I know the Portuguese and the Spanish had slaves working for them on the overseas colonies, but what about on their own soil in Europe?

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    Slavery in Medieval Christian Iberia. Perhaps you want to specify a timeframe?
    – Semaphore
    Commented Feb 7, 2015 at 17:50
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    First tell me the difference between a slave and a serf
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 7, 2015 at 20:54
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    Obviously each country had its own legal framework and different legal status for serfs; I think in order to answer the question honestly, we need to know the status of Portugese and Spanish serfs, and we may need to nail down the timeframe.
    – MCW
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 18:04
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    You can always find examples of slaves in every country. In the United States we have Saudi princes and ambassadors living in New York City and Washington DC who have retinues of maids and butlers who are for all intents and purposes domestic slaves and prisoners in the mansions where they work. Spain and Portugal have the same thing. You have to define what you are talking about exactly, just saying "slavery" is way too vague. Franco enslaved hundreds of thousands of Spainards during and after the Civil War in Spain. Does that count? Commented May 6, 2015 at 18:51
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    The simplest general distinction between slave and serf is that slaves could be bought and sold by their owner at will, while serfs were tied to the land. A landowner could only "sell" serfs if he sold the entire estate, in which case all the serfs were transferred (and none of them would have to move). Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 20:09

2 Answers 2


They did, and certainly had quite a few, as an article cited in Wikipedia says:

In mid-sixteenth-century Seville 7.4 percent of censused inhabitants were slaves and [...] between 1682 and 1729 the slave population of Cádiz was extremely large, making up perhaps as much as 15 percent of the total urban population. In other cities, such as Málaga, Granada, Las Palmas, Huelva, and Palos de la Frontera, as many as one in ten residents may have been slaves. [...] Historians who studied slavery in Spain thus concluded that Renaissance and perhaps even early-modern Spain may have had the largest African population in Europe.

Those were mostly African slaves – before the 15th century there were also slaves, Muslim (from Southern Spain and Africa) in the Christian kingdoms and Christian (from the rest of Spain and Eastern Europe) in Muslim-controlled Spain. See Wikipedia article and its sources.


In 1761, the Marquis of Pombal abolished slavery in continental Portugal, which suggests that, indeed, there were slaves in continental Portugal before then.

Here's a painting depicting 16th-century Lisbon. Pay attention to the lower right corner.

enter image description here

  • You wouldn't by any chance be able to add the name of the painting and its author, would you? Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 15:38
  • I could not find such information. Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 21:49
  • @SaraCosta Good question, but according to observador.pt/especiais/… the history of that picture before the XIX century is unknown, although it is supposed to have been made by an unknown Flemish painter between 1570 and 1619.
    – Pere
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 22:46

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