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"Slave" and "Slaves" redirect here. For a 1969 film, see Slaves (film). For other uses, see Slave (disambiguation).

Slavery is a legal or economic system in which principles of property law can apply to humans so that people can be treated as property,[1] and can be owned, bought and sold accordingly, and cannot withdraw unilaterally from the arrangement. While a person is a slave, the owner is entitled to the slave's labour, without any remuneration. The rights and protection of the slave may be regulated by laws and customs in a particular time and place, and a person may become a slave from the time of their capture, purchase or birth. Such slavery is commonly referred to as chattel slavery or traditional slavery. It is the least prevalent form of slavery in the world today.[2]

Today, chattel slavery is unlawful in all countries, but a person may still be described as a slave if he or she is forced to work for another person without an ability on their part to unilaterally terminate the arrangement. Such situations are today commonly referred to as "practices similar to slavery". The present form of the slave trade is commonly referred to as human trafficking.

Slavery existed before written history and in many cultures.[3] It was once institutionally recognized by most societies, but has now been outlawed in all countries,[4][5] the last being Mauritania in 2007. However, it continues through such practices as debt bondage, serfdom, domestic servants kept in captivity, certain adoptions in which children are forced to work as slaves, child soldiers, human trafficking and forced marriage.[6] Accordingly, there are still an estimated 20 million to 36 million slaves worldwide.[7][8][9]


The English word slave comes from Old French sclave, from the Medieval Latin sclavus, from the Byzantine Greek σκλάβος, which, in turn, comes from the ethnonym Slav, because in some early Medieval wars many Slavs were captured and enslaved.[10][11] An older theory connected it to the Greek verb skyleúo 'to strip a slain enemy'.[12]

There is a dispute among modern historians about whether the term "enslaved person" rather than "slave" should be used when describing the victims of slavery. According to those proposing a change in terminology, "slave" perpetuates the crime of slavery in language, by reducing its victims to a nonhuman noun instead of, according to Andi Cumbo-Floyd, "carry[ing] them forward as people, not the property that they were". Other historians prefer "slave" because the term is familiar and shorter, or because it accurately reflects the inhumanity of slavery, with "person" implying a degree of autonomy that slavery did not allow for.[13]

Practices similar to slavery

Photograph of a slave boy in Zanzibar. 'An Arab master's punishment for a slight offence.' c. 1890.

Bonded labor

Main article: Bonded labor

Debt bondage or bonded labor occurs when a person pledges himself or herself against a loan.[4] The services required to repay the debt, and their duration, may be undefined.[4] Debt bondage can be passed on from generation to generation, with children required to pay off their parents' debt.[4] It is the most widespread form of slavery today.[14] Debt bondage is most prevalent in South Asia.[15]

Forced labor

Main article: Forced labor

Forced labor occurs when an individual is forced to work against his or her will, under threat of violence or other punishment, with restrictions on their freedom.[14] Human trafficking is primarily used for prostituting women and children[16] and is the fastest growing form of forced labor,[14] with Thailand, Cambodia, India, Brazil and Mexico having been identified as leading hotspots of commercial sexual exploitation of children.[17]

The term 'forced labor' is also used to describe all types of slavery and may also include institutions not commonly classified as slavery, such as serfdom, conscription and penal labor.

Forced marriage

Main article: Forced marriage

A forced marriage can be regarded as a form of slavery if one of the parties, usually the female, is subject to violence, threats, or intimidation; and required to engage in sexual activity or perform domestic duties or other work without any personal control. The customs of bride price and dowry that exist in many parts of the world can lead to buying and selling people into marriage.[18][19] Forced marriage continues to be practiced in parts of the world including some parts of Asia and Africa. Forced marriages may also occur in immigrant communities in Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia.[20][21][22][23] Marriage by abduction occurs in many places in the world today, with a national average of 69% of marriages in Ethiopia being through abduction.[24]

The International Labour Organisation defines child and forced marriage as forms of modern-day slavery.[25]


The word "slave" has also been used to express a general dependency from somebody else.[26][27] In many cases, such as in ancient Persia, the situation and lives of such slaves could be better than those of other common citizens.[28]

Contemporary slavery

Modern incidence of slavery, as a percentage of the population, by country. Estimates from the Walk Free Foundation. Estimates by other sources may be higher.
Thousands of children work as bonded labourers in Asia, particularly in the Indian subcontinent.[29]

Even though slavery is now outlawed in every country,[30] the number of slaves today is estimated as between 12 million[31] and 29.8 million.[8] Several estimates of the number of slaves in the world have been provided.[32] According to a broad definition of slavery used by Kevin Bales of Free the Slaves (FTS), an advocacy group linked with Anti-Slavery International, there were 27 million people in slavery in 1999, spread all over the world.[33] In 2005, the International Labour Organization provided an estimate of 12.3 million forced labourers.[34] Siddharth Kara has also provided an estimate of 28.4 million slaves at the end of 2006 divided into three categories: bonded labour/debt bondage (18.1 million), forced labour (7.6 million), and trafficked slaves (2.7 million).[35] Kara provides a dynamic model to calculate the number of slaves in the world each year, with an estimated 29.2 million at the end of 2009. According to a 2003 report by Human Rights Watch, an estimated 15 million children in debt bondage in India work in slavery-like conditions to pay off their family's debts.[36][37]


A report by the Walk Free Foundation in 2013,[38] found India had the highest number of slaves, nearly 14 million, followed by China (2.9 million), Pakistan (2.1 million), Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh; while the countries with the highest of proportion of slaves were Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan, India and Nepal.[39]

In June 2013, U.S. State Department released a report on slavery, it placed Russia, China, Uzbekistan in the worst offenders category, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, and Zimbabwe were also at the lowest level. The list also included Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait among a total of 21 countries.[40][41]


While American slaves in 1809 were sold for around $40,000 (in non inflation adjusted dollars); a slave nowadays can be bought for just $90; making replacement more economical than providing long term care.[42] Slavery is a multibillion-dollar industry with estimates of up to $35 billion generated annually.[43]


Main article: Human trafficking
A world map showing countries by prevalence of female trafficking

Trafficking in human beings (also called human trafficking) is one method of obtaining slaves.[44] Victims are typically recruited through deceit or trickery (such as a false job offer, false migration offer, or false marriage offer), sale by family members, recruitment by former slaves, or outright abduction. Victims are forced into a "debt slavery" situation by coercion, deception, fraud, intimidation, isolation, threat, physical force, debt bondage or even force-feeding with drugs of abuse to control their victims.[45] "Annually, according to U.S. government-sponsored research completed in 2006, approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders, which does not include millions trafficked within their own countries. Approximately 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls and up to 50 percent are minors", reports the U.S. State Department in a 2008 study.[46]

While the majority of trafficking victims are women, and sometimes children, who are forced into prostitution (in which case the practice is called sex trafficking), victims also include men, women and children who are forced into manual labour.[47] Due to the illegal nature of human trafficking, its exact extent is unknown. A U.S. government report published in 2005, estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 people worldwide are trafficked across borders each year. This figure does not include those who are trafficked internally.[47] Another research effort revealed that between 1.5 million and 1.8 million individuals are trafficked either internally or internationally each year, 500,000 to 600,000 of whom are sex trafficking victims.[35]


Examples of modern slavery are numerous. Child slavery has commonly been used in the production of cash crops and mining.


