In 1566, Pope Pius V granted the Conservatori of Rome the privilege of conferring emancipation and Roman citizenship on baptised slaves who presented themselves in person at the Palazzo Senatorio on the Capitoline Hill. Muslim slaves who were able to reach Rome were the privileged beneficiaries of the papal resolution. The solution offered at the Capitoline constituted an explicit invitation for men and women with distant and uncertain prospects of repatriation and freedom to convert to Catholicism. For the Christian masters of slaves, however, this resolution paved the way for a series of practical problems. Was the conversion of a slave to be encouraged? What did ownership of a Christian slave imply? What rules were to be followed outside Rome? Was it necessary to question the sincerity of conversion and monitor the Catholic conduct of the neophyte? Were converted slaves to receive preferential treatment with respect to those born as Christians, and to infidel slaves of other beliefs?
This article begins to address such questions by investigating slave emancipations on the basis of new data emerging from the archives, and by opening the way for a wide-ranging reading of Roman policy regarding religious otherness in the early modern period. Beginning with the presentation of a completely unknown source for the Roman emancipations (which confirms the practical application of Pius V’s brief), it examines the problems caused by this policy for dealing with slavery. Comparing the strategies developed by the Church for governing the city of Rome with those proposed for other regions, it reveals the overarching eschatological project in which urban space was presented as a unique and authentic model of Catholic society.