Slavery in Spain

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Slavery in Spain can be traced to the times of the Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans. In the 9th century the Muslim Moorish rulers and local Jewish merchants traded in Spanish and Eastern European Christian slaves. Spain began to trade slaves in the 15th century and this trade reached its peak in the 16th century. The history of Spanish enslavement of Africans began with Portuguese captains Antão Gonçalves and Nuno Tristão in 1441. The first large group of African slaves, made up of 235 slaves, came with Lançarote de Freitas three years later. [1] In 1462, Portuguese slave traders began to operate in Seville, Spain. During the 1470s, Spanish merchants began to trade large numbers of slaves. Slaves were auctioned at market at a cathedral, and subsequently were transported to cities all over Imperial Spain. This led to the spread of Moorish, African, and Christian slavery in Spain. By the 16th century, 7.4 percent of the population in Seville, Spain were slaves. Many historians have concluded that Renaissance and early-modern Spain had the highest amount of African slaves in Europe. [2]


After the discovery of the New World, the Spanish colonialists decided to use it for commercial production and mining because of the absence of trading networks. [3] The native Native American population was used for this labor but they died in large numbers as a result of war, diseases, exploitation and social disruptions. [3] Meanwhile, the need for labor expanded, such as for the production of sugarcane. [3] The problem of the justness of Indian slavery was a key issue for the Spanish Crown. Bartolomé de las Casas was concerned about the fate of the natives and argued in 1516 that white and black slaves should be imported to the Indies to replace the Amerindians. [3] African slaves did have certain advantages over native slaves as being resistant to European diseases and more familiarity with agricultural techniques. [3] This preference led to the development of the Atlantic Slave Trade. [3]

It was Charles V who gave a definite answer to this complicated and delicate matter. To that end, on November 25, 1542, the Emperor abolished the enslavement of natives by decree in his Leyes Nuevas New Laws. This bill was based on the arguments given by the best Spanish theologists and jurists who were unanimous in the condemnation of such slavery as unjust; they declared it illegitimate and outlawed it from America—not just the slavery of Spaniards over Indians—but also the type of slavery practiced among the Indians themselves. [4] The labor system of Encomienda was also abolished in 1550. [3] However these laws did not end the practice of slavery or forced labor immediately and a new system of forced native Indian labor began to be used repartimiento and mita in Peru. Eventually this system too was abolished due to abuses. [3] By the 17th century, forced indigenous labor continued illegally and black slave labor legally. [3]

Slavery prior to 1492

Prior to 1492, Spain consisted of several different nations: different categories of people were enslaved in each, and slavery was conducted under different regulations.

Generally, these slaves were used for services and employed in various ways such as employment "in domestics, artisans an assistance of all kinds". [5] In the time frame of the Roman times to the Middle Ages, the percentage of the slave population was minimal. "Slaves probably made up less than 1 percent of the population in Spain." [6] "Slavery was cross-cultural and multi-ethnic" and, [7] in addition to that, slavery played an important role in the development of the economy for Spain and other countries. [8]

Roman laws

The idea that slavery was based on race was and continues to be one of the biggest misconceptions about slavery in Spain. Phillips Jr. William D. in The History of Slavery in Iberia, challenged the idea that race was not the key to determine who was enslaved, but instead religion. Roman laws existed, subjugating slavery which included the sources of slaves, their conditions, and possibility of liberation. [9] In addition, the "normal pattern" was to prohibit people from enslaving someone within their same religion. [9] The Romans made large use of slave gangs for agriculture and other purposes. [9]

Visigothic slavery

The Visigoths practiced slavery before they came to Iberia, and continued to practice it after arrival, using a system of slavery similar to that of the Romans, with some modifications. Their sources of slaves were similar to those of the Romans, as were their rules for treatment of slaves and manumission. Until their conversion from Aryan Christianity, the Visigoths had no hesitance to enslaving Catholic Christians. [9] A notable difference in their usage is that unlike the Romans, who only used them in the military in support roles, the Visigoths used slaves as active fighting troops. [9]

