Slavery has been common throughout much of the world since the beginning of human history. In ancient Africa, slavery existed in most of the empires and civilizations on the continent. As many as one third of the people living in many African societies were slaves. They were considered the lowest caste of society, but their rights and roles varied depending on the society where they lived.
Many slaves were captives of war. These slaves were often sold to faraway lands to prevent them from returning home. Sometimes people became slaves to pay off debts, or they were forced into slavery as punishment for committing a crime. Children born to slaves also became slaves.
Slaves worked a variety of jobs including farm labor, household servants, and carrying goods. Some slaves worked under harsh conditions in the mines of North Africa. Getting sent to the salt mine to work was like getting a death sentence.
Slaves were treated differently depending on the region. In some societies, slaves were treated well. They had rights and were often treated like members of the family. In other societies, slaves were considered property, and they were often physically abused. In some African societies, slaves could own property, including their own slaves.
Beginning around 700 CE, the slave trade became an important part of the African economy. As the slave trade grew, some wars began with the main purpose being to capture slaves to sell.
The Arab Slave trade began in the 700s CE after Islam controlled much of North Africa. Slaves were captured in central Africa and then transported across the Sahara to be sold at slave markets along the Mediterranean. They were then transported to the Middle East and Asia.
When Europeans arrived in Africa in the 1500s, they found an established slave trade. A new slave market of slaves developed in the Americas. The demand for slaves was high. Slave merchants began to raid far inland, capturing slaves to be sold to Europeans. Historians believe that around 12 million slaves were sold to European and American slave traders between 1500 and the late 1800s. Around 10% of the slaves died on their way to America.
Slavery continued in some form well into the 1930s when it was finally abolished throughout most of Africa.
Source: Slavery in Ancient Africa
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