Dr Alice Rio (History, King's College London)
This paper is about slavery in the early middle ages. Many trajectories have been proposed for unfree status in this period. It is either represented as the tail-end of Roman slavery, more or less long and ragged according to various historiographical tendencies, until its eventual disappearance in favour of serfdom. Or it is represented as a period of unusual slack in the exploitation of unfree labour, in-between two much more developed slave systems: the Roman empire and late medieval / early modern slavery. I will suggest that the problem is unsolvable as long as a strong distinction is not made between institutional reproduction on the one hand (the formal rule-book, which changed remarkably little between the fifth and the twelfth centuries), and social reproduction on the other (how and why individual agents sought to manipulate such institutional rules to fulfil specific short-term aims, which did vary a great deal in the same period, though not in a single direction). I will try to show that change on these two distinct levels, one institutional, the other essentially economic, happened at very different times and for very different reasons.
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