Notes on the History of Slavery: Spanish Preferences

In her 2014 paper “Evolution of the Origin of Slaves Sold in Spain from the Late Middle Ages till the 18th Century,” Aurelia Martín Casares has a deep look at the geographic and ethnic origins of enslaved people who were sold in Spain in the period. She has this interesting tidbit early on:

I have to say that when I started my doctoral thesis on slavery in 16th century Granada, twenty years ago, most Spanish historians, and several hispanists, tried to dissuade me from continuing because “in Early Modern Spain, there were no slaves”.

She’s right that there were slaves, obviously. And not only in the eastern seaboard, the place where slavery was most prominent; she did find evidence for (admittedly small-scale) slavery for example in the Basque Country and Galicia:

Muza and Ali de Tremecén were sold in 1620 in the Basque Country. ARCHIVO MUNICIPAL DE HERNANI, E-7-III-7-10. Asuntos Criminales, Expediente 10. A Moor, named Eiza Abdalá, was taken captive by Thomás de Iraguirre in Irún (Basque Country), and sold at public auction in 1648 for a price of 200 silver reales. ARCHIVO MUNICIPAL DE FUENTERRABÍA, B-1-I5, Doc 3. Sección B, negociado 1, Libro 5, Expediente 3. A slave was freed in 1536 in SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA. ARCHIVO HISTÓRICO DIOCESANO, Protocolos S-67. Registro de Escrituras, fol. 22-23.

Martín has a good summary of the overall picture for much of the period she studied:

Among other things, male slaves worked in royal galleys, mines or constructions while men and women worked in craft workshops or farming the fields.  Besides, female slaves roamed the streets carrying firewood and bringing baskets of fruits and vegetables from the markets. Yet, above all, female slaves cooked, washed clothes in the rivers, kneaded bread, fed children, cared for the sick, spun in homes and workshops and worked in taverns and inns serving travelers, and occasionally becoming victims of prostitution.

These slaves came to Spain from the north (Slavs), Mediterranean (Moors), Americas (Native Americans), Subsaharan Africa and even Spain itself — Moor captives during the Reconquista and later Moriscos sold as slaves after they revolted against Christian power. As many of 10,000 Moors were sold as slaves after the conquest of Málaga in 1487, according to one estimate Martín cites.

Slav slavery dried out in the 15th century, with Native American slavery only occurring in the 16th century (Black Americans were sold in Spain up to the the 18th century). It must be said, however, that all categories showed a marked decline over time for many of the reasons that I cited elsewhere in this series, especially here; this is not something that Martín emphasizes, and she should have.

One other caveat, that she does cite:

Later, in the 18th century, slaves arriving in Spain were mainly of Sub-Saharan
ancestry, Caribbean slaves accompanying their indiano owners. They arrived to
Spain through the New World Slave Trade, since most of them came from the
Caribbean area, and the majority had Sub-Saharan ancestors.

Spaniards did not import slaves in any significant amount by then (and even before) but they did arrive in the country with their American owners. These caveats about 15th century slavery are also very relevant:

It has been documented that hunger forced many Balkan households, especially
Bosnians and Albanians, to sell their children and babies in order to survive. The Turks used to raid Bulgarian, Albanian, Bosnian, Serb, and Greek villages, in order to enslave their populations and sell them to Western Europeans, e.g. Italians or Spaniards. Balkan slaves represented 4.9% of the total slave population registered in the documents examined in Valencia (1375-1425), where Bulgarians were the largest group and the remaining Balkan nations were largely less represented. In addition to the populations from the Black Sea area and the Balkans, other slave origins such as Turks, Sardinians and Guanches (natives from the Canary Islands, only sold in the 15th century) were also sold as slaves in Spain. Ottoman Turks were often captured while they themselves were slave raiding the Balkans.  Moreover, most of these slaves were captured at sea, when Ottoman corsair galleys were taken over.

Rebel Sardinians (who were Christian) were also sold in Spain, although this looks HIGHLY anecdotal:

The capture of Sardinian insurgents fighting against the royal troops meant their enslavement. In 1382, Bernat Ferrer sold a Sardinian, who went by the name of Bartolomeu, and the relevant document specifies that he was captured during the war waged by the king of Aragon against the Sardinian rebels, who were discreet in number.

Other details of interest include the arrival of Turk slaves en (relative) masse at Cadiz in the 1690s, as the Ottoman Empire lost multiple battles before the peace of Karlowitz in 1699. A small number of Jews were sold between the 14th and the 17th centuries. This also piqued my interest:

in 16th century Granada, the colour of slaves from North Africa was specified in 83% of the sales charts analysed. The fact that some scribes systematically defined the skin colour of Berberisco slaves would indicate that it was not taken for granted as white. In fact, 48% were white, 24% black, 1% mulatto, 8% loro, and 3% membrillo cocho. Therefore, their colour was frequently defined in the manuscripts as white, loro (between black and white, like nearly ripened wheat),35 and also as membrillo cocho (literally “cooked quince”).

Picturesque slave-traders, yes. I also didn’t know that Berber women had very prominent facial tattooes as late as the 18th century:

I will mention the selling of Ana María del Rosario in 1720 in Granada, who was “marked on her face, forehead, right cheek, and left arm, as was wont in Berbería.”

This shouldn’t be forgotten in discussions of slavery:

North Africans were also captured while they themselves were conducting raids
along the Castilian coasts.

Martín ends up her paper with some considerations on the role that Christianity (particularly Spanish Catholicism) had or didn’t have on the containment and eventual banishment of slavery. She’s at her most relevant here:

I should mention that Elizabeth I, “The Catholic”, took into consideration the abolition of American Indigenous people in his will, made in 1505. At the same time, it is important to remember that the laws of Burgos of 1512 and he ones of Valladolid 1513, regulated certain issues in order to ameliorate their working conditions. Although, it should be pointed out that Bartolomé de las Casas advocated the introduction of black slaves in order to save Indians from slavery… I have to mention that some voices were raised in America, basically against the enslavement of Black Africans. Notably, the writings of the friars Epifanio de Moirans and Francisco José de Jaca against black African slavery, that unfortunately did not have a significant impact in the Church authorities. In turn, Alonso de Sandoval, a Jesuit sent to Cartagena de Indias, ended accepting slavery despite realizing the inhumane conditions in which the slaves from Africa arrived to America. In fact, Spanish ecclesiasts had slaves in Iberia and America, and slave labour was crucial, for example, in Jesuit haciendas. With respect to the moralists of the Iberian Peninsula, Bartolomé de Albornoz wrote that it was not the owners’ duty to investigate the circumstances in which their slaves were captivated, because their sale was legal in Spain. Others authors such as Tomás de Mercado, González de Cellorigo, or Fray Juan Márquez, hold the same ideas, that is, while recognizing partly the global injustice of slavery, especially when “just war” was not respected, they end up accepting and justifying their existence as a traditionally and legally accepted institution in Spain.”

About David Roman

Communicator. I tweet @dromanber.
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1 Response to Notes on the History of Slavery: Spanish Preferences

  1. Pingback: Notes on the History of Slavery: Spanish Preferences – The Philosophical Hack

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