Slavery, III (History of)
SLAVERY, III (HISTORY OF)
Although slavery was found among all peoples of antiquity, an account of its development until its abolition in the most advanced countries during the 19th century can be limited to the Christian Era, beginning, that is, when Rome ruled the entire Mediterranean world.
Slavery in the Roman Empire. The legal status of the slave improved measurably toward the end of the Roman Republic and especially under the roman em pire. The powers of masters were reduced by law. It was forbidden to deliver a slave to wild beasts without a formal judicial sentence, and any master who mistreated a slave was obliged to sell him. An ailing or aged slave who was abandoned by his master was freed ipso facto. By degrees, the magistrate replaced the master as judge in slave proceedings. The idea of the slave as a person, still vague, gradually became more precise. These innovations reflected the theories of stoicism that had begun to exert an influence in the first century before the Christian Era. In the early Empire, seneca maintained that slavery was merely corporal and that the spirit remained sui juris. Ideas such as these soon infiltrated the works of jurists, as can be seen in the well-known text of Florentinus: "Slavery is a creation of the ius gentium, by which a man is subjected, contrary to nature, to ownership on the part of another" (Corpus iuris civilis, Digesta 1.5.4). The entire law of servitude was considered to be a matter of the ius gentium. Tryphoninus declared: "Liberty is contained in the natural law; domination was introduced by the ius gentium " (ibid. 12.6.64). Ulpian added, in a passage frequently quoted in medieval acts of manumission: "Manumissions are also comprised in the ius gentium … seeing that by natural law all were born free, and manumission
was not known because slavery itself was unknown; but when slavery came in through the ius gentium, there followed the relief given by manumission" (ibid. 1.1.4). Another passage from Ulpian shows the position on slavery that classical roman law attained: "According to the civil law, slaves have no rights; it is not the same according to natural law, for according to natural law all men are equal" (ibid. 50.17.32). Although the Stoics helped to humanize legislation concerning slavery, they never dreamed of furthering the abolition of the institution. Their philosophy aimed to humanize relations among men without altering the traditional order.
Early Christian Views. The early Church entertained ideas about slavery somewhat similar to those of the Stoics. For St. Paul as for Seneca, slavery was merely external. It did not exist in the moral and spiritual domain. Although the Apostle excluded slave merchants from the numbers of the just (1 Tm 1.10), he nonetheless regarded slavery as a legitimate institution: "Let every man remain in the calling in which he was called. Wast thou a slave when called? Let it not trouble thee." (1 Cor7.20–21). Furthermore he advised slaves to serve their masters "with fear and trembling" (Eph 6.5). His well-known letter to Philemon, to whom he returned a fugitive slave in whose regard he recommended indulgence, illustrates clearly the attitude of the early Church. [see slav ery (in the bible); slavery (and the church).]
ambrosiaster, commenting on the Epistle to the Colossians (4.1), made a very lucid presentation of patristic teaching. Masters, he wrote, had duties toward their slaves. God had created only free men, but because of worldly wickedness it was possible that men born free might be reduced to slavery as a consequence of war (a situation considered as commonplace). Slavery as the result of war could not exist in the eyes of God; sin alone could be the source of this social evil. Among the Fathers of the East, St. gregory of nyssa opposed the legitimacy of slavery in his homily on Ecclesiastes, but the theory of slavery as a consequence of sin perdured. The Western Fathers went further, and St. augustine looked upon slavery as an expression of the divine order: "It is clear, then, that sin is the primary cause of servitude in the sense of a social status in which one man is compelled to be subjected to another man. Nor does this befall a man, save by the decree of God, who is never unjust and who knows how to impose appropriate punishments on different sinners" (Civ. 19.15). If doctrinally the Church seemed uninterested in changing social conditions, in practice she was inclined to favor freeing the slaves. From this point of view, one of the most efficacious instruments was the manumissio in ecclesia, legally approved in 321 under Constantine; it was, however, a charitable work devoid of any obligatory power. About 358 the Council of gangra anathematized anyone who, under the pretext of religion, taught slaves to resist their masters, to flee their service, or not to obey willingly and with all deference.
There was a recrudescence of slavery in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries, accompanying the decline of the pax romana and the renewed wars against the barbarians. salvian, for example, noted (De gubernatione Dei 4.14) that bands of slaves supervised by actores and silentiarii continued to exist. Under the influence of the colonate the condition of some slaves was ameliorated, but slavery in its full rigor was in evidence everywhere while the German states were being built on the ruins of the Roman Empire. In these states, as in the Empire, enslavement had its source in war, even in war between Christians. The slave trade was equally important. The Vita of St. eligius, Bishop of Noyon in the seventh century, makes it clear that ships bearing more than 100 slaves were not unusual at this time.