Slavery in Al-Andalus

During the Al-Andalus (also known as Muslim Spain or Islamic Iberia), the Moors controlled much of the peninsula. They imported white Christian slaves from the 8th century until the end of the Reconquista in the late 15th century. The slaves were exported from the Christian section of Spain, as well as Eastern Europe ( Saqaliba ), sparking significant reaction from many in Christian Spain and many Christians still living in Muslim Spain. The Muslims followed the same technique as Romans to capture slaves; seeking cities to ally with them. Soon after, Muslims were successful, taking 30,000 Christian captives from Spain. In the eighth century slavery lasted longer due to “frequent cross-border skirmishes, interspersed between periods of major campaigns.” By the tenth century, Byzantine Christians in the eastern Mediterranean were captured by Muslims. Many of the raids designed by Muslims were created for the fast capture of prisoners. Therefore, Muslims restricted control in order to keep captives from fleeing. The Iberian peninsula served as a base for further exports of slaves into other Muslim regions in Northern Africa. [10]

At the time of the formation of Al-Andalus, Mozarabs and Jews were allowed to remain and retain their slaves if they paid a head tax for themselves and half-value for the slaves. However, non-Muslims were prohibited from holding Muslim slaves, and so if one of their slaves converted to Islam, they were required to sell the slave to a Muslim. Mozarabs were later, by the 9th and 10th centuries, permitted to purchase new non-Muslim slaves via the peninsula's established slave trade. [9]

The saqaliba slavery during the Caliphate of Cordoba is the perhaps most well known in Al-Andalus. The slaves of the Caliph were often European saqaliba slaves trafficked from Northern or Eastern Europe. Male saqaliba could be given work in a number of tasks, such as offices in the kitchen, falconry, mint, textile workshops, the administration or the royal guard (in the case of harem guards, they were castrated), while female saqaliba were placed in the harem. [11]

The harem could contain thousands of slave concubines; the harem of Abd al-Rahman I consisted of 6,300 women. [12] They were appreciated for their light skin. [13] The concubines (jawaris) were educated in accomplishments to please their master, and many became known and respected for their knowledge in a variety of subjects from music to medicine. [13] A jawaris concubine who gave birth to a child attained the status of an umm walad , which meant that they could no longer be sold and were to be set free after the death of their master.

Slavery in Christian Iberia

In the Christian kingdoms of northern Iberia, slavery existed as well, originally as a continuation of Visigothic practices. Though enslavement of Christians was originally permitted, over the period from the 8th to the 11th centuries the Christian kingdoms gradually ceased this practice, limiting their pool of slaves to Muslims from Al-Andalus. Unlike the routine use of large slave gangs under the Romans, slavery in the medieval north mostly provided supplements to the workforce of free laborers and temporary labor for special projects. Male slaves also might be servants or agents, while female slaves often were domestics and concubines. [9]

With the phasing out of Christian slavery, the Christian kingdoms passed through a period where most slaves would come from military campaigns in the Muslim south. In the western kingdom of Castile, this remained the dominant pattern throughout the Middle Ages. The pool of slaves was only expanded in the second half of the 15th century when the Castilians and Portuguese began their nautical probes down the Atlantic coast of Africa, through which sub-Saharan African slaves were first introduced in larger numbers into Europe. [9]

In eastern Iberia, in Aragon with its coastal centers of Barcelona and Valencia, slavery evolved in the later Middle Ages. Rather than acquire their slaves primarily by war in Iberia, they instead joined in a burgeoning common slave market of the Christian Western Mediterranean, with the slaves largely taken in military campaigns by the Italian states against the peoples of the eastern and southern shores of the Mediterranean, as well as north of the Black Sea. The imported slaves were non-Christian, or at least non-Catholic, and mostly females who would serve as domestics, referred to as ancillae, and sometimes concubines, within the households of the growing urban centers of eastern Iberia. They were encouraged to convert, and were more frequently manumitted than in the western states. Aragon also supplied tens of thousands of slaves to these slave markets following their conquests of Muslim Majorca and Minorca. [9]

Christian states prohibited their Jewish and Mudéjar residents from owning Christian slaves. As an unintended consequence, this increased the Muslim slave-owners' resistance to assimilation, their faith being reinforced by exposure to slaves from countries where Islam was dominant. [9]

Slavery after 1492

After 1492, Spain was united and slavery was performed under the same rules in all Spain.