In 2008, the Nepalese government abolished the Haliya system, under which 20,000 people were forced to provide free farm labour.[48] Though slavery was officially abolished in China in 1910,[49] the practice continues unofficially in some regions of the country.[50][51][52] In June and July 2007, 550 people who had been enslaved by brick manufacturers in Shanxi and Henan were freed by the Chinese government.[53] Among those rescued were 69 children.[54] In response, the Chinese government assembled a force of 35,000 police to check northern Chinese brick kilns for slaves, sent dozens of kiln supervisors to prison, punished 95 officials in Shanxi province for dereliction of duty, and sentenced one kiln foreman to death for killing an enslaved worker.[53] The North Korean government[55] operates six large political prison camps,[56] where political prisoners and their families (around 200,000 people)[57] in lifelong detention[58] are subjected to hard slave labor,[59] torture and inhumane treatment.[60]

South America and Caribbean

In 2008, in Brazil about 5,000 slaves were rescued by government authorities as part of an initiative to eradicate slavery, which was reported as ongoing in 2010.[61] Poverty has forced at least 225,000 Haitian children to work as restavecs (unpaid household servants); the United Nations considers this to be a form of slavery.[62]

Middle East

Some tribal sheiks in Iraq still keep blacks, called Abd, which means servant or slave in Arabic, as slaves.[63]

According to media reports from late 2014 the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was selling Yazidi and Christian women as slaves.[64][65][66] According to Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, after ISIL militants have captured an area "[t]hey usually take the older women to a makeshift slave market and try to sell them."[67] In mid-October 2014, the UN estimated that 5,000 to 7,000 Yazidi women and children were abducted by ISIL and sold into slavery.[68][69] In the digital magazine Dabiq, ISIL claimed religious justification for enslaving Yazidi women whom they consider to be from a heretical sect. ISIL claimed that the Yazidi are idol worshipers and their enslavement part of the old shariah practice of spoils of war.[70][71][72][73][74] According to The Wall Street Journal, ISIL appeals to apocalyptic beliefs and claims "justification by a Hadith that they interpret as portraying the revival of slavery as a precursor to the end of the world".[75]


Tuareg society is traditionally feudal, ranging from nobles, through vassals, to dark-skinned slaves.[76]

In Mauritania, the last country to abolish slavery (in 1981),[77] it is estimated that up to 600,000 men, women and children, or 20% of the population, are enslaved with many used as bonded labour.[78][79][80] Slavery in Mauritania was criminalized in August 2007.[81] (although slavery as a practice was legally banned in 1981, it was not a crime to own a slave until 2007).[82] Although many slaves have escaped or have been freed since 2007, as of 2012, only one slave-owner had been sentenced to serve time in prison.[83]

An article in the Middle East Quarterly in 1999 reported that slavery is endemic in Sudan.[84] Estimates of abductions during the Second Sudanese Civil War range from 14,000 to 200,000 people.[85]

In Niger, slavery is also a current phenomenon. A Nigerien study has found that more than 800,000 people are enslaved, almost 8% of the population.[86][87][88] Niger installed anti slavery provision in 2003.[89][90]

Many pygmies in the Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo belong from birth to Bantus in a system of slavery.[91][92]

According to the U.S. State Department, more than 109,000 children were working on cocoa farms alone in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) in "the worst forms of child labor" in 2002.[93]

On the night of 14–15 April 2014, a group of militants attacked the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Nigeria. They broke into the school, pretending to be guards,[94] telling the girls to get out and come with them.[95] A large number of students were taken away in trucks, possibly into the Konduga area of the Sambisa Forest where Boko Haram were known to have fortified camps.[95] Houses in Chibok were also burned down in the incident.[96] According to police, approximately 276 children were taken in the attack, of whom 53 had escaped as of 2 May.[97] Other reports said that 329 girls were kidnapped, 53 had escaped and 276 were still missing.[98][99][100] The students have been forced to convert to Islam[101] and into marriage with members of Boko Haram, with a reputed "bride price" of 2,000 each ($12.50/£7.50).[102][103] Many of the students were taken to the neighbouring countries of Chad and Cameroon, with sightings reported of the students crossing borders with the militants, and sightings of the students by villagers living in the Sambisa Forest, which is considered a refuge for Boko Haram[103][104]

On May 5, 2014 a video in which Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility for the kidnappings emerged. Shekau claimed that "Allah instructed me to sell them...I will carry out his instructions"[105] and "[s]lavery is allowed in my religion, and I shall capture people and make them slaves."[106] He said the girls should not have been in school and instead should have been married since girls as young as nine are suitable for marriage.[105][106]


Main article: History of slavery
Slaves working in a mine. Ancient Greece.
Slaves in chains, relief found at Smyrna (present day İzmir, Turkey), 200 AD

Early history

Evidence of slavery predates written records, and has existed in many cultures.[3] Graves dating to 8000 BC in Egypt may show the enslavement of a San-like tribe.[dubious ][Capoid remains not found this far north][107] Slavery is rare among hunter-gatherer populations. Mass slavery also requires economic surpluses and a high population density to be viable. Due to these factors, the practice of slavery would have only proliferated after the invention of agriculture during the Neolithic Revolution about 11,000 years ago.[108]

In the earliest known records, slavery is treated as an established institution. The Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1760 BC), for example, prescribed death for anyone who helped a slave escape or who sheltered a fugitive.[109] The Bible mentions slavery as an established institution.[3]

Slavery was known in almost every ancient civilization and society including Sumer, Ancient Egypt, Ancient China, the Akkadian Empire, Assyria, Ancient India, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Islamic Caliphate, the Hebrew kingdoms in Palestine, and the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas.[3] Such institutions included debt-slavery, punishment for crime, the enslavement of prisoners of war, child abandonment, and the birth of slave children to slaves.[110]

Classical antiquity

The work of the Mercedarians was in ransoming Christian slaves held in Muslim hands (1637).

Records of slavery in Ancient Greece date as far back as Mycenaean Greece. It is certain that Classical Athens had the largest slave population, with as many as 80,000 in the 6th and 5th centuries BC;[111] two to four-fifths of the population were slaves.[112] As the Roman Republic expanded outward, entire populations were enslaved, thus creating an ample supply from all over Europe and the Mediterranean. Greeks, Illyrians, Berbers, Germans, Britons, Thracians, Gauls, Jews, Arabs, and many more were slaves used not only for labour, but also for amusement (e. g. gladiators and sex slaves). This oppression by an elite minority eventually led to slave revolts (see Roman Servile Wars); the Third Servile War led by Spartacus (a Thracian) being the most famous and severe.

By the late Republican era, slavery had become a vital economic pillar in the wealth of Rome, as well as a very significant part of Roman society.[113] It is estimated that 25% or more of the population of Ancient Rome was enslaved.[114] Slaves represented 15-25% of Italy's population,[115] mostly captives in war[115] especially from Gaul[116] and Epirus. Estimates of the number of slaves in the Roman Empire suggest that the majority of slaves were scattered throughout the provinces outside of Italy.[115] Generally, slaves in Italy were indigenous Italians,[117] with a minority of foreigners (including both slaves and freedmen) born outside of Italy estimated at 5% of the total in the capital at its peak, where their number was largest. Those from outside of Europe were predominantly of Greek descent, while the Jewish ones never fully assimilated into Roman society, remaining an identifiable minority. These slaves (especially the foreigners) had higher death rates and lower birth rates than natives, and were sometimes even subjected to mass expulsions.[118] The average recorded age at death for the slaves of the city of Rome was extraordinarily low: seventeen and a half years (17.2 for males; 17.9 for females).[119][page needed]

Middle Ages

Medieval and Early Modern Europe

See also: Serfdom
Adalbert of Prague accuses the Jews of the Christian slave trade against Boleslaus II, Duke of Bohemia, relief of Gniezno Doors

Large-scale trading in slaves was mainly confined to the South and East of early medieval Europe: the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim world were the destinations, while pagan Central and Eastern Europe (along with the Caucasus and Tartary) were important sources. Viking, Arab, Greek, and Radhanite Jewish merchants were all involved in the slave trade during the Early Middle Ages.[120][121][122] The trade in European slaves reached a peak in the 10th century following the Zanj rebellion which dampened the use of African slaves in the Arab world.[123][124]

Medieval Spain and Portugal were the scene of almost constant Muslim invasion of the predominantly Christian area. Periodic raiding expeditions were sent from Al-Andalus to ravage the Iberian Christian kingdoms, bringing back booty and slaves. In raid against Lisbon, Portugal in 1189, for example, the Almohad caliph Yaqub al-Mansur took 3,000 female and child captives, while his governor of Córdoba, in a subsequent attack upon Silves, Portugal in 1191, took 3,000 Christian slaves.[125] From the 11th to the 19th century, North African Barbary Pirates engaged in Razzias, raids on European coastal towns, to capture Christian slaves to sell at slave markets in places such as Algeria and Morocco.[126][127]

Depiction of socage on the royal demesne in feudal England, ca. 1310. Socage is an aspect of serfdom, not usually included under the term "slavery".

