Slaves in Termini Imerese: ‘la Scava’ is the defining term in Sicilian


Young Berber Woman (1910). The Berbers of Morocco were among those brought to Termini-Imerese as slaves.


“On October 21, 1546, Father Gaspano Criscione baptized the son of Marina, the slave belonging to lo Signore Simone Solito. Her son was named Filippo. His godparents are Mastro Farago DiNapoli and Giovanni Domenico DiBarbici. His godmother is Sister Domenica LaGrigola.” Photo courtesy of Father Anthony Delisi.

Terminology in Sicilian:

Female Slave: la Scava

Male Slave: lu Scavu / lo Scavu

Black or dark-skinned female slave: la Mora

Black or dark-skinned male slave: lo Moro

Black African Slaves in Termini Imerese

Among the names of the slaves listed in Termini’s Codex A of 1542-48 are 4 females (Antonia, Domenica, Filippa, one Unnamed) listed as la Mora, and 1 male (Paulino) designated lo Moro. The importation of Black slaves was an integral part of the extensive Portuguese trading on Africa’s West Coast, especially in the Kingdom of Benin, whose ruler, the Oba, facilitated the slave trade. The slave trade with Benin (now part of Nigeria) dates from the mid 1480s.


Annibale Carracci born in Bologna in the Papal States: Portrait of an African Slave Woman.

The depot in Europe for Black slaves was Lisbon, Portugal’s capitol city. It should be stressed, though, that Portugal’s slave ships operated all the way down the west coast of Africa and well up the east coast to Mozambique, so many peoples of African nations were captured and brought into Europe as slaves. Clearly, the Black slaves of Termini Imerese were unusual, as the greater number of unfortunates sold in Termini arrived on ships from North Africa’s Barbary Coast or from the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea by way of of Genoa’s huge slave-trading operations.

Crimea, a major Source of Slaves for Sicily and the Italian Penninsula

In addition to Moors, Saracens, Berbers, Canary Islanders, Jews, and Sub-Saharan Africans, enslaved people brought by the Genoese into the ports of Sicily and into those on the Italian Peninsula included Roma (Gypsies), Tartars, Russians, and Circassians via Crimea.

In the 1570s close to 20,000 slaves a year were being sold in the Crimean port of Caffa / Kaffa (now Feodosiya / Theodosia). The slaves were captured in southern Russia, Poland-Lithuania, Moldavia, Wallachia, and Circassia by Tartar horsemen in a trade known as the “harvesting of the steppe”. In Podolia alone, about one-third of all the villages were destroyed or abandoned between 1578 and 1583. Some researchers estimate that altogether more than 3 million people were captured and enslaved during the time of the Crimean Khanate. It is estimated that up to 75% of the Crimean population consisted of slaves or freedmen.

During the 1400’s and 1500’s, the City-State of Genoa established numerous Colonies around the Black Sea. It was to these colonies that prisoners of war and others in the area were brought for sale as slaves. From here, Genoa took these unfortunates by sea to Palermo and other coastal cities to be sold again.

Christopher Columbus of Genoa

Sailing under the aegis of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, and upon coming upon the Caribbean Islands of Hispaniola and Cuba in 1492, the mariner Christopher Columbus, Genoa’s most-famous citizen, viewed Hispaniola’s and Cuba’s native inhabitants as a rich source of slaves for Spain. These unfortunates were the Taíno People. Columbus was especially in favor of enslaving them as they appeared to him to be quite docile, a characteristic prized in slaves.


Between 1204–1261 and again in 1296–1307, the city of Caffa was ruled by Genoa’s chief rival, the Republic of Venice. In the late 13th century, traders from the Republic of Genoa arrived and purchased the town from the ruling Golden Horde. They established a flourishing trading settlement called Caffa (or Kaffa), which virtually monopolized trade in the Black Sea area and served as the chief port and administrative center for the Genoese settlements around the Sea. It came to house one of Europe’s biggest slave markets. Under Genoa since 1266, Caffa was governed by a Genoese consul, who since 1316 was in charge of all Genoese Black Sea colonies.

In 1462 Caffa placed itself under the protection of King Casimir IV of Poland. However, Poland did not offer help when real danger came. Because the Genoese started intervening in the internal affairs of the Crimean Khanate, a Turkish vassal, the Ottoman commander Gedik Ahmet Pasha seized the city in 1475. Renamed Kefe, Caffa became one of the most important Turkish ports on the Black Sea.

