Byzantine slavery between Scandinavia and the Islamic world
Were slaves a common sight in Constantinople or in Anatolian villages in the middle Byzantine period? Is slavery a useful category for thinking about the Byzantine society? Building on the project ‘Dirhams for slaves’ and on recent research by Günter Prinzing, I would like to review what sources say about slaves in Byzantium in the ninth to eleventh centuries. I will first discuss the place of Byzantium in the broader systems of international slave trade spanning western Eurasia.Was Constantinople the central slave market of the eastern Mediterranean, or a mere appendage to the vigorous Scandinavian-Muslim trade system? How representative are texts such as the Rus-Byzantine treaties of 911 and 944, the chapter 9 of De administrando imperio, or the novel of John Tzimiskes on Bulgarian captives?
In the second part of my talk I will look at narrative texts mentioning slaves and slavery. The terminological vagueness of middle Byzantine Greek suggests that the dichotomy freedom-slavery lost some of its relevance in comparison with the Roman past. How do we then define slavery in Byzantium? What were slaves needed for? What was their social position? I will discuss these questions from a comparative perspective, in particular that of Islamic slavery.