In Britain, slavery continued to be practiced following the fall of Rome and sections of Hywel the Good's laws dealt with slaves in medieval Wales. The trade particularly picked up after the Viking invasions, with major markets at Chester[128] and Bristol[129] supplied by Danish, Mercian, and Welsh raiding of one another's borderlands. At the time of the Domesday Book, nearly 10% of the English population were slaves.[130] Slavery in early medieval Europe was so common that the Roman Catholic Church repeatedly prohibited it — or at least the export of Christian slaves to non-Christian lands was prohibited at e.g. the Council of Koblenz (922), the Council of London (1102), and the Council of Armagh (1171).[131] In 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued the papal bull Dum Diversas, granting the kings of Spain and Portugal the right to reduce any "Saracens (antiquated term referring to Muslims), pagans and any other unbelievers" to perpetual slavery, legitimizing the slave trade as a result of war.[132] The approval of slavery under these conditions was reaffirmed and extended in his Romanus Pontifex bull of 1455. However, Pope Paul III forbade enslavement of the native Americans in 1537 in his papal bull Sublimus Dei.[133] Dominican friars who arrived at the Spanish settlement at Santo Domingo strongly denounced the enslavement of the local native Americans. Along with other priests, they opposed their treatment as unjust and illegal in an audience with the Spanish king and in the subsequent royal commission.[134]

Crimean Tatar raiders enslaved more than 1 million Eastern Europeans.[135]

The Byzantine-Ottoman wars and the Ottoman wars in Europe brought large numbers of slaves into the Islamic world.[136] To staff its bureaucracy, the Ottoman Empire established a janissary system which seized hundreds of thousands of Christian boys through the devşirme system. They were well cared for but were legally slaves owned by the government and were not allowed to marry. They were never bought or sold. The Empire gave them significant administrative and military roles. The system began about 1365; there were 135,000 janissaries in 1826, when the system ended.[137] After the Battle of Lepanto, 12,000 Christian galley slaves were recaptured and freed from the Ottoman fleet.[138] Eastern Europe suffered a series of Tatar invasions, the goal of which was to loot and capture slaves into jasyr.[139] Seventy-five Crimean Tatar raids were recorded into Poland–Lithuania between 1474 and 1569.[140]

Approximately 10–20% of the rural population of Carolingian Europe consisted of slaves.[141] Slavery largely disappeared from Western Europe by the later Middle Ages.[142] The slave trade became illegal in England in 1102,[143] but England went on to become very active in the lucrative Atlantic slave trade from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth century. In Scandinavia, thralldom was abolished in the mid-14th century.[144] Slavery persisted longer in Eastern Europe. Slavery in Poland was forbidden in the 15th century; in Lithuania, slavery was formally abolished in 1588; they were replaced by the second serfdom. In Kievan Rus and Muscovy, slaves were usually classified as kholops.

Islamic world

Main article: Arab slave trade
13th century slave market in Yemen. Yemen officially abolished slavery in 1962.[145]

In early Islamic states of the Western Sudan (present-day West Africa), including Ghana (750–1076), Mali (1235–1645), Segou (1712–1861), and Songhai (1275–1591), about a third of the population was enslaved.[146]

Ibn Battuta indicates several times that he was given or purchased slaves.[147] The great 14th-century scholar Ibn Khaldun, wrote: "the Black nations are, as a rule, submissive to slavery, because (blacks) have little that is (essentially) human and possess attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals".[148] Slaves were purchased or captured on the frontiers of the Islamic world and then imported to the major centers, where there were slave markets from which they were widely distributed.[149][150][151] In the 9th and 10th centuries, the black Zanj slaves may have constituted at least a half of the total population of lower Iraq.[146] At the same time, many slaves in the region were also imported from Central Asia and the Caucasus.[146] Many slaves were taken in the wars with the Christian nations of medieval Europe.

In the Thousand and One Nights, there are mentions of white slaves.[152]

Modern history


An 1852 Wallachian poster advertising an auction of Roma slaves in Bucharest.
«The White Slave» (Eberle, 1913)

Author David P. Forsythe has written: "In 1649 up to three-quarters of Muscovy's peasants, or 13 to 14 million people, were serfs whose material lives were barely distinguishable from slaves. Perhaps another 1.5 million were formally enslaved, with Russian slaves serving Russian masters.."[153] Slavery remained a major institution in Russia until 1723, when Peter the Great converted the household slaves into house serfs. Russian agricultural slaves were formally converted into serfs earlier in 1679.[154] Russia's more than 23 million privately held serfs were freed by the Emancipation reform of 1861.[155] State-owned serfs were emancipated in 1866.[156]

Until the late 18th century, the Crimean Khanate (a Muslim Tatar state) maintained a massive slave trade with the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East,[139] exporting about 2 million slaves from Poland-Lithuania and Russia over the period 1500–1700.[157]

During the Second World War (1939–1945) Nazi Germany effectively enslaved about 12 million people, both those considered undesirable and citizens of countries they conquered.[158]


Main article: Slavery in Africa
The main routes that were used to transport slaves across medieval Africa.

In Algiers, the capital of Algeria, Christians and Europeans that were captured had been forced into slavery. This eventually led to the Bombardment of Algiers in 1816.[159][160]

Slave traders in Gorée, Senegal, 18th century

Half the population of the Sokoto caliphate of the 19th century were slaves.[146] The Swahili-Arab slave trade reached its height about 150 years ago, when, for example, approximately 20,000 slaves were considered to be carried yearly from Nkhotakota on Lake Malawi to Kilwa.[161] Roughly half the population of Madagascar was enslaved.[146][162]

According to the Encyclopedia of African History, "It is estimated that by the 1890s the largest slave population of the world, about 2 million people, was concentrated in the territories of the Sokoto Caliphate. The use of slave labor was extensive, especially in agriculture."[163][164] The Anti-Slavery Society estimated there were 2 million slaves in Ethiopia in the early 1930s out of an estimated population of 8 to 16 million.[165]

Arab slave traders and their captives along the Ruvuma river (in today's Tanzania and Mozambique).

Hugh Clapperton in 1824 believed that half the population of Kano were enslaved people.[166] W. A. Veenhoven wrote: "The German doctor, Gustav Nachtigal, an eye-witness, believed that for every slave who arrived at a market three or four died on the way ... Keltie (The Partition of Africa, London, 1920) believes that for every slave the Arabs brought to the coast at least six died on the way or during the slavers' raid. Livingstone puts the figure as high as ten to one."[167]

One of the most famous slave traders on the eastern Zanj (Bantu) coast was Tippu Tip, who was the grandson of a slave. The prazeros were slave traders along the Zambezi. North of the Zambezi, the waYao and Makua people played a similar role as professional slave raiders and traders. Still further north were the Nyamwezi slave traders.[168]


A contract from the Tang dynasty that records the purchase of a 15-year-old slave for six bolts of plain silk and five Chinese coins.

