The idea that white slaves would have existed is kind of dismissed these days. The focus is placed hugely on the transatlantic slave trade, where African slaves were transported to the Americas to perform labor for their “rulers.”
Of course, that should never have happened.
But that doesn’t take away from the fact that white slaves may have existed at some point in history, and perhaps more often than you and I think.
But first, what is a slave?
A slave is a person without property and without rights. So you had absolutely nothing to fall back on. All you had was your duty to work for your “owner.”
In this article, we will explore different types of the white slave trade in the ancient world and Africa during the Middle Ages.
The Barbary Slaves in Northern Africa
The first time people talk about white slavery, it takes place between the 16th and 19th centuries AD in an area we now know as Morocco, then called Barbary.
Barbary was largely an independent territory yet was regulated quite strictly by the great Ottoman Empire. In that empire, there was an awful lot of trading in people.
Not only whites but also black people and no distinction was made in race, religion, or gender.
These Barbary slave traders had a special way of obtaining their trade. They were mainly pirates so looted the towns and villages on the coast of North Africa and mainly in Europe many people were “stolen”.
Even children did not have to count on mercy from these brutal robbers.
It is not clear exactly how many people were traded in these markets in Barbary but there must have been more than a million, which was a lot of people in those days. We also do not know exactly how long this slavery took place.
Slavery in the Ancient World
Slavery was seen as normal in ancient Rome and probably in the rest of the ancient world. People were treated like animals and were seen as commodities.
In the Roman Empire, mostly native slaves were traded, Italians preferably. Few people from distant places were enslaved there.
Slavery in ancient Rome could mean several things. You could be a house slave to a man of great prestige, but you could also just have to do hard work in the fields or in dangerous mines.
What many people don’t know is that the famous gladiators in the Roman Empire were often slaves as well. If they won their fight, they got their freedom back. Otherwise, death often followed.
After all, they had nothing to lose.
Slaves were traded in the market not only for chores but also for war. Every Roman could buy a slave and this trade spread throughout western Europe.
It is not known exactly how many slaves were traded in total within the Roman Empire but estimates suggest that about 10–20% of the population at the time was a slave.
Did you know that in ancient Rome there was something like “slave-hunting”, this was a profession that hunted runaway slaves.
Sources & References
- Wikipedia contributors. (2022, May 29). White slavery. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_slavery
- Wikipedia contributors. (2022a, May 25). Barbary slave trade. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbary_slave_trade
- BBC — History — Ancient History in depth: Resisting Slavery in Ancient Rome. (n.d.). BBC. https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/slavery_01.shtml