The Cultural-Psychological Aspects of the Presence of African Slaves in Portugal in the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries
By Michal Tymowski
Acta Poloniae Historica, Vol. 107 (2013)
Introduction: Slavery in Portugal in the late Middle Ages and in modern times has been a subject of research in Portuguese historiography since the last decades of the nineteenth century. But the work of Charles Verlinden marked a significant turning point. His first volume, published in 1955, focuses on medieval slavery on the Iberian Peninsula and in France. Chapter VI is devoted to slavery in Portugal in the Age of Discovery. Verlinden examined the sources of slavery and the motives behind the Portuguese expeditions (such as the desire to Christianise the peoples of Africa and to make a profit); and he discussed the impact that these motives had on the phenomenon of slavery.
He thoroughly analysed the profitability of the slave trade and he described the areas in which African slaves were employed in Portugal. Slaves most often worked as domestic servants, but they also worked as artisans, and occasionally in agriculture. Verlinden wrote about both black slaves and about white Moors, and he raised the issue of Jewish slaves.
Studies undertaken after the publication of Verlinden’s research have been dominated by two types of interests, both of which emerged from this seminal work. They involve the economic and social significance of slavery. Vitorino Magalhães Godinho, Vicenta Cortez Alonso and Virginia Rau analysed the economic aspects of slavery in the period of the early Portuguese expeditions to Africa.3 Marian Małowist and John L. Vogt researched the importance of the slave trade in the development of the island of São Tomé and the creation of sugar cane plantations there. Peter E. Russell took up social issues. The work of A. C. de C. M. Saunders is a synthesis of the social history of black slavery in Portugal from the fifteenth century to the mid-sixteenth century.