In Constantinople, about one-fifth of the population consisted of slaves.[146] The city was a major center of the slave trade in the 15th and later centuries. By 1475 most of the slaves were provided by Tatar raids on Slavic villages.[169] It has been estimated that some 200,000 slaves—mainly Circassians—were imported into the Ottoman Empire between 1800 and 1909.[170] As late as 1908, women slaves were still sold in the Ottoman Empire.[171] A slave market for captured Russian and Persian slaves was centred in the Central Asian khanate of Khiva.[172] In the early 1840s, the population of the Uzbek states of Bukhara and Khiva included about 900,000 slaves.[170] Darrel P. Kaiser wrote, "Kazakh-Kirghiz tribesmen kidnapped 1573 settlers from colonies [German settlements in Russia] in 1774 alone and only half were successfully ransomed. The rest were killed or enslaved."[173]

According to Sir Henry Bartle Frere (who sat on the Viceroy's Council), there were an estimated 8 or 9 million slaves in India in 1841. About 15% of the population of Malabar were slaves. Slavery was abolished in British India by the Indian Slavery Act V. of 1843.[3]

In East Asia, the Imperial government formally abolished slavery in China in 1906, and the law became effective in 1910.[174] The Nangzan in Tibetan history were, according to Chinese sources, hereditary household slaves.[175]

Indigenous slaves existed in Korea. Slavery was abolished with the Gabo Reform of 1894, but continued in reality until 1930. During the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910), about 30% to 50% of the Korean population were slaves.[3] In late 16th century Japan, slavery as such was officially banned, but forms of contract and indentured labor persisted alongside the period penal codes' forced labor.[176]

The hill tribe people in Indochina were "hunted incessantly and carried off as slaves by the Siamese (Thai), the Anamites (Vietnamese), and the Cambodians.."[177] A Siamese military campaign in Laos in 1876 was described by a British observer as having been "transformed into slave-hunting raids on a large scale".[178] The census, taken in 1879, showed that 6% of the population in the Malay sultanate of Perak were slaves.[170] Enslaved people made up about two-thirds of the population in part of North Borneo in the 1880s.[170]


The Brazilian slave-hunter, 1823, by Johann Moritz Rugendas.

Slavery in the Americas had a contentious history, and played a major role in the history and evolution of some countries, triggering at least one revolution and one civil war, as well as numerous rebellions. The Aztecs had slaves.[179] Other Amerindians, such as the Inca of the Andes, the Tupinambá of Brazil, the Creek of Georgia, and the Comanche of Texas, also owned slaves.[3]

The maritime town of Lagos was the first slave market created in Portugal (one of the earliest colonizers of the Americas) for the sale of imported African slaves—the Mercado de Escravos, opened in 1444.[180][181] In 1441, the first slaves were brought to Portugal from northern Mauritania.[181]

In 1519, Mexico's first Afro-Mexican slave was brought by Hernán Cortés.

By 1552, black African slaves made up 10% of the population of Lisbon.[182][183] In the second half of the 16th century, the Crown gave up the monopoly on slave trade and the focus of European trade in African slaves shifted from import to Europe to slave transports directly to tropical colonies in the Americas—in the case of Portugal, especially Brazil.[181] In the 15th century one-third of the slaves were resold to the African market in exchange of gold.[184]

In order to establish itself as an American empire, Spain had to fight against the relatively powerful civilizations of the New World. The Spanish conquest of the indigenous peoples in the Americas included using the Natives as forced labour. The Spanish colonies were the first Europeans to use African slaves in the New World on islands such as Cuba and Hispaniola, see Atlantic slave trade.[185]

The public flogging of a slave in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. From Jean Baptiste Debret, Voyage Pittoresque et Historique au Brésil (1834–1839).

Bartolomé de Las Casas a 16th-century Dominican friar and Spanish historian participated in campaigns in Cuba (at Bayamo and Camagüey) and was present at the massacre of Hatuey; his observation of that massacre led him to fight for a social movement away from the use of natives as slaves and towards the importation of African Blacks as slaves. Also, the alarming decline in the native population had spurred the first royal laws protecting the native population (Laws of Burgos, 1512–1513).

The first African slaves arrived in Hispaniola in 1501.[186] In 1518, Charles I of Spain agreed to ship slaves directly from Africa. England played a prominent role in the Atlantic slave trade. The "slave triangle" was pioneered by Francis Drake and his associates. In 1640 a Virginia court sentenced John Punch to slavery, forcing him to serve his master,Hugh Gwyn, for the remainder of his life. This was the first legal sanctioning of slavery in the English colonies.[187][188] In 1655, A black man, Anthony Johnson of Virginia, was granted ownership of John Casor as the result of a civil case.[189]

The Henrietta Marie was probably built in France sometime in the 17th century and carried a crew of about eighteen men. The ship came into English possession late in the 17th century, possibly as a war prize during the War of the Grand Alliance. It was put to use in the Atlantic slave trade, making at least two voyages carrying Africans to slavery in the West Indies. On its first voyage, in 1697–1698, the ship carried more than 200 people from Africa that were sold as slaves in Barbados. In 1699 the Henrietta Marie sailed from England on the first leg of the triangular trade route with a load of trade goods, including iron and copper bars, pewter utensils, glass beads, cloth and brandy. The ship sailed under license from the Royal African Company (which held a monopoly on English trade with Africa), in exchange for ten percent of the profits of the voyage. It is known to have traded for African captives at New Calabar on the Guinea Coast. The ship then sailed on the second leg of its voyage, from Africa to the West Indies, and in May 1701 landed 191 Africans for sale in Port Royal, Jamaica. The Henrietta Marie then loaded a cargo of sugar, cotton, dyewoods (indigo) and ginger to take back to England on the third leg of the triangular route. After leaving Port Royal on 18 May 1701, the ship headed for the Yucatán Channel to pass around the western end of Cuba (thus avoiding the pirates infesting the passage between Cuba and Hispaniola) and catch the Gulf Stream, the preferred route for all ships leaving the Caribbean to return to Europe. A month later, the Henrietta Marie wrecked on New Ground Reef near the Marquesas Keys, approximately 35 miles west of Key West. All aboard were lost.[190]

Pirates often targeted slavers. For example, the 300 ton English frigate Concord launched in 1710 but was captured by the French one year later. She was modified to hold more cargo, including slaves, and renamed La Concorde de Nantes. Sailing as a slave ship, she was captured by the pirate Captain Benjamin Hornigold on November 28, 1717, near the island of Martinique. Hornigold turned her over to one of his men, Edward Teach (later known as Blackbeard), and made him her captain. Teach then renamed her the Queen Anne's Revenge.[191] By 1750, slavery was a legal institution in all of the 13 American colonies,[192][193] and the profits of the slave trade and of West Indian plantations amounted to 5% of the British economy at the time of the Industrial Revolution.[194]

The trans-Atlantic slave trade peaked in the late 18th century, when the largest number of slaves were captured on raiding expeditions into the interior of West Africa. These expeditions were typically carried out by African kingdoms, such as the Oyo empire (Yoruba), the Ashanti Empire,[195] the kingdom of Dahomey,[196] and the Aro Confederacy.[197] Europeans rarely entered the interior of Africa, due to fierce African resistance. The slaves were brought to coastal outposts where they were traded for goods. A significant portion of African Americans in North America are descended from Mandinka people.[198] Through a series of conflicts, primarily with the Fulani Jihad States, about half of the Senegambian Mandinka were converted to Islam while as many as a third were sold into slavery to the Americas through capture in conflict.[198]

Slaves on a Virginia plantation (The Old Plantation, c. 1790).
Mid 19th century portrait of an older New Orleans woman with her child slave servant.

An estimated 12 million Africans arrived in the Americas from the 16th to the 19th centuries.[199] Of these, an estimated 645,000 were brought to what is now the United States. The usual estimate is that about 15% of slaves died during the voyage, with mortality rates considerably higher in Africa itself in the process of capturing and transporting indigenous peoples to the ships. Approximately 6 million black Africans were killed by others in tribal wars.[200]

Many Europeans who arrived in North America during the 17th and 18th centuries came under contract as indentured servants.[201] The transformation from indentured servitude to slavery was a gradual process in Virginia. The earliest legal documentation of such a shift was in 1640 where a negro, 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, as two white runaways received far lesser sentences.[202] After 1640, planters started to ignore the expiration of indentured contracts and kept their servants as slaves for life. This was demonstrated by the case Johnson v. Parker, where the court ruled that John Casor, an indentured servant, be returned to Johnson who claimed that Casor belonged to him for his life.[203][204] According to the 1860 U. S. census, 393,975 individuals, representing 8% of all US families, owned 3,950,528 slaves.[205] One-third of Southern families owned slaves.[206]

Funeral at slave plantation, Suriname. Colored lithograph printed circa 1840–1850, digitally restored.

