Gregory’s Letter to Fortunatus

Although Gregory the Great wrote letters that specifically mentioned Slavs, he also wrote letters where Slavs are suspected to be discussed.  For example, the great Polish orientalist Tadeusz Lewicki brings up the point that the following letter (Book 6, 29) which he seems to have become aware of through Solomon Katz’s “The Jews in the Visigothic and Frankish Kingdoms of Spain and Gaul” may have mentioned Slavic slaves taken captive beyond the Frankish borders.

Here is that letter from the year 596. Note that the mechanism recommended seems to basically say that the same laws that applied to Christians should, in general, apply to pagan slaves:

Those pagan slaves who within three months of purchase/acquisition by Jewish merchants declare their desire to be Christian, they can be bought out of slavery by Christians and set free.   If the pagan waits for three months, is not sold in that time, and then declares a desire to be Christian then he is automatically freed since that proves that he was meant for ownership (by the Jew) and not for resale.

The dynamic that this would likely set in motion would be for Jewish merchants to try to unload their human cargo as quickly as possible since, if not sold, within three months, any declaration of a desire to be Christian would result in no compensation (if enforced, of course). Note that those slaves who wanted to remain pagan stayed slaves and a sale to a Christian would seem to have extinguished the ability of the slave to obtain freedom by simply declaring a desire to be a Christian.

Gregory’s Letter to Fortunatus II, Bishop of Naples (593-600)

“That slaves who wish to embrace the Christian faith must not be sold to Jews, but (the owners) may receive a price from a Christian purchaser.”

“We have before now written to you, our brother, that their masters should not have leave to sell those who, by the inspiration of God, desire to come from the Jewish superstition to the Christian faith; but that from the moment they shall have manifested this determination they should be, by all means, protected to seek their liberty. But, as we have been led to know some persons, not exactly and accurately giving heed to our will, nor to the enactments of the laws, think that, as regards pagan slaves, this law does not apply, it is fit that you, our brother, should be careful on this head; and if among the slaves of the Jews, not only a Jew, but any of the pagans, should desire to become a Christian, to see that no Jew should have power to sell him under any pretext, or by any ingenious device, after this his intention shall have been made known; but let him who desires to become of the Christian faith have the aid of your defence, by all means, for his liberty.”

“And respecting those who are to lose such servants, lest they; should consider themselves unreasonably hindered, it is fit that you should carefully follow this rule: that, if it should happen that pagans, whom they bought from foreign places for the purpose traffic, should within three months, not having been purchased, fly to the church and say that they desire to be Christians, or even make known this intention without the church, let the owners be capable of receiving their price from a Christian purchaser. But, if, after the lapse of three months, any one of those servants of this description should speak his will and wish to become a Christian, no one shall thereafter dare to purchase him, nor shall his master under any pretext sell him; but he shall unquestionably  be brought to the reward of liberty, because it is sufficiently intelligible that this slave was procured for the purpose of service and not for that of traffic. [Please] do you, my brother, diligently and closely observe all these things, so that you be not led away by any supplication, nor affected by personal regard.

GREGORIUS, Fortunato Episcopo Neopolitano

Ne mancipia quaa Christianam fidem suscipere volunt, Judseis venundentur: sed pretium a Christiano emptore percipiant.

Fraternitati vestrae ante hoc tempus scripsimus, ut hos qui de Judaica superstitione ad Christianam fidem Deo aspirante venire desiderant, dominis eorum nulla esset licentia venundandi: sed ex eo quo voluntatis suae desiderium prodidissent, defendi in libertatem per omnia debuissent. Sed quia quantum cognovimus, nec voluntatem nostram, nec legum statuta subtili scientes discretione pensare, in paganis servis hac se non arbitraritur conditione constring: fraternitatem vestram oportet de his esse solicitam, et si de Judaeorum servitio non solum Judaeos, sed etiam quisquam paganorum fieri voluerit Christianus, postquam voluntas ejus fuerit patefacta, nec hunc sub quolibet ingenio vel argumento cuipiam Judeorum venundandi facultas sit: sed is qui ad Christianam converti fidem desideret, defensione vestra in libertatem modis omnibus vindicetur.

Hi vero quos hujus modi oportet servos amittere, ne forsitan utilitates suas irrationabiliter sestiment impediri, sollicita; vos haec convenit consideratione servare: ut si paganos, quos mercimonii causa, de externis finibus emerint, intra tres menses, dum emptor cui vendi debeant non invenitur, fugere ad ecclesiam forte contigerit, et velle se fieri dixerint Christianos, vel etiam extra ecclesiam hanc talem voluntatem prodederint, pretium ibi a Christiano scilicet emptore percipiant. Si autem post praefinitos tres menses quisquam hujusmodi servorum velle suum edixerit, et fieri voluerit Christianus, nee aliquis eum postmodum emere, nec dominus qualibet occasionis specie audeat venundare, sed ad libertatis proculdubio praemia perducatur: quia hunc non ad vendendum, sed ad serviendum sibi intelligitur comparasse. Haec igitur omnia fraternitas vestra ita vigilanter observet, quatenus ei nec supplicatio quorumdam valeat, nec persona surripere.

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February 2, 2018

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