Ancient Africa: Slavery

Slavery played an important role in the history of Ancient Africa. As many as one-third of the people living in many African societies were slaves.

Many slaves were captives of war. These slaves were often sold to faraway lands. Sometimes people became slaves for a period of time to pay off debts, or they were forced into slavery as punishment for committing a crime. Children born to slaves also became slaves.

Slaves were treated differently depending on the society and region where they were enslaved. In some societies, slaves were treated well. They had rights and were often treated like members of the family. In other societies, slaves were used like property and were beaten when they didn't work hard enough.

Beginning around 700 CE, after Islam had taken over much of northern Africa, slaves were captured in central Africa and then transported to the Middle East and Asia. The Arab slave trade became a major part of the African economy for hundreds of years.

When Europeans arrived in Africa in the 1500s, they found an established slave trade. A huge new market of slaves opened up to supply slaves to work in the Americas. Slave merchants raided far inland to capture slaves to sell. Around 12 million slaves were sold to European and American slave traders between 1500 and the late 1800s.

The slave trade began to slow down in the mid-1800s. However, slavery and the slave trade had been a part of African society and the economy for over 1000 years. This made it difficult to end. Slavery continued well into the 1930s when it was finally abolished throughout most of Africa.

Source: Ancient Africa: Slavery
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