Slavery in Europe


Figure 1.--.

Slavery in Christian Europe largely died out afterthe fall of Rome and the rise of the feudal system. Feudal serfdom was not far removed from slavery, but sefs did have some rights. And slavery did not entirely disappear. As Muslims took Christian slaves, some Christian states held Muslims in slavery. The perpetuation os slavery and the legal and historical framework varied from country to country. Slavery, however, after the European discovery of the America became largely race based and mosly restructed to the New World, especially the Caribbean, Brazil, and the southern colonies of North America. It was most important in the major colonial powers (England, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain). The history of slavery , its economic importance, and the campaign for abolition varied greatly in each European country.

Denmark


England/Britain

Slavery has a long history in England/Britain and has varied with the many historical shifts. We do not know about slavery in neolithic Britain. The Celts practiced slavery, but unlike Rome it was not a vital component of society and the economy. This changed with the Roman conquest (1st cenyury AD) and the Romanization of Celtic Britain. This declined after the Anglo-Saxon invasions (6th century), especully the Christianization of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The Viking raids and conquests was in part slave raiding and trading (9th century). Slavery returned not so much in England, but as part of the European conquest of the Americas and the ise of the slave trade. The slave trade was launched by Portugal abd Spain, but England/Britain became a key player in the Atlantic slave trade, primarily supply the Caribbean sugar planters. Tiny Caribbean islands became the most valuavke colonial possessions. Britain with the growth of the abolition movement after the Napoleonic Wars would play a key role in nding the slave trade in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and eventually abolition. The decesion not to recognize the Confederacy in the american Civil War was a key and very costly decision made by the British Government.

France

France as one of the major colonial powers partipated in the African slave trade. France was involved in both the Indian Ocean and Atlantic slave trade, but the Atlantic slave trade was of far greater importance. France mainly used Africn slaves in its Caribbean colonies, especially Haiti. African slaves were used in the enormously profitable sugar indusry. France shiped an estimated 1.25 million Africans to its Caribbean colonies. Most were seized in Senegal and transported through Goree Island. The French Revolution moved against slavery (1789). It was formally abolished (1794). Napoleon revived it because of the economic importance of Caribbean sugar and his desire to restore a French empire in North America (1802). This dream was ended by miliitary disaster in Haiti and Nelson's victory at Trafalgur. France after the Napoleonic War did not cooperate with the British effort to end the slave trade. Many in France profited by the trade and saw the Royal Navy campaign s a way of weakening France. France did not abolish slavery until the liberal revlution that ended the Bourbon monarchy (1848).

Germany

Germany's connections with slavery are a little complicated to work out. Gerany as a unified political entity in the 15th century did not exist. The Holy Roman Empire was a lose confedertion under the Hapsburg (Austrian) emperor which was to fracture further during the Reformation (16th century). German states did not have American colonies or Atlantic navies. This was complicated somewhat with the acession to power of Charles V. His domains included Spain. Thus at a critical period in the development of the African slave trade, Spain was ruled by an essentially Austrian (German) emperor. Charles V substantially expanded the Atlantic slve trade. He granted a Flemish courtier Lorenzo de Gorrevod authority to ship 4,000 captive Africans to the America (1518). This was the beginning in earnest of the slave trade. From this point thousands of captive Africans are shipped annually to the New World. The Reformation begins in Germany when Martin Luther nails his "95 Thesis" to a church door. This does not immediately affect the slave trade, but it does affect the European political situation and in the 19th century, Protestant churches would become a major force in the anti-slavery movement. Hieronymous Seiler and Heinrich Ehinger from Konstanz are the first Germans known to be involved in the slave trade (1526). While the Germany states were not major factors in the slave trade, it was NAZI German which attempted to institute slavery as aajor part of the European economy. The Germans made brutal slave labor camps an importantpat of the Germant war ecomomy. Germans plans after they won the War were even more barbaric. As part of Generalplan Ost, the Germans planned to kill much of the poulation and convert those who were allowed to live to Helot-like slavery.

Greece

The history of slavery in Greece is largely the story of slavery in ancient Greece. This is especially interesting as Greece is also the birthplace of freedom and at the same gome that the Greek economy had an important slave componnt. This is often mentioned by historians. Slavery was more important in Greece than akmost all ancient civilizations. Often not mentioned, however, is that the peasantry, the great bulk of the populatin throughout the ancient world, while not slaves, lived in conditions approaching slavery. This continued through the Roman era, but declines during the medevil hristian era. Slvery appeared again during the Muslim Ottoman era.

Italy

The European pages list modern countries. We thus have to place ancient Rome within the Italian section. This is somewhat misleading, as Rome dominated all of the Mediterranean and Western Europe. But the laws were made in Rome. Rome of course flourished two millennia before the unified Italian state was founded. Ancient Rome even more than Greece, except for Sparta, was a society based upon slavery. There was no unified Italian state until the 19th century. Rather Italy was a complicated mix of small states which varied oiver time. The most important was Naples in the south, the Papal states in the central area around Rome and Savoy and Venice in he north. Several other city states like Genoa were also important. Slavery and other forms of coercise labor lingered in Italy longr than in nrthern Europe. Actual practices and laws varied from state to state. Proximity to North Africa meant that enslaved Africans reached Italy from the Arab slave trade well before the European Atlantic slave trade began. Genoa attempted to prevent slave trading (1556). The concern does not seem to have been moral issues, but rather the numbers of Africans in the city.

