## European slaves in the year 1000

Valerie Hansen has a new book just out:

THE YEAR 1000: When Explorers Connected the World — and Globalization Began.  New York:  Scribner, 2020.

A NYT review of Hansen's landmark volume is copied below, but let's first look at some interesting language notes concerning the background of the word for "slave" (Chapter 4 is on "European Slaves"; the quotations here are from pp. 85-86).

The demand for slaves [in addition to that for furs] was also high, especially in the two biggest cities in Europe and the Middle East at the time–Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine empire, and Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid caliphate, in present-day Iraq. The residents of Constantinople and Baghdad used their wealth to purchase slaves, almost always people captured in raids on neighboring societies.

In the early 900s, a Muslim observer named Ibn Rusta noted that the Rus "treat their slaves well and dress them beautifully, because for them they are an article of trade. Adam of Bremen commented on the gold stored on the island of Zealand in Denmark, which Scandinavian pirates had accumulated from trading slaves. The Vikings, Adam said, "have no faith in one another, and as soon as one of them catches another, he mercilessly sells him into slavery." So many slaves came from Eastern Europe that the meaning of the Greek word for "Slav" (sklabos) shifted sometime in the 1000s from its original meaning, "Slav," to take on the broader meaning of "slave," whether Slavic or another origin.

The earliest written description of the Rus comes from Ibn Khurradadhbih (820-911), a Persian official who identified the Rus as one of the fair-haired peoples living in the lands of the Saqaliba, the Arabic catchall term for the peoples from Northern and Eastern Europe. ("Saqaliba" is also the origin of one of the many words for "slave" in Arabic.) "They carry beaver hides, black fox pelts, and swords from the farthest reaches of the Saqaliba to the Sea of Rum," or the Black Sea. Beaver and fox pelts commanded the highest prices because of the density of their fur.

Slavery was widespread across Eurasia.  In a recent post, Diana Shuheng Zhang aptly rendered Chinese "núzi 奴子" as "young Turk", see "Captivating translation: young Turk with flowing charm" (3/26/20).  I should have provided a note to explain that "núzi 奴子" literally meant "servant; slave" in medieval Sinitic.  It was my old friend, Elling Eide (1935-2012), the Li Po (701-762; evidently born in Central Asia and part Turk himself) specialist, who never tired of telling me that the word was often used to refer to Turks.

When I first visited my relatives in the Austrian Alps in the late 60s, I soon grew fond of the word "ciao", but didn't quite know what it meant because it was used in situations where In English I would have said both "hi" and "bye".  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was essentially saying to the person to whom I was speaking that I was their humble servant / slave.

Borrowed from Italian ciao (“hello, goodbye”), from Venetian ciao (“hello, goodbye, your (humble) servant”), from Venetian s-ciao / s-ciavo (“servant, slave”), from Medieval Latin sclavus (“Slav, slave”), related also to Italian schiavo, English Slav, slave and Old Venetian S-ciavón ("Slav"), from Latin Sclavonia (“Slavonia”). Not related to Vietnamese chào (“hello, goodbye”).

(source)

Word History: The Italian salutation ciao, which is now popular in many parts of the world outside Italy, originated in the dialects of northern Italy. In the dialect of Venice, ciau literally means "servant, slave," and is also used as a casual greeting, "I am your servant." Dialectal ciau corresponds to standard Italian schiavo, "slave," and both words come from Medieval Latin sclāvus. Declaring yourself someone's slave might seem like an extravagant gesture today, but expressions such as Your obedient servant or Your servant, madam were once commonplace in English. Similarly, the Classical Latin word servus meaning "slave" is still used as an informal greeting in southern Germany and in Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, and other parts of central Europe that were formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the opposite end of the world, in Southeast and East Asia, one even finds words that originally meant "slave" or "your slave" but have developed into pronouns of the first person through their use in showing respect and humility. In Japanese, for example, the word boku is used to mean "I, me," especially by boys and young men, and it comes from a Middle Chinese word meaning "slave" or "servant" and now pronounced in Mandarin.

Source:  American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition

"Slavs and slaves" (1/17/19)

"Cool slave / guy / tofu / whatever" (5/12/18)

"The bearded barbarian" (8/26/15) — especially this comment

"Misogyny as reflected in Chinese characters" (12/25/15)

The BBC History Magazine HistoryExtra podcast just produced an episode with the title of “Medieval Globetrotters” in which Valerie Hansen is interviewed about her new book.  Here is the link.

