Author: Qutub Khan Vajihuddin, Learner at The Integral School, Hyderabad. This is an independent self directed project.


Slavery is defined as a human being owning another human being. A slave is considered someone’s property, and therefore deprived of most of the rights ordinarily held by humans. In the early ages, slaves were sold and bought with money or goods. It is thought that slavery started at a time when tribes went to war. The survivors of the losing tribe were taken as slaves. Later, slavery increased when people decided that criminals can probably be put to better use instead of killing them. It is a mystery when people actually started going to war. But it is known that humans have engaged in war for centuries and it still exists.

In the older ages, there were three types of slaves. There were negro slaves, war slaves and indentured slaves. Negro slaves were dark skinned Africans that were forcefully brought from their homeland (Africa/ West Indies) to become slaves. This was chattel slavery. The slaves were considered as property and they could be inherited. War slaves were often used for rowing boats and being footmen. Indentured slaves are people under a contract to work for a person without pay, usually in exchange for rights or in exchange of a debt. The indentured slaves could come from anywhere and could be of any color. Indentured slavery is still very common in the modern world.  


The term slave, came from the word Slav. The Slavs inhabited Eastern Europe and were taken as slaves by Spanish people during the 19th century. Slavery dates back to ancient times in lots of the civilizations around the world, such as the Inca civilizations and the Aztec civilizations, who used their slaves for field work, just as the Americans did in recent history with the African origin slaves. The Greek and Roman empires used their slaves in war.

In this essay, I will focus primarily on slavery in the ancient Greek and Roman empires and the America in more recent times

Greek slavery:

In Greece, slaves were treated more humanely than in other societies. Greece was a democracy that gave the slaves rights although with some limitations. Slaves could not be beaten. They could earn money, educate themselves and work normal jobs. However, some sum of their profit would go to their masters. These were the slaves that were treated well, unlike the war slaves.

During the 5th century BC, Athens had around 100,000 slaves. Almost all Athenians had slaves, except the very poor. The slaves would mostly come from trading or as war captives. These slaves were very different from Gorean slaves. Gorean lifestyles were just slave and master. The slave had to do whatever the master wants her/him to do. The Gorean slaves were overwhelmingly women. The Goreans believed that women were natural slaves. These slaves were not a necessity but a luxury. They were not used for any work outside the house. They were more or less sex slaves.

In Greece, a slave could be freed but he/she would be called a freed person instead of a free person. Because most of the slaves were non Greek, so even if they were freed they weren’t given as many rights as free people who were Greeks.

The main thing that Greeks contributed to slavery was the natural slave theory. This theory was recorded by Plato and his student Aristotle. It stated that some people were just born to be slaves and some people were just born to rule. This was what the Goreans believed too.

In Greece, there were three types of ill treated slaves. There were war slaves. The slaves who were given the job to row the boats were tortured and they suffered terribly. They hardly ever saw the sun. Similarly, there were slaves in Sparta that were called Helots. Their lives were miserable and full of shame and humiliation. There were also the miner slaves.

The women on the other hand stayed in their master’s home and cooked and cleaned. They hardly ever left the house. Even at home they were unsafe, being under the threat of rape from their masters. If children were born through this union, they would go on to become slaves. Some slaves were born free, but they were given away by their parents because their parents could not take care of them. Some of the children were kidnapped and sold.

Roman slavery:

The Romans, on the other hand, treated their slaves worse than the Greeks. They were treated poorly like stray homeless dogs. The Romans mainly had a life of war and hard labour and hence preferred male slaves. The average life expectancy of a slave was around 20 years.

The primary source of slaves was from warfare. However unlike the Greeks, the Roman citizens could also be enslaved . All slaves were valued for their skills. If they had any skills that were useful, they would be put to work to optimally utilize those skills. There were two types. Slaves who were owned by individuals or slaves owned by the state. The individuals were treated better than state owned slaves, who were used in war and hard labour.   

The war and hard labour slaves were treated very badly. Here, the slaves were considered property, much like the Gorean slaves. This lead to lots of revolts from the slaves. The most famous revolt was when Spartacus, a gladiator and a group of people revolted and roamed free for almost 2 years. They were finally captured and killed.