In 1615 Zaporozhian Cossacks under the leadership of Petro Konashevych-Sahaidachny destroyed the Turkish fleet and captured Caffa. Having conquered the city, the Cossacks released the men, women and children who were slaves.

Names of Slaves and their Owners in 16th-century Termini-Imerese  (including the pertinent passage in Codex A in Sicilian-Latin). The names of  the five slaves who are designated ‘moro’ or ‘mora’ are presented in bold type face. They may be either Black Africans (sub-Saharan) or Berbers from the north coast of Africa. Note that among these baptisms there are almost twice as many female slaves as male slaves.

Because enslaved men and women were forbidden to have sex among themselves, the fathers of the children of female slaves are most-certainly the owners of their mothers. The only exceptions would be women who were already pregnant when they were bought.


Santa Caterina del Egitto (late 1300′s) is one of two churches in Termini-Imerese dedicated to patron saints of female slaves. The other is the church of Santa Lucia. The names of these two saints, together with that of Santa Margarita, were the most common names given to female slaves at Baptism in Sicily and on the Italian penninsula.

  • Antonia [possibly sub-Saharan]
    • owned by Giovanni Filippo DiMartino: antona laf. djla mora dj Joph¯o dj marttjno. Most likely Antona was a daughter Giovanni had with his unnamed  female slave, who is given the appellation ‘la mora’ in the manuscript, meaning ‘Moorish female’, or possibly ‘Black female’.
  • Antonio
    • Antonio is the son of an unnamed female slave belonging to an individual simply listed as LaCurcia: ant lu f dj la ſcava di la curcha
  • Caterina
    • owned by Casato Carrozza: catrinj laſcava dj caſato carocza
  • Caterina
    • owned by Turrimbene: cat’nj la f di la scava di turrimbenj, that is, the daughter of a female slave belonging to one Turrimbene.
  • Caterina
    • owned by Pietro Foti: catrinj la ſcava dj petro fotj
  • Caterina
    • the daughter of an unknown female slave owned by Madonna Antonina LaPirrella: catrinj la f. dj la ſcava di mado~na antⁿª la pirrella. Madonna Antonina LaPirrella’s slave, Francesca, might be her sister.
  • Clara
    • the daughter of Vincenza whose owner is one LaCalogera :: vicª la ſcava dj la caloJara
  • Domenica
    • a slave belonging to Monsignore Calogero Gariso: minica la scuva dj m¯ſ caloiaro gariſo. Calogero Gariso and Domenica were most-probably the parents of  the slaves Filippo and Pietro.
  • Domenica [possibly sub-Saharan]
    • owned by Ciaccio :: minj la mora dj chachio
  • Filippa [possibly sub-Saharan]
    • daughter of the slave Domenica owned by Ciaccio ::  la f. dj minj la mora dj chachio n. filippa. Ciacco was most-probably Filippa’s father.
  • Filippo
    • the son of a female slave (Domenica) belonging to Monsignore Calogero Gariso: philippu lo .f. di la scava di mº caloxaro gariſo. Calogero Gariso was most-probably Filippo’s father.
  • Filippo
    • son of the slave, Marina, owned by Signore Simone Solito :: lo .f. dj marjna laſcava dj lo srj ſimunj ſoljto n. ph¯o. Signore Solito was most-probably Filippo’s father.
  • Filomena
    • owned by Vincenzo DiPurpura. Filomena is the daughter of Vincenzo’s slave, Gilorma. la f. dj gilorma scava dj vicº dj purpura n. filomena. Filomena’s father was most-probably Vincenzo.
  • Francesca
    • the daughter of an unnamed female slave owned by Madonna Antonina LaPirrella [spelled LaPurella in the MS]: francª la f. dj la ſcava di la purella.
  • Giacoma
    • owned by Francesco Pisci: Jacº la ſcava dj fracº pixi
  • Giliberto
    • owned by Antonio Manisetto: giljbertu lu ſcavu dj antonj manjſſet
  • Gilorma
    • owned by Vincenzo DiPurpura :: gilorma scava dj vicº dj purpura
  • Giovanni
    • owned by Monsignore Vincenzo Vecciano: Joa~nj lo ſcavu dj m~ſ vjcº vechano
  • Giovanni
    • owned by Pietro LaScola: Joa~ne dj petº la ſcola. This entry does not use the term scavu (male slave) in referring to Giovanni. So, Giovanni might have merely been Pietro’s illegitimate son.
  • Lucia
    • owned by Monsignore Pietro Foti: lucia la scava dj m¯ſ petº fotj
  • Maddalena
    • owned by Gaspano L’Apostolo: madalena la scava dj gaſpano lopoſtulu
  • Male slave I
    • owned by Turrimbeni: dui scavi di turrimbeni: Male slave I stood as godfather I for the slave Caterina
  • Male slave II
    • owned by Turrimbeni: dui scavi di turrimbeni: Male slave II stood as godfather II for the slave Caterina

