system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work
(Redirected from Slave)

Slavery is when a person is treated as the property of another person. This person is usually called a slave and the owner is called a slavemaster. It often means that slaves are forced to work, or else they will be punished by the law (if slavery is legal in that place) or by their master. There is evidence that even before there was writing, there was slavery.[1] Almost all cultures and continents have a history of slavery.[2] Some societies had laws about slavery or had an economy that was built on it. Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome had many slaves.

Black slaves in Cuba being tortured during the 19th century.
Chains such as these were used to stop slaves from escaping

In the 20th century, almost all countries made laws making slavery illegal. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that slavery is wrong. Slavery is now banned by international law.[3] Despite this, there are still different forms of slavery in some countries.[4] The Islamic Republic of Mauritania was the last country in the world to officially ban slavery.[5] In 2007, "under international pressure", its government passed a law allowing slaveholders to be prosecuted.[6] However, in 2019, approximately 40 million people, were still enslaved throughout the world despite slavery being illegal. About 26% of these were children. In the modern world, more than half of the people who are slaves provide forced labour, usually in the factories and sweatshops of the private sector of a country's economy.[7]

In industrialised countries, human trafficking is a modern form of the slave trade. In non-industrialised countries, enslavement by debt bondage is a common form of enslaving a person.[8] There are many types of modern slavery. Some of these include captured domestic servants, people in forced marriages, and child soldiers.[9]

Origin of the word


The English word slave comes from the Middle English word sclave. Sclave came from the Old French word esclave. The French word came from Late Latin sclavus.[10] There are many theories for where the word sclavus came from. A common theory is that the word came from Slavic peoples in Central Europe and Eastern Europe who were often put into slavery.[11][12] Another theory is that sclavus came from Byzantine Greek σκυλάειν. The Greek word means to steal from an enemy that was killed in war. [10]

History of slavery


Early civilizations


Slavery has existed for a long time.[13] Early hunter-gatherers had no use for slaves.[14] They did everything for themselves. Having another pair of hands to help them meant another mouth to feed. Slavery or owning another person made no sense to these people. Once men gathered in cities and towns and there was more than enough food, having a cheap supply of labor made sense. This is when the earliest forms of slavery appeared. Slavery can be traced back to the earliest records, such as the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1760 BC). This refers to it as an established institution.[15]

In the Ancient Near East, captives got by warfare often became slaves. This was seen by the laws in the Bible book of Deuteronomy as a legal form of slavery. But the Israelites were not allowed to enslave other Israelites. The Deuteronomic Code calls for the death penalty for the crime of kidnapping Israelites to enslave them.

In Ancient Egypt, slaves were mainly prisoners of war. Other ways people could become slaves was by inheriting the status from their parents who were slaves. Someone could become a slave if he could not pay his debts. People also sold themselves into slavery because they were poor peasants and needed food and shelter. The lives of slaves were normally better than that of peasants.[16] Young slaves could not be put to hard work, and had to be brought up by the mistress of the household. Not all slaves went to houses. Some sold themselves to temples, or were assigned to temples by the king.

In many places, citizens were partly or fully protected from being enslaved, so most slaves were foreigners.

Ancient Rome

Adamo Ghisi: Allegory of Slavery, etching, 1573.

Slaves were important in society and the economy of ancient Rome. They did simple manual labor and domestic services, but also could have complex jobs and professions. Teachers, accountants, and physicians were often slaves. Greek slaves were often well educated. Most slaves, such as those who were made slaves as punishment, worked on farms, in mines, and at mills. Their living conditions were very bad, and they did not live for very long.[source?]

Slaves were considered property under Roman law and were not legally people. Unlike Roman citizens, they could suffer corporal punishment, sexual exploitation (sex workers were often slaves), torture, and summary execution. A slave's testimony could not be accepted in a court of law unless the slave was tortured. This was because they thought that slaves would be too loyal to their masters to reveal damaging evidence unless coerced. Over time, however, slaves gained some legal protection, including the right to file complaints against their masters. Attitudes changed in part because of the influence among the educated elite of the Stoics, whose egalitarian views of humanity extended to slaves, and also because of slave rebellions. Better treatment meant fewer rebellions.[source?]

Roman slaves could hold property which, even though it belonged to their masters, they were allowed to use as if it were their own. Upper class slaves were allowed to earn their own money. With enough money they could buy their freedom.[17]

After the Roman Empire broke up, slavery gradually changed into serfdom. Serfdom was similar to slavery but the worker received a set amount of wages and had certain civil rights and could leave the employment of the master.[source?]

