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Historical Understanding of The Term 'Slavery'

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The purpose of this research task is to investigate slavery, though called by other names in 21st century, i.e. human trafficking and cheap labour, and the reasons why it has been able to prevail through centuries.

According to the Merriam- Webster dictionary (2011), slavery can be defined as submission to a domineering influence or the state of a person who is a chattel of another person. The Collins English dictionary (2018) defines slavery as, a civil relationship whereby one person has absolute power over another and controls his/her life, liberty and future.

Slavery is not just something we read about in history books, it is very much still around today. According to the International Labour Organisation (2018) approximately 40 million people across the globe are victims of modern day enslavement. However, slavery is not something new, it has been around for as long as long as man has been on earth. The Bible makes reference to slavery, ‘Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.’. Slavery was an important resource in Ancient Rome in building the economy. According to Kreber (2015) workers were considered private property, they had no rights or any form of income. These workers worked the land and served their masters in their households and they are the foundation and the reason for the development of the economy and building ancient cultures. Hornsby (1999) states that historians believe the first signs of slavery originate 10,000 years B.C; these slaves were criminals and kidnapped prisoners of war used as agricultural labourers.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade was one of the biggest and most well-known incidents of slavery in our history, it took place across the Atlantic Ocean from the 16th to the 19th century. According to Wyatt (2009) these slaves were taken from mainly western Africa and transported by ship across the ocean to the Americas. Millions of people were sold into slavery, this number includes those who died on the ship to the Americas, ‘…Between 1500s and 1800s, the Europeans transported about 12 million slaves from their countries into the new colonies…’. These slaves were used to grow the economy by working the land, picking cotton, harvesting sugar cane, harvesting tobacco and so on. They were also used in the building of railroads and working in their master’s household. Slaves built the economy of the Americas. These slaves were treated badly, owners raped enslaved women, brutally beat disobedient slaves and split up families by selling mothers and fathers, sons and daughters). Then the civil war came in 1861. This was due to decades of tensions between the north and south and their different viewpoints on slavery and westward expansion. The was between the states ended in 1865, with the confederates surrendering and the north winning the war, and president Lincoln declaring the end of slavery. The United Nations (2018) has declared slavery as a violation of human rights. It is an illegal industry. So why has it been able to prevail all the way to the 21st century? There is a constant pattern with all the sources investigated regarding slavery, slavery is how people have been able to make money, grow economies and develop countries for centuries.

What is the historical understanding of the term slavery? It is that slavery has been a constant plague throughout man’s history. Greed is the best definition of slavery. Throughout history, greed is the factor that fuels slavery even to this day. Slaves cost less today yet slave traders are making huge amounts of profits. According to Greed as Economic Justification of Slaves in the 15th to 19th Century, (2015) slavery was able to stay so popular throughout history because if slavery were to be abolished the economy would fall and many people would lose money. People were unwilling to give up their profits.

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Historical Understanding of the Term ‘Slavery’. (2019, April 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 27, 2021, from
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Historical Understanding of the Term ‘Slavery’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Jul. 2021].
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