History of slavery

historical aspect
(Redirected from Slave trade)

The history of slavery happens over many cultures, nationalities, and religions. Slavery has happened from ancient times to the present day. Its victims have come from many different ethnicities and religious groups. People's social, economic, and legal beliefs about slaves have changed throughout history.[1]

Slavery was used very little in some hunter-gatherer populations.[2][3] When people used agriculture, there were more times to use chattel slavery.[4] Slavery was an institution in the first civilizations. For example, slavery happened in Sumer in Mesopotamia.[5] Slavery was mentioned in the Mesopotamian Code of Hammurabi (c. 1750 BC). This Code calls slavery and institution that was in place.[6] In the ancient world, slavery became common in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.[7][8][4]

It became less common in Europe during the Early Middle Ages. Both Christians and Muslims enslaved each other in times of war in the Mediterranean and Europe.[9] Islamic slavery happened in Western and Central Asia, Northern and Eastern Africa, India, and Europe from the 600s to 1900s. Islamic law allowed enslavement of non-Muslims. Slaves here were usually trafficked from non-Muslim places: the Balkan slave trade, the Crimean slave trade, the Bukhara slave trade; the Andalusian slave trade, the Trans-Saharan slave trade, the Red Sea slave trade, and the Indian Ocean slave trade.

Starting in the 16th century, the transatlantic slave trade begin. This trade was started by merchants from Portugal. They mostly bought imprisoned Africans for gold and ivory from West African kingdoms. They took the slaves to Europe's colonies in the Americas. The merchants sold slaves for popular goods, such as gun, gunpowder, copper manillas, and cloth. This trade had high demand. The slave trade started many wars and larger enslavement of Africans.[10] In India and the New World, slaves were apart of the workforce. The transatlantic slave trade eventually stopped after governments abolished slavery. There were many efforts to stop slavery in practice. For example, the British Preventative Squadron, and the American African Slave Trade Patrol were used to stop slavery.

Recently, human trafficking is an international problem. It is thought that about 25–40 million people were enslaved in 2013. Many of these slaves were in Asia.[11] During the 1983–2005 Second Sudanese Civil War, many people were taken into slavery.[12] In the late 1990s, there was evidence of child slavery and trafficking on cacao plantations in West Africa.[13]

Slavery in the 21st century continues and creates about $150 billion in profit every year.[14] Regions with armed conflict are more likely to have slavery. Modern transportation has made human trafficking easier.[15] In 2019, there were almost 40 million people in slavery. 25% of these were children.[14] 61% are used for forced labor. 38% live in forced marriages.[14] Other types of modern slavery are prison labor, sex trafficking, and sexual slavery.

History of the slave trade


In one form or another slavery has been practiced since the earliest civilizations.[16] Early hunter-gatherers had no use for slaves[17] 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.[17] Once men gathered in cities and towns and there was more than enough food, having a cheap supply of labour made sense.[17] This is when the earliest forms of slavery appeared. The main source of slaves was war. When a town was captured, the men were killed and the women were enslaved to work in the fields or as concubines.[18] Slaves made up only a small percentage of the earliest civilizations. These included China's Yangtze River valley, India's Indus Valley, Egypt's Nile valley and the Tigris and Euphrates valleys in Mesopotamia.[18]

Early civilizations


Once slavery became a major part of the workforce, slave trading became a business. Ancient Greece was the first civilization where slaves made up a large part of the population. Between the 4th and 6th centuries (BC) it is estimated that from one-third to one-half of the population were slaves.[18] There were many sources of slaves. Prisoners captured in war, kidnapping, people selling their children and criminals were some of the more common sources.[19] The market price for slaves would go down after a battle in which many slaves were taken.[19] Slavery was a large part of the Greek economy. A slave could earn money and could earn enough to purchase their freedom.[20] Ancient Rome was even more dependent on slaves.[18]

Medieval Europe


Slavery was also a part of medieval Europe. Societies that did not depend on slaves were often the source of slaves. In the Viking world, slavery was an important part of the economy.[21] Not only the taking of slaves in raids and battles, but also selling slaves in other markets.[21] The Vikings were slave traders. They captured, used, and sold slaves. Most forms of slavery declined in Northern Europe but was practiced elsewhere in Europe. In Sicily, Italy, Spain, France, Russia and North Africa slavery lasted through much of the middle ages. Most of these slaves were "white" and came from other parts of Europe and Eastern Europe.[18] As the New World was colonized, slavery was a well-established source of cheap labour. By the time Columbus came to the Americas, Europeans had already been using African slaves in their colonies in West Africa.[18]