The largest number of slaves were shipped to Brazil.[207] In the Spanish viceroyalty of New Granada, corresponding mainly to modern Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela, the free black population in 1789 was 420,000, whereas African slaves numbered only 20,000. Free blacks also outnumbered slaves in Brazil. By contrast, in Cuba, free blacks made up only 15% in 1827; and in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) it was a mere 5% in 1789.[208]

Author Charles Rappleye argued that

In the West Indies in particular, but also in North and South America, slavery was the engine that drove the mercantile empires of Europe..It appeared, in the eighteenth century, as universal and immutable as human nature.[209]

Lady in litter being carried by her slaves, province of São Paulo in Brazil, ca.1860.

Although the trans-Atlantic slave trade ended shortly after the American Revolution, slavery remained a central economic institution in the Southern states of the United States, from where slavery expanded with the westward movement of population.[210] Historian Peter Kolchin wrote, "By breaking up existing families and forcing slaves to relocate far from everyone and everything they knew" this migration "replicated (if on a reduced level) many of [the] horrors" of the Atlantic slave trade.[211]

Historian Ira Berlin called this forced migration the Second Middle Passage. Characterizing it as the "central event" in the life of a slave between the American Revolution and the Civil War, Berlin wrote that whether they were uprooted themselves or simply lived in fear that they or their families would be involuntarily moved, "the massive deportation traumatized black people, both slave and free.."[212]

By 1860, 500,000 slaves had grown to 4 million. As long as slavery expanded, it remained profitable and powerful and was unlikely to disappear. Although complete statistics are lacking, it is estimated that 1,000,000 slaves moved west from the Old South between 1790 and 1860.[213]

Most of the slaves were moved from Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. Michael Tadman, in a 1989 book Speculators and Slaves: Masters, Traders, and Slaves in the Old South, indicates that 60–70% of interregional migrations were the result of the sale of slaves. In 1820, a child in the Upper South had a 30% chance to be sold south by 1860.[213]

In Puerto Rico, African slavery was finally abolished on March 22, 1873.

Page Boy with slave collar, Dutch 17th-century painting.

Middle East

Main article: Arab slave trade
Ottoman wars in Europe resulted in many captive Christians being carried deep into Muslim territory.

According to Robert Davis, between 1 million and 1.25 million Europeans were captured by Barbary pirates and sold as slaves in North Africa and Ottoman Empire between the 16th and 19th centuries.[214][215] There was also an extensive trade in Christian slaves in the Black Sea region for several centuries until the Crimean Khanate was destroyed by the Russian Empire in 1783.[216] In the 1570s close to 20,000 slaves a year were being sold in the Crimean port of Kaffa.[217] The slaves were captured in southern Russia, Poland-Lithuania, Moldavia, Wallachia, and Circassia by Tatar horsemen.[218] Some researchers estimate that altogether more than 3 million people were captured and enslaved during the time of the Crimean Khanate.[219][220]

Persian slave in the Khanate of Khiva, 19th century
British captain witnessing the miseries of the Christian slaves in Algiers, 1815
The Arab enslavement of the Dinka people.

The Arab slave trade lasted more than a millennium.[221] As recently as the early 1960s, Saudi Arabia's slave population was estimated at 300,000.[222] Along with Yemen, the Saudis abolished slavery only in 1962.[223] Slaves in the Arab World came from many different regions, including Sub-Saharan Africa (mainly Zanj),[148] the Caucasus (mainly Circassians),[224] Central Asia (mainly Tartars), and Central and Eastern Europe (mainly Saqaliba).[225]

Under Omani Arabs Zanzibar became East Africa's main slave port, with as many as 50,000 enslaved Africans passing through every year during the 19th century.[226][227] Some historians estimate that between 11 and 18 million African slaves crossed the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Sahara Desert from 650 to 1900 AD.[3][228] Eduard Rüppell described the losses of Sudanese slaves being transported on foot to Egypt: "after the Daftardar bey's 1822 campaign in the southern Nuba mountains, nearly 40,000 slaves were captured. However, through bad treatment, disease and desert travel barely 5000 made it to Egypt.."[229]

The Moors, starting in the 8th century, also raided coastal areas around the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean, and became known as the Barbary pirates.[230] It is estimated that they captured 1.25 million white slaves from Western Europe and North America between the 16th and 19th centuries.[231][232] The mortality rate was very high. For instance, plague killed a third to two-thirds of the 30,000 occupants of the slave pens in Algiers in 1662.[214]


Main article: Abolitionism
Isaac Crewdson (Beaconite) writer Samuel Jackman Prescod - Barbadian Journalist William Morgan from Birmingham William Forster - Quaker leader George Stacey - Quaker leader William Forster - Anti-Slavery ambassador John Burnet -Abolitionist Speaker William Knibb -Missionary to Jamaica Joseph Ketley from Guyana George Thompson - UK & US abolitionist J. Harfield Tredgold - British South African (secretary) Josiah Forster - Quaker leader Samuel Gurney - the Banker's Banker Sir John Eardley-Wilmot Dr Stephen Lushington - MP and Judge Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton James Gillespie Birney - American John Beaumont George Bradburn - Massachusetts politician George William Alexander - Banker and Treasurer Benjamin Godwin - Baptist activist Vice Admiral Moorson William Taylor William Taylor John Morrison GK Prince Josiah Conder Joseph Soul James Dean (abolitionist) John Keep - Ohio fund raiser Joseph Eaton Joseph Sturge - Organiser from Birmingham James Whitehorne Joseph Marriage George Bennett Richard Allen Stafford Allen William Leatham, banker William Beaumont Sir Edward Baines - Journalist Samuel Lucas Francis August Cox Abraham Beaumont Samuel Fox, Nottingham grocer Louis Celeste Lecesne Jonathan Backhouse Samuel Bowly William Dawes - Ohio fund raiser Robert Kaye Greville - Botanist Joseph Pease, railway pioneer W.T.Blair M.M. Isambert (sic) Mary Clarkson -Thomas Clarkson's daughter in law William Tatum Saxe Bannister - Pamphleteer Richard Davis Webb - Irish Nathaniel Colver - American not known John Cropper - Most generous Liverpudlian Thomas Scales William James William Wilson Thomas Swan Edward Steane from Camberwell William Brock Edward Baldwin Jonathon Miller Capt. Charles Stuart from Jamaica Sir John Jeremie - Judge Charles Stovel - Baptist Richard Peek, ex-Sheriff of London John Sturge Elon Galusha Cyrus Pitt Grosvenor Rev. Isaac Bass Henry Sterry Peter Clare -; sec. of Literary & Phil. Soc. Manchester J.H. Johnson Thomas Price Joseph Reynolds Samuel Wheeler William Boultbee Daniel O'Connell - "The Liberator" William Fairbank John Woodmark William Smeal from Glasgow James Carlile - Irish Minister and educationalist Rev. Dr. Thomas Binney Edward Barrett - Freed slave John Howard Hinton - Baptist minister John Angell James - clergyman Joseph Cooper Dr. Richard Robert Madden - Irish Thomas Bulley Isaac Hodgson Edward Smith Sir John Bowring - diplomat and linguist John Ellis C. Edwards Lester - American writer Tapper Cadbury - Businessman not known Thomas Pinches David Turnbull - Cuban link Edward Adey Richard Barrett John Steer Henry Tuckett James Mott - American on honeymoon Robert Forster (brother of William and Josiah) Richard Rathbone John Birt Wendell Phillips - American M. L'Instant from Haiti Henry Stanton - American Prof William Adam Mrs Elizabeth Tredgold - British South African T.M. McDonnell Mrs John Beaumont Anne Knight - Feminist Elizabeth Pease - Suffragist Jacob Post - Religious writer Anne Isabella, Lady Byron - mathematician and estranged wife Amelia Opie - Novelist and poet Mrs Rawson - Sheffield campaigner Thomas Clarkson's grandson Thomas Clarkson Thomas Morgan Thomas Clarkson - main speaker George Head Head - Banker from Carlisle William Allen John Scoble Henry Beckford - emancipated slave and abolitionist Use your cursor to explore (or Click "i" to enlarge)
The painting of the 1840 Anti-Slavery Society Convention at Exeter Hall. Move your cursor to identify delegates or click the icon to enlarge.[233]

Slavery has existed, in one form or another, through recorded human history—as have, in various periods, movements to free large or distinct groups of slaves.

