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Medieval and Byzantine History Medieval and Byzantine History Forum - Period of History between classical antiquity and modern times, roughly the 5th through 16th Centuries


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Old January 13th, 2018, 07:30 AM   #1

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Slavery in medieval Serbia, Bosnia and Dubrovnik


So, I have recently started looking into this subject. Slavery existed in both medieval Serbia and Bosnia, there are references to slaves in the Dušan's code, where it is stated the slaves of the nobility were their eternal heritage, and that only a member of the noble family can free a family slave. However, there is still some debate on whether or not the slaves from Dušan's Code (called otroci) were actual slaves or not. Their status, judging from the Code, is similar to the status of slaves though. On the other hand, judging from other medieval Serbian documents, we see that the term otrok can be used to describe a servant, a trusted man, a feudal serf. It seems that the very term otrok was used to describe a wide variety of things, and that we can't simply say that otroks are slaves. However, slavery (actual slavery) was also widespread in the region along the sea, where there was a developed slave trade network, one of the main centers on the eastern side was Dubrovnik, although there were other cities, Kotor for example that participated in the trade. Most slaves were Slavs. From the 12th to the 14th century the trade was at its peak, and women and children were especially wanted as slaves. There were also bands of the ropci (slave-raiders) who abducted people into slavery. The Catholic Church also played a part in the whole affair, accepting slavery if the slaves were schismatics or heretics. St. Antoninus of Florence even said that the slaves can't be freed even if they accept baptism and become Catholics. Slaves were often members of the Church of Bosnia, and sometimes even the rulers of Bosnia sold their people into slavery. Of course, war captives were also sold.

In Dubrovnik 66% of slaves came from Bosnia, 7% from Usora, 6% from the regions around Sana, 5% from Hum, 4,5% from Travunia, 4,5% from the Vrbas region, 2% from Syrmia, 1,5% from Croatia, 1% from Požega, and the rest came from regions such as Trebinje, although there were slaves from even more distant regions like Hungary. Slave traders also had various background. A lot were Ragusans (from Dubrovnik), others were from Hum, Trebinje, Konavli, Bosnia, Gacko, Rudnik, Nevesinje and from other coastal cities like Split and Trogir. In Bosnia the trade was centered around the Drijeva square near Gabela. Slaves had a huge role in Dubrovnik, Slavic slaves were sometimes used as teachers of Slavic language, and the presence of slaves actually eased the pressure on the noble ladies, who no longer had to do domestic duties and chores (the slaves did it), so they turned to their other duty: childbirth. Many slaves were women, mostly Orthodox or from the Bosnian Church. The price for slaves differed: 27-28 gold coins for women, 30 for men. However, you could sell a young woman for as high as 48 coins, and a young man for 50 coins. More prized were foreign slaves, for example for a Tatar, Circassian, Russian or a Saracen women the minimal price was 42 coins. Russian or Circassian women were described as gentle and more beautiful, while Tatar women were described as stronger and endurable.

Eventually, many cities banned slavery and/or slave trade (Split in 1373, Trogir and Korčula in 1397, Dubrovnik in 1416), but it was not respected. For example, in Dubrovnik in 1445 Marin de Bona and Benedetto Magrino agreed to sell 12-15 slaves. In the middle of the 15th century, many Greeks, Tatars, Russians, Muslims and blacks were sold as slaves in Dubrovnik, to the Turks, Italians, Catalans etc. After the fall of Serbia in 1459 and the fall of Skadar in 1479, many people came to Dubrovnik willing to sell themselves as slaves. Unlike in the ancient period, most slaves didn't work in the field, but were instead personal servants. The need for slaves increased in the aftermath of the Black Death, which eliminated much of the population and many of the servants. The Ottomans themselves were slavers, although slave routes changed with their arrival, with many slaves being taken to the Levant instead to the Adriatic.
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Old January 13th, 2018, 09:27 AM   #2
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Thanks for this informative post, it is a interesting subject, apparently there is still some work to be done in the topic of medieval European slavery. i still miss a bigger comparative synthesis to see them in a larger regional context together. like the cambridge world history of slavery series https://www.cambridge.org/core/serie...0BDAEAED4485B9 has long published their 1st, 3rd and 4th volumes, just the 2nd is still missing, which would be about the medieval slavery...

