In documenting architecture's history, scholars have frequently overlooked the use of slave labor. In Slavery and Construction at the Royal Palace of Caserta, Robin L. Thomas examines the lives of the slaves who built the palace, begun in 1752 near Naples. Most of the slaves employed there were Muslim corsairs who had been captured at sea, and they were caught up in long-standing political and religious conflicts between the Two Sicilies and the Maghreb states. Converting these Muslim captives to Christianity became a key part of the Neapolitan court's efforts to battle the corsair threat, and Caserta was one of the places where conversion efforts were most successful. The costs and risks associated with slave labor were often high, making the use of slaves in some ways impractical and inefficient in an area with ample nonslave laborers available. Yet in building the royal palace these converted slaves played a role that served more than practical purposes. Their presence became a symbol of the monarchy's military and religious triumphs.
Slavery and Construction at the Royal Palace of Caserta
Robin L. Thomas specializes in Italian baroque architecture and is author of Architecture and Statecraft: Charles of Bourbon's Naples, 1734–1759. His current book project examines the palaces of Capodimonte, Caserta, and Portici. email@example.com
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Robin L. Thomas; Slavery and Construction at the Royal Palace of Caserta. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 1 June 2019; 78 (2): 167–186. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jsah.2019.78.2.167
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