Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Slavery Days

Jeremy Black at the SAU blog on :

The beginnings of the Atlantic slave trade.


Eighteenth Century.



dearieme said...

The trade was started, as he says, by the Portugese and Spanish. It was obviously a result of their Moorish Inheritance - why it that never said?

Anonymous said...

It was obviously a result of their Moorish Inheritance

Why is that obvious?

Might it equally be a legacy from the Romans?

dearieme said...

The intervening 800 years make the Roman idea implausible. The idea of sending massive slaving expeditions south of the Sahara from the Mahgreb is indeed Moorish, and became familiar in Iberia accordingly. Of course, the Arabs/Moors/Turks bought/took slaves from elsewhere too, hence the Iberian distinction between "white slaves" - Europeans, North Africans, Canary Islanders - and "black slaves" - Negroes. More generally, I think it's transparently daft to attribute Iberian
architecture to the Moors but not to consider other parts of the legacy e.g. slavery and pogroms.

Anonymous said...

First of all let me add that I don't dismiss the idea out of hand. Clearly the Moorish influence is a factor; the question is - how much?

Your comment made me uneasy for two reasons:

1. It seemed an oversimplification
2. It seemed to leap to a conclusion that owes more to contemporary political debates.

Slavery was ubiquitous before the modern era. I don't know about pre-Roman Iberia, but certainly the Romans and their successors, the Visigoths took or held slaves. The Moors did not introduce slavery to Spain.

I wasn't seriously trying to blame the Romans. They did rule Spain, and the majority of lands where Arabs originate including the Moors, but it would be ridiculous to assert that they invented slavery too. The Ancient Egyptians were rumoured to have has one or two slaves. The fact is, the ancient world thought it was the natural order of things.

The Muslim world inherited this system. They added revised moral justification and jurisprudence. Importantly they made a distinction between enslaving believers and non-believers. This certainly became a consideration for Christians when seeking to justify slavery after 1492. I concur that there may be an case for saying that Muslim jurisprudence informed this kind of justification.

The Moors certainly were famous for "slaving expeditions" both via the Sahara and via the Ocean. The Moors used warfare, cohersion and trade to obtain their slaves. It's important to remember that the vast majority of Atlantic slaves were not abducted a la Kunta Kinte in Roots but were bought in trade. This marks a contrast with the Moorish version.

Africa was already a big supplier of slaves, long before 1492. My understanding is that the slave caravans used to travel North and East through the interior until the Atlantic slave trade took off and then the caravans headed west. Thus, slave routes up the East side of Africa both predate the Moorish slave trade and postdate the Altantic slave trade. The Moors did not invent slavery expeditions. Slave routes also existed in Asia and South America. It is not sufficient to allocate blame based on the fact that Moors "did it", since everyone else was doing it too.

Thus I would agree that the Moors were a large factor influencing the Atlantic Slave trade but they are only one factor.

The liberal elite debate slavery with the depth and knowledge of Susan Sondheim. They are blind to both non-western slavery and the reality of slave societies like Mao's China. Thoughtful people can see that this is not a black and white issue and that there is enough "guilt" for no group to go empty handed. I know you are motivated by bogus claims by the likes of Karen Armstrong that Grenada was some kind of Nirvana, with interacial harmony and religious tolerance. The solution is not to go to the other extreme.

dearieme said...

Anonymous: a pleasure to debate with you. I suspect you may know more about this than I do, my knowledge being based on only two books. My point is, of course, more a plausible suggestion, or enquiry, phrased as an assertion only to elicit a response. But I do think it plausible and, as you guessed, it was motivated partly by exasperation at the one-eyed view of history. However, I must sign off with my favourite slavery rhetoric: since one of my grandfathers was Irish, I'm probably descended from people who mounted slave raids on Britain.

Anonymous said...

For centuries the greatest slave markets were Cairo and Marrakesh. There are few obvious descendants of black slaves in Turkey, Egypt, Arabia today because
a) the men were castrated
b) when the women were impregnated by their captors their male children were castrated

dearieme said...

Does anyone know what proportion would survive castration? 1 in 5, 1 in 10?

Anonymous said...

"I think it's transparently daft to attribute Iberian architecture to the Moors but not to consider other parts of the legacy e.g. slavery and pogroms"

There is much misunderstanding around the issue of the so-called Moors in Spain. Unfortunately a simple general book on history is far from being enough to get to understand what happened in Spain before, during and after 711 AD. The complexity of the events, both of the "invasion" and of the "reconquista" require a profound research.

Prominent "Arabic" names of al-Andalus like al-Qutman, ibn Qasim or al-Qutiyya are in fact the arabized form of Guzman (Gutman), Cassius (Hispano-Goth comites, and his descendants the "Moorish" rulers of the Ebro Valley), or "son of the Goth woman" (the al-Qutiyya were the descendants of Sara, the daughter of Visigothic King Witiza, whose family organized the rebellion which brought into Spain the Muslim religion).

It was more of a civil war with one of the sides (the "Witizans") helped by a foreign contingent, than an invasion.

The key to understanding it lies in the remnants of Arianism (a "Christian" heressy, not a racial belief in Aryans) among a number of Hispano-goths, which through its unitarist pragma (as opposed to Catholic trinitarian dogma) felt closer to Islam and even to Hebrewism, than to Catholicism.

Also, the practice of de-throning a king in Visigothic Spain by killing him and coming to a civil war was usual as it was a Germanic-style elective monarchy type. This practice came to be known as morbus Gothorum. Calling to foreign troops for it was also a normal practice (Franks and Byzantines).

In short, the left Moorish troops (in fact N. African Berbers of recent conversion to Islam, most or all of them libertos or sons of libertos.. i.e. freed slaves after converting to Islam), were put aside by the new ruling elite (Syrians and converted Hispano-Goths) in favour of Muladi troops (Spanish converted to Islam, the bulk of the so-called "Moorish" population) and by the Slavonic Guard (Slavic and Germanic slaves captured in seafare raids, and freed after converting to Islam).

Not long after the invasion, many Berbers returned to N. Africa following a severe famine in Spain due to a drought and the abandoning of the fields by Christians farmer fleeing north. Again, a Berber rebellion caused by their discontent at the rulers appointing Muladis and setting them apart, caused a civil war in al-Andalus where the Berbers were crushed and the survivors left to return home (N. Africa).

By now you might have found out why there are such architectural marvels from the Islamic period in Southern Spain and a flourishing culture, but nothing comparable in N. Africa. Pretty much for the same reason why there are in Iran (Persia), but not in Saudi Arabia: under a same religion, they were different people.