Slavery’s Global Impact and Economic Justifications, Today and Yesterday
Slavery existed in some form in every region of the world. During the earliest civilizations, slave labor built nations and empires in Europe, Egypt, Greece, Asia and Africa. Thousands of years later, the Portuguese, Dutch and English realized the profit value that a market in human capital would provide. Africans were exported from their homeland to the New World under the most miserable conditions imaginable. Prof. Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship, A Human History says, “We’re fascinated by all the tall ships except the most important one, and that’s the slave ship. And that one we can hardly bear to look at”. Slaves were packed like sardines below the ships stinking decks, and as many as 1.5 million perished as a result of illness, suicide, insurrection, and sometimes murder by example (Rediker, 2007). African slaves were treated as less than human, and used as labor for the sugar cane fields of the Caribbean. They were considered the cash cow of the modern world’s economy; the human capital that would be central to the growth of the economy in a country that was nearly torn apart by abolition, civil war and slave revolts as a result of state’s rights and the slavery debate.
The history of slavery is firmly rooted in our consciousness from pre-Columbian to colonial days and it is up to the reader to wrestle with and conceptualize the complexities of slavery’s history. While slavery has historically been the catalyst that has brought outrage and racial unrest, slave owners justified the need for slavery because it was considered to be beneficial to the country for economic reasons. Abraham Lincoln once said “Although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of a man who wishes to take the good of it by being a slave himself.” The inhumanity of slavery subjected Africans to much suffering upon their arrival to the
New World as the illustration depicts below:
Slavery has taken several forms since its inception and has been practiced in all the ancient civilizations of Africa, Asia, Europe and pre-Columbian America. During ancient times, slaves were regarded as one of the spoils of war and became the property of kings, priests and temples. Rome was the victor against Carthage in the first and last of the three Punic wars fought for control of the Mediterranean Sea. “Punic” was derived from the word “Poenicus” which meant ‘dark skin’ or ‘Phoenician’. Rome continued to expand its territories after the second war, starting the third war in 149 BC after becoming involved in a dispute regarding Africa and taking Numibia’s side against Carthage. Carthage was defeated and Africa became a Roman province. After the Punic Wars, Rome became a slave-based society, putting slaves to work on large and profitable plantations.
During different dynasties in China, slaves were acquired through war and kidnappings; some peasants borrowed money they could not repay. Others would lose their land to nobles and rich merchants. They would be forced to work the land without any hope of ever owning it again. When emperors would try to intervene to redistribute the land equally to the peasantry, the nobles and merchants would reacquire it. However, in times of crisis, the Chinese government recognized how important peasants were to the country’s survival and began to make sure they were cared for. The population of slaves was as small as one percent in China for the men and women who worked as slaves in households for royalty taking care of horses, banging drums to mark the time of day, opening and closing doors for people entering the palace, waiting on guests of the royal family, and very rarely working on farms. When resources were scarce, peasants sold themselves to have a place to eat or live, or sold their children into...
References: Beetz, K. (2009) "Slaves and slavery in ancient Asia and the Pacific." In Bogucki, Peter, ed.
Encyclopedia of Society and Culture in the Ancient World. Retrieval date June 15, 2009,
New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2008
Rediker, M. (2007). The slave ship, a human history. Viking Press. Penguin Group. October 4,
Rodriguez, J.P., & Day, A. (Ed.). (1999). Chronology of world slavery. EMERALD JOURNAL,
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