Gladiators were men who fought against their will, in the great coliseum to survive. The Romans wanted bloodshed and entertainment as a sport for the masses. The Roman leaders started these games to entertain the masses, become more popular with the masses, as a celebration of famous victories and to divert the attention of the masses from matters of governance. These were very cruel games where a gladiator had almost no chance of escaping with his life. They would have to fight all types of opponents. Sometimes they would fight multiple opponents together. That is all a gladiators life would become. Fight and kill, or die.   
African American slavery:

African American slavery started when African people (commonly referred to as Negroes by the Americans) because of their race and color, were brought from Africa. Christopher Columbus traveled from Spain, with his crew and with slaves. He traveled to America and his discovery of America led to a large scale European colonization of America.The white men in America came from Europe. America’s land was fertile, so they started growing crops. They grew cotton, tobacco and rice which were growing very well, and developed huge industries of each of these items. More slaves were needed to do the hard work as these industries increased in size leading to a large lucrative market in slaves.

Americans knew that there was a huge slave market in Africa and other countries. The Americans needed help with their farming to improve their industry. Therefore they traveled to Africa and obtained slaves from the European colonized areas. They kidnapped Africans from all around Africa, bringing them to America through the very dangerous Atlantic ocean. The Americans admired theses Africans because they were very fit and very strong and that was what the job needed. The Africans were tribal people and used bows and arrows. The Americans could overpower them with fire power and money. The Europeans also directly traded with rich Africans who had many slaves. In return, they would make the Africans richer, and ensure their families protection.   

The journey:

When the Africans were captured they were taken away from their family, and treated worse than animals. They were starved. After they got captured, they were stripped and thoroughly checked for any physical faults. If they were perfectly fine then they were taken on a ship. The biggest boat would carry around 400 to 500 slaves. The ships were very bare and the slaves were crammed up on the three floors. They were strapped to chains on shelfs. They were left there to starve. The conditions were horrible. They could not even move and they would not be permitted to go in the sunlight or breathe fresh air. Half of the slaves died in these boats.

The shelf that they were chained to, was like their coffin. They would have to go to the toilet in that posture. Each person had to go to the toilet so the floor became nasty. The Toubob (The Americans nickname by the Africans) would not even clean that up until it was too much to bear. The slaves could not move their hands so they could not even clean their nose, and they could not even scratch their wounds they had received from the regular beating s they were subjected to. If there was a storm and the ship sunk then all of the slaves would drown. They were chained down and if a storm came the boat would rock very much. The splintered rough wood would rub at their backs making them bleed further adding to the filth and smell. This made the people prone to diseases. If one person got a sickness, they could infect everyone around them. If someone died they would be thrown of the boat.

The Africans were fed mashed up food in a plate. They had to eat that directly with their mouths. It was very unhygienic. Due to the conditions, the boat got infested by rats and some people were eaten alive by rats. For an African, catching a rat would be a jackpot. That shows the level of their starvation.

All the people in the boat were brought from different places of Africa. Therefore they could not communicate with each other. This did huge emotional damage on each of them. Each person had no one to talk to and they would always be thinking about their family. The Toubob gave the Africans no hope at all.

The women on the other hand were kept on deck and were prone to getting harassed and raped by the Toubob. They were in a very bad condition as the males, but in a different way. The children were kept the same way.  

The slaves were brought out after half the journey to keep their muscles working giving them a small light of hope. This was the first time they would seen the ocean on which they were traveling. If any slave tried to escape, he would jump into the water and get eaten by sharks. This destroyed the light of hope. Furthermore, they would experience sunlight and fresh air after months. This made them vomit. The Toubob made the Africans dance to keep their blood running. They would sing to trick the Toubob that they were happy. They would communicate in this way. Then they were washed in salt water making their cuts hurt uncontrollably.

After quite a lot of time they learnt how to speak amongst themselves. They planned some attacks but none of them worked. This destroyed their morale. They were resistant in the beginning but they slowly started to give themselves up.                 

The Life in America:

When they reached, they got off the boat in chains and were taken to mud hut cabins and camped up there. They were given clothes and taken to auctions, where the highest bidder would get the slave. They were then chained up and brought to the plantations of their master. They were separated from the few friends they had and they knew no one. Everything was new for them. They did not even know the language. They learnt it after some months if they were smart. They were whipped if they resisted in doing anything. Their whole life became work. 12 hours a day. They had no leisure time.  

There were different types of plantations. Some masters were good masters and some were just outright bad. It was lucky if you ended up in the plantation of a good master. A good master’s plantation did not have an overseer who would watch the slaves as they worked or whip them if they were slow or they showed resistance. The good master trusted them and gave them some leisure time.

