Source: The Florentine Register of Slaves
The following five entries are the first five in the Florentine Registro degli Schiavi (Register of Slaves), a unique document that tries to catalogue all slaves entering Florence for the purposes of taxation collected by the city’s treasury. The Registro was started in 1366, two years after the legalization of slavery in Florence and the last entry on the book is dated 1397. There are 357 entries during these 31 years with 254 of them registered within the first four years of the start of the document. 329 (or 92%) of these slaves were women. The Registro begins with restating the law that legalized the importation of slaves, specifying that only “Non-Latins” could be enslaved. The Registro is important because it not only lists the names of the buyer and sellers of the slaves but the notary in charge also recorded essential information about the slaves, including ethnicity, sex, age, height, skin colour, eye colour, and any identifying features, scars or moles. This register provides an in-depth view of what physical features were important to the Florentines when discussing the buying of slaves and how they categorized the origins of slaves to justify their ownership.
 Iris Origo, “The Domestic Enemy: The Eastern Slaves in Tuscany in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries,” Speculum 30 (1955): 336.
 Translated from the transcription by Angela Zhang. From Ridolfo Livi, La Schiavitu’ domestica nei tempi di mezzo e nei moderni (Padova: Cedam, 1928), 142-146.
Translated from the Latin by Angela Zhang. Florence, Archivio di Stato di Firenze (ASF), Capitoli Appendice 26. Folio 4r-4v. This translation CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
In the name of Our Lord Amen. In the year of his birth thirteen sixty-six, indiction four on the 4th of July. Ugolino of the late Vicino de Judio of Florence lord of the underwritten slave (schiavam) represented in the treasury in my presence the aforementioned notary. Jacomina his slave, once called Stamati of the race (genere) of the Tartars, being about eighteen years of age, of above medium stature with olive skin, a large nose and a black mole above her nose, two marks above her left hand, and pierced ears, who is said to be sold for the price of 33 and a half gold ducats. This slave being registered by me, the said notary.
6 of July, of the abovesaid year. Landoccio Andrea Loli of the parish of San … for the aforementioned Andrea, his father, represented in the treasury in my presence Henrico of Ser Paolo for the Commune of Florence, as the notary for the care of the treasury of the commune, the one slave, who it is said belongs to the aforementioned Andrea who has promised it be recorded that this slave, said to have been Marchetta and today is called Lucia, is said to be around twenty-two years of age, of above medium stature, yellow skin, small and black eyes, with pox scars on her cheek with a mark between her eyelids and her nose on the right side and said to have cost the price of 50 gold florins. And it is said that this slave is of the race of the Greeks (pro genere Gregorum) and has her ears pierced. This slave being registered by me, Henrico, notary of the abovesaid.
1366 indiction four 8 of July. Duccio once known as Berti of the parish of Santa Maria Trinita’, lord of the said slave, represented in this room of the treasury of the Commune of Florence before me, Nerio Ghelli of Monte Rappolo, as the notary for the care of the treasury, beholding his slave once called Zavach, today called Uliava of the race of the Tartars being around ten years of age with brown skin and has a somewhat snub nose who is said to be sold for the price of 31 gold ducats, this slave being registered by me, the notary.
1366 indiction four, 29 of October for the previously entered. Duccio once known as Berti, lord of the abovementioned slave on the abovesaid day, sold to Ser Ridolfo son of Ser Ubaldino the notary, of the parish of San Remigio of Florence, the abovementioned slave for the price of 32 gold florins, in that the sale is recorded by the hand of Ser Piero, notary of Florence which I wrote and verified on the aforesaid date, the record of Ser Ridolfo.
On the 9 of July, the same year. Giovanni Lando Loli of the parish of San …, lord of that underwritten slave represented before me, Henrico once known as Ser Paolo de Figino, for the commune of Florence as the notary for the care of the treasury, the slave named Marta, progeny of those Tartars and appearing and said to be around twenty years of age, of above medium height, yellow skin, big high lips, sunken and otherwise white eyes and said to cost 50 gold florins. This slave being registered by me, Henrico, the aforementioned notary.
1366 indiction 4 on the 10 of July. Nardo Chelo Pagnino of the parish of San Lorenzo of Florence, lord of the underwritten Maria of Constantinople represented before me, Tardacorro of Mei of Piglio, for the commune of Florence as the notary for the care of the treasury the aforementioned slave Maria born of the race (progenie) of Greeks being about twenty-five years of age with a large stature, olive skin with her face and a sharp nose with moles in her chest, who is said to be sold for the price of 30 gold florins.
 Roman dating coming from the tax system.
 The Parish is left blank here by the notary.
 This record is attached to the previous one, indicating that the same slave, Uliava was sold again in October.
 The Parish is left blank here by the notary.
- What do you think is meant by yellow or olive skin? Is it the same as ideas we carry today about skin colour? What else could serve to identify skin colour?
- If religion is the key to allowing slavery into Florence, why do these contracts not record the religion of the slaves? What else could indicate the religion of the slaves?
- Why do you think they went into such specific detail regarding the physical appearance of their slave? What does this tell you about how Florentines viewed their slaves?
- What do the ages of these slave women say about what their function was? Why do you think these slaves were bought at these ages?
Related Primary Sources
- Acts of Child Sale in the Black Sea
- Foreign Slaves of Guangzhou
- Slave Sale Contracts from Genoa
- A Slave Sale Contract from Venice
Related Secondary Sources
- Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane. “Women Servants in Florence during the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries.” In Women and Work in Preindustrial Europe, edited by Barbara Hanawalt, 56-80. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.
- Origo, Iris. “The Domestic Enemy: The Eastern Slaves in Tuscany in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries.” Speculum 30 (1955): 321–61.
- Pinelli, Paola. “From Dubrovnik (Ragusa) to Florence: Observations on The Recruiting of Domestic Servants in The Fifteenth Century.” Dubrovnik Annals 12 (2008): 51-71.
- Tognetti, Sergio. “The Trade in Black African Slaves in Fifteenth-century Florence.” In Black Africans in Renaissance Europe, edited by T.F. Earle and K.J.P. Lowe, 213-224. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.