Ashoka, who ruled the Maurya Empire from 269–232 BCE, abolished the slave trade but not slavery.[234] The Qin dynasty, which ruled China from 221 to 206 BC, abolished slavery and discouraged serfdom. However, many of its laws were overturned when the dynasty was overthrown.[235] Slavery was again abolished, by Wang Mang, in China in 17 C.E but was reinstituted after his assassination.[236]

The Spanish colonization of the Americas sparked a discussion about the right to enslave native Americans. A prominent critic of slavery in the Spanish New World colonies was Bartolomé de las Casas, who opposed the enslavement of Native Americans, and later also of Africans in America.

One of the first protests against slavery came from German and Dutch Quakers in Pennsylvania in 1688.[237] One of the most significant milestones in the campaign to abolish slavery throughout the world occurred in England in 1772, with British judge Lord Mansfield, whose opinion in Somersett's Case was widely taken to have held that slavery was illegal in England. This judgement also laid down the principle that slavery contracted in other jurisdictions could not be enforced in England.[238] In 1777, Vermont, at the time an independent nation, became the first portion of what would become the United States to abolish slavery.[237] France abolished slavery in 1794.[237] There were celebrations in 2007 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the United Kingdom through the work of the British Anti-Slavery Society.

Joseph Jenkins Roberts, born in Virginia, was the first president of Liberia, which was founded in 1822 for freed American slaves.

William Wilberforce received much of the credit, although the groundwork was an anti-slavery essay by Thomas Clarkson. Wilberforce was also urged by his close friend, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, to make the issue his own, and was also given support by reformed Evangelical John Newton. The Slave Trade Act was passed by the British Parliament on March 25, 1807, making the slave trade illegal throughout the British Empire,[239] Wilberforce also campaigned for abolition of slavery in the British Empire, which he lived to see in the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. After the 1807 act abolishing the slave trade was passed, these campaigners switched to encouraging other countries to follow suit, notably France and the British colonies. In 1839, the world's oldest international human rights organization, Anti-Slavery International, was formed in Britain by Joseph Sturge, which campaigned to outlaw slavery in other countries.[240]

Between 1808 and 1860, the British West Africa Squadron seized approximately 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard.[241] Action was also taken against African leaders who refused to agree to British treaties to outlaw the trade, for example against "the usurping King of Lagos", deposed in 1851. Anti-slavery treaties were signed with over 50 African rulers.[242]

In the United States, abolitionist pressure produced a series of small steps towards emancipation. After January 1, 1808, the importation of slaves into the United States was prohibited,[243] but not the internal slave trade, nor involvement in the international slave trade externally. Legal slavery persisted; and those slaves already in the U.S. were legally emancipated only in 1863. Many American abolitionists took an active role in opposing slavery by supporting the Underground Railroad. Violent clashes between anti-slavery and pro-slavery Americans included Bleeding Kansas, a series of political and armed disputes in 1854-1861 as to whether Kansas would join the United States as a slave or free state. By 1860, the total number of slaves reached almost four million, and the American Civil War, beginning in 1861, led to the end of slavery in the United States.[244] In 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves held in the Confederate States; the 13th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution prohibited slavery throughout the country.

Photographed in 1863 – Peter, aka Gordon, a man who was enslaved in Mississippi.[245] This famous photo was distributed by abolitionists.[246]

In the 1860s, David Livingstone's reports of atrocities within the Arab slave trade in Africa stirred up the interest of the British public, reviving the flagging abolitionist movement. The Royal Navy throughout the 1870s attempted to suppress "this abominable Eastern trade", at Zanzibar in particular. In 1905, the French abolished indigenous slavery in most of French West Africa.[247]

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declared freedom from slavery is an internationally recognized human right. Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.[248]

In 2014, for the first time in history, major leaders of many religions, Buddhist, Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim, met to sign a shared commitment against modern-day slavery; the declaration they signed calls for the elimination of slavery and human trafficking by the year 2020.[249] The signatories were: Pope Francis, Mātā Amṛtānandamayī, Bhikkhuni Thich Nu Chân Không (representing Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh), Datuk K Sri Dhammaratana, Chief High Priest of Malaysia, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Rabbi David Rosen, Abbas Abdalla Abbas Soliman, Undersecretary of State of Al Azhar Alsharif (representing Mohamed Ahmed El-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar), Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi, Sheikh Naziyah Razzaq Jaafar, Special advisor of Grand Ayatollah (representing Grand Ayatollah Sheikh Basheer Hussain al Najafi), Sheikh Omar Abboud, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Metropolitan Emmanuel of France (representing Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.)[249]

Groups such as the American Anti-Slavery Group, Anti-Slavery International, Free the Slaves, the Anti-Slavery Society, and the Norwegian Anti-Slavery Society continue to campaign to eliminate slavery.

Remnants of slavery

In the case of freed slaves of the United States, many became share croppers and indentured servants. In this manner, some became tied to the very parcel of land into which they had been born a slave having little freedom or economic opportunity due to Jim Crow laws which perpetuated discrimination, limited education, promoted persecution without due process and resulted in continued poverty. Fear of reprisals such as unjust incarcerations and lynchings deterred upward mobility further.

Legal actions

In November 2006, the International Labour Organization announced it will be seeking "to prosecute members of the ruling Myanmar junta for crimes against humanity" over the continuous unfree labour of its citizens by the military at the International Court of Justice.[250][251] According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), an estimated 800,000 people are subject to forced labour in Myanmar.[252]

The Ecowas Court of Justice is hearing the case of Hadijatou Mani in late 2008, where Ms. Mani hopes to compel the government of Niger to end slavery in its jurisdiction. Cases brought by her in local courts have failed so far.[253]


Economists have attempted to model the circumstances under which slavery (and variants such as serfdom) appear and disappear. One observation is that slavery becomes more desirable for landowners where land is abundant but labour is scarce, such that rent is depressed and paid workers can demand high wages. If the opposite holds true, then it becomes more costly for landowners to have guards for the slaves than to employ paid workers who can only demand low wages due to the amount of competition.[254] Thus, first slavery and then serfdom gradually decreased in Europe as the population grew, but were reintroduced in the Americas and in Russia as large areas of new land with few people became available.[255] In his books, Time on the Cross and Without Consent or Contract: the Rise and Fall of American Slavery, Robert Fogel maintains that slavery was in fact a profitable method of production, especially on bigger plantations growing cotton that fetched high prices in the world market. It gave whites in the South higher average incomes than those in the North, but most of the money was spent on buying slaves and plantations.

Slave being whipped in Brazil, during the heyday of gold exploration in Minas Gerais (1770).

