One practice which the Holy Roman Catholic Church found difficult to deal with, of course, was slavery. The problem was that slavery was the currency of choice in the West after the fall of the Roman Empire. Currencies were either widely debased, overvalued, easily counterfeited or unavailable as the centralized administration emanating from the Italian province broke down. So slaves were seen as the next best thing, ca. the 6-8th centuries. The peoples of Lombardy (originally Germanic semi-nomads like the Goths, Vandals and Franks) who settled in the largely disused portions of northern Italy around 568 AD, used to make occasional sorties into Rome for slaves. Pope Gregory wrote of them leading away hundreds of men and women, by collars around their necks, like dogs. Servitutem mortalitati fere comparamus, was Gregory’s conclusion, slavery may as well be death.
The problem for the Church authorities – slavery, while wholly irreconcilable with Christian doctrine, was at this point the only way to keep most of Europe from starving. The coffers of the Holy Roman Empire had been emptied: first by expansive border defenses, and when those failed, huge tributes of protection to the new powers of Europe, the tribal kings of the barbarians. Manpower was also woefully low due to famine and plague. And finally, Italy had been effectively cut off by creditors in Egypt, from whence most of cities took their corn, oil and barley. So, instead, the Church did what it could for the slave’s lot, preaching the virtues of proper treatment.
Manumission, the freeing of slaves, was promoted as a outstanding form of salvation for one’s soul as well as one’s family. However, manumission was rarely a complete abdication; the freeman was hardly ever completely freed, and usually was only accorded official legal status while continuing to work his lord’s lands. Bonds of obedience, obsequium, were retained. The freeman, aldio, was still called to be loyal; but under a new charter the lord also had responsibilities as well. One charter of manumission, drawn up in the 8th c. by a Lombard lord, states: “Vulpo, Mitildis, their sons and daughters and kindred, state that they did not wish to follow the four roads to complete freedom, but in the future would be content to have their freedom under the care and protection of the priests and deacons of the Church of Great St. Mary at Cremona.” Which is to say, one may surmise, sudden freedom in the chaos of 8th c. Europe might not have been much of a blessing, and that a slave family might wish to remain at least partially affiliate with some body of authority.
Source: J.M. Wallace Hadrill, The Barbarian West : The Early Middle Ages, AD 400 – 1000. (London: Harper and Row, 1962), 60-61.
Man`u*mis"sion (?), n. [L. manumissio: cf. F. manumission. See Manumit.]
The act of manumitting, or of liberating a slave from bondage.
© Webster 1913.
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