Enslavement of Africans

In 1442, Pope Eugene IV gave the Portuguese the right to explore Africa.[ citation needed ] The Portuguese attempted to protect their findings from the Spanish, who were beginning to explore Africa contemporaneously. At that time, Spain was occupied by a Muslim power and the Catholic Church felt threatened. Protecting the church, Pope Nicholas V in 1452 gave the right to enslave anyone who was not practicing the Christian religion, known as the Dum Diversas . The Spanish government created the Asiento system, which functioned between the years of 1543 and 1834. The Asiento allowed other countries to sell people into slavery to the Spanish. A population by the late 16th century was mostly composed of individuals of African descent. [14] Antumi Toasijé states in the Journal of Black Studies , "African peoples have an ancient presence in the Iberian Peninsula. In fact, Spanish identity especially has been forged on the frontlines of African and European interaction." [15]

Enslavement of indigenous Americans

In February 1495, Christopher Columbus took captive over 1,500 Arawaks. About 550 of them were shipped to Spain as slaves, with about 40% dying en route. [16] [17] [18]

Enslavement of Moors

The Moors often served as slaves in Christian Spain. These slaves were captured from Spain and North Africa and imported into the Christian section of the Iberian peninsula. During the Expulsion of the Moriscos (Muslims who had been forced to convert to Christianity), thousands voluntarily gave themselves up in slavery rather than comply with the eviction order. Spain's Moorish slave population was progressively freed in the early 18th century as the institution went into decline. [19]

Treatment of slaves

The treatment of slaves in Spain was thought[ citation needed ] to be less harsh compared to other parts where slaves were held captive. Individual slaves could over the time rise to a certain stature that could allow them to become free. However, the treatment of slaves differed with each slave owner, even though some laws protected slaves. The slave owners’ control was dependent on the notion that slaves would be harmful to their interests if they had more rights. It was also important to Spanish slave-owners that their slaves adopt Spanish names and accept Christianity as their religion. Spanish slaves who converted to Christianity were often treated less harshly, and had better opportunities to gain freedom. [20] As Christianity was the dominant faith in Spain, it was considered respectful for slaves to adopt this religion as their own and abandon their former religious beliefs. A willingness to comply with this conversion led to better treatment and a closer relationship between slaves and their owners. It also gave them a better chance of being accepted into Spanish society following their freedom.

Slavery in colonial Spanish America

Slavery in Cuba remained legal until abolished by royal decree in 1886.

See also

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Iberian Peninsula Peninsula in the southwest corner of Europe

The Iberian Peninsula, also known as Iberia, is a peninsula in the southwest corner of Europe, defining the westernmost edge of Eurasia. It is principally divided between Spain and Portugal, comprising most of their territory, as well as a small area of Southern France, Andorra and Gibraltar. With an area of approximately 583,254 square kilometres (225,196 sq mi), and a population of roughly 53 million, it is the second largest European peninsula by area, after the Scandinavian Peninsula.

Moors Medieval Muslim inhabitants of the Maghreb, Iberian Peninsula, Sicily and Malta

The term Moor is an exonym first used by Christian Europeans to designate the Muslim inhabitants of the Maghreb, the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily and Malta during the Middle Ages. The Moors initially were the indigenous Maghrebine Berbers. The name was later also applied to Arabs and Arabized Iberians.

Mozarabs Christians living under Muslim rule in Medieval Spain and Portugal

The Mozarabs is a modern historical term for the Iberian Christians who lived under Muslim rule in Al-Andalus following the conquest of the Christian Visigothic Kingdom by the Umayyad Caliphate. Initially, the vast majority of Mozarabs kept Christianity and their dialects descended from Latin. Eventually, some converted to Islam and were influenced, in varying degrees, by Arab customs and knowledge, and sometimes acquired bigger social status in doing so. The local Romance vernaculars, with an important contribution of Arabic and spoken by Christians and Muslims alike, have also come to be known as the Mozarabic language. Mozarabs were mostly Roman Catholics of the Visigothic or Mozarabic Rite. Due to Sharia and Fiqh being confessional and only applying to Muslims, the Christians paid the jizya tax, the only relevant Islamic Law obligation, and kept Roman-derived, Visigothic-influenced, Civil Law.