Chain used during the slave trade in Badagry, Nigeria

Historians estimate that between 650 AD and the 1960s, 10 to 18 million people were enslaved by the Arab world. They were taken from Europe, Asia and Africa across the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and the Sahara desert.[22] For four centuries, beginning in the late 15th century, millions of Africans were taken as slaves by Europeans.[23] They got this idea from the Arab empires which had been taking black slaves from Africa since the 7th century.[22] Europeans began exporting Africans to the New World as a source of cheap labor on colonial plantations.[23] This was called the Atlantic slave trade. Early attempts to enslave Native Americans failed which gave rise to the African slave trade. Africans were a relatively easy source of slaves as European traders did not have to capture them, but relied on Arabs and other Africans to do it for them. Even before outside slave traders took advantage of Africans, the Africans themselves had established slave trading.[24] Theirs was not an economy based on money, but on trading. Slaves were a commodity (a substitute for money).[24]

Slave sales

A sculpture depicting a Nigerian about to be sold
The first slave auction in New Amsterdam in 1655

Slaves were often sold at markets and auctions. Slave auctions show that slaves were not thought of as human beings with human rights. Instead, they were thought of as property, which could be bought or sold. Slaves that were for sale were often advertised in the newspapers, like today's newspapers advertise cars or houses.[25] Slave traders were even listed in public directories (like today's phone books).[26]p. 96

Slaves did not have any say in what happened to them. Many times, families were split up and sold to different owners for different amounts of money. Millions of families became separated this way and never saw each other again.[27][28]

Types of auction


There were three types of auctions: Grab and go, May the highest bidder win, and the scramble.

In a "grab and go" auction, a buyer would give the slave trader a certain amount of money and would get a ticket. When a drum roll sounded, the pen holding the slaves would open. The buyer would rush in and grab the slave or slaves that he wanted. He would then show his ticket to the slave trader before he left.[29]

In a "may the highest bidder win" auction, slaves would be shown to the buyers one at a time. If more than one buyer wanted a particular slave, all of the buyers would have to bid on the slave (making offers for what they were willing to pay). Slaves would be investigated by the buyer and would be forced to be poked, and tortured by the buyer. The buyer who bid the highest would be able to buy that slave for the amount of money he bid.[28][30]

In "the scramble," buyers would quickly grab whichever slaves they wanted and would take them to work.[31]

Slaves were prepared for this when the sellers put fat and tar on them to make them look more healthy.