(for the Arpadian age Hungary i can recommend this https://www.amazon.ca/Slavery-Arpad-.../dp/9004248331 but i don't know a study on the 14-15th century situation, it is generally stated that they merged into the unified serf class in that age and lost their importance...).

For Serbia i guess comparison with the Byzantine slavery would be also quite relevant (i haven't read this Byzantine Slavery and the Mediterranean World ? Youval Rotman | Harvard University Press any opinion on it?)

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Unlike in the ancient period, most slaves didn't work in the field, but were instead personal servants.
did they also use galley slaves in Dalmatian port towns, like in Italy?
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Old January 13th, 2018, 10:59 AM   #3

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Not likely. In 1416, slave trade was outlawed in Dubrovnik, but slavery was tolerated as long as slaves were used locally, as servants for the nobility etc. The leaders of the Republic of Ragusa wouldn't have been able to use galley slaves because their own laws would not allow it. The slave trade continued, as I have already said, because it was very lucrative, but I failed to mention that the authorities of the Republic truly tried to stop it, the punishment for trading a slave was 6 months in jail, possible loss of trading license and a fine.
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Old January 13th, 2018, 01:27 PM   #4

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Not likely. In 1416, slave trade was outlawed in Dubrovnik, but slavery was tolerated as long as slaves were used locally, as servants for the nobility etc. The leaders of the Republic of Ragusa wouldn't have been able to use galley slaves because their own laws would not allow it. The slave trade continued, as I have already said, because it was very lucrative, but I failed to mention that the authorities of the Republic truly tried to stop it, the punishment for trading a slave was 6 months in jail, possible loss of trading license and a fine.
Slavery was not outlawed in Ragusa in 1416. Consilium Maius just restricted the places of origins of potential slaves. Slavery thrived in Ragusa during the century. See: B. Krekić, L' abolition de l'esclavage a Dubrovnik au XVe siecle: mythe ou realite?, Dubrovnik: a Mediterranean Urban Society 1300-1600, 1997, p. 311.
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Old January 13th, 2018, 01:51 PM   #5

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I find it interesting that otrok meant slave in Serbian back then. It still retains this meaning in Czech. In Slovene though, otrok means child. (Surprisingly it is also one of the few Slovene words ending with -k that has the palatalised encing -ci.) And while chlapec means boy in Czech, hlapec means servant in Slovene although children used to be archaicly called hlapčiči. Does a similar word to hlapec exist in Serbian and do you perhaps know when the word rob became favoured over otrok?


Sources say that ancient Slavs used to free their slaves after a certain period of time. This probably wasn't a common case in Serbia and Ragusa, or?
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Old January 13th, 2018, 02:35 PM   #6

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I find it interesting that otrok meant slave in Serbian back then. It still retains this meaning in Czech. In Slovene though, otrok means child. (Surprisingly it is also one of the few Slovene words ending with -k that has the palatalised encing -ci.) And while chlapec means boy in Czech, hlapec means servant in Slovene although children used to be archaicly called hlapčiči. Does a similar word to hlapec exist in Serbian and do you perhaps know when the word rob became favoured over otrok?


Sources say that ancient Slavs used to free their slaves after a certain period of time. This probably wasn't a common case in Serbia and Ragusa, or?
Otrok is an Old Church Slavonic word and was used in its basic meaning ("child") through whole medieval period in Serbia, albeit in Old Church Slavonic texts only (texts in popular Serbian didn't feature it). The word "otrok" designate people of certain status in Serbian society. While they had limited personal liberties, the very fact that the Greek words for slave were never translated with "otrok" (mostly with "rab") are enough to say that they weren't slaves. Such a class started disappearing since the beginning of the 15th century, which can be noted in the Dušan's Code.