Al-Andalus Territories of the Iberian Peninsula under Moorish rule between 711 and 1492

Al-Andalus was the Muslim-ruled area of the Iberian Peninsula. The term is used by modern historians for the former Islamic states based in modern Portugal and Spain. At its greatest geographical extent, its territory occupied most of the peninsula and a part of present-day southern France, Septimania, and for nearly a century extended its control from Fraxinet over the Alpine passes which connect Italy to Western Europe. The name more specifically describes the different Arab or Berber states that controlled these territories at various times between 711 and 1492, though the boundaries changed constantly as the Christian Reconquista progressed, eventually shrinking to the south and finally to the vassalage of the Emirate of Granada.

The golden age of Jewish culture in Spain, which coincided with the Middle Ages in Europe, was a period of Muslim rule during which, intermittently, Jews were generally accepted in society and Jewish religious, cultural, and economic life flourished.

Spaniards People native to any part of Spain or that hold Spanish citizenship

Spaniards, or Spanish people, are a predominantly Romance-speaking ethnic group native to Spain. Within Spain, there are a number of national and regional ethnic identities that reflect the country's complex history, its diverse autochthonous peoples, various degrees and sources of admixture of historic foreign conquerors and migrants, cultures, including a number of different languages, both Indigenous and local linguistic descendants of the Roman-imposed Latin language, of which Spanish is now the majority language and the only one that is official throughout the whole country.

Saqaliba Slaves in the Arab world, especially from Central and Eastern Europe.

Saqaliba is a term used in medieval Arabic sources to refer to Slavs and other peoples of Central, Southern, and Eastern Europe, or in a broad sense to European slaves. The term originates from the Middle Greek slavos/sklavenos (Slav), which in Hispano-Arabic came to designate first Slavic slaves and then, similarly to the semantic development of the term in other West-European languages, foreign slaves in general. The word was often used to refer specifically to Slavic slaves, but it could also refer more broadly to Europeans traded by the Arab traders.

Slavery in medieval Europe Slavery during the medieval period in Europe

Slavery became increasingly uncommon through the Middle Ages, replaced by serfdom by the 10th century, but began to revive again towards the end of the Middle Ages and in the Early Modern Era. The Byzantine–Ottoman wars (1265–1479) and the Ottoman wars in Europe resulted in the capture of large numbers of Christian slaves.

Slavery in colonial Spanish America Economic and social institution central to the operation of the Spanish Empire

Slavery in the Spanish American colonies was an economic and social institution which existed throughout the Spanish Empire including Spain itself. In its American territories, Spain displayed an early abolitionist stance towards indigenous people although Native American slavery continued to be practiced, particularly until the New Laws of 1543. The Spanish empire, however was involved in the enslavement people of African origin. Although the Spanish themselves played a very minor role in the Atlantic slave trade compared to other European empires, in absolute terms, the Spanish Empire was a major recipient of African slaves, with around 22% of the Africans delivered to American shores ending up in the Spanish Empire.

Harem Womens quarters in the traditional house of a Muslim family

Harem properly refers to domestic spaces that are reserved for the women of the house in a Muslim family. This private space has been traditionally understood as serving the purposes of maintaining the modesty, privilege, and seclusion of women from other men. A harem may house a man's wife or wives, their pre-pubescent male children, unmarried daughters, female domestic servants, and other unmarried female relatives. In harems of the past, concubines, which were enslaved women, were also housed in the harem. In former times some harems were guarded by eunuchs who were allowed inside. The structure of the harem and the extent of monogamy or polygamy has varied depending on the family's personalities, socio-economic status, and local customs. Similar institutions have been common in other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern civilizations, especially among royal and upper-class families, and the term is sometimes used in other contexts. In traditional Persian residential architecture the women's quarters were known as andaruni, and in the Indian subcontinent as zenana.

Umayyad conquest of Hispania 8th century Muslim conquest of the Iberian peninsula

The Umayyadconquest of Hispania, also known as the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula or the Umayyad conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom, was the initial expansion of the Umayyad Caliphate over Hispania from 711 to 718. The conquest resulted in the destruction of the Visigothic Kingdom and the establishment of the Umayyad Wilayah of Al-Andalus. The conquest marks the westernmost expansion of both the Umayyad Caliphate and Muslim rule into Europe.

