Slavery and Conversion in the Medieval Mediterranean

AHA Session 92
Medieval Academy of America 2
Friday, January 3, 2014: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Marriott Balcony B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Sally McKee, University of California, Davis
Debra G. Blumenthal, University of California, Santa Barbara

Session Abstract

This session will analyze the varied meanings of religious conversion in the lives of slaves and in the politics of slaving between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. Religion was central to medieval Mediterranean slavery in all its forms. On an ideological level, religious difference was the basis for deciding who could be enslaved. Legally, religion dictated who could own whom, how slaves could be treated, and how they could gain freedom. The religious identity of slaves was thus an essential component of their status.

The three papers which make up this session discuss the conversion of slaves and its consequences from three different angles. The paper “Religious Conversion and Slave Agency in Medieval Cairo” uses documentary evidence from the Cairo Geniza to illustrate how individual slaves used conversion strategically in order to improve their own social standing, or resist their masters. “The Lion’s Slaves: Meanings of Slave Conversion in Late Medieval Venice” mines notarial, parish, and court records from late medieval Venice in order to explain the Venetian rationale for forcibly converting slaves to Christianity and to describe the every day religious life of these converted slaves. Finally, “In the Mouth of the Dragon: Genoa, the Crusades, and the Mamluk Slave Trade” draws on notarial, diplomatic, and narrative sources to re-examine the claims of late medieval crusade polemicists who attacked the sale of Christian slaves to the Mamluk sultanate as a betrayal of Christendom.

This session is expected to attract an audience not only of specialists in the history of medieval Italy and Egypt, but also of scholars with interests in slavery in a variety of historical contexts, as well as those with interests in inter-cultural or inter-religious interaction in the Mediterranean region.

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