Slavery in Spain

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Slavery in Spain can be traced to the times of the Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans. In the 9th century the Muslim Moorish rulers and local Jewish merchants traded in Spanish and Eastern European Christian slaves. Christian Spain began to trade slaves in the 15th century and this trade reached its peak in the 16th century. The history of Spanish slavery began with Portuguese captains Antão Gonçalves and Nuno Tristão in 1441. The first large group of African slaves, made up of 235 slaves, came with Lançarote de Freitas three years later.[1] In 1462, Portuguese slave traders began to operate in Seville, Spain. During the 1470s, Spanish merchants began to trade large numbers of slaves. Slaves were auctioned at market at a Cathedral, and subsequently were transported to cities all over Imperial Spain. This led to the spread of Moorish, African, and Christian slavery in Spain. By the 16th century, 7.4 percent of the population in Seville, Spain were slaves. Many historians have concluded that Renaissance and early-modern Spain had the highest amount of African slaves in Europe.[2]

After the discovery of the New World, the Spanish colonialists decided to use it for commercial production and mining because of the absence of trading networks.[3] The native Indian population was used for this labor but they died in large numbers as a result of war, diseases, exploitation and social disruptions.[3] Meanwhile, the need for labor expanded, such as for the production of sugarcane.[3] The problem of the justness of Indian slavery was a key issue for the Spanish Crown. Bartolomé de las Casas was concerned about the fate of the natives and argued in 1516 that white and black slaves should be imported to the Indies to replace the Amerindians.[3] African slaves did have certain advantages over native slaves as being resistant to European diseases and more familiarity with agricultural techniques.[3] This preference led to the development of the Atlantic Slave Trade.[3] It was Charles V who gave a definite answer to this complicated and delicate matter. To that end, on November 25, 1542, the Emperor abolished the enslavement of natives by decree in his Leyes Nuevas New Laws. This bill was based on the arguments given by the best Spanish theologists and jurists who were unanimous in the condemnation of such slavery as unjust; they declared it illegitimate and outlawed it from America—not just the slavery of Spaniards over Indians—but also the type of slavery practiced among the Indians themselves[4] The labor system of Encomienda was also abolished in 1550.[3] However these laws did not end the practice of slavery or forced labor immediately and a new system of forced native Indian labor began to be used repartimiento and mita in Peru. Eventually this system too was abolished due to abuses.[3] By the 17th century, forced native Indian labor continued illegally and black slave labor legally.[3]

Christian slavery in Spain[edit]

During the Al-Andalus period of Spain, in what is also known as Moorish Iberia, there was significant Muslim control over much of the Iberian peninsula or what is now Spain. The Moors imported white Christian slaves into Muslim Spain in varying degrees from the 8th century until the Reconquista in the late 15th century. The slaves were exported from the Christian section of Spain, as well as Eastern Europe by Jewish slave traders, sparking significant reaction from many in Christian Spain and many Christians still living in Muslim Spain. The Iberian peninsula served as a base for further exports of slaves into other Muslim regions in Northern Africa.[5]

African slavery in Spain[edit]

In 1442, Pope Eugene IV gave the Portuguese the right to explore Africa. The Portuguese attempted to protect their findings from the Spanish, who were beginning to explore Africa contemporaneously. At that time, Spain was occupied by a Muslim power and the Catholic Church felt threatened. Protecting the church, Pope Nicholas V in 1452 gave the right to enslave anyone who was not practicing the Christian religion, known as the Dum Diversas. The Spanish government created the Asiento system, which functioned between the years of 1543 and 1834. The Asiento allowed other countries to sell people into slavery to the Spanish. A population by the late 16th century was mostly composed of individuals of African descent.[6] Antumi Toasije states in his Journal of Black Studies, "African peoples have an ancient presence in the Iberian Peninsula. In fact, Spanish identity especially has been forged on the frontlines of African and European interaction."[7]

Moorish slavery in Spain[edit]

The Moors often served as slaves in Christian Spain. These slaves were captured from Muslim Spain and North Africa and imported into the Christian section of the Iberian peninsula. When the Moors were forcibly evicted from Spain, in 1610, Moor slaves were allowed to stay, however, they were forced to convert to Christianity.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Perry's Handbook, Sixth Edition, McGraw–Hill Co., 1984.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i David Eltis; Keith Bradley; Paul Cartledge (25 July 2011). The Cambridge World History of Slavery: Volume 3, AD 1420-AD 1804. Cambridge University Press. pp. 331–332–333. ISBN 978-0-521-84068-2. 
  4. ^ Garcia Anoveros, J.M. Carlos V y la abolicion de la exclavitud de los indios, Causas, evolucion y circunstancias. Revista de Indias, 2000, vol. LX, núm. 218
  5. ^ Trade and traders in Muslim Spain, Fourth Series, Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Antumi Toasije (January 2009). "The Africanity of Spain: Identity and Problematization". Journal of Black Studies 39 (3): 348–355. JSTOR 40282566. 
  8. ^ The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440–1870, Tenth Edition, Simon and Schuster., 1997.