluks. Although Genoa did play an important role in facilitating the Mamluk slave trade, it was the state rather than individual merchants that negotiated the terms of engagement with the Mamluks, and it was the state that struggled to reconcile its slaving and crusading activities. Thus the Mediterranean trade in Black Sea slaves should be understood not only as an economic activity carried out by merchants but also as an area of state regulation with significant diplomatic and religious consequences.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Slavery in the Late Medieval Mediterranean
Chapter 2. Difference and the Perception of Slave Status
Chapter 3. Societies with Slaves: Genoa, Venice, and the Mamluk Sultanate
Chapter 4. The Slave Market and the Act of Sale
Chapter 5. Making Slaves in the Black Sea
Chapter 6. Constraining Disorder: Merchants, States, and the Structure of the Slave Trade
Chapter 7. Crusade, Embargo, and the Trade in Mamluk Slaves

List of Abbreviations

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