In ninth-century Europe, warfare and raiding generated large numbers of captives who were often sold to the Islamic world. Historians disagree on the drivers of this system—Michael McCormick argues that the slave trade was generated by Venetian exports of Frankish captives, while Rio attributes the bulk of slaving activities to the Vikings (see Secondary Sources). Regardless, ecclesiastical writers of the period increasingly expressed concern about the sale of Christians to pagans.

The 840 CE Treaty of Lothar I, the earliest surviving pact regulating relations between the Carolingians and Venice, was one of few secular sources to take up the concern with the slave trade. In the second clause below, the Venetians promise to Emperor Lothar I that they would not knowingly transport, purchase, or sell Christian subjects of the Franks, nor any other Christians. The third clause requires the return of slave traders to Frankish territory and stipulates, in case a Venetian official chose not to return the traders, that the official swear that the Christians had not been brought to Venetian territory. The fourth clause deals with the return of fugitive slaves.

Translated from the Latin by Kevin Wang and Sama Mammadova. “Pactum I. Hlotharii.” Monumenta Germaniae Historica Capitularia Regum Francorum II, no. 233, p. 131. Edited by Viktor Krause and Alfred Boretius.Hanover: Impensis Bibliopolii Hahn 1897. This translation CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

And we wish, after the pact was made earlier at Ravenna, to return all your men who made flight to us, if we might be able to find them.

Similarly, we promise to you, that we should not knowingly purchase Christians from the power or domain of your authority, neither should we sell nor move them to any place by any ruse, so that they should suffer captivity or their own master would lose them; but nor should we move any Christian anywhere for any reason to this effect, such that afterward he should fall into the power of pagans. And if we will discover that anyone shall have led them into our lands, by all means we should return to your territory him who shall have led those Christian slaves to be sold, and everything which he brought with himself, and he himself who seized those ones, let him have everything remaining.

About the captives, indeed, if they be discovered in our duchies: let us return the very persons, who brought across the captives themselves, with all their personal things to your territory; and if this were not done, let the judge of that place, where the very slaves are sought, swear an oath, with five sworn men, of which sort your side should choose, that those slaves had not been taken to there, nor brought across from there.

If slaves or slave women flee among the territories within this interval of time, let those ones who removed themselves be returned with all their things, and let the judge who returns the very runaways receive a gold solidus apiece for each one, in such a way, however, that, if he requires any more, let satisfaction be made through a suitable oath to the lords of those same slaves. If, moreover, the judge took the runaways themselves and refused to return them and furthermore the slaves made another shelter, let seventy-two gold solidi be paid (as amends) for each runaway.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does this treaty reveal about the relationship between slavery and political authority?
  2. Why might Lothar have wanted to prohibit the enslavement and sale of all Christians, not just his own subjects?
  3. Why might judges have refused to return runaway slaves?
  4. Why is the reward for returning a slave 72-times less than the punishment for keeping a slave?  

Related Primary Sources

  • “Pactum Caroli III.” Boretius, Alfredus and Viktor Krause, eds. Monumenta Germaniae Historica Capitularia Regum Francorum II, no. 236, p. 138 (Hanover: Impensis Bibliopolii Hahn 1897).
  • “Pactum Berengarii I.” Boretius, Alfredus and Viktor Krause, eds. Monumenta Germaniae Historica Capitularia Regum Francorum II, no. 238, p. 144 (Hanover: Impensis Bibliopolii Hahn 1897).
  • “The Sermon of the Wolf to the English”. Whitelock, Dorothy, ed. English Historical Documents I, p. 931 (New York: Oxford University Press 1979).
  • Cathwulf’s Epistola ad Carolum. Dümmler, Ernest, ed. Monumenta Germaniae Historica Epistolae Karolini Aevi IV, p. 503 (Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung 1895).
  • Life of Saint Findan

Related Secondary Sources

  • Fynn-Paul, Jeffrey. “Empire, Monotheism, and Slavery in the Greater Mediterranean Region from Antiquity to the Early Modern Era.” Past & Present, no. 205 (2009): 3-40.
  • McCormick, Michael. “European Exports to Africa and Asia”, Origins of the European Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Rio, Alice. “Slave Raiding and Slave Trading”, Slavery After Rome, 500-1100. Oxford Studies in Medieval European History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.


Captives, Flight, Law, Religion, Trade