Where Did Slavery First Develop?

The concept of one person owning another dates back to prehistoric times, and is still being fought against today.


What Is Slavery?

In the institution known as slave, the productive capacity and very life of a slave is owned by its master, whether the person becomes a slave by birth or whenever that person is captured or purchased by others. Some forms of slavery have been abolished as accepted practices globally, though persons from around the globe could still be defined as "slaves", in that they are forced by others to work with few rights and minuscule levels of compensation for their labor. Even the data collected in the present time states that there are around nearly 36 million people who are still slaves across the globe today, including children forced into labor, domestic servants, and human trafficking victims.

Types of Slavery

Various types of slavery which still exist today are:

Forced Labor: When a person is said to be working against their own will and is being exploited commercially by the person who owns them, and they cannot receive true freedom for being threatened continuously. The African-American community was regarded as the same during the antebellum period in America. Even today, many people involved in prostitution, human trafficking, serfdom, and by some definitions penal labor, are also forced laborers.

Bonded Labor: This is also known as "debt labor", since the person is being exploited by another to whom they are unable to pay off their debts. Bonded laborers must keep working until the time they pay off the entirety of their debts. In this, the employer may enter an agreement with the debtor, but still the terms and conditions remain unlawful in most parts of the world.

Sex Slavery: This is the most prevalent form of slavery today, as men, women, and even children are exploited for commercial sex, and they are being used in such industries as prostitution, strip clubs, erotic dancing, and online escort services. These people are exploited and not paid the money value, but may be given in exchange food, clothing, drugs, or shelter. Many modern sex slaves are victims of human trafficking.

Forced Child Labor: This is the most prominent form of slavery in current times, wherein the children are bought and sold commercially, usually by their families, either to pay off the debts of the family or to work as commercial sex workers. These children are below 18 years of age, and are made to forcefully work in hazardous places, conduct prostitution work, act as domestic servants, and serve in armies (both rogue and recognized).

Prehistoric Slavery

It was seen that during prehistoric times the prisoner of war slaves were sold by the countries that used to capture them, and included slaves of people from all regions and ethnicities. Even graves which are dated back to 8,000 BC in Egypt depict the enslavement of the San tribe. There are some earlier records which state the slavery to be an established institution, and the Code of Hammurabi from 1760 BC directed authorities to penalize people with death if they helped any slave to escape. Following this time, slavery became increasingly prevalent in Ancient Egypt, India, Greece, China, the Akkadian Empire, and the Roman Empire.

Slavery in Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome

It was seen that approximately 80% of the population was held as slaves and servants in the kingdoms of Ancient Egypt. Many became so after becoming unable to pay off their debts, while some used labor as a means to garner shelter or food to eat. They were put to various forms of work, including gardening, the care of their owners' children, cooking, and crafting, while some of the worst forms of labor came for those working in the Ancient Egyptian mines. In the land of ancient Greece, forced labor was practiced by the owners, and the condition from slave to slave also varied according to their work. These slaves were seen to be put to work in the mines under bad conditions, as well for use as domestic servants. Interestingly, some slaves were even used to serve in the police and military forces. In the city and empire of Rome, many of the people were also made slaves, and were usually forced to work in the households and agricultural fields and mines, though some became craftsmen, some worked as sex slaves, and some even entertained audiences fighting to the death in arenas as "gladiators". Most Roman slaves were either criminals, debtors, or captured people from the conquered areas of the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East, Western Europe, and Germany.

The Arab Slave Trade

The Arab slave trade mainly started during the Muslim conquests of the Middle Ages, and it was practiced in the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and Southeast Africa. It was believed that approximately 18 million people were made slaves under this Arab slave trade, and they hailed from parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe alike. The slaves were mainly shipped by the Arabs to different regions for menial work, such as plantation work, agricultural work, mining, and much more. The slavery in this region especially boomed in the 16th Century, and continued on until the 19th Century.

Slavery Among African Tribes

The slavery amongst African tribes, especially West Africa, still prevailed until almost the present time. In Africa, most of the slaves were traditionally used as domestic servants, used on the agricultural lands and mineral extraction industries, and as royal court slaves. Until today, the varied forms of slavery practiced in Africa constituted debt slavery, criminal slavery, and the enslavement of wartime captives.

Slavery In The Americas

Institutionalized slavery in the Americas, especially what is now the Caribbean and the Southeastern United States, was practiced between the 16th and 19th Centuries. The slaves were mostly African-Americans who were brought into the region of the New World for that very purpose. The slaves were usually made to work for large-scale agricultural plantations, especially the sugar colonies in the Caribbean and cotton, rice, tobacco, and indigo plantations in the Southern United States. The number of slaves in British North America were estimated to stand at around 600,000 to 700,000 during the pre-Revolutionary Colonial period in what is now the United States of America, and rising to around 4 million in the U.S. at the onset of the Civil War.

Religious Views on Slavery

Various religions carry different views on slavery, as some New World Christians thought it to be a part of the social environment, and that these people were justly held as captives from war or to pay off their debts. Whereas in Judaism, Islam, Hindu society, and Buddhism, the slaves were made either as chattel slaves, to work in their farms to clear the debts, and even their children were also subjected, and the wartime captives were also commonly held as slaves.

Evolution of Abolitionist Movements Through the Ages

This American Abolition movement started in 1688, and continued until the abolition of slavery in the United States in the 1860s. It all started with the publications of the antislavery novels that fueled many people's desires to take part in an abolitionist uprising in Britain, America, and European countries. Quakers, a Christian group in the Americas, took the center of the stage in the movement, and also established the first abolitionist society in the Americas in the year 1776. Shortly afterwards, many newly formed Caribbean and Latin American nations, and European countries with New World colonies, began to institute varied laws for slavery's abolition in their jurisdictions as well.

Ongoing Fights Against Slavery Today

Nowadays, even after the declaration of various human rights charters and the abolition of slavery through nations' respective constitutional laws, slavery can still be witnessed in various forms. The main forms are prostitution, human trafficking, child labor, and sex slavery. These people are often transported from one country to other to work under adverse conditions. Unfortunately, until more people recognize the extent that modern slavery still exists and take a stance against it, it will likely continue to be seen across much of our globe.


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