The NYT Editors’ Choice for April 14, 2020:

See the 5th one, by the distinguished Yale historian, Valerie Hansen:

9. ### Victor Mair said,

May 6, 2020 @ 6:55 am

From Alan Kennedy:

Fascinating! I remember hearing people in my parents Hungarian circle
saying "szervusz" as a form of greeting, although it was considered
informal. When I once used the word in greeting an adult, I was told
that I was calling myself a servant, which I later realized was a reprimand for being too informal in addressing an adult. An even more informal version of the greeting is "szió".

How interesting to know that "ciao" has the same origin, along with words in so many other languages. And "boku" in Japanese too, although I've always had the sense that boku is a somewhat macho guy word, and not at all about humility.

May 6, 2020 @ 7:44 am

@JB: And of course, Fr.travail is the source of Eng. travel, which is something to think about next time you find yourself in an airport security queue.

11. ### Philip Taylor said,

May 6, 2020 @ 8:10 am

Not likening the TSA to the good burghers of the Inquisition, are you Bob ? That would be pretty close to treason in Mr Trump's book, I am sure !

12. ### Scott de B. said,

May 6, 2020 @ 11:02 am

And why refer to someone by their patronymic and not their given name as well?

Isn't that common in many languages? We say Jackson was the 7th President of the United States, Macintosh was a pioneer in waterproof fabric, Velazquez was a famous Baroque painter…

13. ### F said,

May 6, 2020 @ 2:36 pm

Scott, you obviously understand the difference between a patronymic-derived family name and an actual patronym that refers to one's father's name. In a setting where family names are more diverse than given names it makes sense that the family name would become the main reference point. But if there's no particular statistical difference between names of people and names of their fathers, then this is not at all a natural development.

Of course the actual answer is that there is some cultural meaning to it. In Russian referring to someone by patronym only (usually a slightly truncated one, Ivanych rather than Ivanovich) is a (maybe somewhat outmoded? but as a heritage speaker I'm not really sure) way of referring to an older man which is at once familiar and respectful. If you're friendly with your building manager or janitor you might call him that. Something like that.

14. ### Scott P. said,

May 6, 2020 @ 5:43 pm

Scott, you obviously understand the difference between a patronymic-derived family name and an actual patronym that refers to one's father's name. In a setting where family names are more diverse than given names it makes sense that the family name would become the main reference point.

The question, though, isn't what Ibn Rusta's 10th-century contemporaries would have called him, but why we call him by the patronymic. In that context, whether it's an actual patronym or not is irrelevant, no?

15. ### Andreas Johansson said,

May 7, 2020 @ 9:27 am

I think I've mentioned this before, but the informal Swedish greeting tjänare literally means "servant". Shortened versions like tjena and tja are more common today.

I did never realize the origin until I read about it as an adult, in part because in the common noun I have [ɛ:] in the first syllable, but in the greeting I have [e:], presumably due to an interdialectal loan from the Stockholm area where those two vowels fall together as [e:].

16. ### Chris Button said,

May 7, 2020 @ 8:12 pm

I think the whole "your humble servant" thing is pretty common in many languages.

To add to the the ones mentioned, there is also Burmese ကျွန် /tʃʊ̃˨/ kjwan "slave" used in ကျွန်တော် "I (male)" and ကျွန်မ "I (female)"

It's often compared to 官/倌 or 宦, but the Written Burmese -jw- in kjwan suggests some kind of prefixation, compounding or external influence. It's also presumably somehow related to ကျွေး /tʃweɪ˦/ "minister to" whose Inscriptional Burmese spelling is က္လွည် klwɐɲ with a truly anomalous -wɐɲ rhyme (showing a similar combination of labiality and palatility as in -jw-).

Unfortunately the nuances of the Burmese forms tend to be ignored when such comparisons are made with Chinese.

17. ### Chris Button said,

May 9, 2020 @ 9:59 am

A possible account for the combination of palatility and labiality is that two originally unrelated words, represented by 臣 with its palatal features and 官/倌 with its labial features, became confused as a result of their similar meanings and not totally dissimilar pronunciations. The combination of components in the graph 宦 is perhaps further evidence for this.

18. ### ajay said,

May 12, 2020 @ 4:21 am

To add a word to the list in 'word history', the salutation "serviteur" in French, no longer in use, is also along the same lines.

And, of course, we still finish letters with "yours faithfully, Robert Jones", "yours truly, Robert" and so on, which has exactly the same implication – two hundred years ago it would have been "your obedient servant, Robert Jones" or "your humble servant, Robert Jones".