Slavery in Medieval Europe. Every European country accepted slavery for a more or less extended period during the Middle Ages. Even in countries in which social development was most rapid, slavery did not disappear before the tenth century. There was general progress, however, toward what is called, for want of a better or more generally accepted term, servitude or semifreedom. (see feudalism.) The semifree could no longer be sold at the block. Servitude developed both in countries in which slavery lasted until the end of the Middle Ages or well beyond, i.e., the Mediterranean countries, and in others. The transition from slavery to servitude was first accomplished in Western Continental countries, but slavery continued alongside servitude in the maritime regions where Christian peoples were in contact with heterodox populations, as well as in central and eastern Europe, where the Slavs, still pagan, were often reduced to servitude. Even in Great Britain, prisoners taken during the wars among the Anglo-Saxons, Welsh, Irish, and Scots were for a long time reduced to slavery. As late as 1102 a council held in London saw fit to decree: "Let no one hereafter presume to engage in that nefarious trade in which hitherto in England men were usually sold like brute animals." In reality slavery had by this time become rare in Britain and was found only in a very small segment of British society in frontier territories. When political unity was accomplished, slavery disappeared just as it had in other western European nations that had been inhabited by several different peoples but governed by a central authority.
Evolution of the Term in the Middle Ages. The Latin word sclavus —common source of the words slave, esclave (Fr.), esclavo (Sp.), escravo (Port.), schiavo (It.), and Sklave (Ger.)—was not yet in use during the early medieval period when slavery was common throughout Europe. Medieval slavery was then the heir of the ancient institution, the continuity of which was still in question. The slave was still the servus, the mancipium, as in Rome. It was not until slaves began to be recruited from entirely new sources that new terms appeared to describe those who were not free. Among these terms sclavus, derived from the ethnic name of the Slavic peoples, was widely accepted. In its Latin form it first appeared in Germany in the tenth century. At the same time a similar Arabic form, siklābi (pl. sakāliba ), was in use in Muslim Spain. This was because an important trade route brought to the Spain of the Caliphs of cÓrdoba, and from there to the rest of the Muslim world, large numbers of Slavs who were captured or bought on the eastern frontiers of Germany and transported across western Europe. The trade ceased in the 11th century, and the semantic evolution of sclavus and siklābi was arrested, in the sense of interest here, in the countries where these terms had first appeared. Sclavus disappeared altogether and siklābi came to be restricted to the nonfree eunuch.
In the 13th century, however, sclavus, meaning slave, reappeared in Italy, whence it spread over Europe. At this time the Italians were in effect at the beginning of a new trade route that served especially the Mediterranean world. Enslaved Slavs from southeastern Europe and the shores of the Black Sea began to be imported into Italy. The Slavs once again became the object of a very active trade, with the result that their name was soon used to describe all the nonfree. From Italy, Slavic slavery spread through the south of France into eastern Spain, where the Catalan sclau came into general use in the 14th century. On the other hand, there were never any enslaved Slavs in the Castilian political complex or in Portugal, since these countries participated very little in Mediterranean economic life. As a result the term slave appeared there only much later.
Origins of the African Slave Trade. Enslavement following a war against unbelievers was very common on the Iberian Peninsula as long as the Christian kingdoms were at war with Muslim nations. In central Spain the struggle lasted until the conquest of Granada in 1492, the year America was discovered. Even later, however, Muslims captured at sea were regularly sent to slave markets in Spain, as on their side the Muslims took Spanish and other Christian captives to North Africa. Also, until the middle of the 13th century, prisoners taken in frontier raids between Christian Portugal and her Muslim neighbors were enslaved. However, when the Portuguese reconquest became an accomplished fact and no independent Moors remained in the country, slaves could be obtained only outside the boundaries of the kingdom.
During the 14th and 15th centuries, when a number of African islands were discovered, the search for slaves was immediately renewed. Portuguese and Castilians sought the Guanches, a Canary Island people now extinct; but they bought still more slaves who were natives of the interior of the African continent. For a long time these black slaves were brought across the Muslim territory of Africa into southern Europe. During the 14th century a special caravan route was opened from the Sudan across the Sahara as far as the peninsula of Barca in Cyrenaica. The Portuguese, just as they later established a direct maritime line for the spice trade in the time of Vasco da Gama, now established an African slave route under Henry the Navigator, eliminating the need for intermediaries along the caravan routes or in the North African ports. The Portuguese themselves loaded the slaves at their ports of call in Senegal or Guinea. After the death of Henry the Navigator, Diogo Cão reached the Congo, where, as in Angola, increasing numbers of slaves were procured and sent, first to Europe, and then to America when the sugar plantations began to grow in importance. Beginning in the 15th century, the Portuguese government granted asientos, or permits, for the slave trade. The slave trade continued for four centuries in spite of its condemnation by the papacy, beginning with Pius II, on Oct. 7, 1462.
