Leonardo da Vinci, slavery’s ubiquity, and its end in the West

Few would dispute Leonardo da Vinci’s preeminence as one of the top thinkers and artists of the Renaissance era. According to an Italian professor, da Vinci may have been only half-Italian. The professor contends that da Vinci’s mother may have been a slave from the Circassia region in what is now Russia. That fact is worth contemplating when we think about the left’s desperation to do away with Christianity, fossil fuel, and capitalism.

This new take on da Vinci’s heritage comes from research among hitherto unseen documents:

Leonardo da Vinci’s mother was kidnapped and enslaved as a teenager in the Caucasus and sent to Italy, a new analysis of nearly 600-year-old documents suggests.

The documents, discovered by an Italian historian, suggest that da Vinci’s mother, Caterina, was kidnapped and torn from her home by the Black Sea in Circassia before being shipped to Venice.


If they’re accurate, it would mean that Leonardo da Vinci, considered to be one of the greatest painters and scientists of the Italian Renaissance, was only half-Italian. Carlo Vecce, the documents’ finder and a professor of Italian literature at the University “L’Orientale” of Naples, has used the discovery as the subject of a historical novel. The book — called “Il Sorriso di Caterina(opens in new tab),” or “The Smile of Caterina, the Mother of Leonardo” — contains factually accurate details from his research, Vecce said. The findings, however, have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“Leonardo’s mother was a Circassian slave,” Vecce said at a news conference on Tuesday (Mar. 14). “Taken from her home in the Caucasus Mountains, sold and resold several times in Constantinople, then Venice, before finally arriving in Florence, where she met a young notary, Piero da Vinci,” who was Leonardo’s father.

Read more here.

Image: Leonardo da Vinci portrait by Francesco Melzi.

Whether this revised history is correct or not, it’s useful to remind all of us that slavery was not a uniquely American institution. It was ubiquitous in the pre-modern world. Every society, at every time and in every place, had slaves.

There were logical reasons for slavery. Pre-modern societies, even the affluent ones, always existed at the subsistence level. One unduly cold, wet, or dry year could spark a famine. That meant that, when these societies went to war, the idea of keeping prisoners of war was laughable. Unless those captured were rich men who could be held for ransom, the only options were to kill them or to utilize them—that is, to enslave them.

What the leftists ignore in their headlong rush to do away with fossil fuel is that humans have always needed energy sources to elevate themselves even slightly above an existence greater than the apes from which they descended. Windmills and waterwheels provided some energy, but it was insufficient for the needs of growing societies. The only alternative energy on which people could draw was the brute strength of others, whether beasts of burden (e.g., horses, mules, oxen) or fellow humans.

What ended slavery was a combination of three things: Christianity, fossil fuel, and capitalism. Christianity, of course, painted slavery as a moral evil.

Factories running on steam, coal and, eventually, fossil fuel were able to outproduce slavery. In the beginning, though, while still in thrall to a slave mentality, factory owners treated their employees despicably, turning them into underpaid, overworked wage slaves.

However, the increase in the standard of living brought about by fossil fuel and burgeoning capitalism turned the table on wage slavery, righting the balance of power between employer and employee.

And that, my friends, is the lesson to be drawn from potential new evidence about Leonardo da Vinci’s mother, the possible slave: Christianity, fossil fuel, and capitalism, all of which leftists aggressively seek to overthrow, are why we don’t have slaves in America today.

If you experience technical problems, please write to helpdesk@americanthinker.com