Slavery is more common when the labour done is relatively simple and thus easy to supervise, such as large-scale growing of a single crop. It is much more difficult and costly to check that slaves are doing their best and with good quality when they are doing complex tasks. Therefore, slavery was seen as the most efficient method of production for large-scale crops like sugar and cotton, whose output was based on economies of scale. This enabled a gang system of labor to be prominent on large plantations where field hands were monitored and worked with factory-like precision. Each work gang was based on an internal division of labor that not only assigned every member of the gang to a precise task but simultaneously made his or her performance dependent on the actions of the others. The hoe hands chopped out the weeds that surrounded the cotton plants as well as excessive sprouts. The plow gangs followed behind, stirring the soil near the rows of cotton plants and tossing it back around the plants. Thus, the gang system worked like an early version of the assembly line later to be found in factories.[256]

Critics since the 18th century have argued that slavery tends to retard technological advancement, since the focus is on increasing the number of slaves doing simple tasks rather than upgrading the efficiency of labour. Because of this, theoretical knowledge and learning in Greece—and later in Rome—was not applied to ease physical labour or improve manufacturing.[257]

Adam Smith made the argument that free labor was economically better than slave labor, and argued further that slavery in Europe ended during the Middle Ages, and then only after both the church and state were separate, independent and strong institutions,[258] that it is nearly impossible to end slavery in a free, democratic and republican forms of governments since many of its legislators or political figures were slave owners, and would not punish themselves, and that slaves would be better able to gain their freedom when there was centralized government, or a central authority like a king or the church.[259] Similar arguments appear later in the works of Auguste Comte, especially when it comes to Adam Smith's belief in the separation of powers or what Comte called the "separation of the spiritual and the temporal" during the Middle Ages and the end of slavery, and Smith's criticism of masters, past and present. As Smith stated in the Lectures on Jurisprudence, "The great power of the clergy thus concurring with that of the king set the slaves at liberty. But it was absolutely necessary both that the authority of the king and of the clergy should be great. Where ever any one of these was wanting, slavery still continues.."

The inspection and sale of a slave

Slaves can be an attractive investment because the slave-owner only needs to pay for sustenance and enforcement. This is sometimes lower than the wage-cost of free labourers, because free workers earn more than sustenance, in these cases slaves have positive price. When the cost of sustenance and enforcement exceeds the wage rate, slave-owning would no longer be profitable, and owners would simply release their slaves. Slaves are thus a more attractive investment in high-wage environments, and environments where enforcement is cheap, and less attractive in environments where the wage-rate is low and enforcement is expensive.[260]

Free workers also earn compensating differentials, whereby they are paid more for doing unpleasant work. Neither sustenance nor enforcement costs rise with the unpleasantness of the work, however, so slaves' costs do not rise by the same amount. As such, slaves are more attractive for unpleasant work, and less for pleasant work. Because the unpleasantness of the work is not internalised, being born by the slave rather than the owner, it is a negative externality and leads to over-use of slaves in these situations.[260]

The weighted average global sales price of a slave is calculated to be approximately $340, with a high of $1,895 for the average trafficked sex slave, and a low of $40 to $50 for debt bondage slaves in part of Asia and Africa.[35] Worldwide slavery is a criminal offense but slave owners can get very high returns for their risk. According to researcher Siddharth Kara, the profits generated worldwide by all forms of slavery in 2007 were $91.2 billion. That is second only to drug trafficking in terms of global criminal enterprises. The weighted average annual profits generated by a slave in 2007 was $3,175, with a low of an average $950 for bonded labor and $29,210 for a trafficked sex slave.[35] Approximately 40% of slave profits each year are generated by trafficked sex slaves, representing slightly more than 4% of the world's 29 million slaves.[35]

Robert E. Wright has developed a model that helps to predict when firms (individuals, companies) will be more likely to use slaves rather than wage workers, indentured servants, family members, or other types of laborers.[261]

Wage slavery

"The Hand That Will Rule The World—One Big Union"

The labour market, as institutionalised under today's market economic systems, has been criticised,[262] especially by both mainstream socialists and anarcho-syndicalists,[263][264][265][266] who utilise the term wage slavery[267][268] as a pejorative for wage labour. Socialists draw parallels between the trade of labour as a commodity and slavery. Cicero is also known to have suggested such parallels.[269]

For Marxists, labour-as-commodity, which is how they regard wage labour,[270] provides an absolutely fundamental point of attack against capitalism.[271] "It can be persuasively argued," noted one concerned philosopher[who?], "that the conception of the worker's labour as a commodity confirms Marx's stigmatization of the wage system of private capitalism as 'wage-slavery;' that is, as an instrument of the capitalist's for reducing the worker's condition to that of a slave, if not below it."[272][citation needed]


Throughout history, slaves were clothed in a distinctive fashion, particularly with respect to footwear or rather the lack thereof. This was both due to economic reasons as well as a distinguishing feature, especially in South Africa and South America. For example, the Cape Town slave code stated that "Slaves must go barefoot and must carry passes."[273] This was the case in the majority of states that abolished slavery later in history, as most images from the respective historical period suggest that slaves were barefoot.[274] To quote Brother Riemer (1779): "[the slaves] are, even in their most beautiful suit, obliged to go barefoot. Slaves were forbidden to wear shoes. This was a prime mark of distinction between the free and the bonded and no exceptions were permitted." [275]

As shoes have been considered badges of freedom since biblical times "But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put [it] on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on [his] feet (Luke 15:22)" this aspect has been an informal law wherever slavery existed. A barefoot person could therefore be clearly identified as a slave upon first sight. In certain societies this rule is valid to this day, as with the Tuareg slavery is still unofficially practiced and their slaves have to go barefoot.[276]


On May 21, 2001, the National Assembly of France passed the Taubira law, recognizing slavery as a crime against humanity. Apologies on behalf of African nations, for their role in trading their countrymen into slavery, remain an open issue since slavery was practiced in Africa even before the first Europeans arrived and the Atlantic slave trade was performed with a high degree of involvement of several African societies. The black slave market was supplied by well-established slave trade networks controlled by local African societies and individuals.[277] Indeed, as already mentioned in this article, slavery persists in several areas of West Africa until the present day.

There is adequate evidence citing case after case of African control of segments of the trade. Several African nations such as the Calabar and other southern parts of Nigeria had economies depended solely on the trade. African peoples such as the Imbangala of Angola and the Nyamwezi of Tanzania would serve as middlemen or roving bands warring with other African nations to capture Africans for Europeans.[278]

Several historians have made important contributions to the global understanding of the African side of the Atlantic slave trade. By arguing that African merchants determined the assemblage of trade goods accepted in exchange for slaves, many historians argue for African agency and ultimately a shared responsibility for the slave trade.[279]

In 1999, President Mathieu Kerekou of Benin (formerly the Kingdom of Dahomey) issued a national apology for the central role Africans played in the Atlantic slave trade.[280] Luc Gnacadja, minister of environment and housing for Benin, later said: "The slave trade is a shame, and we do repent for it."[281] Researchers estimate that 3 million slaves were exported out of the Slave Coast bordering the Bight of Benin.[281] President Jerry Rawlings of Ghana also apologized for his country's involvement in the slave trade.[280]

The issue of an apology is linked to reparations for slavery and is still being pursued by a number of entities across the world. For example, the Jamaican Reparations Movement approved its declaration and action Plan.

