Timelines: Timeline of the Vatican/Catholic Church and Italian Involvement African Slavery and Colonization, 1441 – 1941

Shalom, everyone! The Vatican/Catholic Church and Italy were involved in the colonization, enslavement, and trafficking of Africans.  Like Germany, Italy was once a collection of city-states and principalities. Italy did not become a fully unified state until 1871, and Rome was made its capital. Therefore, Italy as a state was not involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, however, many of her individual citizens participated in the exploration, colonization, and trafficking of enslaved Africans to the Americas on behalf of other European colonial powers, e.g., Spain, England, Portugal, etc.. The Vatican/Catholic Church issued papal bulls in support of African slavery. The Catholic Church did not condemn African slavery until 1839.

Italy participated in the Berlin Conference‘s Scramble for Africa in 1884. Eager to colonize African territory to exploit natural resources, Italy invaded Ethiopia twice by 1936. Italy would also colonize Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia.

The following is a timeline of the Vatican/Catholic Church and Italian involvement in African slavery and colonization from 1441 to 1941. Please note that this post is a work-in-progress. As more information becomes available, this timeline will be updated:

Year Historical Event
1441 Ten black slaves were presented as a gift to Pope Martin V by Prince Henry of Portugal in 1441.
1452 (18 June 1452) Pope Nicholas V issues Dum Diversas, a papal bull authorizing the Portuguese to reduce any non-Christians to the status of slaves.
1454 (8 January 1454) Pope Nicholas V issues Romanus Pontifex, a bull granting the Portuguese a perpetual monopoly in trade with Africa. Nevertheless, Spanish traders begin to bring slaves from Africa to Spain.
1462 Pope Pius II decreed ecclesiastical censures for those who were enslaving the recently baptized of Guinea. The institution of slavery itself was not subject to condemnation.
1488 Pope Innocent VIII in 1488 distributed amongst the clergy a share of the hundred slaves he received as a gift from King Ferdinand. He was advised by King Jao in 1488 that the profits being made from the slave trade were helping to finance wars against Muslims in the North of Africa.
1492 (12 October 1492) Genoa-born Christopher Columbus becomes the first European since the Viking era to discover the New World, setting foot on an unidentified island he named San Salvador (modern Bahamas).
1493 Pope Alexander VI in 1493 granted to Spain the same rights to the Americas as had been granted to Portugal for Africa by Nicholas V in 1454.
1497 John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), an Italian explorer sponsored by King Henry VII of England, makes landfall on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland (modern Canada), serving as the basis of subsequent English claims to North America.
1513 Pope Leo X in his bull of 1513 regularized the procedure for baptizing slaves who were about to die on slave ships. He described the enslavement of Indians as an offense against the Christian religion and nature, however, “there would certainly have been one or two [black] slaves from the coast of Guinea in the Vatican in his day”.
1537 Pope Paul III forbids slavery of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and any other population to be discovered, establishing their right to freedom and property
1556 The Italian city of Genoa tries to prevent trading in slaves – not for any humanitarian reasons – but only in an attempt to reduce the numbers of Africans in the city.
1601 The Jesuits build their first sugar mill in Brazil.
1629 Pope Urban VIII authorized the purchase of forty privately owned slaves who were serving in the galleys of the Papal fleet.[167] In 1639 he
1639 Pope Urban VIII condemned slavery of Indians, but not black Africans, without qualification in a letter (“Immensa”) to his representative in Portugal.
1661 Pope Alexander VII in 1661 sought to purchase 100 slaves for the Papal galleys
1839 Pope Gregory XVI condemned the unjust trade in black Africans as unchristian and morally unlawful. Unlike the censures of Paul III, Gregory XIV and Benedict XIV relating to Indians, there is no penalty of excommunication for offenders.
1871 Unification of the Kingdom of Italy.
1895-1896 Italy invades Ethiopia.
1911 Italy colonizes Libya.
1914 Italy colonizes Eritrea, Somalia, and Libya.
1935 – 1936 Second Italian invasion of Ethiopia. The invading Italian General Emilio De Bono claims to have abolished slavery in the Ethiopian Empire.
1936 Italian East Africa formed through the merger of Eritrea, Somalia, and Ethiopia.
1941 Italian East Africa dissolved due to the outbreak of World War II.
1943 – 1951 Britain occupied Libya until Libya declared independence in 1951.



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