Race, Slavery, and Law in Medieval Italy


ACLS Fellowship Program


Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies


This project historicizes the concept of race in relation to slavery by focusing on its function in a specific genre (legal documents) and a specific historical context (northern Italy in the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries). In this genre and context, race was used to commodify people, collapsing their individuality into a finite, commensurable set of categories to provide a legal basis for their status as slaves and facilitate their exchange in slave markets. This form of racial categorization did not rely on physical, visual, or biological characteristics, making it a useful point of comparison for present systems of racial categorization based on skin color.