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Slavery in Portugal

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Slavery in Portugal

Slavery in Portugal occurred since before the country's formation. During the pre-independence period, inhabitants of the current Portuguese territory were often enslaved and enslaved others. After independence, during the existence of the Kingdom of Portugal, the country played a leading role in the Atlantic Slave Trade, which involved the mass trade and transportation of slaves from Africa and other parts of the world to the American continent. Slavery was abolished in Portugal in 1761 by the Marquis of Pombal.


Ancient era

Slavery was a major economic and social institution in Europe during the classical era and a great deal is known about the ancient Greeks and Romans in relation to the topic. Rome added Portugal to its empire (2nd century BC), the latter a province of Lusitania at the time, and the name of the future kingdom was derived from "Portucale", a Roman and post-Roman settlement situated at the mouth of the Douro River. The details of slavery in Roman Portugal are not well-known; however, there were several forms of slavery, including enslaved miners and domestic servants.

Visigothic and Suebi kingdoms

The Visigoths and the Suebi (Germanic tribes), of the 5th century AD, seized control of the Iberian peninsula as the Roman Empire fell. At the time, Portugal did not exist as a separate kingdom, but was primarily a part of the Visigothic Iberian kingdom (the Visigothic ruling class lived apart and heavily taxed the native population). However, during this period, a gradual transition to feudalism and serfdom was occurring throughout Europe.

Islamic Iberia

After the Umayyad conquest of Hispania in the 8th century, the territory of both modern-day Portugal and Spain fell under Islamic control. The pattern of slavery and serfdom in the Iberian Peninsula differs from the rest of Western Europe due to the Islamic conquest. Moors from North Africa crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and defeated the Visigothic rulers of Iberia (8th century). They established Moorish kingdoms in Iberia, including the area that is occupied by modern Portugal. In comparison to the north, classical-style slavery continued for a longer period of time in southern Europe and trade between Christian Europe, across the Mediterranean, with Islamic North Africa meant that Slavic and Christian iberian slaves appeared in Italy, Spain, Southern France and Portugal; in the 8th century, the Islamic conquest in Portugal and Spain changed this pattern.

Trade ties between the Moorish kingdoms and the North African Moorish state led to a greater flow of trade within those geographical areas. In addition, the Moors engaged sections of Spaniards and Portuguese Christians in slave labor. There was not a racial component to slavery in Iberia. The Moors utilised ethnic European slaves, 1/12 of Iberian population were slave Europeans, less than 1% of Iberia were Moors and most than 99% were native Iberians. Periodic Arab and Moorish raiding expeditions were sent from Islamic Iberia to ravage the remaining Christian Iberian kingdoms, bringing back stolen goods and slaves. In a raid against Lisbon in 1189, for example, the Almohad caliph Yaqub al-Mansur held 3,000 females and children as captives, while his governor of Córdoba, in a subsequent attack upon Silves, held 3,000 Christian slaves in 1191. In addition, the Christian Iberians who lived within Arab and Moorish-ruled territories were not only subject to discriminatory laws and taxes, but were also coerced into Islamic faith.


Muslim Moors who converted to Christianity, known as Moriscos, were enslaved by the Portuguese during the Reconquista; 9.3 per cent of slaves in southern Portugal were Moors[1] and many Moors were enslaved in 16th-century Portugal.[2] It has been documented that other slaves were treated better than Moriscos, the slaves were less than 1% of population.[3]

Age of Discovery

After the Reconquista period, moors slaves began to outnumber Slavic slaves in both importance and numbers in Portugal. .[4][5][6][7][8][9]


After the Portuguese first made contact with Japan in 1543, a large scale slave trade developed in which Portuguese purchased Japanese as slaves in Japan and sold them to various locations overseas, including Portugal itself, throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[10][11] Many documents mention the large slave trade along with protests against the enslavement of Japanese. Japanese slaves are believed to be the first of their nation to end up in Europe, and the Portuguese purchased large amounts of Japanese slave girls to bring to Portugal for sexual purposes, as noted by the Church in 1555. King Sebastian feared that it was having a negative effect on Catholic proselytization since the slave trade in Japanese was growing to massive proporations, so he commanded that it be banned in 1571[12][13]

