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chapter seven The Atlantic Slave Trade to ∞∏∑≠ Herbert Klein The forced migration of Africans in the Atlantic slave trade is traditionally associated with the rise of sugar production in the Old and New Worlds. But, in fact, the slave trade evolved independently of the expansion of the sugar economy. For the first 160 years, the Atlantic boat trade in African slaves was correlated with a host of different factors, from the use of Africans in domestic slavery in Europe and Spanish America, to the evolution of sugar and other products for the European market in the Atlantic islands and America. It is only after 1600 that the movement of Africans across the Atlantic became so intimately tied to the expansion of American sugar production. Moreover, until 1700, Africa earned more from the exportation of gold, ivory, and pepper than it did from slaves. Though of limited importance, slavery still existed in Europe in 1492. Like almost all complex societies in world history until that time, the nations of Europe had known slaves, and slavery in earlier centuries had been a fundamental labor institution. From the sixth century b.c. until the eighth century a.d., under the Greek city-states and the Roman Empire slave labor had been almost as important as peasant labor in the production of goods for local and long distance markets. Under the Islamic states of the Mediterranean world from the eighth century onward, slavery also had been important, though less tied to production and more associated with the state and private household economies . But in fifteenth-century Christian Europe, as in most such societies, slavery was primarily domestic slavery, which meant that the labor power of the household was extended through the use of these workers. Equally, slavery existed in the African continent from recorded times. But like Medieval Christian Europe, it was a relatively minor institution in the period before the opening up of the Atlantic slave trade. It could be found as a domestic institution in most of the region’s more complex societies, and a few exceptional 202 herbert klein states may have developed more industrial forms of slave production. But African slaves were to be found outside the region as well. With no all-embracing religious or political unity, the numerous states of Africa were free to buy and sell slaves and to even export them to North African areas. Caravan routes across the Sahara had existed from recorded times, and slaves formed a part of Africa’s export trade to the Mediterranean from pre-Roman to the modern times. But a new dimension to that trade occurred with the expansion of Islam in the eighth century. As the Islamic world spread into India and the Eastern Mediterranean, Islamic merchants came to play an ever more important part in the African slave trade. The frontier zones of the sub-Saharan savannas, the Red Sea region, and the East Coast ports on the Indian Ocean, in turn, became major centers for the expansion of Moslem influence. From the ninth to the fifteenth century, a rather steady international slave trade occurred, with the majority of forced migrants being women and children. Some six major and often interlocking caravan routes and another two major coastal regions may have accounted for as many as 5,000 to 10,000 slaves per annum in the period from 800 to 1600 a.d., accounting for anywhere from 3.5 to 10 million Africans who left their homelands.∞ There also existed an internal slave trade. Given the use of slaves for domestic and social purposes within Africa, the stress in the internal slave trade was even more biased toward women. For both these long-term trades, the whole complex of enslavement practices, from full-scale warfare and raiding of enemies to judicial enslavement and taxation of dependent peoples, had come into use and would easily be adjusted to the needs of the Atlantic slave trade when this came into existence in the early fifteenth century. Although the number of persons who were forcibly transported was impressive, these pre-1500 northern and eastern African slave trades still fit in with a level of production and social and political organization in which slave trading remained an incidental part of statecraft and economic organization. The arrival of the Portuguese explorers and traders on the sub-Saharan African coast in the early 1400s would ultimately represent a new development in the history of the slave trade in Africa in terms of...


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