Padre Caspano Criscione baptized the daughter of the female slave owned by Turrimbeni. She  received the name Caterina. Her godfathers were two slaves.  Codex A, Page 10 versus, Entry c

  • Manfredi
    • son of an unnamed female slave owned by Antonino DiGravina. This female slave was a gypsy owned by one Simone:  lu f dj  la scava di antⁿº di gravina g da simonj n. manfre. Most likely, Antonino was Manfredi’s father.
  • Margarita
    • owned by Monsignore Giustino Mastiani: ma~garita la ſcava di m~ſ giſstino maſtianj
  • Marina
    • owned by Signore Simone Solito: marjna laſcava dj lo srj ſimunj ſoljto
  • Paulino [possibly sub-Saharan]
    • owned by Pietro DiPisano :: paulinu lo morº dj m~ſ petº dj piſano. Paulino was a moro, meaning that he was either a Black man (from Sub-Saharan Africa)  or a Moor.
  • Paulo
    • owned by Monsignore Caspano L’Apostolo: paulu lu scavu di m¯ſ caspano lapostulo
  • Pietro
    • son of Domenica, a slave owned by Calogero Gariso: lo f dj minica scava dj m¯ſ caloiaro gariſo n. petro. Most-likely Calogero was Pietro’s father.
  • Sapia
    • Sapia was the daughter of Giovanni who, in turn, belonged to Pietro LaScola :: la .f. dj Joa~ne dj petº la ſcola. The subtlety here is that the slave, Giovanni, had a wife. Giovanni might have been Pietro’s illegitimate son.
  • Sebastiana
    • owned by Margarita la Babillana: baſtjana la f. dj la ſcava dj la babjllana. Sebastiana was the daughter of an unnamed female slave.
  • Vincenza
    • owned by LaCalogera: vicª la ſcava dj la caloJara
  • unnamed male
    • owned by Monsignore Bartolomeo DiMarti: lu scavo di m~ſ  ba~tolomeo di ma~tj
  • unnamed male
    • owned by Grigoli Spinola: lu ſcavu di grilolj ſpinula
  • unnamed female(s)
    • owned by Antonina LaPirrella: la ſcava di la purella / la scava di mado~na antⁿª la pirrella
  • unnamed female
    • the slave Antonio was the son of an unnamed female slave belonging to one La Curcia:  ant lu f dj la ſcava di la curcha
  • unnamed female [possibly sub-Saharan]
    • the mother of  Antonia, a Moor or Black woman, belonging to Giovanni Filippo DiMartino: laf. djla mora dj Joph¯o dj marttjno
  • unnamed female
    • On December 6, 1542, no given name was recorded for the female child of Francesco DiSalemi. Furthermore, the surnames of the Godfathers are not recorded either. Was this child illegitimate or was she the offspring of Francesco and a slave?
  • unnamed female
    • owned by one Turrimbene. She had a daughter named Caterina, most-probably sired by Turrimbene, himself. Two male slaves stood as godfathers for Caterina’s baptism in September of 1542.
  • unnamed female
    • owned by Monsignore Antonino DiGravina, the son of Simone: la scava di antⁿº di gravina g da simonj. This unnamed female’s son is Manfredi.
    • phrases following two of Antonino DiGravina’s entries are most interesting: in the case before us, Antonino is the ‘g da simonj’, that is: he is the offspring of Simone; but in another entry Antonino is said to be the son of the offspring of Giacomo ‘dj lu g da Jacº, that is to say: Monsignore Antonino DiGravina is the offspring of Simone DiGravina who is  the offspring of Giacomo DiGravina.
  • unnamed female
    • owned by Margarita LaBabillana, she was the mother of Sebastiana: baſtjana la f. dj la ſcava dj la babjllana.
Published on July 26, 2009 at 2:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

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