The struggle for humanity in the Dubrovnik Republic

January 27, 1416 – a historic date in the history of the Republic of Dubrovnik

Namely, on this day in 1416, the most influential lords gathered in the Grand Council of the Republic of Dubrovnik with 75 votes “for” and only three votes “against” to adopt a decision banning the slave trade.

Explaining the reasons that guided them, the lords wrote in the decision:

“We believe that such commerce is ugly, wicked, cursed against all mankind, and falls as a great disgrace and an evil voice from our city. Thus, the human figure, made in the image and likeness of our Creator, is to be turned into an object of commerce, and people are sold as boring animals. Therefore, we determine and order that from now on none of our citizens and members, or foreigners, dare in any way or dare to buy or sell a slave or a slave girl. “

The Republic of Dubrovnik – initiating change in Europe

This historic decision made the Republic of Dubrovnik one of the first European countries to abolish the slave trade. It is the first known regulation in the world to explicitly prohibit an aspect of slavery, well before prohibitions in other countries or those introduced by international human rights instruments.

However, in the political reality of the time, it was not possible for Dubrovnik’s merchants and their European trading partners to completely ban the slave trade, which, although inhumane, was highly lucrative.

The Republic of Dubrovnik was one of the first European countries to abolish the slave trade.

The borders of the zone where humanity was protected

This is why the aforementioned decision of the Grand Council of Dubrovnik declared that the slave trade was forbidden in a very limited area from Budva (Montenegro) in the south to Split in the north (insofar as the real reach of Dubrovnik’s diplomatic and military apparatus of coercion was in the 15th century).

It couldn’t have been any other way, as the slave trade was a European phenomenon that brought in fantastic profits.

Dubrovnik merchants and their European partners from Barcelona, Venice, Florence and other cities traded mainly in women aged between 20 and 30, although some also sold girls aged between 5 and 13. Most of these slaves came from Bosnia and, to a lesser extent, Serbia.

What’s the price of a man?

The market price for Bosnian slaves was around 30 ducats, or about $8,000 in today’s money. Younger, stronger slaves, especially men, who accounted for only a tenth of Bosnian slaves, cost around 50 ducats, or around $13,000 in today’s money.

When all this is known, along with the fact that the profit from the slave trade was a fantastic 150 to 175 percent, it’s quite clear that the aforementioned decision by the Grand Council of Dubrovnik was a moral and very courageous decision by the state. Especially as Europe at the time still considered slavery acceptable.

Do the rights of slaves in Europe exist?

In Europe at the time, slaves were mostly servants, which enabled them to acquire personal freedom through religious conversion, sexual intimacy or the Christian charity of their masters, and to integrate relatively well into the life of the towns and countries to which they were sold.

However, in the decades after 1416, Europe borrowed Dubrovnik’s decision.

Namely, the words of the Lords of Dubrovnik of the Grand Council that the slave trade is “ugly, wicked, cursed and against all humanity because the human figure, made in the image and likeness of our Creator, must be transformed into an object of commerce, and people are sold like stupid animals” have begun to be taken up more and more by our continent.

Contrary to earlier explanations that it was acceptable to sell “heretics” from Bosnia or “schismatics” from Serbia and Russia into slavery, in which slavery was also an accepted social institution, the Christian view of man began to be taken more seriously in Europe. This is why the idea that all Christians, but also all people in general, are creatures of God who have a soul and must not be treated like captured animals, influenced the behavior of political leaders.

The beginning of the end of slavery

At the same time, the capitalist principle of contractual wage labor began to emerge, so that slavery increasingly resembled a relic of the past.

However, although the slave trade had been outlawed, the second half of the 15th century brought about a change that forced more and more beggars into European slavery via Dubrovnik. Namely, Eastern and Southeastern Europe experienced the sword of the Ottoman Turks, which, in addition to enormous losses, also led to colossal migrations and refugee slavery.

Always ahead of its time

The Republic of Dubrovnik has always been ahead of its time. The republic had the first quarantine, the first orphanage, the second oldest pharmacy in the world, and among other things, it was the first to be recognized by the United States. Of all this, we are extremely proud of the decision to ban human trafficking.