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Describe the development and effects of the trans-African slave trade to the Middle East from the 8th century on, and the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the Western Hemisphere from the 16th century on.

Topics on the page

Overview of the Slave Trade
Trans-African Slave Trade
Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade
The Middle Passage
Effects of Slavery Today
Women in Slave Cultures

Arab slave trade in Africa in the Middle Ages.
Arab slave trade in Africa in the Middle Ages.

Focus Question: What were the impacts of the trans-African slave trade and the trans-Atlantic slave trade?

MAP.jpgFor more information about the history of slavery see the following:


See The Origins of New World Slavery from Digital History
external image Beautiful_red_apple.jpgComparing Slave Trades: A Study of the Transatlantic and Trans-Saharan Slave Trades from NC Civic Education Consortium.

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The Causes and Consequences of Africa's Slave Trades by Nathan Nunn, Harvard University.

History of Slavery in Africa

Trade Between Africa and the Middle East

timeline2_rus.svg.pngSlavery Timeline starting with 3000 BCE to 1888 CE

Go back to your roots (ashanti saying in twi)
Go back to your roots (ashanti saying in twi)

I. The trans-African slave trade to the Middle East

The trans-African slave trade happened from the 8th century in Sub-Saharan Africa, the costal regions of the Indian Ocean, North Africa and the Mediterranean. 14 million Africans were captured and sold into slavery.

  • While Africans had been exploring the Mediterranean world for centuries, their contact with the Mediterranean and North Africa significantly increased during the trans-Saharan Slave trade that began in the 9th century as North Africa became increasingly Muslim.
    • Many African societies also traded people as slaves within their own societies. Slaves usually came from taking captives during a time of war.
  • The trade of people in the trans-Saharan slave trade was part of a bigger trading system that included the trade of salt and gold.
    • Many slaves in Africa were taken as hostages in war or they were orphans. Most often they were allowed to become part of the kinship group of their captors. Slavery was not necessarily a lifetime sentence. In many places, slaves could own land and were educated. In fact, slaves originating from the North African coast were known to be too well educated as to not be trusted and prone to rebellion.
  • Trans-Sahara slavery was not based on race as it was in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
    • The trans-African slave trade between the 8th and 16th century cannot be understood without a general understanding of the spread of Islam. As Islamic leaders spread their rule across North Africa they captured Berbers (a North African indigenous group) to use or sell as slaves. Many of these slaves eventually ended up as military slaves for the Islamic empire. As the religion spread throughout the continent the slave trade within Africa became a more global trade, rather than the local slave trade many African communities had already practiced.
  • The two main trade routes included the trans-Saharan route and the East-African route.
    • It is estimated that over 10 million slaves were transported through the trans-Saharan route alone.
      • The interaction between Arab traders and the African people produced new cultures, such as the Swahili people who established city states between the 9th and 13th centuries.
  • The impact of the Muslim Arab Slave trade in Africa.
    • It is estimated about 14 million Africans were enslaved by Arabs over a 1,300 year period.
      • The need for slaves grew initially as Arabs demanded ivory and African laborers to carry it.
      • Major slave trade centers and routes were in the Sahara desert, North Africa, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea into the Middle East.
      • Unlike the Transatlantic Slave trade the Arab Slave trade enslaved more women than men to serve as harems and concubines for the pleasure of their masters. Men were used as laborers during trade missions, and served as messengers and drafted into the military.
      • It is believed that a large percentage of slaves died in transit in the Trans-Saharan and East African slave trade. Also a few of the descendants of slaves who ended in the Middle East survived.

Image result for Arab slave trade in africa
Image result for Arab slave trade in africa

  • A number of different people -Arabs and Africans - were involved in supplying slaves from the interior, as well as transporting ivory. They included:
      • the prazeros (farm owners), descendants of Portuguese and Africans, operating along the Zambezi,
      • the Yao working North East of the Zambezi
      • the Makua operating East of the Yao, closer to the coast
      • the Nyamwezi (or Yeke) operating further north around Lake Tanganyika under the leadership of Msiri and Mirambo, who established a trading and raiding state in the 1850's which linked up with the Ovimbundu in what is now modern Angola

Quill_and_ink.pngThe most famous trader of all was Tippu Tip, (Hamed bin Mohammed) a Swahili Arab son of a trader, and grandson of an African slave. He was born in Zanzibar of African Arab parentage and went on to establish a base West of Lake Tanganyika. He and his men operated in an area stretching over a thousand miles from inland to the coast.
  • The clove plantations on Zanzibar and Pemba set up by Sultan Seyyid Said, needed labor.
  • Brazilian traders were finding it difficult to operate in West Africa because the British navy was intercepting slave ships. The Brazilians made the journey round the Cape of Good Hope, taking slaves from the Zambezi valley and Mozambique.
  • The French had started up sugar and coffee plantations in Mauritius and Reunion.

