Many slaves, predominantly female, served in the households of Venetian Crete in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Freeing slaves (manumission) was also a regular occurrence. Sources from this period, including wills and court cases from Crete’s ducal court, demonstrate the marriage was often linked with the manumission of female slaves. This study looks at the reasons for this connection, arguing that marriage could be a tool of building, asserting, and defending freedwomen’s freed status, from the perspective of both masters and freedwomen. First, marriage functioned as a mechanism for establishing new or redefined social networks. Marriage could reframe the master-slave relationship into a new patron-freedwoman network, just as it also facilitated a freedwoman’s entrance into a new kin group. Second, the semiotics of late medieval marriage—including its connection to status-making and honorability—made it uniquely suited for signaling free status. Through marriage and the rhetoric of marriage, freedwomen could marshal the paternalism of former masters (and paternalistic social expectations more broadly) to their own benefit, helping themselves build free reputations and quasi- and real kin groups, and defending their freedom in the courtroom.
Lauer, Rena N.
"From Slave to Wife: Manumission and Marriage in Venetian Crete,"
Medieval People: Vol. 36:
1, Article 6.
Available at: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/medpros/vol36/iss1/6