History of Slavery and the Atlantic Slave Trade



Contrary to popular belief, slavery has existed for the majority of human history. Early examples of slavery can be found in the Bible and Ancient Greek and Roman history, thousands of years before the Trans-Atlantic slave trade began. Slavery existed in the form of serfs, indentured servants, and conquered peoples. The non-Muslim boys that were absorbed by the expansion of the Ottoman Empire were taken from their families, converted to Islam, and made into an army called a janissary. Slavery was also an integral part of African social structure before the Atlantic slave trade. Reasons for enslavement included prisoners of war, personal profit, judicial processes, economic need, and religion. Slavery in Africa was not more or less humane, but it differed because slaves were incorporated into the social structures of households. The main difference between early forms of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade is that previous to Nathaniel Bacon's Rebellion, race was not what constituted who was and who was not considered a slave.

The discovery of the New World led to the beginning of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade because the New World created bountiful economic opportunities where land was abundant and labor was not. Therefore, the increased demand for slaves, not only exploited the natural resources of the New World, but also exploited millions of Africans. Horrific and fatal conditions during the transport of slaves explicitly portrays the inequality slaves were faced with. The exploitation of humans for economic gains not only stimulated growth in America, but created a new African cultural identity while solidifying a hierarchy of race between blacks and whites.