Slavery existed in some of Africa’s earliest organized societies. More than 3,500 years ago, ancient Egyptians raided neighboring societies for slaves, and the buying and selling of slaves were regular activities in cities along the Nile River.
Warfare was not the only reason for the practice of slavery in Africa, however. In many African societies, slavery represented one of the few methods of producing wealth available to common people. Land was typically held communally by villages or large clans and was allotted to families according to their need. The amount of land a family needed was determined by the number of laborers that family could marshal to work the land. To increase production, a family had to invest in more laborers and thus increase their share of land.
The simplest and quickest way to do this was to invest in slaves. To help service this demand, many early African societies conducted slave raids on distant villages In Africa, as in many places around the world, early slavery likely resulted from warring groups taking captives.
Around the 15th century BC, Egypt’s New Kingdom enslaved non-Africans, such as Jews from Palestine, through warfare and imported them to the Nile Valley. As an African importer of non-African slaves, however, ancient Egypt is a notable exception to the rule. Africa’s role in the history of transcontinental slave trading has generally been as a provider or exporter of slaves for use outside of Africa.
After the 5th century BC, Greeks and, later, Romans came to dominate the Mediterranean Sea. Both of these slave-owning powers raided North Africa extensively for slaves. This practice of using Africa as a source of slaves would be adopted and expanded first by Arab Muslims and later by Europeans.
The Trans-Saharan and East African Slave Trades, The spread of Islam from Arabia into Africa after the religion’s founding in the 7th century AD affected the practice of slavery and slave trading in West, Central, and East Africa. Arabs had practiced slave raiding and trading in Arabia for centuries prior to the founding of Islam, and slavery became a component of Islamic traditions. Both the Qur’an (Koran) (the sacred scripture of Islam) and Islamic religious law served to codify and justify the existence of slavery. As Muslim Arabs conquered their way westward across North Africa in the 7th and 8th centuries, their victorious leaders rewarded themselves with Berber captives, most of whom were eventually enrolled in Muslim armies. Over time, large segments of North Africa’s Berber population converted to Islam. The religion spread to the camel herders of the Sahara Desert, who were in contact with black Africans south of the Sahara and who traded small numbers of black slaves. Muslim Arabs expanded this trans-Saharan slave trade, buying or seizing, increasing numbers of black Africans in West Africa, leading them across the Sahara, and selling them in North Africa. From there, most of these slaves were exported to far-off Asian destinations such as the eastern Mediterranean, Anatolia (in present-day Turkey), Arabia, Persia (present-day Iran), and India.
The trans-Saharan slave trade grew significantly from the 10th to the 15th century, as vast African empires such as Ghana, Mali, Songhai, and Kanem-Bornu developed south of the Sahara and marshaled the trade.
Arab slave raiders also penetrated south, up the Nile River to present-day Ethiopia, capturing thousands of slaves and sending them down the Nile to Egypt. Over the course of more than a thousand years, the trans-Saharan slave trade saw the movement of at least 10 million enslaved men, women, and children from West and East Africa to North Africa, the Middle East, and India.
The slaves and their descendants contributed to the harems, royal households, and armies of the Arab, Turkish, and Persian rulers in those regions over the course of more than a thousand years, the trans-Saharan slave trade saw the movement of at least 10 million enslaved men, women, and children from West and East Africa to North Africa, the Middle East, and India. The slaves and their descendants contributed to the harems, royal households, and armies of the Arab, Turkish, and Persian rulers in those regions.
The slave trades contributed to the development of powerful African states on the southern fringes of the Sahara and in the East African interior. The economies of these states were dependent on slave trading. Neighboring states competed with one another for trade, leading to wars, which in turn led to the capture of more slaves. In 1807 the slave trade was outlawed in Britain and the United States. Britain outlawed the practice of slavery in all British territory in 1833; France did the same in its colonies in 1848. In 1865, following the American Civil War, the U.S. government adopted the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ending slavery in the United States. The Atlantic slave trade continued, however, until 1888, when Brazil abolished slavery (the last New World country to do so). One of the main justifications European powers gave for colonizing nearly the entire African continent during the 1880s and 1890s was the desire to end slave trading and slavery in Africa. By the dawn of the 20th century, European forces had defeated most African slave trading states……