Asian slavery


Both non-Muslims and Muslims in Southeast Asia during the 18th century bought Japanese girls who came by sea.[18] Japanese slave girls were still owned by India-based Portuguese (Lusitanian) families according to Francisco De Sousa, a Jesuit who wrote about that in 1698. This was long after the 1636 edict by Tokguawa Japan had expelled Portuguese people.[19]

China imported Korean slaves and Indochinese slaves.[20] Japanese children in medieval Japan could be taken as slaves if debts were not repaid by their parents.[21] Japanese parents sold their daughters to Portuguese in Kyushu. Japanese children and women from the Bungo domain were sold as slaves to Europeans in Higo after Bungo was attacked in 1586 by the Satsuma domain.[22]

Arab slave trade

Black slaves, mostly children, after being taken from slavers, 1880.

Historians estimate that between 650 AD and the 1960s, 10 to 18 million people were enslaved by Arab slave traders. They were taken from Europe, Asia and Africa across the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Sahara desert. Male slaves were often employed as servants, soldiers, or workers by their owners. Many male slaves were castrated.[23] It has been claimed that as many as six out of every ten boys bled to death during the process, though the source may not be reliable.[23] Eunuchs fetched a higher price: that made castration worthwhile. According to Ronald Segal, author of Islam’s Black Slaves: the other black diaspora (2002), "The calipha in Baghdad at the beginning of the 10th Century had 7,000 black eunuchs and 4,000 white eunuchs in his palace”.[23] Women and children taken as slaves were mainly used as servants and concubines. While the later Atlantic slave trade concentrated on men for labor, the Arab slave trade started with men and boys, but shifted over time to concentrate more on woman and young girls for sexual purposes. By the 1900s, Arab slave traders had taken between 10 and 18 million slaves out of Africa.[23]

The Atlantic slave trade

Slave contract Lima/Peru 13/10/1794

For four centuries, beginning in the late 15th century, millions of Africans were taken as slaves by Europeans.[24] Europeans began exporting Africans to the New World as a source of cheap labor on colonial plantations.[24]

Between 1452 and 1455, Pope Nicolas V issued a series of papal bulls authorizing the Portuguese to take African slaves.[25] At first slave traders raided coastal areas and carried black people off. But the mines and fields of the colonies needed more and more slaves. In the early 1700s, Spain began to issue licenses and contracts to supply slaves. By the 1750s, large slaving companies were established. Most of Europe at the time was involved in the slave trade.[25]

In the United States

An enslaved black child with a white slave owner in New Orleans during the 1850s.

Many Europeans who arrived in North America during the 17th and 18th centuries came under contract as indentured servants.[26] The change from indentured servitude to slavery was a gradual process in Virginia. The earliest legal documentation of such a shift was in 1640. This is where an African, John Punch, was sentenced to lifetime slavery for attempting to run away. This case also marked the disparate treatment of Africans as held by the Virginia County Court, where two white runaways received far lesser sentences.[27]

After 1640, planters started to ignore the expiration of indentured contracts. They kept their servants as slaves for life. This was demonstrated by the case Johnson v. Parker. The court ruled that John Casor, an indentured servant, be returned to Johnson who claimed that Casor belonged to him for his life.[28][29] According to the 1860 U. S. census, 393,975 individuals, representing 8% of all US families, owned 3,950,528 slaves.[30] One-third of Southern families owned slaves.[31] Slavery in United States was legally abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865.[32] That year, Gordon Granger (a military officer) and his men, set the last slaves free in Galveston, Texas.

In the Middle East


In the 2010s, ISIL (or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), were taking part in slave trade (of non-Muslim women), on the largest territory that they controlled.[source?] Scholars of Islamic law have condemned the revival of the slave trade of non-Muslim women by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. ISIL had to flee (later in the 2010s), from most of the areas that they once controlled.

The state of slavery, by country and continent


Millions of people are still slaves in some parts of the world, mostly in South Asia and Africa. It is less common in the developed world partly because of differences in financing law enforcement, but it still happens there as well.[4] The ways in which it is done have changed.

Some of the countries where there is still slavery are in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.[33]

While people are still bought at sold, like beforehand, this is less common today. Today, people get trapped in slave-like conditions in other ways.[34] Modern slavery is often linked with poverty. There are countries and areas, where people are poorly-educated, and where there is little or no rule of law. This can create a setting where slavery is seen as acceptable. It is commonly seen in impoverished countries, and those where there are vulnerable minorities. Tens of thousands of people work in slave-like conditions in industries such as mining, farming, and factories; they produce goods for consumption inside the country or export to more prosperous nations.[35]

In the older form of slavery, slave-owners spent more on getting slaves. It was more difficult for them to be disposed of. The cost of keeping them healthy was considered a better investment than getting another slave to replace them. In modern slavery people are easier to get at a lower price so replacing them when exploiters run into problems becomes easier.[source?]

