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Slavery and Empire in Iberian Scholastic Thought, c. 1539-1682



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Allemann, Daniel 


This thesis offers a history of the ideological foundations of Iberian slaving in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Its central contention is that the unfolding globalization of slave raiding and trading in the Spanish and Portuguese empires was grounded on an understanding of slavery that differs both from ancient models and the biologically essentialized slavery of the antebellum United States. By reconstructing the writings of scholastic theologians, jurists, and missionaries, it shows that the centuries-long debates about enslavement in the medieval Mediterranean shaped how early modern thinkers conceptualized the advance of European slavery into the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Ocean worlds. When pondering whether or not a human being could be enslaved, the single most important question that Iberians intellectuals posed was whether or not the person was a fellow Christian. Where scholars have emphasized the religiously neutral universality of Catholic natural law, this thesis posits that historical actors engaged in this way of talking promoted specifically Christian rights at the expense of those of ‘infidels.’

Iberian conceptions of slavery are traced in this thesis as a prism through which to explore imaginative constructions of the political that have been eclipsed by scholars’ attention to contemporary Protestant theorists. The Iberian empires pushed the boundaries of the world as it was known to Europeans, and enslavement was central to wars of conquest as much as it was at the heart of global trade in the early modern period. For Spanish and Portuguese scholastics, to think through the problem of slavery thus involved addressing both political contests and commercial ventures in the international arena. Equally importantly, this thesis also sheds new light on the place of the political within the commonwealth and extends recent inquiries into the porous boundaries between household and ‘state.’ In so doing, it argues that scholastic theologians and jurists developed conceptually innovative views on the meaning of private and public as well as on the making of individual rights.

In sum, this thesis weaves together uncharted ideas about law and morality, commerce and empire, into a broader story of the rights of Christians against those of ‘unbelievers.’





Brett, Annabel S




Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Cambridge International Trust Scholarship