Vol.15, No.1 | [Article] Tatar Slaves in Late Fourteenth Century Florence (Jong Kuk Nam)



Walking through the streets of Florence in the late 14th century, Tatar slave female children could be easily observed. The existence of Tatar slaves is  also  confirmed  in  slave  trade  contracts,  transport  contracts,  official documents of city governments, and contemporary literature. Genoa was the city  with  the  highest  proportion  of  Tatar  slaves  in  the  late  14th  century. Between 1351 and 1380, the proportion of Tatar slaves in Genoa was 90.9 percent, and from 1381 to 1408 it was slightly lowered to 80 percent. More than half of the slaves traded in the Venetian market between the 1360s and 1450s were Tatar slaves. In the late 14th century, Florence was also one of the cities where the proportion of Tatar slaves was considerably high. 
Who are these unfamiliar strangers of Tatar slaves unlikely to be met in Italian cities such as Florence, Genoa, and Venice in the Later Middle Ages? This article aims to reveal the ethnic identity of Tatar slaves mentioned in European documents of the Later Middle Ages, analyzing a register of slaves created in Florence in 1366. In 1366, the government of Florence ordered citizens that bought slaves to report their purchase of slaves and to pay taxes (35 Florin to 1 Florin tax). The analysis of this register of slaves permits us to confirm whether Tatar slaves frequently appearing in the Italian records of the Middle Age belonged to the same ethnic group or not.
Travel accounts, chronicles, and the papal correspondence revealed that the term of Tatar was used as a common word referring to Mongol. In general, Tatar slaves were regarded as Mongols in Medieval Europe, although in strict sense, the Mongols are ethnically different from the Tatars, that is an umbrella term for different Turkic ethnic groups bearing the name Tatar. However, it is likely that all Tatar slaves mentioned in the Florentine register of slaves did not belong to the same ethnic group in that they did not share common physical characteristics enough to regard them as one category. We may conclude that Tatars slaves encompass a broader group, even though the term of Tatar defines  the  Mongols.  However,  it  is  certain  that  Mongol  slaves  were  so numerous to come across routinely in Italian cities in the Later Middle Ages.