The Abolition of Slavery in Ottoman Tunisia

The Abolition of Slavery in Ottoman Tunisia

Ismael M. Montana

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780813044828

Publisher: University Press of Florida


This book provides a case study of slavery and its abolition in Ottoman Tunisia, one of the smallest countries in North Africa and the first to abolish the longstanding institution of slavery in the Muslim world during the modern period. The book combines a range of Tunisian and European archival data, travellers' accounts, and Arabic legal documents and source materials, directing much-needed attention not only to the Tunisian elements within slavery and abolition discourses, but also to those in west and central Sudan and Europe, especially in the Mediterranean basin. It argues that the major force driving abolition was Tunisian rulers' pragmatic response to increased European economic and political intervention in North Africa—first with the 1816 prohibition against enslaving Christians for ransom and especially after the French occupation of Algeria in the 1830s. The urgency of safeguarding the independence of Tunisia, more than efforts at selective “modernization” or “reform,” triggered the move toward abolition and the emancipation of the enslaved black population, which was achieved in 1846. By assessing how European capitalism along with political pressure and dynamics in the western Mediterranean shaped the abolition of the trans-Saharan slave trade and slavery in Tunisia, this book attempts to bridge the historiographical gap that treats the Atlantic and Saharan slave trades as separate entities. It offers wider regional perspectives and shows how the Tunisian model of abolition is useful for viewing slavery in the Islamic context during the modern period.