Humans are hounded by an incessant urge to dominate fellow human beings. Their self assumed hegemony has led them to afflict the downtrodden with enslavement. This culture of intimidating the already browbeaten is deep rooted in human culture since forever. Slavery has been in practice from the ancient times to the present day. People who were enslaved came from various ethnicities. It is only in recent times that United Nations General Assembly outlawed all forms of slavery adopting the declaration of human rights in 1948. Freedom from slavery was declared as basic human right and it was discouraged at all levels.
History of slavery
The hallmark of slavery was loss of freedom of movement and legal rights. Slaves were considered as the possession of the owners who had the complete authority over them. Slavery became a trend specially in regions where workforce was needed and in civilizations where slaves were used as status symbol. The greater the number of slaves the wealthier the person used to be. Due to recurrent and continuous war there was a large number of slaves produced. War prisoners were enslaved by the ruling class.
Slavery in Mesopotamia
The oldest known slave society was found in Mesopotamia a Sumerian civilization in Iraq/Iran region between 6000 and 7000 BCE. The oldest written evidence of existence of slavery was found in Hammurabi code of 1754 BCE which states “ If anyone takes a male or female slave of the court, or a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates, he shall be put to death”
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Slavery in Egypt
There is a profound history of slavery in ancient Egypt back in times when Pharaoh ruled Egypt during 3000 BC. There were also biblical statement of exodus whereby Mosses freed Israelites. This is one of the oldest written record of slaves attaining freedom. Egypt was one of those civilizations whose economy depended on the slavery. However there were some set of rules for the master-slave relationship such as a master could not force a child into hard physical labour. There were no slave markets and any selling or buying of slaves was considered as government’s affair.
Slavery in Ancient Greece
Worst slavery culture was in practice in ancient Greece and it won’t be wrong to label ancient Greece as the first true “slave society” because there economy was entirely dependent on slavery and almost third of their population was subjected to slavery. However there was a form of manumission for the slave to free them selves whereby they could either buy the freedom or their owner set them free willingly. But this was not a complete freedom because slaves were never able to live a life as a complete citizen. They were bound to pay a duty to their former masters.
Slavery in Roman Empire
With the expansion of Roman empire the institution of slavery also expanded. During the peaks of Roman empire the 30% of population was enslaved. Most of the slaves were produced from War who also served as craftsmen or females as hairdressers or teachers for the young children. There were strict punishments for the revolted slaves for example when a slave killed his master all other slaves in the master’s house were hanged to death as a retribution. However, unlike Greece, freed slaves in Rome were given the right to become a full Roman citizen and he could enjoy all the rights of a free man.
Slavery in Britain
After the fall of Roman empire a reorganization of the slave society in the Great Britain was seen. When Vikings invaded the Ireland Scotland and England slave market thrived under his rule, though he did not leave a written evidence, but archaeologists found some important clues of existence of slavery during the invasion of Vikings specially in Dublin. During that period slaves had absolutely no rights they were treated even worse than animals. They were murdered for fun or for rituals. Many slaves were beheaded and female slaves were raped because the pregnant slaves were sold at higher prices. Later in 1066, when William the conqueror, conquered the Britain 10 percent of the population was classed as slaves. By the end of 1200s slavery almost came to an end due to the efforts of early abolitionists such as Bishop Wulfstan of Worcester who preached publicly to end the slavery.
Emergence of Serfdom
With an end to the traditional slavery in Britain serfdom came into practice in feudal Europe. Serfdom was status of many peasants in Europe. Serfs were not like conventional slaves, but they had to toil on the lands of European feudal Lords. They were not the property of any one but they did not have right to move freely and had debt-bondage with there Lords which kept them tied to their lands. Serfs had to pay for the shelter they were provided either in cash or through labour. Serfdom remained in practice till “black death” in 14th century. Black death helped the serfdom to gain a higher status due to low workforce and greater demand for workers. Serfs were able to negotiate for their freedom or increment in wages. Though serfdom was abolished, but it was seen in practice in many parts of Europe till late 19th century.
Indentured servitude was another form of slavery. It was a form of labour where by person contacted to work without pay for a specific number of year. It was practiced during the colonial era when transatlantic slavery was on peak. Prisoners had an option to escape capital punishment by choosing servitude for 7 years or more. Indentured servants were restricted by their masters. They did have the freedom of movement, they could not marry without the consent from their master could not get justice from the court as a free man could get. Usually it was the poorest of the society who had to opt for this form debt-bondage.
Slavery in Africa
Africans were subjected to slavery by Portuguese in a huge number. Even many of the African rulers traded African slaves in exchange for materials such as tin. Portuguese and Spanish traded the local African slaves and they dominated the slave market. This was the time when transatlantic slavery trade began. Slave traders used to import goods from European countries in exchange to the slaves. Bristol was major port used for this trade. It existed from 16th century till 19th century. In this transatlantic trade almost 3.4 million Africans were taken from their homes and shipped across the Atlantic.
Another form of slave trade was carried out by Barbary pirates who raided the European countries and used to take common people forcibly from the ports and the villages and were traded to Africa. About 1.2 million European were enslaved during 1500 to 1900 until Britain and America fought a war against these pirates.
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Slavery was abolished completely during the 19th century followed by declaration of human rights of freedom by United Nations General Assembly in 20th century.
Despite the fact that any form of slavery was declared illegal, it is still in practice in many parts of the world. Even today, many people are abducted and become a victim of human trafficking. Millions of people go missing each year and become a prey to the dark world of crimes where humans are smuggled and subjected to lifelong slavery. Many international organizations are active to eradicate this inhumane activity around the globe. It is high time that world should endorse the fact that humans are born free and enslaving them is a major crime.