Tuesday, 2 September 2014

SLAVERY 4 - the originals...

I have spent the last couple of days looking through the 1280 to 1282 book of Debita Notariae – solicitor’s documents from medieval Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik, image from wikicommons

Why bother when there is an excellent edition of much of this material published by Gregor Cremosnik in 1931? First, quite simply because he didn’t include everything, so there are all kinds of fascinating nuggets to discover by looking through the document itself.

Second, because reading an edited selection doesn’t give you a real sense of the nature of the document itself.  It’s partly just the thrill of holding parchment from the thirteenth century.  But it’s more than that.  It’s seeing how carefully each of these notarial records was transcribed – the script is immaculate, the items carefully lined and justified for clarity: these are the workings of an extremely efficient set of notarial practices – thirteenth-century Dubrovnik was clearly a well-run city.  And, most strikingly, it’s about seeing where the slave trade fitted into the general life of the city. Returning to the original document, we find slave contracts interspersed with records of land and building transactions, marriage contracts, debt recovery procedures.  Even some of the legal formulae are the same.  These people were being treated as commodities like many others.

On folio 34 recto of the first volume of parchment, we find a record of a land transaction undertaken by one Stancius Butiglarius on behalf of his mother.  She was apparently 'present and consenting' [presentem et consentientem] - this seems to be quite a common formula to describe the consent of women in transactions undertaken for them by their husbands, sons or fathers.   The very next case noted in the document is the sale of a slave called Radosti de Bosna to one Pasque de Pecorario.  She seems to have been sold by a pair of traders who crop up several more times in the same volume.  The slave was apparently 'present and consenting' [presentem et consentientem] to this transaction.  This is a standard formula in these sale contracts, and the moral obfuscation it represents is pretty chilling.  But what's so striking here is the way it directly mimics so many other forms of transaction - nothing, not the language, nor the script, nor the placing of the transaction in the manuscript, distinguishes these sales from the material concerns of everyday business.

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