Roots of slavery
Slavery can broadly be described as the ownership, buying and selling of human beings for the purpose of forced and unpaid labour. It is an ancient practice, mentioned in both the Bible and the Koran.
As for those of your slaves which wish to buy their liberty, free them if you find in them any promise and bestow on them a part of the riches which God has given you. - Koran, Chapter 24, Verse 32.
Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.
- Old Testament, Ephesians 6, Chapter 6, Verse 8.
Indeed, the main religious texts of Judaism, Islam and Christianity all recognise slaves as a separate class of people in society. Going back further in time the Mayans and Aztecs kept slaves in the Americas, as did the Sumerians and Babylonians in the Near East. The Egyptians employed huge numbers of slaves, including the Jews, Europeans and Ethiopians.
The Greeks and Romans kept slaves as soldiers, servants, labourers and even civil servants. The Romans captured slaves from what is now Britain, France and Germany. Slave armies were kept by the Ottomans and Egyptians.
In Imperial Russia in the first half of the 19th century one third of the population were serfs, who like slaves in the Americas, had the status of chattels and could be bought and sold. They were finally freed in 1861 by Emperor Alexander II. Four years later slavery was abolished in the southern states of America following southern defeat in the American Civil War.
In Africa there were a number of societies and kingdoms which kept slaves, before there was any regular commercial contact with Europeans, including the Asanti, the Kings of Bonny and Dahomey.
Find out more in African Slave Owners.
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