Slavery and decline of slave-ownership in Ottoman Bursa, 1460-1880
Canbakal, Hülya and Filiztekin, Alpay (2020) Slavery and decline of slave-ownership in Ottoman Bursa, 1460-1880. International Journal of Labour and Working Class History, 97 . pp. 57-80. ISSN 0147-5479 (Print) 1471-6445 (Online)
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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0147547920000071
The most widely accepted narrative about the long-term history of slavery in Ottoman lands rests on a supply-side story. According to this, military and diplomatic factors reduced the inflow of slaves from the seventeenth century onwards and, consequently, exorbitant prices turned slaveholding into a luxury inaccessible to all but the top elite. Using evidence from probate inventories of the city of Bursa and its hinterland from 1460 to 1880, the present study examines this narrative in light of the incidence of slave-ownership and prices. We observe substantial decline in slaveholding already before the beginning of government reforms concerning slavery and slave trade in the nineteenth century. We also find a decline in slave prices, both absolute and relative to wages. This is unexpected. Further analysis suggests, on the one hand, that a different supply factor, relative increase in the African slave population due to changes in the global traffic may have been instrumental in these trends, which links Bursa’s non-colonial market to world slavery. On the other hand, examination of the consumption/investment preferences of the wealthy suggests that demand for slaves, too, may have declined, we surmise, in response to demographic and social change affecting alternative labor costs as well as cultural change affecting the meaning of slaveholding.
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