Enemies and Familiars

Enemies and Familiars: Slavery and Mastery in Fifteenth-Century Valencia

Debra Blumenthal
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 328
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Enemies and Familiars
    Book Description:

    A prominent Mediterranean port located near Islamic territories, the city of Valencia in the late fifteenth century boasted a slave population of pronounced religious and ethnic diversity: captive Moors and penally enslaved Mudejars, Greeks, Tartars, Russians, Circassians, and a growing population of black Africans. By the end of the fifteenth century, black Africans comprised as much as 40 percent of the slave population of Valencia.

    Whereas previous historians of medieval slavery have focused their efforts on defining the legal status of slaves, documenting the vagaries of the Mediterranean slave trade, or examining slavery within the context of Muslim-Christian relations, Debra Blumenthal explores the social and human dimensions of slavery in this religiously and ethnically pluralistic society. Enemies and Familiars traces the varied experiences of Muslim, Eastern, and black African slaves from capture to freedom. After describing how men, women, and children were enslaved and brought to the Valencian marketplace, this book examines the substance of slaves' daily lives: how they were sold and who bought them; the positions ascribed to them within the household hierarchy; the sorts of labor they performed; and the ways in which some reclaimed their freedom. Scrutinizing a wide array of archival sources (including wills, contracts, as well as hundreds of civil and criminal court cases), Blumenthal investigates what it meant to be a slave and what it meant to be a master at a critical moment of transition.

    Arguing that the dynamics of the master-slave relationship both reflected and determined contemporary opinions regarding religious, ethnic, and gender differences, Blumenthal's close study of the day-to-day interactions between masters and their slaves not only reveals that slavery played a central role in identity formation in late medieval Iberia but also offers clues to the development of "racialized" slavery in the early modern Atlantic world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6368-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XI-XII)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. XIII-XIV)
  6. Editorial Method
    (pp. XV-XV)
  7. Maps
    (pp. XVI-XX)
    (pp. 1-8)

    In the fifteenth century, Valencia was an important Mediterranean port that rivaled, and for a time surpassed, Barcelona in its prominence as a commercial center. Merchants and corsairs, correspondingly, came to Valencia from all points of the compass, bearing captives to be put up for sale. Although the “moro” arguably was the most popularized slave figure in contemporary literature, those enslaved included Tartar, Circassian, Russian and Greek Orthodox Christian women and children, as well as black Africans and Canary Islanders. Valencians procured slaves not only by physically capturing them—waging warfare against so-called enemies of the faith and Crown, but...

    (pp. 9-45)

    Although Caçim Benhamet had been a linen weaver in his native Tunis, on 16 July 1434, thirty-year-old Caçim entered the city of Valencia as a slave. Purchased four days later by Orfresina, the wife of Marti de Sayes, Caçim was one of several thousand slaves living in this city.¹ Caçim’s fellows in captivity included not only Muslims but Eastern Orthodox Christians and sub-Saharan Africans, women like Maria, a twenty-six-year-old Greek female born on the island of Cyprus, and boys like Johanico, a ten year old described as “Jalof” ( Wolof ) by Crown officials. How did they get here? why...

    (pp. 46-79)

    In the spring of 1500, a merchant complained that his efforts to sell a white male “Moor” named Pere were being thwarted repeatedly by statements made by the slave before potential buyers. Pere’s predilection for disclosing his “hidden defects” had so thoroughly compromised this merchant’s ability to sell the slave that the merchant, the curator of the estate of a deceased tanner, now sought the Justícia Civil’s permission to sell him at a greatly reduced price.

    For the past two months and twenty days, the merchant maintained, he had made repeated attempts to find the slave a buyer, contracting the...

    (pp. 80-121)

    In 1466, two sisters, Johana and Ursola, filed a wrongful enslavement suit against their master (a Valencian merchant) demanding that, in addition to their immediate liberation, they receive back salary for the more than fifteen years of service they provided “as slaves even though they were free.” Kidnapped from their Castilian Mudejar parents at the ages, respectively, of three and five, Johana and Ursola detailed how, both in their master’s household in the city and on his rural properties located near the village of Paiporta, they had “worked with all their might,” providing “as much service as slaves can and...

    (pp. 122-153)

    In 1453, the nobleman Luis de Castellar sued Castelleta, the wife of another nobleman, for custody of Ventura, the daughter of his white slave woman. Though Luis possessed documentation recording how he had purchased Ventura as a fetus, buying Ventura’s mother when she was seven months’ pregnant, this nobleman did not simply brandish the duly notarized contract of sale and leave it at that. In order to more conclusively establish his rights, Luis detailed how he had raised Ventura from infancy. Thus, Luis stressed how, within the first few weeks of Ventura’s birth, he had seen to it that she...

    (pp. 154-193)

    In 1471, a nobleman appeared before the court of the Justícia Civil protesting that Johan, the partially manumitted black male slave he inherited from his brother, had put him and his household “in great peril.” To avoid “the dangers and scandals that the slave caused and would continue to cause him,” he insisted that he had no choice but to sell the slave—despite the clause in his brother’s will promising Johan freedom after completing a ten-year term of service.¹

    Six witnesses appearing on this nobleman’s behalf corroborated his assessment, describing Johan as “a big disgrace,” “extremely arrogant,” “despicable,” and...

    (pp. 194-238)

    Shortly after Christmas, 1461, the merchant Joan Rossell lay on his deathbed surrounded by his wife Ysabel, his brother Dionis, and his slave woman Maria. Fearful of what lay ahead of her after her master’s demise, Maria seized this opportunity to make one final plea for her liberation. Climbing into her master’s bed to help put him in a more comfortable position, Maria reportedly burst into tears, begging her master to “make me free so that I do not fall into the hands of another!” Although other witnesses’ descriptions of this scene feature a more assertive Maria pointedly questioning her...

    (pp. 239-266)

    In 1470, a Tartar freedman named Anthoni Peralda sat languishing in Valencia’s municipal jail. Describing himself as a “foreigner” with no local ties, Anthoni threw himself on the mercy of the court, beseeching the governor to collect testimony from abroad that would confirm his freed status since there was no one in Valencia who could vouch for him.¹ A blanket weaver whose liberty was being challenged more than a decade following his manumission, Anthoni’s plea illustrates the precarious position of freed persons in late medieval Iberian society.

    Almost immediately following his liberation, Anthoni departed from his master’s house, moving from...

    (pp. 267-278)

    Abustling Mediterranean port located near Islamic territories, the city of Valencia boasted a slave population of pronounced religious and ethnic diversity. Although a significant proportion of them were Muslims who had been seized in land raids or sea battles, over the course of the fifteenth century the slaves directly captured in warfare progressively were outnumbered by shiploads of sub-Saharan Africans and Canary Islanders sent by Portuguese and Italian traders based in clearinghouses along the Atlantic coast. Nevertheless, enslaved men and women would continue to be referred to as “captives of good war” (catius de bona guerra) well into the sixteenth...

  17. Appendix Demandes de Libertat Filed before the Court of the Gobernación in the City of Valencia between 1425 and 1520
    (pp. 279-280)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 281-298)
  19. Index
    (pp. 299-306)