Japanese slave women were even sold as concubines to black African crewmembers, along with their European counterrparts serving on Portuguese ships trading in Japan, mentioned by Luis Cerqueira, a Portuguese Jesuit, in a 1598 document.[14] Japanese slaves were brought by the Portuguese to Macau, where some of them not only ended up being enslaved to Portuguese, but as slaves to other slaves, with the Portuguese owning Malay and African slaves, who in turn owned Japanese slaves of their own.[15][16]

Hideyoshi was so disgusted that his own Japanese people were being sold en masse into slavery on Kyushu, that he wrote a letter to Jesuit Vice-Provincial Gaspar Coelho on 24 July 1587 to demand the Portuguese, Siamese (Thai), and Cambodians stop purchasing and enslaving Japanese and return Japanese slaves who ended up as far as India.[17][18][19] Hideyoshi blamed the Portuguese and Jesuits for this slave trade and banned Christian proselytizing as a result.[20][21]

Some Korean slaves were bought by the Portuguese and brought back to Portugal from Japan, where they had been among the tens of thousands of Korean prisoners of war transported to Japan during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–98).[22][23] Historians pointed out that at the same time Hideyoshi expressed his indignation and outrage at the Portuguese trade in Japanese slaves, he himself was engaging in a mass slave trade of Korean prisoners of war in Japan.[24][25]

There are records of Chinese slaves in Lisbon as early as 1540.[26] According to modern historians, the first known visit of a Chinese person to Europe dates to 1540 (or soon after), when a Chinese scholar, apparently enslaved by Portuguese raiders somewhere on the southern China coast, was brought to Portugal. Purchased by João de Barros, he worked with the Portuguese historian on translating Chinese texts into Portuguese.[27]

In sixteenth century southern Portugal, the number of Chinese slaves was described as "negligible", being outnumbered by East Indians, Mouriscos, and African slaves.[28] A testament from 23 October 1562 recorded a Chinese man named António who was enslaved and owned by a Portuguese woman, Dona Maria de Vilhena, a wealthy noblewoman in Évora.[29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40][41][42] António was among the three most common male names given to male slaves in Evora.[43] D. Maria specifically selected and used him from among the slaves she owned to perform demanding tasks for her because he was Chinese.[44] D. Maria's owning a Chinese, 3 Indians, and 3 Mouriscos among her fifteen slaves reflected on her high social status, since Chinese, Mouriscos, and Indians were among the ethnicities of prized slaves and were very expensive compared to blacks.[45] When she died, D. Maria freed twelve of her slaves in her testament, leaving them with sums from 20,000 to 10,000 réis in money.[46] D. Maria de Vilhena was the daughter of the nobleman and explorer Sancho de Tovar, the capitão of Sofala, and she was married twice, the first marriage to the explorer Cristóvão de Mendonça, and her second marriage was to Simão da Silveira, capitão of Diu.[47][48][49]

Chinese boys were kidnapped from Macau and sold as slaves in Lisbon while they were still children.[50][51] Fillippo Sassetti saw some Chinese and Japanese slaves in Lisbon among the large slave community in 1578, although most of the slaves were blacks.[52][53][54][55][56]

The Portuguese "highly regarded" Asian slaves like Chinese and Japanese, much more "than slaves from sub-Saharan Africa".[57][58] The Portuguese attributed qualities like intelligence and industriousness to Chinese and Japanese slaves which is why they favored them more.[59][60][61][62]

In 1595 a law was passed by Portugal banning the selling and buying of Chinese and Japanese slaves.[63]

Slavery in Macau and the coast of China

Beginning in the 16th century, the Portuguese tried to establish trading ports and settlements along the coast of China. Early attempts at establishing such bases, such as those in Ningbo and Quanzhou, were however destroyed by the Chinese, following violent raids by the settlers to neighboring ports, which included pillaging and plunder and sometimes enslavement.[64][65][66][67][68] The resulting complaints made it to the province's governor who commanded the settlement destroyed and the inhabitants wiped out. In 1545, a force of 60,000 Chinese troops descended on the community, and 800 of the 1,200 Portuguese residents were massacred, with 25 vessels and 42 junks destroyed.[69][70][71][72]

Until the mid-17th century, during the early Portuguese mandate of [73][76]

On June 24, 1622, the Dutch attacked Macau in the Battle of Macau, expecting to turn the area into a Dutch possession, with an 800-strong invasion force led by under Captain Kornelis Reyerszoon. The relatively small number of defenders repulsed the Dutch attack, which was not repeated. The majority of the defenders were Africans slaves, with only a few dozen Portuguese soldiers and priests in support, and they accounted for most of the victims in the battle.[77][78][79][80] Following the defeat, the Dutch Governor Jan Coen said of the Macao slaves, that "it was they who defeated and drove away our people there".[81][82][83][84] In the 1800s, during the Qing dynasty, the British consul noted that some Portuguese were still buying children between five and eight years of age.[85][86][87]

