Browsing "Antiquity"

The Economic Custom of Slavery

To find those responsible for African slavery and its perpetuation, one must first look to the African tribes themselves who enslaved their brethren captured in warfare, and sold many to Europeans in search of cheap labor for their colonies. Next would be King Ferdinand of Spain, who in the early 1500s had already had deported substantial sections of Jews and Moors from his realm as well as approving slaving expeditions for Caribbean Indians to work his colonies. It was also Ferdinand who granted licenses for those carrying slaves to the Americas. This begs the question: had African slaves not been eventually carried to North America in the bottoms of British and New England slave ships, would North and South still have separated into two countries for the same pecuniary reasons, but without the lame New England excuse of slavery being the cause of war?

The Economic Custom of Slavery

“It is strange that it should never have come into the head of philosopher or philanthropist to ascertain the causes of the revival of slavery by all the modern nations of Europe which have engaged in colonization. Political economists were bound to make this inquiry; for without it their science is incomplete at the very foundation; for slavery is a question of labor, “the original purchase of all things.”

Philanthropists, however, have treated it as a moral and religious question, attributing slavery to all times and places, but especially in modern America, to the wickedness of the human heart. [The immediate cause of slavery] is not a wicked or infernal spirit. Neither communities nor individuals keep slaves in order to indulge in oppression and cruelty.

Those British colonies – and they are many – which would get slaves tomorrow if we would let them, are not more wicked than we are: they are only placed in circumstances which induce us to long for the possession of slaves notwithstanding the objections to it.

They are not moral, but economic circumstances: they relate not to vice and virtue, but to production. They are the circumstances, in which one man finds it difficult or impossible to get other men to work under his direction for wages. They are the circumstances . . . which stand in the way of combination and constancy of labor, for which all civilized nations, in a certain stage of their advance from barbarism, have endeavored to counteract, and have in some measure counteracted, by means of some kind of slavery.

Slavery is a make-shift for hiring . . . [and is] on the whole much more costly than the labor of hired freemen; and slavery is also full of moral and political evils, from which the method of hired labor is exempt. [But] when slavery is adopted, there is no choice: it is adopted because at the time and under the circumstances there is no other way of getting laborers to work with constancy and in combination.

It happens wherever population is scanty in proportion to land [and has] never existed in very populous countries, and has gradually ceased in the countries where whose population has gradually increased to the point of density. Of plentifulness of labor for hire, the cause is dearness of land: cheapness of land is the cause of scarcity of labor for hire.

The ancient Greeks were themselves colonists, the occupiers of a new territory, in which for a time every freeman could obtain as much land as he desired: for a time they needed slaves; and the custom of slavery was established.

The Romans, it the early stages of their history, were robbers of land, and had more land than they could cultivate without slaves: it was partly because of slavery that they at last grew to be so populous at Rome as to no longer need slavery, but to ask for an agrarian law.”

(Origin of Slavery in the New World, 1765-1860, Gibbon Wakefield; Chapter XV, The Economics of Slavery; Selections From the Economic History of the United States, Guy Stevens Callender, excerpts pp. 742-745)

Feb 12, 2019 - Antiquity, Slavery Worldwide    Comments Off on British Slaves, Serfs and Human Loot

British Slaves, Serfs and Human Loot

The slaves of Middle Ages Britain were not African, nor were the slaves of the Church in Europe. In Anglo-Saxon England the slaves and peasants lived in great squalor, in small windowless thatched-roof huts with refuse dump-floors. An open-hearth fire vented to a hole in the roof. Most English slaves were reduced to that state as punishment for crimes, failure to pay fines or for being in debt. Also, children born of slaves of any origin were declared to be slaves as well. What is described below was medieval England, not the American South of 1860.

British Slaves, Serfs and Human Loot

“There were true slaves in the Middle Ages, of course, men who worked like domestic animals, doing whatever kind of labor the lord demanded, and for whatever length of time he ordered. Many had begun their slavery as captives of war. After the Anglo-Saxons invaded England in the fifth century A.D., the word for the person without freedom was “Welshman” – the name of the native Britons that they enslaved.

“Welsh” eventually came to mean slave. (It was what would happen later when the word for “slave” itself was taken from Slav – the name of the Slavic peoples captured and sold into slavery in great numbers).

Until the Normans conquered the country in 1066, many Englishmen were sold abroad in the slavemarkets of Europe and the East. William the Conqueror permitted domestic slavery to continue, but he banned the sale of English slaves overseas.

The slaves who remained at home often saw their children and grandchildren melt into the condition of serfdom. The serfs worked the lord’s lands, but were left time enough to cultivate their own plots, out of which they paid dues and taxes, in money or in goods. They were obliged to be on call with their labor to build castles, bridges and roads. And in some times and places, they were liable for arbitrary taxes, imposed by the lord whenever “necessary.” Unfree to one degree or another, such a peasant was called “serf,” a name taken from the old Roman word for slave – servus.

For many centuries, popes and bishops, churches and monasteries owned slaves. Pope Gregory I (590-814) used hundreds of slaves on the papal estates. Early in the eighth century, the Abbey of St. Germain des Pres near Paris had 8,000 slaves and St. Martin of Tours had 20,000.

It was just before 800 [A.D.] that the Vikings began to raid the coasts of the British Isles. The natives they captured were of little use in their own service, so they traded most of them to Constantinople (the Byzantium of earlier days and now Istanbul) or Islamic Spain. In those markets the human loot was converted into gold, silks, wine and weapons.

