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Medieval Sourcebook:
Decrees on Sale of Unfree Christians, c. 922-1171


Even in the tenth and twelfth centuries it was still necessary for Councils of the Church in Germany, England, and Ireland to forbid the sale of unfree Christians.

Council of Koblenz, 922.

7. Also the question was put what should be done concerning him who led away a Christian man and then sold him; and the reply of all was that he should be guilty of homicide.

Council of London, 1102.

27. Let no one presume for the future to enter into that nefarious business by which they were accustomed hitherto to sell men like brute animals in England.

Council held at Armagh in Ireland, 1171.

When these things were done the clergy of all Ireland were called to Armagh, and upon the arrival of foreigners in the island after more negotiation and deliberation the opinion of all was as follows:

On account of the sins of the people, especially because at one time they were accustomed to buy Englishmen both from merchants, thieves, and pirates, here and there, and to reduce them to servitude, this trouble had come upon them by the severity of divine vengeance, so that they themselves were in turn reduced by the same people to servitude. For the English people hitherto throughout the whole of their kingdom to the common injury of their people, had become accustomed to selling their sons and relatives in Ireland, to expose their children for sale as slaves, rather than suffer any need or want. Wherefore, it may be believed, just as they were sellers and buyers once, so now they deserve the yoke of servitude for such an enormity. And so it is decreed in the said council, and declared with the public consent of all, that wherever the English are throughout the island they shall be freed from the bond of slavery, and shall receive the liberty they formerly had.


SOURCE: From: J. D. Mansi, ed., Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio, (Paris: H. Welter, 1902), Vol. XVIIIa, p. 345; Vol. XX, p. 1152; Vol. XXII, p. 123; reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 285-286.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright.Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, September 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu