Dubrovnik Republic Abolishes Slave Trade – 27th January 1416

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City of Dubrovnik

600th anniversary of the abolition of slave trade in Dubrovnik

The year was 1416 and the debate was fierce. Almost unanimously the speakers in the Great Assembly of the Dubrovnik Republic denounced the slave trade as inhumane, degrading, abhorrent, and not in accordance with God’s law (despite what it might say in Leviticus).

And so it was decreed that trading in human beings shall be illegal under the laws of the ancient Republic.

City of Dubrovnik

According to the article today in Slobodna Dalmacija, punishments were quite severe. Someone who bought or sold a slave would be arrested, and after he paid reparations then would have to serve a further sentence of six months imprisonment “in the lowest levels of the dungeons”. Much more drastic sentences were reserved for traders who made a business of it. They would have to ensure freedom for all the people they enslaved, and then their eyes would be put out. If they failed in freeing their slaves, they would then be hanged “till their soul left their body”. Even bankers who lent money for slave trading were subject to six months imprisonment.

Not surprisingly, the slave trade disappeared from the territory of the Republic almost overnight. Dubrovnik adopted the white “Libertas” (meaning Liberty) flag shortly afterwards and proudly flew it for another four centuries.

Dubrovnik Freedom "Libertas" Flag

Just 449 years after Dubrovnik, the “Land of the Free” also abolished slavery, except for the State of Mississippi which “forgot” to ratify the 13th amendment until 2013. The UK got rid of slavery in 1833. The last country to officially abolish slavery was Mauritania in 1981, though it was not made a crime there till 2007.

Dating back to ancient Greek times, Dubrovnik in medieval times was a major independent power in the southern Mediterranean, carefully guarding its independence for nearly a thousand years, till Napoleon’s military governor Marmont decided to annex it into the French Illyrian provinces in 1808. It is listed as one of UNESCO World Heritage sites, and meanwhile has become a backdrop for many films and TV serials, including the popular Game of Thrones. It is a popular year round destination for visitors. 

This year the City is commemorating 1700 years since the martyrdom of its patron saint, St. Blaise. The annual celebration of St Blaise is itself listed in the UNESCO Intangible World Heritage list. More on the Dubrovnik Tourist Board web site.


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