Slavery, serfdom, and indenture through the Middle Ages

From ancient times, people have found themselves forced to labor for others. The links this week examine how slavery — and other institutions just a step above it — were practiced in the Middle Ages, by various cultures and nations.

Greetings my Faithful Readers!

This week's Links List comes to you from the mind of none other than the illustrious Master Iustinos Tekton, called Justin, publisher of A few weeks ago, I asked for suggestions for Links Lists, and this is one of the suggestions I received. Justin wrote, in his proposal: "From ancient times, people have found themselves forced to labor for others. The links this week examine how slavery — and other institutions just a step above it — were practiced in the Middle Ages, by various cultures and nations."

So, that being a hard act to follow, I'll leave Justin's excellent words to stand alone and give you the Links I've found on the subject. Please share this information wherever it will find an appreciative audience.



Dame Aoife Finn of Ynos Mon
in the snowy Canton of Riverouge
Barony of the Endless Hills
Kingdom of Aethelemarc

Exploring Medieval Times: Feudalism
by Dr Edward Deluzain
(Site Excerpt) The earliest feudal arrangements began when wealthy merchants and others left cities in Gaul (France) and Italy to move to their country villas for increased protection against the German invaders. Soon less wealthy city dwellers moved to the countryside as well and attached themselves to the great villas for protection and for economic security.

Muslim Slave System in Medieval India
(Site Excerpt) Slavery was wide-spread in Islam. The early Turkish invaders and rulers of India were slaves or scions of slaves. Mahmud of Ghazni was the son of a purchased slave, Subuktigin. Subuktigin in his turn had been bought by one Alptigin who himself was a purchased slave. Alptigin was the first Turkish slave-warrior-ruler who carried his arms into Hindustan. His career and resourcefulness are symbolic of the Turkish slaves as a whole.

Stefan's Florilegium Slavery in medieval Europe and the Middle East Click unclassified and then p-slavery-msg.
(Note: Stefan searched these out for me, and to be truthful there isn't a lot of info about serfdom and slaves in the SCA. Stefan attributes it to the fact that we're all supposed to be "noble". Site Excerpt of One Message): Well, the last mention of slaves in Silesia appears to be in the late thirteenth century; but the Domostroi (Rus, late 16th-Early 17th century depending on which bit you are reading) talks about slaves and the master's responsibility toward them... I'm not sure when slavery was abolished in Russia, but I would guess post-period. SEE ALSO: Kiev-slavery-art "Slavery in Kievan Rus"
by Peotr Alexeivich Novgrodski. (click Cultures then Kiev-slavery-art)

Medieval Sourcebook: Decrees on Sale of Unfree Christians, c. 922-1171
(Site Excerpt) Even in the tenth and twelfth centuries it was still necessary for Councils of the Church in Germany, England, and Ireland to forbid the sale of unfree Christians. Council of Koblenz, 922. 7. Also the question was put what should be done concerning him who led away a Christian man and then sold him; and the reply of all was that he should be guilty of homicide.

Medieval Sourcebook: Traffic in Slaves: England, 1065-1066
(Site Excerpt) William of Malmesbury: Chronicle of the Kings of England, 1065: When he [Godwin] was a young man he had Canute's sister to wife, by whom he had a son, who in his early youth, while proudly curveting on a horse which his grandfather had given him, was carried into the Thames, and perished in the stream; his mother, too, paid the penalty of her cruelty; being killed by a stroke of lightning. For it is reported, that she was in the habit of purchasing companies of slaves in England, and sending them into Denmark; more especially girls, whose beauty and age rendered them more valuable, that she might accumulate money by this horrid traffic.

Slavery Timeline 1400-1500
A Chronology of Slavery, Abolition, and Emancipation in the Fifteenth Century
(Site Excerpt) This page contains a detailed timeline of the main historical, literary, and cultural events connected with British slavery, abolition, and emancipation between 1400 and 1500. It also includes references to the most significant events taking place outside of the British zone of influence (in the fifteenth century that was most of the world) as well as some key events in the history of European exploration and colonisation.

