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

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More About This Textbook


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.

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Editorial Reviews

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"Blumenthal offer a highly detailed reconstruction of slave experience at a crucial time and place: fifteenth-century Valencia . . . . This clearly organized and well-written book opens with a close look at how persons became enslaved. . . . The bulk of the book is devoted to the social and economic dimensions of slave life: the sorts of work sales engaged in, their activities and roles with their masters' households—including the sexual exploitation of women—and the limited but very real means by which they could hope to obtain and retain their freedom. . . . [It is] a singularly vivid reconstruction of the rhythms of everyday life at the lower levels of a late medieval city."—James S. Amelang, American Historical Review (February 2010)

"Enemies and Familiars is a terrific piece of work that provides complete and bold new vistas on the lives of slaves during the transition to modernity and on the eve of the Atlantic slave trade. The archival evidence deployed by Debra Blumenthal is unusually rich and abundant. I have seldom seen a book with such a wealth of truly interesting material, nor have I often seen such evidence so artfully used."—Teofilo F. Ruiz, UCLA

"Opening up a great treasure house of documents in Valencia, Debra Blumenthal deftly explores the lives of fifteenth-century slaves, at a critical moment when sources of supply were switching from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. In this pioneering book, she graphically explains how the slaves themselves reacted to their unfortunate condition."—David Abulafia, Cambridge University

"Beautifully weaving together legal, social, and cultural history, Debra Blumenthal has uncovered a rich world of early modern slavery that challenges earlier views of the discontinuity between ancient and New World forms of enslavement. Elegantly written and exhaustively researched—a must-read for all who are interested in the origins of race, and early encounters between Africans and Europeans."—Ariela J. Gross, John B. and Alice R. Sharp Professor of Law and History and Co-Director, Center for Law, History and Culture, Gould School of Law, University of Southern California

"The remarkable wealth of late medieval archives is on display in this fine study of slave conditions in fifteenth-century Valencia. Slaves were a cosmopolitan commodity; they poured in from all over the Mediterranean and also from the lands beyond Constantinople, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Canary Islands. Walking carefully between slave degradation and slave agency, Debra Blumenthal produces a full and satisfying picture of the complexity of late Mediterranean slavery."—Daniel Lord Smail, Harvard University

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