Modern slavery can be quite profitable.[36] Total annual revenues of traffickers were estimated in 2014 to over $150 billion,[37] though profits are substantially lower.

Corrupt governments tacitly allow it, even though it is outlawed by international treaties such as Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery and local laws.

Today, slaves may work because of things like a high debt. Many victims are told that their families will be harmed if they report the slave owners. Many slaves are forced to be domestic servants. In some cases, their families sell their children because of poverty.[38][39][40] Some slaves have been trafficked from one part of the world to another. These people are illegally in their host country, and therefore do not report the abuse. Forced prostitution is a type of slavery. Another form of slavery still happening today is forced child labor. Some children have to work in mines or in plantations, or they have to fight wars as child soldiers.[41]

One study says that there are 27 million people (but others say there could be as many as 200 million) in slavery today.[42] Other terms that describe the recruitment of laborers, and that may have similarities to slavery are Blackbirding, Impressment and Shanghaiing.[source?]

On some fishing boats, there are slaves. The boats fish in international waters. Media has said that officials in some countries have accepted bribes, so that officials can use power to keep law enforcement from stopping slaves from working on fishing boats.[source?]

In 1809, American slaves were sold for around the equivalent of US$40,000 in today's money.[43] A slave can be bought for $90–$100 (as of 2017).[44][where?] Bales explains, "This is an economic crime ... People do not enslave people to be mean to them; they do it to make a profit."[45]



Child slavery has commonly been used when making cash crops and mining. According to the United States Department of State, more than 109,000 children were working on cocoa farms alone in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) in 'the worst forms of child labour' in 2002.[46]

In Mauritania, it is thought that up to 600,000 men, women and children, or 20% of the population, are[when?] slaves, and that many of them are used as bonded labour.[47][48] Slavery in Mauritania was made illegal in 2007.[49]

In Niger, there is also much slavery. A Nigerien study has found that more than 800,000 people are slaves, almost 8% of the population.[50][51][52]

Slave auction in Rome, a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme

In summer 2007, 570 people were found to be slaves for brick makers in China.[53] They included 69 children.[54] The Chinese government made a force of 35,000 police check northern Chinese brick kilns for slaves, and sent lots of kiln supervisors and officials to prison and sentenced one kiln foreman to death for killing a worker who was a slave.[53]

In November 2006, the International Labour Organization said that it would prosecute members of the junta that rules Myanmar (also called Burma) at the International Court of Justice for "Crimes against Humanity". This is because the military makes some citizens do forced labour.[55][56] The International Labour Organisation says that it thinks that about 800,000 people are forced to work this way.[57][58]

Stopping slavery


Starting in the 18th century, there were ideas of stopping or banning slavery.[source?] Many of these were done in territories that were part of the British Empire, or in its sphere of influence. The movement of wanting to stop slavery is called abolitionism. People such as William Wilberforce, John Newton, and Olaudah Equiano were well-known in the movement. About 1815, the Congress of Vienna had a statement that slavery is bad.[source?]

In 1833, the British Empire stopped slavery.[source?] Laws in Britain stopped the atlantic slave trade. The American Civil War ended slavery in the United States in 1865.[59] There was the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1865, when the North won, all slaves were made free. Still more countries abolished slavery afterwards. Pedro II of Brazil abolished it in 1888. Forced labor however continued, either against the law or by debt peonage or other methods which the laws of the various countries did not count as slavery. France abolished slavery in 1794 during the Revolution.[60] In 1802, it was restored under Napoleon;[61] Slavery has not been allowed in France since April 27, 1848.[source?]

A slave who was beaten very badly. The person who hit him worked for his owner.


  • Lovejoy P.E. 2012. Transformations of slavery: a history of slavery in Africa. London: Cambridge University Press.
  • Stillwell, Sean 2013. Slavery and slaving in African history, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
  • Thornton, John. 1998. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1800. Cambridge University Press.
  • Eden, Jeff 2018. Slavery and Empire in Central Asia. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-108-63732-9.
  • Gordon, Murray 1989. Slavery in the Arab World. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-941533-30-0
  • Drescher, Seymour 2009. Abolition: a history of slavery and antislavery. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-139-48296-7.
  • Westermann, William Linn 1955. The slave systems of Greek and Roman antiquity. American Philosophical Society. ISBN 978-0-87169-040-1


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