Classical Slavery and Medieval Serfdom
(Site Excerpt-warning: Political Editorialism) The distinction between the ancient slave and the medieval serf in law and custom may seem a fine one, but was significant. The man (and of course there were women slaves) who was enslaved in ancient times was considered to have died; all that was his passed to his master, including the power of life and death. The slave who resisted his master for any reason could be killed, or killed for no reason at all if the master wished to do so.

Medieval Society: The Three Orders
(Site Excerpt) THOSE WHO WORK
By the 11th and 12th centuries, the vast majority of European men and women were peasants who were the land of their lords. We know very little about these people for the simple fact that the nobility and clergy did not keep written records about them. When the peasantry of Europe was mentioned, it was usually in relation to the obligations they owed their superiors.

MSN Encarta: Serfdom
(Site excerpt) During the Middle Ages in Europe, which historians date from about the 5th century to the 15th century ad, peasants became legally bound to live and work in one place in servitude to wealthy landowners. In return for working the land of the owner, known as the lord, these peasants, called serfs, received a crude house, a small adjoining plot of ground, a share of the surrounding fields,.

Bibliography of Medieval Serfdom Serfs and New Technology
(Site Excerpt) When the Roman empire fell in the 5th century, many of the people working the land were, for all intents and purposes, already serfs. Over a century before the empire was crushed under waves of German invaders, the emperors had legalized serfdom in an attempt to control inflation, migration and the food supply Since the 2nd century BC, Roman land ownership had become increasingly concentrated in a smaller number of families.

The Magna Carta
(Site Excerpt) King John of England agreed, in 1215, to the demands of his barons and authorized that handwritten copies of Magna Carta be prepared on parchment, affixed with his seal, and publicly read throughout the realm. Thus he bound not only himself but his "heirs, for ever" to grant "to all freemen of our kingdom" the rights and liberties the great charter described. With Magna Carta, King John placed himself and England's future sovereigns and magistrates within the rule of law.

History Learning Site UK
The Lifestyle of Medieval Peasants
(Site Excerpt) The lifestyle of peasants in Medieval England was extremely hard and harsh. Many worked as farmers in fields owned by the lords and their lives were controlled by the farming year. Certain jobs had to be done at certain times of the year. Their lives were harsh but there were few rebellions due to a harsh system of law and order.

Medieval Sourcebook: Anonimalle Chronicle: English Peasants' Revolt 1381
(Site Excerpt) And he demanded that there should be no more villeins in England, and no serfdom or villeinage, but that all men should be free and of one condition. To this the King gave an easy answer, and said that he should have all that he could fairly grant, reserving only for himself the regality of his crown. And then he bade him go back to his home, without making further delay.

The Medieval Technology Pages: Peasant Houses
(Site Excerpt) Peasant house types varied by family wealth. The hut of the cottar, the poorest peasants in a typical village, was typically a single room perhaps sixteen by twelve feet. Less frequently a cottar might have a two-room cottage, perhaps 33 feet by 13. [Hanawalt 1986 pp 32-3] The more numerous peasants holding a half-virgate of land or more often had a long house. These varied with the wealth of the builder from being not much bigger than a cottage to 88 to 90 feet long.

Medieval Peasants - Scratching a living in the countryside
by Maureen James
(Site Excerpt) At a time when almost nine-tenths of the population were engaged in agriculture, research shows that in the Midlands less than a quarter held full yardlands (12 hectares) and were self-sufficient. After a normal harvest a tenant with this amount of land, cultivated under a three-course rotation of wheat, spring-sown crops (barley, peas, oats) and fallow, could expect to sell only 36 per cent of his net output of grain after allowing for retained seed corn and the sustenance of his wife and children.

If you wish to correspond with Aoife directly, please send mail to: mtnlion at ptd dot net.