In 1814, the Jiaqing Emperor added a clause to the section of the fundamental laws of China titled "Wizards, Witches, and all Superstitions, prohibited", later modified in 1821 and published in 1826 by the Daoguang Emperor, which sentenced Europeans, namely Portuguese Christians who would not repent their conversion, to be sent to Muslim cities in Xinjiang as slaves to Muslim leaders.[88]


During transport to Portugal, slaves were fastened and chained with manacles, padlocks, and rings around their necks.[89] Portuguese owners could whip, chain, and pour burning hot wax and fat onto the skin of their slaves, and punish their slaves in any way that they wished, as long as the slaves remained alive.[90] The Portuguese also used branding irons to brand their slaves as property.[91]


Voices condemning the slave trade were raised quite early on during the Atlantic Slave Trade period. Among them was Gaspar da Cruz (1550-1575), a Dominican friar who dismissed any arguments by the slave traffickers that they had "legally" purchased already-enslaved children, among the earliest condemnations of slavery in Europe during this period.[92]

From an early age during the Atlantic Slave Trade period, the crown attempted to stop the trading of non-African slaves. The enslavement and overseas trading of Chinese slaves, who were prized by the Portuguese,[58] was specifically addressed in response to Chinese authorities' requests, who, although not against the enslavement of people in Macau and Chinese territories, which was common practice,[93] at different times attempted to stop the transport of slaves to outside the territory.[94] In 1595, a Portuguese royal decree banned the selling and buying of ethnically Chinese slaves; it was reiterated by the Portuguese King in February 19, 1624,[51][93][95] and, in 1744, by the Qianlong Emperor, who forbade the practice to Chinese subjects, reiterating his order in 1750.[96][97] However, these laws were not able to stop the trade completely, and in the 16th century a small number of Chinese slaves were still owned by Portuguese slave owners in southern Portugal (twenty-nine to thirty-four people), a practice which lasted until the 1700s.[51] In the American colonies, Portugal halted the use of Chinese, Japanese, Europeans, and Indians to work as slaves for sugar plantations, which was reserved exclusively for African slaves.

The abolition of all forms of slavery occurred in 1761 on mainland Portugal and Portuguese India through a decree by the Marquis of Pombal, followed, in 1777, by Madeira. The transatlantic slave trade was definitely outlawed altogether by Portugal in 1836, at the same time as other European powers, as a result of British pressure. Slavery within the African Portuguese colonies, however, would only be definitely abolished in 1869, following a treaty between United States and Britain for the suppression of the slave trade. In Brazil, which had become independent from Portugal in 1822, slavery was finally abolished in 1888.

See also


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  26. ^ Boxer 1939, pp. 542–543
  27. ^ Mungello 2009, p. 81
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  29. ^ Fonseca 1997, p. 21: "e o chinês, também António, ainda há pouco referido e que era condutor das azémolas de D. Maria de Vilhena"
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  51. ^ a b c Teixeira Leite 1999, p. 20: "Já por aí se vê que devem ter sido numerosos os escravos chineses que tomaram o caminho de Lisboa — e por extensão o do Brasil ... Em 1744 era o imperador Qianlong quem ordenava que nenhum Chinês ou europeu de Macau vendesse filhos e filhas, prohibição reiterada em 1750 pelo vice-rei de Cantão."
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  58. ^ a b Finkelman & Miller 1998, p. 737
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  63. ^ Dias 2007, p. 71
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  69. ^ (Original from the University of California)
  70. ^ (Original from the New York Public Library)
  71. ^ (Original from Princeton University)
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  93. ^ a b de Pina-Cabral 2002, pp. 114–115: "From very early on, it was recognized that the purchase of Chinese persons (particularly female infants) caused no particular problems in Macao, but that the export of these people as slaves was contrary to the safeguarding of peaceable relations with the Chinese authorities. This point is clearly made by a Royal Decree of 1624 ... [t]hese good intentions were, however, difficult to uphold in the territory where the monetary purchase of persons was easily accomplished and the supply very abundant, particularly of young females."
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  96. ^ Mancall 2007, p. 228
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