Gefangen und versklavt: Muslimische Sklaven aus der Seeschlacht von Lepanto in Rom

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The battle of Lepanto became known as one of the most impressive naval battles fought in history. My paper discusses captivity during and after that battle – in particular of those Muslims that were brought to Rome – regarding four aspects: countability, slave agency, categorization and festival representation. It moves from a discussion of the number of captives, to scribal constructions of taxonomies and slave’s agency; it is followed by these captives display in processions and ends with an in–depth examination of the denominations applied to these Muslims.
The first part of my paper critically engages with these estimates: I discuss where they originated and whether or not they seem (im)plausible. To do so, I briefly contextualize recent figures with contemporary sources listing slaves taken by various Papal galleys during the battle. My intention is to shed light on how social relations where shaped historically. In particular, I’m asking for the mutual relationship of the constitution of ‹slavery› and the construction of communities through early modern practices. I analyze to what extend the scribes’ writing practices allow us to glimpse the socio-cultural background of those Muslims who were enslaved at Lepanto. Scribes were not just writing on slaves. Their lists were part of a complex negotiation. The captives had their own agency and at least limited possibilities of influencing the way the scribe was writing on and listing them. Although fairly little is known about early modern scribal practices, sources show that the clerk listed the slaves’ names using a special system of categorization. His notes give information about the slaves’ names, origins, occupations, ages, the colour of their skin, their injuries, and if they were converts. While he was taking notes and later translating them into lists in tidy handwriting, the scribe constructed social groups and communities that affected the Muslims’ lives in captivity. Consequently, the latters’ shaped their future at least partially by their answers when they were interrogated after the battle and the scribe wrote down the records. As a consequence, studying these constructions is methodologically demanding: The sources historians are dealing with were often written under conditions of an imbalance of power. In addition, the lists bear witness to the fact that humans were judged like commodities; by an alleged economical and social “value”. Consequently, using them demands a thorough historical analysis which avoids simply rewriting the dichotomy of the scribes’ power and the slaves’ powerlessness. The paper then centers around the presentation of the above-mentioned Muslim slaves in Roman triumphal celebrations. Carefully prepared, the triumphal processions allow a discussion of the symbolic representation of slaves and, thus, the socio-cultural mechanisms of slavery in the Catholic community. I finally discuss the denominations ‹captives› and ‹slaves› that were applied to the Muslims in regard to their sociocultural position and ‹value›. My conclusion uses the existing information about the scribes’ writing practices and about those Muslim enslaved at Lepanto that were brought to Rome to sum up a brief insight into this chapter of the history of enslaved Muslims in 16th-century Rome: slaves taken at the battle of Lepanto.

Bibliographical metadata

Translated title of the contributionCaptives and Slaves: Muslim Slaves from the Battle of Lepanto in Rome
Original languageGerman
Title of host publicationMediterranean Slavery Revisited (500–1800)
Subtitle of host publicationNeue Perspektiven auf mediterrane Sklaverei (500–1800)
EditorsStefan Hanß, Juliane Schiel
Place of PublicationZurich
PublisherChronos Verlag
Number of pages42
ISBN (Print)978-3-0340-1233-1
Publication statusPublished - 2014