The trade along the African coast at the end of the Middle Ages underwent a transition to colonial slavery in America. Since the American aborigines who had been reduced to slavery at the beginning of Spanish colonization in the West Indies died out very quickly, they were replaced by Africans imported according to the rules established by the permits of the Middle Ages. The change from medieval slavery in the Mediterranean and in western Europe to colonial slavery in America was hardly noticed; it was a matter of simple continuity.
Slavery in Spanish America. In America the problem of the enslavement of the native inhabitants arose almost immediately. In Spanish America, as in Spain during the last centuries of the reconquest, native slavery quickly became a phenomenon characteristic of the frontier, that is, of any region adjacent to a still unsubdued indigenous population. At the same time, as in Spain itself, slaves originally taken on the frontier were imported into the interior of the imperial territory. This did not particularly surprise the subdued native peoples, since the tribal societies of America, like others, knew slavery as a consequence of war. Nevertheless, as the unsubdued areas gradually disappeared and the bulk of the native population was integrated into the Spanish empire, enslavement of the native peoples following frontier wars diminished and finally disappeared altogether. In one instance, in southern Chile, however, the Spanish Crown acted contrary to its general policy of suppressing the practice of subjection of the natives. The frontier war against the indomitable Araucanians continued to the end of the 17th century, and yielding to the plea of the local colonists, the Crown permitted the enslavement of prisoners. In general, however, the Spanish government envisaged colonial peace as its goal. Just as it saw no place within its realm for internecine war, it saw at the same time no advantage in slavery; and through the efforts of the Dominican friar Bartolome de las casas and the theologians F. de vitoria and F. suÁrez, it had been brought at an early date to recognize in its slave law the inherent dignity of the slave as a person. This is not to say that it did not continue to treat the indigenous population very badly, but at the time the European peasant class did not always fare better.
There were similar conditions of servitude or its derivatives on both sides of the Atlantic. These conditions in America and especially in Spanish America, affecting practically the entire native population, differed from those prevailing in Europe in that the racial differences between the colonist or proprietary landowner and the Indian who tilled the soil were associated with the perpetuation of colonial customs that kept the semifree natives in a condition of hardship long outmoded in all, or most, of Europe.
Slavery and Colonization. Contrary to what is generally believed, no colonial society has been able to subsist while reducing into slavery the indigenous population, that is, the one inhabiting the colony. In the final analysis slavery and colonization proved to be in contradiction, at least with respect to the aborigines of colonized countries. Unfortunately, however, colonization did not exclude the enslavement of the nonindigenous, that is, of imported slaves; and it was thus that black slavery was introduced into the economy of colonial America.
In Africa, Europeans did not really penetrate inland between the 15th and the 19th centuries. They set up agencies along the coast where whites or blacks themselves lived by trading with inland peoples. This situation persisted throughout the ancien régime as well as during a great part of the 19th century, when colonial slavery flourished in America. During this time there was little thought of questioning the legitimacy of reducing Africans to slavery. Except with respect to black slavery in America, serious discussion of abolishing the slave trade began only after the colonial powers occupied the African interior. Then relations in Africa between colonizers and colonized became what they had long since been in America: the enslavement of the native African population became incompatible with the desire to establish and develop colonies. Great abolitionists such as William Wilberforce had not yet put an end to black slavery, but their efforts aided the cause. The necessity of establishing colonial peace in Africa in order to permit its exploitation made possible the triumph of their ideas. In the 19th century the black continent opened its inland wealth to the appetites of colonial powers, which then had to abolish the African slave trade (in which the Muslims had also engaged) to be in a position to exploit Africa.
Economic Effects of Abolition. The emancipation of slaves was proclaimed in the U.S. on Jan. 1, 1863, during the Civil War; but it was not until 1871 that the Spanish Cortes decided to prohibit slavery, after 1880, in what remained of the Spanish empire. It is true that Spain had forbidden the slave trade in 1820, whereas Portugal had not decided to do so until 1836, even after Brazil, its former colony, had set an example in 1831. The last Brazilian emperor, Peter II, decreed in 1871 the law of "free birth" that assured freedom at birth for all children of slaves, and in 1888 he proclaimed full emancipation, a move that cost him his throne.
