Speaking of Slavery: Color, Ethnicity, and Human Bondage in Italy. By Steven A. Epstein. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001. Pp. xiv, 215. $32.50
Stephen Epstein is one of a growing group of scholars who are proposing a new interpretation of slavery in medieval and early modern Europe. The subject itself is not new. In the case of Italy, over the past century a few scholars have studied Italian slavery in local or regional studies, and it was the subject of a major work by Charles Verlinden (L Esclavage dans l Europe m di vale, vol. 2: Italie olonies italiennes du Levant Levant latin Empire byzantine. Ghent: Rijsuniversiteit te Gent, 1977) and featured prominently in general surveys by Jacques Heers (Esclaves et domestiques au moyen ge dans le monde mediterranean. Paris: Fayard, 1981) and the present reviewer (Slavery from Roman Times to the Early Transatlantic Trade. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985). Nevertheless, the historical profession has tended to ignore post-Roman slavery in the Mediterranean world, or to consider it either an attenuated relic from classical times or as a shadowy prelude to the great expansion of slavery in the colonial Americas. The numbers and percentages of slaves in Italy never approached those of true slave societies, in which more than 30 percent of the population was unfree. Common conclusions heretofore have been that slavery was not too important in the Italian economy, because most slaves were domestics; that slaves were not treated too harshly, because most lived in the households of their owners; and that slavery died out without leaving much of a trace in modern Italian society.
Volume (Year): 62 (2002)
Issue (Month): 02 (June)
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