Dr. Chiriac Bogdan 

University of Bonn
Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies
Niebuhrstr. 5
D-53113 Bonn

bchiriac21@gmail.com


Academic Profile

Chiriac Bogdan is a historical researcher specialized in the field of modern Romanian history. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in History from Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iași (Romania) in 2005, he continued his graduate studies at Central European University in Budapest (Hungary), where he earned his master’s degree in Nationalism Studies in 2008 and his doctoral degree in Comparative History in 2017. His long-standing research interests include the social history and the cultural representation of the Roma population in the Romanian Principalities/ modern Romania. Over the past years, he has been involved in several inter-disciplinary research projects focusing on the social aspects of the institution of slavery in the Romanian Principalities, i.e. Wallachia and Moldova, the evolution of abolitionist discourse in early 19th century Romanian press, as well as the production of knowledge on the enslaved Roma population through Romantic travel literature, ethnographic fieldwork and historical research. 222

Research Project

He is currently working on a project that explores the legal and institutional dimensions of slavery in the Romanian Principalities through the lens of a series of court proceedings involving enslaved Roma who filed suit against their masters between the late 1830s and the early 1850s. Dozens of Roma plaintiffs, commonly described in Romanian legal documents as ‘robi țigani’ (Gypsy slaves) or ‘sloboziți’ (freedmen), filed petitions with the local Wallachian and Moldavian courts or law, challenging their presumed or former masters’ ownership claims over their person, family members or meager personal possessions and thus, claiming their freedom from bondage.

Filing a suit against one’s presumed or former master was hardly a straightforward process for these enslaved Roma due to the numerous restrictions associated with servile status in Wallachia and Moldova. In the eyes of the law, slavery represented a hereditary, lifelong form of personal dependence that had been part of the unwritten laws and customs of the land since the 14th century or even earlier. This form of dependance was partially codified by Wallachian and Moldavian medieval customary law, which construed ‘slaves’ as a type of movable property that could be sold, donated or exchanged at will by their masters, and ‘slavery’ as an asymmetrical relation of dependency, which enabled masters to exercise almost discretionary powers over their slaves’ labor, family life and bodies in exchange for providing the latters only with the bare necessities.

The functioning of the local courts, in a period when the dispensation of justice still depended on a group of officials with close ties to the slave-owning Wallachian and Moldavian nobility, further hindered enslaved Roma’s efforts to take legal actions against their presumed masters. Although they still defined enslaved Roma as “movable property”, the new civil codes adopted in Moldova in 1817 and Wallachia in 1818 recognized the latter’s privilege to marry a person of similar social status and have a peculium (both with the masters’ consent). Local jurisprudence, however, seems to indicate that enslaved Roma were not reduced to the condition of mere objects of law and could, in certain cases, testify in court and file petitions to challenge their masters’ ownership claims over their person. Thus, they could sometimes act as subjects of law with diminished rights, while judicial interference in enslaved-master relations, although rare, had the potential to modify the condition of those enslaved, provided that the latters could offer proof of their non-servile status.

The adoption of the first emancipation laws in Wallachia and Moldova during the early 1840s formally removed this ambiguity concerning the status of enslaved Roma as either ‘property’ or ‘person’, but also led to further legal complications. Rather similar in content, the first two laws introduced in Wallachia (in 1843 and 1847) and the subsequent two adopted in Moldova (both in 1844) freed only those enslaved Roma belonging to the Crown and the monasteries, failing to extend its benefits to the ones owned by local nobles. Despite being included in the category of sui juris persons, several freedmen decided to seek redress in the courts because the new laws, brief in form and limited in scope, did not specify what was to become of their peculium or their spouses and children. This glaring omission meant that the latter continued to live in the shadow of slavery as long as certain members of the nobility did not relinquish their ownership claims over them.

Taking advantage of the new emancipation laws, more and more enslaved or emancipated Roma filed suit against their presumed or former masters. The ensuing courtroom interaction between the plaintiffs, the defendants and the adjudicating magistrates produced a series of legal documents, left largely unexplored to this day, that offer valuable insight into the enslavement practices that were in effect in Moldova and Wallachia until 1855- 1856. This project focuses on three areas of research: first, in terms of jurisprudence, the manner in which the magistrates dealt with those issues associated with slave ownership; second, in terms of the factual foundation of these cases, the facts presented by both the plaintiffs and the defendants in support of their claims; and third, in relation to the outcome, the influence of political and social factors on the judicial decision-making. In doing so, this project aims to cast new light upon the personal experiences of enslaved Roma, who showed ingenuity in their attempts to maximize the chance for a favorable outcome in court and fortitude in their efforts to overcome the obstacles standing in their path to emancipation.

Selected Publications

  • Chiriac, Bogdan. 2019. ‘Mihail Kogălniceanu’s Historical Inquiry into the Question of Roma Slavery in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Romanian Principalities’, Critical Romani Studies, vol. 2, no. 2, 24- 40.

  • Idem. ‘Presa din Moldova și curentul aboliționist în secolul al XIX-lea. Studiu de caz: activitatea publicistică a lui Mihail Kogălniceanu’ [Abolitionist ideas in 19th century Moldavian press. A case-study of Mihail Kogălniceanu’s activity] (publication pending).

  • Idem. ‘Nicolae Istrati și curentul aboliționist din Moldova secolului al XIX-lea. Dezbateri pe marginea unor aspecte legale, financiare și sociale legate de dezrobirea romilor.’ [Nicolae Istrati and abolitionist ideas in 19th century Moldova. Debates concerning some of the legal, financial and social aspects of the emancipation of enslaved Roma] (publication pending).

  • Idem. ‘Reprezentarea robiei și a robilor romi în literatura de călătorie franceză și britanică de la începutul secolului al XIX-lea’ [The image of enslavement and enslaved Roma in early 19th century French and English travel literature] (publication pending).

  • Idem. ‘Reprezentarea robilor romi din Principate în însemnările de călătorie ale lui Eugène-Stanislas Bellanger (1814- 1859)’ [The image of enslaved Roma living in the Romanian Principalities in Eugène-Stanislas Bellanger’s travel writings] (publication pending).

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