Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean
Robert Davis is a professor of Italian Renaissance and pre-modern Mediterranean history at Ohio State University. He has published six books and is best known for his research that culminated in Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy. We begin our discussion with a look into the world of enslavement that is not commonly imparted in Western History. Robert tells about the Barbary Corsairs who ruled a slave industry during the same time of the Transatlantic slave trade. These pirates would capture ships from various European countries and enslave their predominately Christian crews. Robert explains the time frame of Columbus’ voyage to the New World in 1492, and Barbarossa’s systematic attack of the coast of Spain shortly thereafter, which supplied a vast amount of Spaniard slaves to the New World. We look at the small minority of slaves that actually made it to North America, and the millions of others that were captured and sold from Morocco to Libya and distributed throughout the New World, including the Caribbean and Brazil. Then, Robert describes the European industry of ransoming slaves, bringing about a huge wealth transfer from Europe to North Africa. He details the motives for capturing Christian slaves, the use of women as sex slaves, state owned ships powered by enslaved rowing galleys, and the conditions of slave life. Further, we discuss the US’s involvement in the slave trade with the high stakes business of paying ransoms. Robert illustrates the stories of Christian slaves who were forced to convert to Islam by their captors, and vice versa. Robert also talks about the large number of slaves that were taken out of Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and other countries to the north of Africa. In conclusion, we discuss the changing nature of warfare in the Mediterranean and beyond, the decline of Christian slavery, and the lack of a definitive history of the slave trade beyond the US.