Some scholars believe that the African slave trade led to its expansion within the continent and contributed to the creation of powerful African states that competed for control over the trade. This had a direct influence on the trans-Atlantic slave trade because when European merchants reached Africa in the 15th century the slave trade networks within Africa had already been well-established for centuries, leading to the trans-Atlantic slave trade after the 16th century.

Article from the University World News about the Arab Trans-Saharan slave trade.
Overview of the Sahara Desert trade route during the 8th century

Explore the history of Africa, including its slave trade and hear from the descendants of trans-African slave traders from the BBC.

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Diamond Mining, Brazil, ca. 1770s
Diamond Mining, Brazil, ca. 1770s

Track the movement of the African slave trade with this interactive map from iMaps.

II. The trans-Atlantic slave trade to the Western Hemisphere

Throughout the course of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, about 10 million Africans were brought to the New World with only 400,000 Africans being brought the the American Colonies. The majority of the slaves brought from Africa were brought to the Caribbean where they would be used on sugar cane plantations.

For background, see Slave Trade and African Society at Impact on Africa.

  • When Europeans first showed interest in pursuing a slave trade in Africa in the 16th century, many African rulers were receptive because they saw it as an extension of a system they already had; this system already established was the trans-Saharan Slave trade.
Atlantic Slave Trade Map

  • As the system of capitalism in Europe grew, many countries colonized parts of the Americas in hopes of obtaining resources in raw materials and free labor.

  • In order for the colonies to be successful, Europeans needed people to work the land. As their need grew, their treatment of Africans became worse. Soon, the slave trade was not an equally beneficial system, but one in which African people were exploited to a great extent. In order for Europeans to exploit Africans so badly, they had to dehumanize them. If they conceived of them as subhuman and religiously and culturally savage, they could justify treating them without respect.

  • Slavery created and then relied on a large support network of shipping services, ports, and finance and insurance companies. New industries were created, processing the raw materials harvested or extracted by slaves in the Americas. The slave trade contributed significantly to the commercial and industrial revolutions.

  • In the 400 years between 1450 and 1850, Europeans and Americans forced at least 12 million Africans into slavery.
    18th century diagram of a slave ship
    18th century diagram of a slave ship
  • As the trans-Atlantic slave trade developed, the human loss caused the societies of the West African coast to lose strength. The economy, agriculture, and government of societies was not able to function as they had in the past, leaving them even more vulnerable to invasion.
  • As the coastal Kingdoms began to diminish, Europeans traveled further into Central Africa to capture people for slavery. On the march back to the coast, millions of Africans died before even reaching the ships.

Image result for Transatlantic slave trade
Image result for Transatlantic slave trade

Image: Slave Shackles

Slavery and the Construction of Race
Race is not an innate biological difference between groups of people; race is a social construct.
  • This theory is supported by the American Anthropological Association, and their statement on race can be read here.

While there are many plausible explanations as to why Africans were enslaved by European imperialists, one of these explanations links the reason to the construction of race.
  • As means of justifying the treachery of chattel slavery (the form of slavery practiced by the Europeans in which a slave's children are born into a lifetime of slavery, as well, so the purchase of one slave was essentially more than a lifetime investment), Europeans were forced to consider those whom they were enslaving as lesser or even sub-human. Therefore, rather than slavery being a result of racism, racism was the result of slavery.
    • Read more about this theory here, or watch Episode 5 of the Basil Davidson documentary series linked below!

Multimedia.pngVoyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database from Emory University has information on nearly 35,000 slaving voyages.

Video from Crash Course about the Atlantic slave trade.

primary_sources.PNGThe Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record is a website developed by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia.

primary_sources.PNGFirst hand account of being enslaved and transported to the Americas.
Multimedia.pngBreaking the Silence: Learning about the Transatlantic Slave Trade from the organization, Anti-Slavery.org.

For a modern-day account, see Focus on the Slave Trade. BBC Web site, May 16, 2007.

