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The paper examines the evidence for slavery in the late antique and early medieval penitentials. This body of sources has only recently been rediscovered for the study of slavery. Most of the earliest extant penitentials contain canons that deal in one way or another with slaves (servus or ancilla) or slavery (servitium). These canons can roughly be grouped into three categories according to the aspect under which slavery is considered in them: In the first category of canons, slaves are merely mentioned in the description of a sin in which they are either involved in or the victim of. The second category of canons considers slavery as a penitential punishment. The third category, finally, offers more general rules or laws on slavery. Samples for these three categories and their analysis form the main part of the paper. The presented evidence is then evaluated with regard to the questions what kind of insights the penitentials offer for the study of slavery in general, and the involvement of the Church in slavery in particular.

In: Vigiliae Christianae


In response to critiques of the ‘slavery versus freedom’ binary and its limitations, researchers at the international Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies ( at the University of Bonn tentatively employ the analytical concept of ‘asymmetrical dependency’ in their investigations of coercive social relations, such as slavery, debt bondage, and servitude. In this paper, we discuss some basic theoretical assumptions that undergird this analytical concept. In outlining an approach to asymmetrical dependency that is grounded in social and cultural theory, our goal is to provide a framework within which individual researchers can situate their projects and further develop their theoretical understanding of this phenomenon. To this end, we first introduce the analytical concept of asymmetrical dependency and explore its potential in light of the current state of research of slavery studies and related fields. We then conceptualize asymmetrical dependency as a dynamic relational process and employ a chiefly praxeological methodology to identify and describe some fundamental dynamics of these relations. Finally, we argue that the interdisciplinary study of asymmetrical dependency requires a broad practice of comparative analyses. We, therefore, consider several recent critiques of and models for comparison while relating them to the analytical concept of asymmetrical dependency we propose.

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In: Journal of Global Slavery