Slavery around the World: Historical Contexts

Slavery around the World: Historical Contexts

Most people today think of Slavery as an institution perpetuated by white colonialism, or that it was something as simple as whites enslaving blacks.

Tragically, slavery has been universal to human civilizations and has taken many forms, as far back as we have managed to look into human history. It says something very troubling about human nature. One of the most important lessons of human history is that no human beings, regardless of color or political affiliation, can be trusted with unconstrained authority over others.

As far back as the very first documented human civilization, Sumar in Mesopotamia, 3500 BC, we have found evidence of slavery as an institution. People of every race, religion, culture, and from all parts of the world have at some time been slaves and enslavers.

This has been true of ancient civilizations, and we can assume it goes back as far as the development of agriculture during the Neolithic Revolution, 11,000 years ago. Although rarely seen in Hunter-gatherer communities, some form of slavery has existed almost everywhere people have been in stationary, agrarian societies with any development of social stratification.

Sumer, ancient Greece, ancient China, ancient Africa, the Akkadian Empire, Assyria, Babylonia, ancient Iran, ancient Egypt, ancient India, the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Arab Islamic Caliphates and Sultanates, Nubia, Medieval Europe, Pre-Colombian Americas; all had it, and many more.

For thousands of years, slavery was never considered a controversial issue until the 18th century, when christian europeans eventually turned against slavery. Adam Smith wrote in 1776 that only in western Europe had Slavery been abolished.

In India there were estimated to be more slaves than there were people living in the western hemisphere. Included Among the first to condemn slavery were American leaders such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and others. No comparable rejection of slavery throughout Africa, Asia, or the Middle East in the 18th century has ever been found.

But american leaders of the 18th century are uniquely singled out for condemnation even though America and western society are unique in that they set out throughout the world to end slavery, at a time when the rest of the world was still maintaining it. Europeans not only pressured the world but stood up to armed resistance to rid the world of slavery. For several decades after Americans engaged in a full-scale civil war to free its domestic slaves, the Ottoman Empire was still buying and selling european slaves.

Somewhere around 67X the number of human beings are enslaved globally today than were seized from Africa and brought to the United States throughout the entirety of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. As of 2013 an estimated 25-40 million people have been subjected to slavery, in the the form of sex and human trafficking primarily in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. According to the Global Slavery Index, North Korea, Eritrea, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Mauritania, South Sudan, Pakistan, Cambodia and Iran are among the worst offenders, as well as Jihahist terrorist organizations and Islamist quasi-states.

In Western China there are “detention” camps, where an estimated 12 million ethnic and religious minorities are being forced to renounce their religious piety and swear loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party and are subjected to forced labor for the purpose of China’s “Re-education through labor” policy. These internment camps provide goods for well known international companies including Apple, Nike, BMW, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen.

Given that the horrific institution of slavery was so so prevelant and so widely accepted for all of human history. The question we should ask ourselves is not “Why slavery existed” but rather, “What were the social and cultural pressures that eventually turned people against it?”

“Genesis 1:26-27 – Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

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