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Slavery in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia

By William D. Phillips, Jr.

Publication Year: 2013

The enslaved population of medieval Iberia composed only a small percentage of the general populace at any given point, and slave labor was not essential to the regional economy during the period. Yet slaves were present in Iberia from the beginning of recorded history until the early modern era, and the regulations and norms for slavery and servitude shifted as time passed and kingdoms rose and fell. The Romans brought their imperially sanctioned forms of slavery to the Iberian peninsula, and these were adapted by successive Christian kingdoms during the Middle Ages. The Muslim conquest of Iberia introduced new ideas about slavery and effected an increase in slave trade. During the later Middle Ages and the early modern period, slave owners in Christian Spain and Portugal maintained slaves at home, frequently captives taken in wars and sea raids, and exported their slave systems to colonies across the Atlantic.

Slavery in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia provides a magisterial survey of the many forms of bound labor in Iberia from ancient times to the decline of slavery in the eighteenth century. William D. Phillips, Jr., examines the pecuniary and legal terms of slavery from purchase to manumission. He pays particular attention to the conditions of life for the enslaved, which, in a religiously diverse society, differed greatly for Muslims and Christians as well as for men and women. This sweeping narrative will become the definitive account of slavery in a place and period that deeply influenced the forms of forced servitude that shaped the New World.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-ix

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pp. 1-9

This present work of synthesis surveys the history of slavery in Iberia from ancient times to the modern period. It relies in part on the studies of slavery I published in the 1980s but differs greatly in its content, focus, and structure from those earlier works. Though I cite a few archival sources, I have based the work on my reading of as much of the available scholarly literature as...

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Chapter 1. The History of Slavery in Iberia

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pp. 10-27

Slavery was present in the Iberian Peninsula from the beginning of recorded history. It was prominent in Roman times and in the early Middle Ages under the Visigoths. The Muslims maintained a slave system in Iberia as long as they held territory there. The medieval Christian kingdoms of the peninsula all had slaves and laws governing them, and slavery continued in early modern Spain...

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Chapter 2. To Become a Slave

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pp. 28-53

There were many variations on the three methods of becoming a slave that the authors of the Siete Partidas noted, and several other ways that they failed to mention. An investigation of the complicated history of slavery in Iberia illustrates many of the paths toward slavery. Throughout the history of slavery, some slaves were born into servitude. Children of slave mothers were slaves; that...

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Chapter 3. The Traffic in Slaves

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pp. 54-78

The slave trade lasted throughout the Middle Ages and the early modern period, in both Christian and Muslim areas, even though birth and capture in war and raids produced more enslaved people. Yet the categories of trade and capture are hard to separate, for many of the people traded as slaves in Iberia had originally been born free and had been enslaved during war or in raids...

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Chapter 4. To Live as a Slave

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pp. 79-102

The lives of slaves varied considerably, even though they lived under similar legal frameworks. Age and gender, physical appearance, language, and religion could alter the circumstances of their lives. The work they did and their skills or their ability to acquire them were crucial variables. In this chapter, we will first examine the legal conditions that slaves lived under, and then...

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Chapter 5. To Work as a Slave

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pp. 103-121

A common definition of slavery describes it as a variety of forced, uncompensated labor. Although this definition relates to a single aspect of slavery, slave owners certainly expected their slaves to work for them. In the history of slavery in the Iberian Peninsula, we find slaves working at a wide range of tasks, from domestics to slave soldiers, from artisans to garbage collectors. Domestic...

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Chapter 6. To Become Free

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pp. 122-145

Slaves would certainly have agreed that slavery was vile and freedom dear and valuable. Slaves in every period tried to escape from their masters and from slavery, and flight was a common resort. They always had the option to flee, but that attempt to attain freedom could have only two possible successful outcomes: either the fugitives could try to reach their homes or at least a welcoming...

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Epilogue: The Wider Extensions of Iberian Slavery

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pp. 146-162

The long history of slavery in Iberia from ancient to modern times has unfolded in this book, beginning with the Romans, passing through the Visigothic period, viewing the Islamic and Christian portions of the peninsula during the Middle Ages, and tracing developments in the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal well into the early modern period and to the end of slavery in...


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pp. 163-216


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pp. 217-246


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pp. 247-258

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pp. 259-259

This book has evolved over a number of years and through research in a number of libraries. I would like to thank the staffs of the following ones: the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, San Diego State University, the University of California-San Diego, California State University-Fullerton, the University of California-Los Angeles, the University of Texas-Austin, the New York...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812209174
E-ISBN-10: 0812209176
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812244915
Print-ISBN-10: 0812244915

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 3 illus.
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 870336965
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Slavery in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia

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Subject Headings

  • Slavery -- Iberian Peninsula -- History -- To 1500.
  • Slavery -- Iberian Peninsula -- History -- 16th century.
  • Slaves -- Iberian Peninsula -- History -- To 1500.
  • Slaves -- Iberian Peninsula -- History -- 16th century.
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