Written by Classical Liberal


A slave is forbidden to quit their service for another person (a slaver) while treated as property. People were enslaved when they were indebted, broke the law, or suffered a military defeat. Slaves were either enslaved for life or a fixed period.  Individuals, then, usually became slaves involuntarily due to force or coercion, although there was also voluntary slavery to pay a debt or obtain money for some purpose. In human history, slavery was a typical feature of civilisation and legal in most societies. In all countries of the world, slavery is outlawed, except as a punishment for crime. In chattel slavery, the enslaved person is legally the personal property (chattel) of the slave owner.

Whenever Black Lives Matter’s (BLM) leaders, or other so-called progressives, make a case for affirmative action favouring black people, it always comes down to slavery. They argue that white people enslaved and oppressed black people and should make amends for these historic wrongs. The mainstream media usually back them and suggest that slavery is synonymous with white people enslaving black people in the Southern states of the USA and the West Indies.

This narrative largely ignores three points that I wish to make here. First, some black people were slavers themselves. I will demonstrate this point by focusing upon the African slave trade. Second, some white people were the victims of slavery. I will prove this point by focusing on the Ottoman Empire. Third, slavery became widespread with the invention of agriculture during the Neolithic Revolution about 11,000 years ago. Thus, slavery was diverse and involved much more than just white people enslaving black people. I will show that people of every skin colour and religious creed have been slavers and slaves. It is impossible to make sweeping generalisations about white people being slavers and black people being slaves. 

I will now turn to my first point: that the history of the African slave trade shows that many black people were involved in the slave trade.

Slavery was widespread in Africa, which pursued both internal and external slave trade. In the Senegambia region, between 1300 and 1900, close to one-third of the population was enslaved. In early Islamic states of the western Sahel, including GhanaMaliSegou, and Songhai, about a third of the population were slaves. 

During the trans-Saharan slave trade, slaves from West Africa were transported across the Sahara desert to North Africa and sold to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern civilizations. The Indian Ocean slave trade, sometimes known as the East African slave trade, was multi-directional. Africans were sent as slaves to the Arabian Peninsula, to Indian Ocean islands (including Madagascar), to the Indian subcontinent, and later to the Americas. These traders captured Bantu peoples (Zanj) from the interior in present-day KenyaMozambique, and Tansania and brought them to the coast.  

Historically, slaves in the Arab World came from many different regions, including Sub-Saharan Africa (mainly Zanj), the Caucasus (mainly Circassians), Central Asia (mainly Tartars), and Central and Eastern Europe (mainly Slavs).

Some historians assert that slave traders sold as many as 17 million people into slavery across the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, and North Africa. Approximately 5 million African slaves were bought by Muslim slave traders and taken from Africa across the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Sahara desert between 1500 and 1900. Slaveowners purchased these captives throughout the Middle East. This trade accelerated as superior ships led to more business and greater demand for labour on plantations in the region. Tens of thousands of Africans became slaves every year. The Indian Ocean slave trade was multi-directional and changed over time. Bantu slaves bought by east African slave traders from South-Eastern Africa were sold in cumulatively large numbers over the centuries to customers in Egypt, Arabia, the Persian Gulf, India, European colonies in the Far East, the Indian Ocean islands, Ethiopia and Somalia. 

When the Atlantic slave trade began, many local slave systems began supplying captives for chattel slave markets outside Africa. Although the Atlantic slave trade was not the only slave trade from Africa, it was the largest in volume and intensity. The most significant number of slaves were captured on raiding expeditions into the interior of West Africa when the trans-Atlantic slave trade peaked in the late 18th century. African kingdoms, such as the Oyo empire (Yoruba), the Ashanti Empire, the kingdom of Dahomey, and the Aro Confederacy, typically carried out these expeditions. About 15 percent of slaves died during the voyage, with mortality rates considerably higher in Africa in capturing and transporting indigenous peoples to the ships.

I am moving on now to my second point: that the history of the Ottoman Empire shows that many white people were slaves. 

Large-scale trading in slaves in early medieval Europe occurred in the South and East. The Byzantine Empire and the Muslim World were the destinations. Simultaneously, 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. 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.

To staff its bureaucracy, the Ottoman Empire established a janissary system that 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 scheme ended. 

In Constantinople, about one-fifth of the population consisted of slaves. The city was a major centre of the slave trade in the 15th and later centuries. Slaves were provided by Tatar raids on Slavic villages and by conquest and the suppression of rebellions, in the aftermath of which entire populations were sometimes enslaved and sold across the Empire, reducing the risk of a future revolution. The Ottomans also purchased slaves from traders who brought slaves into the Empire from Europe and Africa. Approximately 200,000 slaves – mainly Circassians – were imported into the Ottoman Empire between 1800 and 1909.

Eastern Europe suffered a series of Tatar invasions, the goal of which was to loot and capture slaves into the devşirme. Seventy-five Crimean Tatar raids occurred in Poland and Lithuania between 1474 and 1569.

Medieval Spain and Portugal was the scene of an 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.

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. The slaves were captured in southern Russia, Poland-LithuaniaMoldaviaWallachia, and Circassia by Tatar horsemen and sold in the Crimean port of Kaffa. About 2 million predominantly Christian slaves were exported over the 16th and 17th centuries until the Russian Empire destroyed the Crimean Khanate in 1783. 

The Central Asian khanate of Khiva was the central market for captured Russian and Persian slaves. In the early 1840s, the Uzbek states of Bukhara and Khiva included about 900,000 slaves.  


(To be continued tomorrow with Part 2)


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