(The) Netherlands

The Reformation begun by Martin Luther in Germany (1519) sread north to the Low Countries. Emperor Charles V failed to supress the Reformation in Germany and the medieval rights of the various towns and pivinces comprising the Low Countries make it even more difficult for Charles to deal with Protestantism there. Charles transfered the Low Countries to his son Philip and thus to the Spanish crown. Philips set out to establish centralized control and to stamp out Protestantism. The northern provinces with the Union of Utrecht united to create an independent Calvinist republic (1579). This sets in motion the Dutch War of Independence. The Dutch were becoming one of the formost trading countries and a major naval power. Bernard Ericks was the first Dutch slave trader (1592). In the process of persuing international trade, the Dutch form joint stock companies--essetially inventing capitalism. The effiency of their economic system, an important navy, and British assistance enable them to resist the most powerful countries in Europe--first Spain and then France. The Dutch for a time captured Brazil from the Portuguese and while there helped develop the the plantion sugar industry. While they were a major participanht in the slave trade, the lack of large colonies in the Americas meant that the slave population was relatively limited. There largest colony was Dutch Guiana (modern Suriname). The Dutch were one of the last European powers to abolish slavery.

Portugal

Portugal like other European countries had a history of slvery datgong back to Roman times. Elsewhere in Europe, slavery was gradually reduced, but no eliminated. This was different in Portugal and Spsin because of the Moorish conquest. Islam institutionslized slavery to a greater extent than Christisnity. Also Moorish war captives during the Reconquisra were often enslaved as the Moors enslaved Christian war captives. The Portuguese effort to find a sea route to the East meant that they were the frst European country to come into contact with sub-Saharan Africa. While the principal goal was to find a sea route, the Portuguese navigators also traded and olne of the items was slaves. This was the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade. The African slave trade itself had been begun centuries earlier by the Arabs. Portugal trading and empire building would be sutpased by larger countries, Portuguese possession of Brazil would mean that it controlled hald of South America. This would prove to be an emensly vluable colonywith the the largest slave population. Brazil exerted its independence in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars (1822). Unlike Spanisdh America, there was no revolutionary war and no liberal emancipation. Slavery would this continue in Brazil for decades (1880s).

Russia

Slavery was a major attravtion for the Vikings that sailed down Russian/Ukranian rivers. They carried captives from the west as well as Slavic people they captured along the rivers. Many were sold in Constantinople. The Vikings attempted to seize Constantinople, but were stopped by the massive walls. The continued, hoever, trading. During the Tsarist era serfdom supported the Russian agricultural economy. Serfs were not slaves, but only slighly removed from slavery. With the Bolshevist Revolution, slavery was reinstitued and became an important part of the Soviet economy during the Staliist era. The major institution was the Gulag and its barbaric slave labor camps. Stalin's collectivization was litt.e more than Communist imposed serfdom.

Scotland

A group of Africans were brought to the court of King James IV of Scotland (1504). They are believed to have been eslaved Africans taken from a captured Portuguese vessel. Independent Scotland did play a role in African slave trade. It did not have a significant navy or American colonies. Efforts by Scotts to found American colonies failed disasterously. Scottish financeers did play a role in slavery after the Act of Union (1707) which joined England and Scotland to create the United Kingdom. One provision the Scottish Parliament insisted on was access to the growing English overseas empire where at the time, especially in the Caribbean, slavery was a major factor.

Spain

Our information on slavery in medieval Spain, including the Islamic period is limited at this time. Spain as one of the major colonial powers partipated in the African slave trade. The earliest steps were taken by the Portuguese, but the Spanish quickly followed suit. Spain was primarily involved in the Atlantic slave trade because of their Caribbean colonies. The Spanish used Native Americans as a labor force un their mainland colonies, especially Peru and Mexico. This did not prove feasible in the Caibbean because through abuse and disease, the Native Ameicans largely perished. And as sugar became the dominant crop, labor hd to be obtained--large numbers if workers as sugar was a labor-intensive crop. The Spanish imported large numbers of slaves into its Cariben island colonies, the islands of the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico). The Spanish began importing slaves into Jamaica, but this island was seized by the British. The French seizd the lightly settled western portion of Hispaniola, which became St. Dominique (modern Haiti). Spanish slavers supplied slaves, but Portuguese slavers at first played an important role. Later British and other European slavers also delivered slaves. After the Napoleonic Wars when Britain began a campaign to end the slave trade, the Spanish were not cooperative. Spain contunued to maintain slavery on Cuba and Puerto Rico into the late-19th century after slavery had been abolished elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Ukraine

Slavery was a major attravtion for the Vikings that sailed down Russian/Ukranian rivers. They carried captives from the west as well as Slavic people they captured along the rivers. Many were sold in Constantinople. The Vikings attempted to seize Constantinople, but were stopped by the massive walls. The continued, hoever, trading. During the Tsarist era serfdom supported the Russian agricultural economy. Serfs were not slaves, but only slighly removed from slavery. With the Bolshevist Revolution, slavery was reinstitued and became an important part of the Soviet economy during the Staliist era. The major institution was the Gulag and its barbaric slave labor camps. Stalin's collectivization was litt.e more than Communist imposed serfdom.







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Created: 1:32 AM 2/26/2008
Last updated: 12:36 PM 6/9/2017