The slaves lived in mud huts with basic necessities. On some plantations 2 or 3 people could be sharing a cabin. However if an African was lucky, then he would have his own hut and be allowed to decorate it.     

The Africans followed different religions. These included Christianity and Islam. In some instances, the slaves followed their traditional rituals secretly. No master would openly allow this. Some people converted religions to please their masters. The connection of religion and food was a natural process.

Food restrictions pertaining to religion was followed. For example, they were not allowed to eat pork in some religions. However, meat was not a problem and there was plenty of meat and poultry to go round. On the other hand, some people died starving and not eating the food that was given to them.   

The slaves had no rights whatsoever in most of the farms and the masters could do anything they wanted to them. Education was impossible to achieve. Writing and reading was not permitted. Even going out of your plantation was not permitted. However on some very rare plantations, the master would pay them and they could buy their freedom after a while.

Lots of slaves tried to escape but most of their attempts failed. If they were found by anyone they would be executed or brought back to their farms. They could get beaten to death after returning. It was not worth taking the risk. The masters could also castrate them and cut off whatever parts they wanted without any circumstances. Cases of rape and castration were very common. There were no repercussions at all. Those were the laws of the time.

If and when an African asked permission to marry, the unmarried couple could get separated. If the couple had a child then the child could be taken away and sold. The children would grow up, if they would be given the chance to grow, in this environment. The fathers and mothers could not teach them anything about their homeland, because if they blurted it out in front of the masters there would be reparations to pay.

Marrying in your master’s family was very rare. However if a woman got impregnated by her master then the child would rarely get rights. These children were called Sasso Borro by the rest. It meant that they were not purely black or purely white and resulted in discrimination and the child being considered a different race.


The African slaves were concentrated in the South of America because the cotton farms were concentrated there. The slaves were brought by middle men who were Europeans and later became Americans. This started in 1619 when slaves were brought to North America, Virginia. It continued through the 17th and 18th centuries. Slavery was legalized in 1640 due to the flourishing of the industries.

Just as much as slavery increased, the opposition increased. The opposition were mainly in the North side because there were hardly any cotton farms there. Slavery was made illegal in the Northwest territory in 1787. When Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, this highly increased the demand for slave labor. More slaves resulted in more revolts and more runaways. Therefore In 1793, a federal fugitive law was made that provided the return for escaped slaves. This made escaping impossible.

In the 1800, Gabriel Prosser organised a revolt. However, it was uncovered and the rebels were hanged. In return Virginia tightened her laws. In 1808, congress banned the importation of slaves from Africa. The Missouri Compromise, banned slavery in 1820. The Missouri compromise, was an effort by Congress to defuse the rivalries triggered by the request of Missouri in becoming a pro slavery state. This threatened to destroy the balance of anti slavery and pro slavery factions. Therefore, Congress kept the balance.    

In 1822, an enslaved carpenter organised a revolt. However it was uncovered and the rebels were hanged. A few years later in 1831, Nat Turner, an enslaved preacher lead the most remarkable revolt in Southampton county, Virginia. This resulted in lots of bloodshed. The military came and eventually, Nat was captured and hanged. In accordance to this revolt, Virginia further tightened her slave laws.

In this year, William Lloyd published the weekly newspaper called The Liberator. In it, he promoted the abolition of slavery. Between 1831 and 1850, the Mexican war happened. After that, the territories gained in the Mexican war debated upon whether they should prohibit slavery or permit it. That lead to different states getting different laws. In 1852 Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, was released. It is said to have laid the groundwork for the civil war. There was high tension between the two factions and when Congress banned slavery in some states, the tension highly increased.  

In 1857, the supreme court issued a decision in the court case of Dred Scott giving slave owners the right, to take their slaves to the west. This further denied the congress decision to ban slavery and opposed the Republican party and the popular sovereignty.

In 1859, John Brown and 21 followers captured the armory in Virginia attempting to launch a slave revolt. A confederacy was founded in 1861, when the deep south seceded, as other states did before it, tearing their ties with the Union and becoming independent. This started the civil war.

In 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring that all slaves become free. Two years later, the civil war ended. After four days, Lincoln was assassinated. The thirteenth amendment, abolished slavery throughout the United States. The era of reconstruction and rehabilitation started. In 1870, African American people got the right to vote. They got the right to go to school. The era of slavery ended. However discrimination is still very high. People of colored origin still have to fight for civil rights.

