Saturday, 6 September 2014


So much for posting every day - I was extremely ill last night, though thankfully now much better...
A view of freedom?

As I've gone through the first volume of the Debita Notariae, I've been looking out particularly for manumission of slaves.  It's been argued that slavery was very often a life-cycle stage - something temporary rather than a permanent state.  And it's certainly true that many slaves were indeed manumitted.  Whether such an impression would have been much comfort as they faced the clause 'diffinite ad mortem' ('valid until death') and what faced them after freedom are more troubling.

Why did people free slaves?  I've come across a variety of reasons.  Sometimes, they were freed on the owner's death because of a clause in a will (eg. fol. 53v.): typically, the owner would have left a variety of bequests to religious and charitable foundations, and the freeing of a slave was similarly supposed to be good for the soul of the testator.  Sometimes, they were freed during the life-time of the owner for the good of the latter's 'soul'.  In a particularly striking case, Nicholas Mauricenus, count of Ragusa, paid Dimitius Pradanovich of Canalus in order a pair of the latter's slaves - a brother and sister.  The count was motivated 'pro bona anima sua' - 'for the good of his soul' (fol 34v).

Such cases suggest that, although legally slavery was fine at this stage (1280s), morally people knew it to be problematic.  Why bother to free slaves unless one knew that there was something morally pretty abhorrent here?  It's an intriguing example of self-delusion when it suited, and the disjunction of legal and moral codes.

But, in most cases, slaves freed themselves by saving up enough to buy their freedom.  I'd love to know more about how they managed to save up the necessary money (and I guess this must have required at least some goodwill on the part of their owners).  In some cases, they borrowed the money: Milosti, a slave, bought her freedom in May 1282 by borrowing the money from one Bogdana - her husband also had to pledge that the money would be returned within a month.

And not all owners were particularly cooperative.  A contract from one Tyse, wife of Nicholas de Roncino, stated that she had freed her slave Drugosti.   But this wasn't out of generosity.   Drugosti had carefully saved up to purchase her freedom and had been allowed to do so only on condition that she provide a replacement: Budicana de Sana was the unhappy replacement.

So any sense that manumission was an act of generosity and progressive thinking seems to be misplaced.

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