A glimpse into an English slave’s life is given in the writings of Bishop Aelfric of the late tenth century. A plowman in one of his works says:

“I go out at dawn driving the oxen to the field and yoke them to the plough. It is never so harsh a winter that I dare lurk at home for fear of my master, but when the oxen have been yoked and the ploughshare and coulter fastened to the plough, I must plough each day a full acre or more . . . I must fill the oxen’s manger with hay, and water them, and clear out the dung . . . It is heavy work, because I am not free.”

(The Medieval Slave; Slavery: A World History, Milton Meltzer, Da Capo Press, 1993, excerpts pp. 209-211; 213)

Feb 12, 2019 - Antiquity, Black Slaveowners, Slavery in Africa, Slavery Worldwide    Comments Off on Jesuits and the Code Noir

Jesuits and the Code Noir

The “Code Noir” issued by Louis XIV to establish governance in relation to African slaves in French colonial possessions was far more humane than what came before. Slaves had no rights at all under Roman law, Old Testament law only distinguished between Hebrew and non-Hebrew slaves, and the New Testament only spoke of the obedience of slaves to their masters. Further, most saw none if any difference between serfs and slaves, and used the terms interchangeably. Above all, the African was not alone in slavery as the term “slave” has its origins in the Slavic regions of Eastern Europe. Slavs were taken into slavery by Spanish Muslims during the Ninth Century A.D.; the texts of Islam, Judaism and Christianity all recognize slavery, and the Aztec and Mayan cultures kept slaves. In Africa prior to the arrival of Europeans, several kingdoms and societies kept their own brethren as slaves.

Jesuits and the Code Noir

“The Jesuits were the first missionary order to settle in the French West Indies, coming to Martinique in 1640. It was Jesuits who started the first sugar plantation on Martinique, and by 1650 they had become the second largest slaveholder on the island.

Given that the Church in France had long supported itself with the labor of slaves and serfs, it is not surprising that religious orders in France’s Caribbean colonies used slave labor to support their activities. Father Labat, a Dominican priest who directed a slave plantation in Martinique, did not seem at all embarrassed at being a slave owner, but he became extremely upset when people accused him of dabbling in commerce.

The earliest draft of the Code Noir, submitted by the governor of France’s Caribbean colonies on May 20, 1682, dealt with issues of slave subsistence, policing, judgments, and punishment, but did not mention religion at all. Later that year the Jesuits of Martinique submitted a memorandum to King Louis XIV warning him about the harmful religious influences that Jews and Protestants were exerting on slaves in the islands.

The Jews, the Jesuits charged, “have in their own homes a great number of slaves whom they introduce to Judaism, or at least divert from Christianity.” As for the Protestants, the Jesuits urged, “they should not be allowed to practice their religion in any way.”

When the Code Noir was issued by Louis XIV in March 1685, its religious emphasis was obvious. The preamble specified that its primary purpose was “to maintain the discipline of the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church . . .” [and] required that all slaves should be baptized and given instruction in the Catholic religion . . . and ordered all subjects to observe all Catholic holidays.

The Jesuits saw the Code Noir as a humanitarian document that curbed some of the worst abuses of slaveholders. It set minimum food and clothing rations for slaves, forbade masters from murdering their slaves, and made provision for their manumission. At the same time, however . . . it [declared] the slaves moveable property and stating that any personal property possessed by the slave belonged to his or her master.

(The Diligent: A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade, Robert Harms, Basic Books, 2002, excerpts pp. 25-26)

Dec 29, 2018 - Antiquity, Democracy, Slavery Worldwide    Comments Off on Greek Democracy

Greek Democracy

The idea of democracy under the ancient Greeks was far different than what is practiced today under the name of democracy. The Greek aristocracy despised democracy and planned its overthrow; the American Founders understood the problems inherent in democracy and avoided it. The Greeks held slaves: those caught in raids upon Mediterranean barbarians, prisoners of war who could not ransom themselves, unwanted children, and debtors.

Bernhard Thuersam,


Greek Democracy

“If the right of every citizen, whatever his rank or means, to participate in political decisions and in the direction of the state, and the obligation of every citizen to serve the state with money and in person according to his wealth and ability constitute a democracy, then Athens was democratic.

The charge is often made, however, that the Athenian citizen body constituted a small, privileged group ruling over a large number of foreigners and slaves resident in Athens who could not acquire citizenship, and that Athens was therefore not a true democracy.

From the modern point of view the contention is valid, but it is one which the ancient Greek would hardly have understood. Citizenship was a natural right acquired by inheritance and protected by ancestral divinities. Residence in a city, therefore, no more made one a citizen than the renting of a room today makes one a member of the family of the house.

The foreigners were citizens of their own communities who were residing in Athens by their own choice, and under no constraint to remain there. Since they could not worship the ancestral gods of the Athenians, they could not hope to participate in the activities which were under the protection of the gods unless the state, in return for services rendered, granted them those rights by an act equivalent to adoption.

Slavery was a recognized institution. In the Greek view, slaves were inferior subjects, and any thought of allowing them participation in politics was absurd. Athens, governed by its body of citizens, the demos, as the Athenians called it, was, by the standards of the ancient Greeks, democracy.”

(The Ancient World, Volume I, Wallace Everett Caldwell, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1937, excerpts pp. 221-227)