Hannah BarkerMay 12, 2021
That Most Precious Merchandise
The Mediterranean Trade in Black Sea Slaves, 1260-1500
University of Pennsylvania Press 2019
Before the Transatlantic slave trade ravaged the western coast of Africa, immense numbers of persons were taken from their homes and carried across the Black and Mediterranean Seas as involuntary passengers. This trade is the subject of Hannah Barker’s remarkable study, That Most Precious Merchandise: The Mediterranean Trade in Black Sea Slaves, 1260-1500 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019).
Professor Barker provides a comprehensive overview of this tangled, multiethnic trade in human beings. Professor Barker is uniquely equipped to do so because she brings a knowledge of both Arabic and Latin. Since this trade brought captives both to Mamluk Egypt and late medieval Italy, previous studies, hampered by linguistic limitations, have not examined the trade in its totality. Barker is able to marshal both Arabic and Latin sources to provide a truly comprehensive picture of slaving and slavery. The result is a work that is both detailed and synoptic, and is essential reading for scholars of late medieval Europe and North Africa.
Jonathan Megerian is a doctoral candidate in history at Johns Hopkins University. He works on late medieval and Renaissance England. His dissertation explores the role of historiography in the formation of imperial ideologies in Renaissance England.