In the West Indies, where at the very beginning of the 19th century haiti had forged in blood the political freedom of a nation of emancipated slaves, the progressive suppression of slavery created numerous difficulties for which remedy was sought by the importation of non-indigenous people, mostly from Asia. Legally these were not slaves, although their economic condition was hardly better. There were even attempts to return to the importation of Africans called "free workers" whose misery was such that they were easily recognized as new victims of the slave trade. The apparent similarity, recognized by international opinion, was sufficient reason to end the forced migration. It had lasted long enough, however, to substitute for slavery on the plantations a multiracial labor force with living standards that were extremely low. More and more, emancipated Africans were subordinated, just as the Native Americans were, in those zones of the Americas where the plantation economy was maintained or developed by diversification of crops. Sugar, in effect, was no longer king; the elevation of European living standards resulting from industrialization created markets for new agricultural produce of the plantation regime. At the same time, this produce was no longer an American monopoly, since plantation farming had spread to other tropical and subtropical regions both in Asia and in Africa. Thenceforth, the plantation worker, regardless of the color of his skin, was to belong first to the agricultural proletariat, then to the industrial, as production was intensified by technological development. The amelioration of living conditions became dependent on technical advances, the progress of which led to the lessening of physical hardship and at length to an increase in wages.
Historic Roots of Slavery. It is generally believed that colonial slavery, and especially plantation slavery, was a product of the modern period found particularly in America. This is not the fact. Colonial slavery—distinguished by the use of nonfree manual labor of distant origin, with physical and religious characteristics different from the colonizers—existed in the eastern Mediterranean long before a plantation regime was developed in colonial America. Slaves had worked on the sugar plantations of Cyprus and in the alum mines of Phocaea on the Anatolian coast, as they did later on the sugar plantations of Brazil and the West Indies and the tobacco plantations of Virginia. In the East these slaves were not always black, but either Slavs or Muslims; in Virginia, white indentured servants worked side by side with black slaves.
Moreover, it is important to note that slavery antedated the coming of Europeans in all countries occupied during the period of colonial expansion. This was true in America, Africa, and Asia. Slavery as an institution was not introduced by Europeans, although the number of slaves increased in a frightening manner after their arrival. In the slaves' native lands population decreased as a result of the raids made by slave hunters, many of whom were themselves natives. The wholesale transportation of slaves could be effected only to those countries that were sufficiently far away to remove the possibility of escape and return of the slave to his native land. During the period in which colonial slavery underwent its greatest development, that is, from the 16th to the 19th century, these countries could be reached only by sea. Therefore, nations in a position to dominate or monopolize maritime transportation, especially intercontinental transportation, retained a monopoly of the slave trade. These were the same nations that established colonial empires across the ocean, which they succeeded in doing for the very reason that enabled them to carry on their trade on a large scale—they had achieved technical superiority in the area of maritime transportation.
In ancient times, whenever an ethnic group or nation achieved a superiority that gave it ascendancy over other ethnic groups or nations with sufficiently different physical or religious traits, the slave trade flourished. This was especially true if its victims were on a lower rung of general technical development, without arms or other means of defense sufficiently effective to afford them permanent protection. Thus Arab navigation dominated the Indian Ocean before the arrival of Vaseo da Gama and the Portuguese. Long before the arrival of Europeans, the Swahili principalities on the eastern coast of Africa organized forays into the interior and filled the Arab ships with heavy cargoes of black slaves who were sent to various parts of the Muslim world. On the other hand; the Islamic conquests spread with surprising rapidity into the Sudan and Guinea after the end of the 11th century. In less than 50 years, Islam took over all western Africa, from which black captives were sent to Muslim Spain. The Africans were thus reduced to slavery in the Islamic world before the arrival of Europeans, although this in no way alters the fact that African slavery was most highly developed when the Portuguese, Spanish, and later the Dutch and English, with occasional localized French competition, achieved the dominion of the seas. Not surprisingly, since Islamic law always recognized slavery, as long as European colonization did not penetrate into the interior of eastern or central Africa, the Arab trade in Africans continued to be very active. It was not until the colonial powers gained ascendancy in these regions in the last quarter of the 19th century, that this trade, too, died out.
Bibliography: w. l. westermann, The Slave Systems of Greek and Roman Antiquity (Philadelphia 1955). e. meyer, Die Sklaverei im Altertum (Dresden 1898). w. w. buckland, The Roman Law of Slavery: The Condition of the Slave in Private Law from Augustus to Justinian (Cambridge, Eng. 1908). m. roberti, La lettera di S. Paulo a Filemone e la condizione guiridica dello schiavo fuggitivo (Milan 1933). c. verlinden, L'Esclavage dans l' Europe médiévale, v. 1 Péninsule Iberique, France (Bruges 1955); "L'Origine de sclavus—esclave," Archivum latinitatis medii aevi 17 (1943) 97–128; "Pax Hispanics en la America colonial," Historia no. 12 (Buenos Aires 1958) 5–17; "Esclavage médiéval en Europe et esclavage colonial en Amérique," Sorbonne, Cahiers de l'Institut des Hautes Études de l'Amerique latine 6 (1963) 29–45.