Romano Museum


Rroma Slavery

Slavery represents the lowest status a man can have in society, the state of absolute personal, social and economic dependence in which a man is held by his master, the human condition whereby the slave works for the master without pay, fulfills all the master's orders from birth to death and has no rights whatsoever over his own person. The slave is not recognized as a human being, is outside the hierarchy of society and is considered an inferior species.


So was the Slavery of the Roma, documented since the first attestation of the Roma on the territory of the Romanian countries, in the 14th century, and which lasted for more than half a millennium. Called by abolitionists "social leprosy", Slavery not only placed the Roma outside society, but also excluded them from the condition of human beings, being considered chattels, sold, donated, inherited like any other object, land or domestic animal. Slaves could be owned by the nobles, the monasteries, the rulers, but also the wealthier peasants.


The slaves were subjected to cruel exploitation, abuse and violence, which went as far as torture and murder. Slavery, as a form of absolute personal dependence of the slave on his master, was totally different from the other forms of servitude or dependence known at the time, for example serfdom or Romania, the latter linking the peasant to the estate, as forms of economic dependence, without - make the nobleman the absolute master of the peasant: the nobleman could not sell the serf as an object, but the slave, yes; the boyar did not have the right of life and death over his serfs, but over his slaves, even if not legally regulated, yes.


The slave was not considered a human being, but an object, ready to be weighed, valued, sold or bought, donated, given as alms or bequeathed, the Roma family not being recognized as a community structure, but as a method of breeding slaves, similar to the sow of non-speakers domestic: a frequently used expression was "gypsy woman", with the meaning of a Roma woman of fertile age, who "enjoyed" a higher price, due to the fact that she could multiply the number of slaves in a household.


Slavery also deeply affected Roma children, who were separated from their families at the pleasure of their masters, exchanged, given away or sold, often at prices lower than those of animals, because they were not considered good enough for work. The sexual abuse of Romani girls by slave owners and the torture of slaves, unsanctioned by law, like many other abuses by masters against slaves, were almost universal practices.


The Orthodox Church, through its monasteries, was the largest holder and trader of Romani slaves. The situation of the monastic slaves was one of the most terrible: work until exhaustion, horrifying tortures, unimaginable abuses... And the rulers, when they donated slave quarters to the monasteries, did it as alms or an offering to God for the forgiveness of sins and in the hope of ensuring eternal life in heaven.


Foreign travelers, most writers and plastic artists, were horrified by the Slavery of the Roma, especially in the century of enlightenment and the century of nations, when Europe was undergoing major changes in its vision of society through intellectual, philosophical, ideological, cultural and political movements of the times, through which the conservative feudal society and religious dogmatism were fought and humanism, constitutionalism, freedom of thought and equality between the citizens of the state were promoted.


"I was awakened from my reverie by the sound of the drum, which came from a nobleman's yard. I strained my attention and was curious to find out the cause. [...] it was an auction, but an auction of people. As I counted them, 48 gypsy slaves, men and women, were in the yard sitting in a row of carriages. In the middle, several brilliant merchant bid for the price of servant slaves. I watched this for a long time, I saw when the mother was separated from her 8-year-old daughter, her husband and her brother maybe forever. I saw, I heard when the youngest brother, with a request, arousing pity, asked the buyer to buy him too and not to separate him from his brother. But they, the buyers of their fellows, laughed at the boy's request, and the master who sold them drove him back into the house just as he was about to kiss him goodbye, and they continued the auction. Finally, all the people were sold as goods: departure was only at the end, a departure which was meant for the slave blood brothers, separation. Each one took his purchased slave, tied by the hands, to his house [...]"

wrote Charles de Bois-Le-Comte in 1834, referring to a Roma slave market in Moldova.


This is how the French painter and lithographer of the 19th century Dieudonné Lancelot represented the miserable life of the Roma slave community in the Romanian countries, with bunkhouses dug into the ground and straw huts raised on stilts, so that they would not be immediately taken away by the common vultures in the area’s floodplains where the "gypsies" were allowed to make their precarious shelters.

dr. Delia Grigore/ Translation: Victoria Ducu

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