In September 2006, it was reported that the UK government might issue a "statement of regret" over slavery.[282] This was followed by a "public statement of sorrow" from Tony Blair on November 27, 2006,[283] and a formal apology on March 14, 2007.[284]

On February 25, 2007, the Commonwealth of Virginia resolved to 'profoundly regret' and apologize for its role in the institution of slavery. Unique and the first of its kind in the U. S., the apology was unanimously passed in both Houses as Virginia approached the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, where the first slaves were imported into North America in 1619.[285]

Liverpool, which was a large slave trading port, apologized in 1999. On August 24, 2007, Mayor Ken Livingstone of London, United Kingdom, apologized publicly for Britain's role in colonial slave trade.."ou can look across there to see the institutions that still have the benefit of the wealth they created from slavery," he said, pointing towards the financial district. He claimed that London was still tainted by the horrors of slavery. Specifically, London outfitted, financed, and insured many of the ships, which helped fund the building of London's docks. Jesse Jackson praised Livingstone, and added that reparations should be made, one of his common arguments.[286]

On July 30, 2008, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution apologizing for American slavery and subsequent discriminatory laws.[287] In June 2009, the US Senate passed a resolution apologizing to African-Americans for the "fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery".[288] The news was welcomed by President Barack Obama, the nation's first President of African descent.[289] Some of President Obama's ancestors were slave owners.[290]

In 2010, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi apologized for Arab involvement in the slave trade, saying: "I regret the behavior of the Arabs… They brought African children to North Africa, they made them slaves, they sold them like animals, and they took them as slaves and traded them in a shameful way."[291]


refer to caption
Monument to slaves in Zanzibar

There have been movements to achieve reparations for those formerly held as slaves, or sometimes their descendants. Claims for reparations for being held in slavery are handled as a civil law matter in almost every country. This is often decried as a serious problem, since former slaves' relative lack of money means they often have limited access to a potentially expensive and futile legal process. Mandatory systems of fines and reparations paid to an as yet undetermined group of claimants from fines, paid by unspecified parties, and collected by authorities have been proposed by advocates to alleviate this "civil court problem.."Since in almost all cases there are no living ex-slaves or living ex-slave owners these movements have gained little traction. In nearly all cases the judicial system has ruled that the statute of limitations on these possible claims has long since expired.

Other uses of the term

The word slavery is often used as a pejorative to describe any activity in which one is coerced into performing.

  • Proponents of animal rights apply the term slavery to the condition of some or all human-owned animals, arguing that their status is comparable to that of human slaves.[292]
  • Some argue that military drafts and other forms of coerced government labour constitute state-operated slavery.[293][294]
  • Some socialists, view total and immediate wage dependence as a form of slavery.[295]
  • Some libertarians and anarcho-capitalists view government taxation as a form of slavery.[296]
  • Some Antipsychiatry proponents apply the term slavery to the involuntary psychiatric patient. There are no unbiased physical tests for mental illness, and the psychiatric patient must follow the orders of his/her psychiatrist. Drapetomania was a psychiatric diagnosis for a slave who did not want to be a slave. Thomas Szasz wrote a book titled "Psychiatric Slavery",[297] published in 1998 and a book titled " Liberation by Oppression: A Comparative Study of Slavery and Psychiatry",[298] published in 2003.

In film

Film has been the most influential medium in the presentation of the history of slavery to the general public around the world.[299] The American film industry has had a complex relationship with slavery and until recent decades often avoided the topic. Films such as Birth of a Nation (1915)[300] and Gone with the Wind (1939) became controversial because they gave a favorable depiction. The last favorable treatment was Song of the South from Disney in 1946. In 1940 The Santa Fe Trail gave a liberal but ambiguous interpretation of John Brown's attacks on slavery—the film does not know what to do with slavery.[301] The Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s made defiant slaves into heroes.[302] The question of slavery in American memory necessarily involves its depictions in feature films.[303]

Spartacus sheetA.jpg

Most Hollywood films used American settings, although Spartacus (1960), dealt with an actual revolt in the Roman Empire known as the Third Servile War. It failed and all the rebels were executed, but their spirit lived on according to the film.[304] The Last Supper (La última cena in Spanish) was a 1976 film directed by Cuban Tomás Gutiérrez Alea about the teaching of Christianity to slaves in Cuba, and emphasizes the role of ritual and revolt. Burn! takes place on the imaginary Portuguese island of Queimada (where the locals speak Spanish) and it merges historical events that took place in Brazil, Cuba, Santo Domingo, Jamaica, and elsewhere. Spartacus stays surprisingly close to the historical record.[305]

Historians agree that films have largely shaped historical memories, but they debate issues of accuracy, plausibility, moralism, sensationalism, how facts are stretched in search of broader truths, and suitability for the classroom.[306][307] Berlin argues that critics complain if the treatment emphasizes historical brutality, or if it glosses over the harshness to highlight the emotional impact of slavery.[308]

Year Title [309][310] Film genre Director Actor Country Book Author
1915 The Birth of a Nation Historical drama / epic D. W. Griffith Lillian Gish  United States The Clansman Thomas Dixon, Jr.
1960 Spartacus Historical drama / epic Stanley Kubrick Kirk Douglas  United States    
1968 Angélique and the Sultan Drama Bernard Borderie    France Angélique in Barbary Anne Golon
1969 Queimada (Burn!) Drama Gillo Pontecorvo Marlon Brando  Italy    
1975 Mandingo Drama, Exploitation film Richard Fleischer Ken Norton  United States Mandingo Kyle Onstott
1977 Roots (TV series) Historical drama Chomsky, Erman, Greene and Moses    United States Roots: The Saga of an American Family Alex Haley
1997 Amistad Drama Steven Spielberg    United States    
1998 Beloved Drama Jonathan Demme    United States   Toni Morrison
2000 Gladiator Historical epic Ridley Scott Russell Crowe  United Kingdom,  United States  
2005 500 Years Later Documentary Owen 'Alik Shahadah    United Kingdom,  United States    
2006 Amazing Grace Historical drama Michael Apted    United Kingdom,  United States    
2007 Trade Thriller Marco Kreuzpaintner    Germany,  United States    
2010 The Slave Hunters Historical drama Kwak Jung-hwan    South Korea    
2012 Lincoln Historical drama / epic Steven Spielberg    United States Doris Kearns Goodwin
2012 Django Unchained Western Quentin Tarantino Jamie Foxx  United States    
2013 12 Years a Slave Historical drama Steve McQueen Chiwetel Ejiofor  United Kingdom,  United States Twelve Years a Slave Solomon Northup

See also


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Bibliography and further reading

Surveys and reference

  • Bales, Kevin, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy (1999)
  • Campbell, Gwyn, Suzanne Miers, and Joseph C. Miller, eds. Women and Slavery. Volume 1: Africa, the Indian Ocean World, and the Medieval Atlantic; Women and Slavery. Volume 2: The Modern Atlantic (2007)
  • Davies, Stephen (2008). "Slavery, World". In Hamowy, Ronald. The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE; Cato Institute. pp. 464–9. ISBN 978-1-4129-6580-4. LCCN 2008009151. OCLC 750831024. 
  • Davis, David Brion. The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823 (1999)
  • Davis, David Brion. The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (1988)
  • Drescher, Seymour. Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery (2009) highly regarded history of slavery and its abolition, worldwide
  • Finkelman, Paul, ed. Encyclopedia of Slavery (1999)
  • Gordon, M. Slavery in the Arab World (1989)
  • Greene, Jacqueline. Slavery in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, (2001), ISBN 0-531-16538-8
  • Joseph, Celucien L. Race, Religion, and The Haitian Revolution: Essays on Faith, Freedom, and Decolonization (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012)
  • Joseph, Celucien L. From Toussaint to Price-Mars: Rhetoric, Race, and Religion in Haitian Thought (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013)
  • Lal, K. S. (1994). Muslim Slave System in Medieval India. ISBN 81-85689-67-9. Archived from the original on 2008-05-12. 
  • Miers, Suzanne, and Igor Kopytoff, eds. Slavery In Africa: Historical & Anthropological Perspectives (1979)
  • Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery and the British Empire: From Africa to America (2008)
  • Postma, Johannes. The Atlantic Slave Trade, (2003)
  • Rodriguez, Junius P., ed., The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery (1997)
  • Rodriguez, Junius P., ed. Slavery in the United States: A Social, Political, and Historical Encyclopedia (2007)
  • Shell, Robert Carl-Heinz Children Of Bondage: A Social History Of The Slave Society At The Cape Of Good Hope, 1652–1813 (1994)
  • Westermann, William Linn The Slave Systems of Greek and Roman Antiquity (1955), ISBN 0-87169-040-3
Uncited sources
  • Hogendorn, Jan and Johnson Marion: The Shell Money of the Slave Trade. African Studies Series 49, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1986.
  • The Slavery Reader, ed. by Rigas Doganis, Gad Heuman, James Walvin, Routledge 2003
United States
Slavery in the modern era

External links