The Risk of Birth

Life Insurance for Enslaved Pregnant Women in Fifteenth-Century Genoa

In: Journal of Global Slavery
Hannah Barker Arizona State University USA Phoenix, AZ

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Why did fifteenth-century Genoese slaveholders insure the lives of enslaved pregnant women? I argue that their assessment of the risks associated with childbirth reflected their views on the connection between slavery, property, and lineage. Genoese slaveholders saw the reproductive labor of enslaved women as a potential contribution to their lineage as well as their property. Because their children by enslaved women might become their heirs, Genoese slaveholders were inclined to worry about and seek protection against the risk of maternal mortality. In the context of the commercial revolution and the rise of third-party insurance, they developed life insurance for enslaved pregnant women to complement the fines already required of those who illegally impregnated enslaved women and thereby endangered their lives.

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