  1. Klein, Herbert S.; III, Ben Vinson (2007). African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean (2nd ed.). New York [etc.]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195189421.
  2. Hunt, Peter (2015). "Slavery". The Cambridge World History: Volume 4: A World with States, Empires and Networks 1200 BCE–900 CE. 4: 76–100. doi:10.1017/CBO9781139059251.006. ISBN 9781139059251. Somewhat more convincing are statistical surveys of large numbers of societies that show that slavery is rare among hunter-gatherers, is sometimes present in incipient agricultural societies, and then becomes common among societies with more advanced agriculture. Up to this point slavery seems to increase with increasing social and economic complexity.
  3. Smith, Eric Alden; Hill, Kim; Marlowe, Frank; Nolin, David; Wiessner, Polly; Gurven, Michael; Bowles, Samuel; Mulder, Monique Borgerhoff; Hertz, Tom; Bell, Adrian (February 2010). "Wealth Transmission and Inequality Among Hunter-Gatherers". Current Anthropology. 51 (1): 19–34. doi:10.1086/648530. PMC 2999363. PMID 21151711. Summary characteristics of hunter-gatherer societies in the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample (SCSS). [...] Social stratification [: ...] Hereditary slavery 24% [...].
  4. 4.0 4.1 Hunt, Peter (2015). "Slavery". The Cambridge World History: Volume 4: A World with States, Empires and Networks 1200 BCE–900 CE. 4: 76–100. doi:10.1017/CBO9781139059251.006. ISBN 9781139059251. Slavery was a widespread institution in the ancient world (1200 BCE – 900 CE). Slaves could be found in simpler societies, but more important and better known was the existence of slavery in most advanced states. Indeed, it is hard to find any ancient civilizations in which some slavery did not exist. Slave use was sometimes extensive.
  5. Tetlow, Elisabeth Meier (2004). "Sumer". Women, Crime and Punishment in Ancient Law and Society: Volume 1: The Ancient Near East. Women, Crime, and Punishment in Ancient Law and Society. Vol. 1. New York: A&C Black. p. 7. ISBN 9780826416285. Retrieved 17 March 2019. In Sumer, as in most ancient societies, the institution of slavery existed as an integral part of the social and economic structure. Sumer was not, however, a slavery based economy.
  6. "Mesopotamia: The Code of Hammurabi". Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. e.g. Prologue, "the shepherd of the oppressed and of the slaves" Code of Laws No. 307, "If any one buy from the son or the slave of another man".
  7. Stilwell, Sean (2013), "Slavery in African History", Slavery and Slaving in African History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 38, doi:10.1017/cbo9781139034999.003, ISBN 978-1-139-03499-9, For most Africans between 10000 BCE to 500 CE, the use of slaves was not an optimal political or economic strategy. But in some places, Africans came to see the value of slavery. In the large parts of the continent where Africans lived in relatively decentralized and small-scale communities, some big men used slavery to grab power to get around broader governing ideas about reciprocity and kinship, but were still bound by those ideas to some degree. In other parts of the continent early political centralization and commercialization led to expanded use use of slaves as soldiers, officials, and workers.
  8. Perbi, Akosua Adoma (2004). A History of Indigenous Slavery in Ghana : from the 15th to the 19th century. Legon, Accra, Ghana: Sub-Saharan Publishers. p. 15. ISBN 9789988550325. It is to the Neolithic period of Ghana's history that one must look for the earliest evidence of slavery. Technological advancement and dependence on agriculture created a need for labor. The available evidence indicates that around the 1st century AD farming was done by individual households consisting of blood relations, pawns, and slaves. The earliest evidence of slavery is, therefore, likely to be found in the field of agriculture." and "The retention of captives taken in battle was a recognized practice among every people before the beginning of written history. The ancient records of the Assyrians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, Persians, Indians and Chinese are all full of references to slaves and types of labor for which they were usually employed. With the Greeks and the Romans, the institution of slavery reached new heights.
  9. Salzmann, Ariel (2013). "Migrants in Chains: On the Enslavement of Muslims in Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe". Religions. 4 (3): 391–411. doi:10.3390/rel4030391. Between the Renaissance and the French Revolution, hundreds of thousands of Muslim men and women from the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean were forcibly transported to Western Europe.
  10. Thomas, Hugh (2006). The slave trade : the history of the Atlantic slave trade, 1440-1870 (New ed.). London: Phoenix. ISBN 978-0753820568.
  11. "Inaugural Global Slavery Index Reveals more Than 29 Million people Living In Slavery". Global Slavery Index 2013. 4 October 2013. Archived from the original on 7 April 2016. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
  12. "Slavery, Abduction and Forced Servitude in Sudan". US Department of State. 22 May 2002. Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  13. 5 Minutes 10 Minutes. "West is master of slave trade guilt". Theaustralian.news.com.au. Archived from the original on 13 June 2007. Retrieved 4 December 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Hodal, Kate (2016-05-31). "One in 200 people is a slave. Why?". The Guardian.
  15. "10 countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery". Global Slavery Index. Retrieved 2020-06-03.
  16. "Struggles against slavery" (PDF). UNESCO. 2004. Retrieved 4 February 2016., p. 44
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 "History of Slavery". History World. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 "Slavery in the Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Worlds". Digital History. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  19. Jean Kinney Williams, Empire of Ancient Greece (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009), p. 79
  20. 21.0 21.1 Andrew Lawler (28 December 2015). "Kinder, Gentler Vikings? Not According to Their Slaves". National Geographic. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  21. 22.0 22.1 El Hamel, Chouki (2018-10-31). "Silencing the Past by Al Jazeera Network". Jadaliyya - جدلية. Retrieved 2020-12-10.
  22. 23.0 23.1 Elikia M’bokolo (April 1998). "The impact of the slave trade on Africa". Le Monde diplomatique. Retrieved 4 November 2015.
  23. 24.0 24.1 Melissa B. McLean. "Slavery; Africa, Europe, and Jamaica". The World Debate Institute, University of Vermont. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  24. Bryant, Techa (2009). "Examining Slave Auction Documents". Teaching American History in South Carolina. Teaching American History in South Carolina Project. Archived from the original on February 11, 2016. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  25. Bancroft, Frederic (February 1, 1996). Slave Trading in the Old South. University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1570031038.
  26. "Slave Auctions: Selections from 19th-century narratives of formerly enslaved African Americans" (PDF). The Making of African American Identity: Vol. I, 1500-1865. National Humanities Center. 2007. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  27. 28.0 28.1 Simkin, John, ed. (August 2014). "Slave Markets: Primary Sources". Spartacus-educational.com. Spartacus Educational. Retrieved February 4, 2016.
  28. Myers, Debra; Perreault, Melanie (2014). Order and Civility in the Early Modern Chesapeake. Lexington Books. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-7391-8974-0.
  29. Katz-Hyman, Martha B.; Rice, Kym S. (2011). World of a Slave: Encyclopedia of the Material Life of Slaves in the United States, Volume 1: A-I. Greenwood. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-313-34942-3.
  30. "Slave Auctions". prezi.com. Retrieved 2023-08-30.

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