Enslavement, Religion, and Cultural Commemoration in Livorno

Tamar Herzig*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This essay critically reexamines the career of Bernardetto Buonromei (d. c. 1616), a physician who is celebrated today as one of Livorno’s founding fathers. It argues that Buonromei’s expertise as a medical practitioner was instrumental for turning the Tuscan port city of Livorno into a major stronghold of the early modern Mediterranean slave trade. Buonromei’s fame in the early seventeenth century, it proposes, reflected the high esteem with which the Medici Grand Dukes held his contribution to the Tuscan state’s involvement in religiously justified slaving. The essay analyzes documentary evidence regarding Buonromei’s exceptionally cruel treatment of enslaved Jews and Muslims who were placed under his care while he was serving as the physician in charge of Livorno’s slave prison. It demonstrates that Cosimo II continued to back Buonromei despite repeated complaints about the physician’s excessively ruthless conduct. The final part of the essay delineates the varied manifestations of Buonromei’s cultural commemoration from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century. The continuous textual, artistic, and performative celebrations of Buonromei’s accomplishments, it concludes, complements the erasure of the suffering he had inflicted on enslaved non-Catholics in Livorno.

Original languageEnglish
Article number607
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2023


  • Grand Duchy of Tuscany
  • Livorno
  • Mediterranean slave trade
  • commemoration
  • enslavement
  • ethnoreligious groups
  • interethnic relations
  • rape
  • violence


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