From Dubrovnik to Florence: Recruitment of Servants in the Fifteenth Century
Anali Dubrovnik 46 (2008)
The documentation of some Florentine merchants but also of Giuliano Marcovaldi, a merchant from Prato established in Ragusa, confirms that via Ragusa Tuscany was involved in the trade of slaves from the Slavic hinterland in the fifteenth century. From the documents published by Mihailo Dinić we know that by the fourteenth century Florentine merchants were already buying slaves, but according to the sources I have consulted, the trade in Balkan slaves started to increase at the beginning of the fifteenth century. Some scholars believe that the reasons for this lay in the lack of manpower, mainly the result of the Black Death Plague or Turkish invasion, although, in my opinion, the major cause should be sought in the growing trade and business relations between the Italian peninsula, Ragusa and the Balkan hinterland. Indeed, the development of the mining industry in the Balkans in the fifteenth century gave a new impetus to the trade with Serbian and Bosnian cities. The people who benefited most from this situation were the Ragusan merchants who exported various goods to these regions in exchange for silver, but also slaves. The latter were subsequently sold to Italian traders in exchange for medium quality woollen cloth and food products, especially wheat. The slaves arrived in Florence and other Tuscan cities in small numbers and sporadically, on ships laden with various commodities. Upon arrival, they were usually employed as domestics and spent their servanthood doing the heaviest household tasks. The trade involved mostly women (men represented less than 10%) aged between 20 and 30, although there were sometimes young girls between 5 and 13. Many of them were Patarens or Orthodox and, according to the Church, could thus legitimately be enslaved. The price for women was generally set at 27-28 ducats, and 30 ducats for men. A better price could be obtained for younger women, but considering that a Tartar or Circassian maid servant cost not less than 42 ducats, these prices were fairly low.