White slavery Enslavement of people of European descent

White slavery refers to the chattel slavery of Europeans, whether by non-Europeans, or by other Europeans. Slaves of European origin were present in ancient Rome and the Ottoman Empire.

The Muladi were Muslims of local descent or of mixed Arab, Berber, and Iberian origin who lived in Al-Andalus during the Middle Ages. In Sicily, Muslims of local descent or of mixed Arab, Berber, and Sicilian origin were also sometimes referred to as Muwallad. They were also called "Musalimah" (Islamized). In broader usage, the word muwallad is used to describe Arabs of mixed parentage, especially those not living in their ancestral homelands.

Slavery in Iran History of Slavery in Iran

The History of slavery in Iran (Persia) during various ancient, medieval, and modern periods is sparsely catalogued.

Hispania Roman province

Hispania was the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula and its provinces. Under the Roman Republic, Hispania was divided into two provinces: Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior. During the Principate, Hispania Ulterior was divided into two new provinces, Baetica and Lusitania, while Hispania Citerior was renamed Hispania Tarraconensis. Subsequently, the western part of Tarraconensis was split off, first as Hispania Nova, later renamed "Callaecia". From Diocletian's Tetrarchy onwards, the south of the remainder of Tarraconensis was again split off as Carthaginensis, and all of the mainland Hispanic provinces, along with the Balearic Islands and the North African province of Mauretania Tingitana, were later grouped into a civil diocese headed by a vicarius. The name Hispania was also used in the period of Visigothic rule.

Caliphate of Córdoba Former state in Islamic Iberia (929–1031)

The Caliphate of Córdoba was an Islamic state, ruled by the Umayyad dynasty from 929 to 1031. Its territory comprised Iberia and parts of North Africa, with its capital in Córdoba. It succeeded the Emirate of Córdoba upon the self-proclamation of Umayyad emir Abd ar-Rahman III as caliph in January 929. The period was characterized by an expansion of trade and culture, and saw the construction of masterpieces of al-Andalus architecture.

Social and cultural exchange in al-Andalus

Muslims, Christians, and Jews co-existed for over seven centuries in the Iberian Peninsula during the era of Al-Andalus states. The degree to which the Christians and the Jews were tolerated by their Muslim rulers is a subject widely contested among historians. The history of Al-Andalus indicates that Muslims, Christians, and Jews who lived within Al-Andalus had relatively peaceful relations, with the exception of a few scattered revolts, and times of religious persecution. The great amount of cultural and social interaction that took place between these three distinct social and religious groups led to the creation of a unique and diverse culture that continued to flourish even after the Reconquista.

Cariye Term used for enslaved women concubines in the Middle East

Cariye or Cariyes was a title and term used for category of enslaved women concubines in the Islamic world of the Middle East. They are particularly known in history from the era of the Ottoman Empire, where they legally existed until the mid-19th century.

Abbasid harem Portion of the Abbasid household

The harem of the caliphs of the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258) in Baghdad was composed of his mother, wives, slave concubines, female relatives and slave servants, occupying a secluded portion of the Abbasid household. This institution played an important social function within the Abbasid court and was the part of court were the women of the court were confined and secluded. The senior woman in rank in the harem was the mother of the Caliph. The Abbasid harem acted as a role model for the harems of other Islamic dynasties, as it was during the Abbasid Caliphate that the harem system was fully enforced in the Muslim world.

Slavery in Egypt

Slavery in Egypt existed up until the early 20th century. It differed from the previous slavery in ancient Egypt, being managed in accordance with Islamic law from the conquest of the Caliphate in the 7th century until the practice stopped in the early 20th-century, having been gradually abolished in the late 19th century. During the Islamic history of Egypt, slavery were mainly focused on three categories: male slaves used for soldiers and bureaucrats, female slaves used for sexual slavery as concubines, and female slaves and eunuchs used for domestic service in harems and private households. At the end of the period, there were a growing agricultural slavery. The people enslaved in Egypt during Islamic times mostly came from Europe and Caucasus, or from the Sudan and Sub-Saharan Africa through the Trans-Saharan slave trade.


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