 Masion des Esclaves (House of Slaves), Goree Island, Senegal*
Masion des Esclaves (House of Slaves), Goree Island, Senegal*

Textiles and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from YouTube.

For an overview of what traditional textbooks don't tell you about the Atlantic Slave Trade view this video from TED-ED

Click here for a closer look at the effects of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade on Africa.

Consequences of the Atlantic Slave Trade
Multimedia.pngFifteen minute history podcast on the effects of the Atlantic slave trade on the Americas.

Hear about the importance of the United States' decision to outlaw the Atlantic Slave Trade in 1808 from historian and Columbia University professor Eric Foner in this NPR Podcast.

*Goree Island is where slaves were taken after being captured to be put on ships bound for Cuba, Brazil, and the United States. Check out more about Goree Island here.

While this documentary series by Basil Davidson is a little old, its 8 episodes provide great information on a wide variety of topics dealing both with African history, and slavery. Episode 3 discusses the trans-Saharan trade, and Episode 5 discusses the trans-Atlantic trade.

III. The Middle Passage

European and American treatment of Africans on the journey across the Atlantic, known as the Middle Passage 4, 5, was brutally inhumane, and many did not survive.
primary_sources.PNGInterior of a Slave Ship

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Click Here for an animated map showing the number of slave ships going from Africa to the US and Caribbean via the Middle Passage from 1545 to 1860
  • Notice how most of the ships are going to the Caribbean and South America
  • By 1808 the US outlawed the slave trade but not slavery itself
    • primary_sources.PNG (1807)

lessonplan.jpgLesson plans:

IV. Effects of Slavery in the 21st Century

  • The racial stereotypes that formed as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade persisted after it had been abolished, resulting in discrimination against the descendants of slaves.
    • Click here for more information.
  • Some African-American lawmakers and community leaders believe that the United States government should provide monetary compensation to the descendants of slaves.
      • Click here for more information from ABC.
  • One student at American University published a report stating that the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is and should be recognized as a Forgotten Crime Against Humanity.
primary_sources.PNGNPR article debating a 2009 Senate resolution apologizing for slavery.
  • While slavery in the way we typically think of it ended in the US with the passage of the 13th Amendment, there has been a lot of scholarship recently which links the mass incarceration rates we see contemporarily with a new form of slavery.
    • Written into the 13th Amendment is a clause which states that slavery is allowed if it is as punishment for crime.
      • For a detailed look into this conversation, you can check out Michelle Alexander's book The New Jim Crow or the Netflix documentary 13th.

Female_Rose.pngV. Women in Slave Culture:

  • In the trans-African slave trade many regarded Berber women to be the ideal slaves. Berber women were highly regarded slaves for housework, sexual relations, childbearing, and wet-nurses.
    • (Click here for an article on the slave trade in North Africa in the 8th century; on pg. 354 the author discusses the role of women slaves)

lessonplan.jpgWomen and Slavery

An essay about rape laws and female African slaves.

Here is an article on gender and slavery by historian Jennifer Hallam from PBS.

Click here for an article on female slaves in the Caribbean.

Resources and Links

The BBC. (2001). Focus on the Slave Trade. UK. Retrieved online February 12, 2012. Web site: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/1523100.stm

Drescher, S., & Engerman, S. (1998). A Historical Guide to World Slavery. New York: Oxford University Press.

Finkelman, Paul (1998). Macmillan Encyclopedia of World Slavery. New York: Macmillan Reference USA Simon & Schuster Macmillan.

Kennedy, David M., Lizabeth Cohen, and Thomas Andrew Bailey. The American Pageant: a History of the Republic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

Masonen, Pekka (8/18/1995). Trans-Saharan Trade and the West African Discovery of the Mediterranean World. Retrieved May 16, 2007, from The third Nordic conference on Middle Eastern Studies: Web site: http://www.smi.uib.no/paj/Masonen.html

PBS, (Unknown). http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1p277.html (Middle Passage)

Rodriquez, Junius P. (1999). Chronology of World Slavery. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO.

Rodriguez, Junius P. (1997). The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO.

Unknown, (unknown). Impact on Africa, Caribbean, America's and Europe. Retrieved May 16, 2007, from Breaking the Silence, Learning about the trans-Atlantic slave trade Web site: http://www.antislavery.org/breakingthesilence/main/07/index.shtml