Sometimes "otroci" (plural of "otrok") was used in meaning "dependent population" in general. "Otrok" might designate an assistant or a servant. Sometimes "otrok" is a name for executive organs of some officials.

And no, we didn't retain the term "hlapec".
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Old January 13th, 2018, 03:01 PM   #7

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Quote:
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Otrok is an Old Church Slavonic word and was used in its basic meaning ("child") through whole medieval period in Serbia, albeit in Old Church Slavonic texts only (texts in popular Serbian didn't feature it). The word "otrok" designate people of certain status in Serbian society. While they had limited personal liberties, the very fact that the Greek words for slave were never translated with "otrok" (mostly with "rab") are enough to say that they weren't slaves. Such a class started disappearing since the beginning of the 15th century, which can be noted in the Dušan's Code.

Sometimes "otroci" (plural of "otrok") was used in meaning "dependent population" in general. "Otrok" might designate an assistant or a servant. Sometimes "otrok" is a name for executive organs of some officials.

And no, we didn't retain the term "hlapec".
Thanks for the answer!
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Old January 13th, 2018, 08:47 PM   #8

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It was something different from what is known as serfdoom?
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Old January 13th, 2018, 10:47 PM   #9

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Quote:
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Slavery was not outlawed in Ragusa in 1416. Consilium Maius just restricted the places of origins of potential slaves. Slavery thrived in Ragusa during the century. See: B. Krekić, L' abolition de l'esclavage a Dubrovnik au XVe siecle: mythe ou realite?, Dubrovnik: a Mediterranean Urban Society 1300-1600, 1997, p. 311.
I never claimed slavery was outlawed, just the slave trade by its own inhabitants. The trade that was described as turpem, nefariam et abominabilem et contra omnem humanitatem, because the slaves were ad ymaginem et similitudinem Creatoris nostri, yet were treated as animalia bruta. (M. Dinić, Iz Dubrovačkog arhiva , III, 89-90, dok.200)
In 1466, Ragusan authorities also declared that whoever sold Ragusans or people on Ragusan territory as slaves must, in the time period of one month, restore freedom to the people he sold and bring them to Dubrovnik. If he does that, he will ONLY get his eyes gouged out. If he doesn't do that, he will be hanged. (B. Nedeljković, Liber Croceus, predgovor, XXVIII, referring to Liber Croceus, Cap. 46)
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Old January 14th, 2018, 04:57 AM   #10

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I never claimed slavery was outlawed, just the slave trade by its own inhabitants. The trade that was described as turpem, nefariam et abominabilem et contra omnem humanitatem, because the slaves were ad ymaginem et similitudinem Creatoris nostri, yet were treated as animalia bruta. (M. Dinić, Iz Dubrovačkog arhiva , III, 89-90, dok.200)
In 1466, Ragusan authorities also declared that whoever sold Ragusans or people on Ragusan territory as slaves must, in the time period of one month, restore freedom to the people he sold and bring them to Dubrovnik. If he does that, he will ONLY get his eyes gouged out. If he doesn't do that, he will be hanged. (B. Nedeljković, Liber Croceus, predgovor, XXVIII, referring to Liber Croceus, Cap. 46)
Neither was the slave trade banned. The 1416 decision was brought under pressure from Bosnia and it didn't ban slave trade. It forbade the Ragusans to slave Bosnian slaves further, but didn't prevent them from buying the slaves from Bosnia. These years are also the years when Catalans and Sicilians became main trading partners of Ragusa in the slave trade (the very Nedeljković's book, c. 162: "Verum si aliquis civis aut habitator Ragusii emeret aliquem servum vel servam pro usu suo, non intelligatur subiacere huiusmodi pene").

The 1466 decision also didn't forbid the slave trade. This time trade forbade the Ragusans to sell slaves owned by Ragusans or foreign passengers to the Ottomans (the very Nedeljković's book, c. 46)
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