Enslavement for Manumission: The Creation of Byzantine ‘Private Subjects’

Youval Rotman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The article challenges current perspectives on slavery as ‘unfreedom’ and proposes to examine the enslaved within a socio-political dynamics of power relations. An analysis of four Byzantine documents from the eleventh century and the place they accorded to slaves and manumitted slaves reveals the way enslavement and manumission served together as a means to acquire socioeconomic independence and private authority by turning the enslaved persons into private subjects: men and women exclusively subordinated to the authority of their owners. Private authority was based on a total subordination towards the enslaver and challenged the public imperial authority over people. An analysis of the place accorded to slaves and manumitted slaves in the private domain as seen from juridical and economic documents from the central Middle Ages from different regions of the Byzantine Empire shows slaves as social capital and slavery as a means to gain socioeconomic independence as part of the power game in a medieval society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)638-657
Number of pages20
JournalSlavery and Abolition
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2023


  • Byzantine slavery
  • conversion
  • manumission
  • private subjects
  • social dependency


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