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Title: Patrolling society’s borders : slavery, apostasy and the Inquisition
Authors: Cassar, Carmel
Sant Cassia, Paul
Keywords: Malta -- History -- Knights of Malta, 1530-1798
Slavery -- Malta -- History
Issue Date: 2007
Publisher: Sacra Militia Foundation
Citation: Cassar, C., & Santa Cassia, P. (2007). Patrolling society’s borders: slavery, apostasy and the Inquisition. Sacra Militia, 6, 55-62.
Abstract: Walter Benjamin once famously remarked that we write books because we wish to read them. Not being able to read them, as they have never been written, we write them. In the case of history, we write books perhaps because we wish someone had then written an account of what we now wish to explore. Lacking that, we write such books for the people of, and from, the past. At least we can give them a voice their contemporaries and time had denied them. Imagine that as historians we were to be offered an opportunity to b, presented with a mass of undreamt of data from, say the Malta National Archives. Let us take the period when the Order of St John ruled Malta between 1530 and 1798 as an example. We are sure that each one of us could imagine an ideal text, which would shed light on some particular aspect of their research. One could even imagine writing a history of unwritten histories. It is precisely when we begin to pose these types of questions that we realize only too uncomfortably that the mass of data that we possess deriving as they do from legal records, notarial archives, and other written sources, rich as they are, clearly deal with matters that concerned the economy, the elite, trade, booty, the church, family properties, and such like information. These are all very important, but let us imagine some hypothetical text that could have been useful to highlight the life and times of the mass of the population, or even of some particularly underprivileged group of Maltese society. One immediately thinks of slaves. They were clearly the most underprivileged group in Maltese society, they were on the margins, their lives were apparently ‘nasty, brutish and short’. Yet they were central for the economy, both in their capture and in the labour they performed, and by the end of the sixteenth century, a mere two generations after the knights Set foot in Malta, they constituted some ten percent of the population.
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