In 1955, events occurred leading to the civil rights movement. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights group, was established by Martin Luther King. Discrimination was still prevalent. In 1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was established, giving blacks a place in the civil rights movement. Lots of riots broke out. In 1963, a march on Washington happened consisting of 250,000 people. There, Martin Luther King delivered his most famous speech called “I have a dream”. This speech, greatly built momentum for the civil rights movement. In 1964, President Johnson signed the civil rights act  prohibiting discrimination of all types.

In 1967, Thurgood Marshall became the first black supreme court justice. In 1968, the president signed the civil rights act prohibiting further discrimination. Matters progressed to the extent that in 2009, Barack Obama became the first African American president. Regardless of all this, there is still so much injustice and bias.                                                 

Modern day:

After all of this, slavery is still a concept that lives in our midst. 21 million people are currently trapped in some form of slavery. One form is domestic servitude. That is when a worker moves abroad to work in someone’s private home, and then the owner takes away their papers prohibiting them to leave the house. They are unable to contact their family and friends. They are alone in a place where they can’t even leave.

Forced labour is another form. People, mainly kids are forced to do labour work under the threat of a penalty. These are how most of our products in the modern world come about. There are at least 2.2 million people worldwide enslaved in this form. This form, can include sexual harrasments on a daily basis.  

It is estimated that there are around 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking. This is much like Gorean slavery. People, mainly minors are kidnapped or taken into the sex trafficking business. Otherwise, this can occur when someone gets tricked to go abroad to work where they are trapped into slavery. They are sold to buyers as sex slaves. They may never see their family again. They live with their buyers in very bad conditions and they are not allowed to leave the house. Even if they escape they have crossed borders in the trafficking business. Therefore they know no one, so they are very vulnerable to be taken again in any form of slavery.  

 Another form is bonded labour that happens when a person takes a loan and then has to pay a debt but can’t. They have to then go to work for their loaner to pay the debt. The debt can come from inheritance. To observers on the outside, this would seem like an agreement. However the person paying the debt, would be brutally beaten and their goal of repaying the debt would become impossible as their masters would make it even more difficult as the years pass by.

Child labour is all of these forceful labours combined. This only applies to children. Price pressure and the commercial market increases the need for cheap labour to produce more goods at cheaper prices. The leader looks for cheap labour in poverty. Poor children have to support their family. So they have no choice but to accept these jobs. Sometimes they are forcefully taken in them. Runaway children and children broken up from their families have a higher risk of facing this. It is estimated that today more than a quarter of the slaves are children.

Forced marriage is a form of slavery. Children are forced against their will to marry men or women in their middle ages, at the age of 10 to 17. The parents would forcefully do this if they have a debt to settle or they are threatened with financial insecurity. The parents could do this if they are too poor to support their children. These children are taken elsewhere to homes of their husbands or wives. This gives them no chance of escape. They are beaten and sexually abused on a daily basis. They live lives of misery.

Women and slavery:

Sexism is the discrimination in genders. In olden times women were not allowed to leave the house and were seen as people who were not worthy to be outside the house. That is where the term house wife came from and that is where sexism started. Most of the men believed that women were meant to stay in the house and cook and clean. To some extremes, societies would burn their newborn daughters and still practice female infanticide in various forms.

The men did not allow their wives or daughters to get educated. The men would marry their daughters to older men, at the age of 7 and above. This had been going on until the women’s rights movement happened that finally gave women rights. After the movement they were allowed to vote, to get educated, to have jobs and to become independent. After all this, prejudice is still found. This idea has gotten stuck in the male mind.  How did nobody see the treatment of women in the modern world as a version of slavery ? Even if someone did,  they did not seem to act on it. Why not ?        


In conclusion, I think all kinds of slavery should be stopped. Slavery can be stopped if everyone gets together and unites. One of the main factors of modern day slavery is poverty. It is estimated that there are around 46 million people in some form of slavery and most of them are very poor.

Firstly, people should have awareness. Then they can act on it together rescuing lives of all the slaves. They can care for them and rehabilitate them so that they can join back in societies. If everyone acts, then this mission can be accomplished.

In India alone, there are 18 million enslaved people and still lots of people who are vulnerable to it. Slavery is very cruel and millions of people every day are captured beaten and harassed. All forms of slavery should be abolished.



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