Today, August 23rd, is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. The date was chosen by the United Nations because it marks the anniversary of the Haitian Uprising – an event which heralded the beginning of an end to slavery.
We can trace slavery back to ancient civilisations. It was known amongst the Mesopotamians, the Egyptians, the Israelites, the Greeks and the Romans… to name but a few. But as we became more civilised, slavery ceased – didn’t it? Well, no. You’d be surprised at just how recently it’s been practised. Let’s take a look at a history of slavery through the ages…
You might think that after the Roman Empire became Christian that they’d abolish slavery. You’d be wrong. The religion does not condemn it and Saint Paul himself commanded slaves to obey their masters. But Rome fell in the 5th Century, so maybe slavery ended then?
Actually, slaves (or rather, serfs) were an economic fact of medieval society. The vast majority of Europeans had to work for their lord for no payment. Nobles, knights and the Church all grew wealthy from the efforts of their chattels. But something happened to change all that – the Black Death. A shortage of labour caused by the plague made the commoners free. It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good!
Freedom then for Europeans, but the lack of workers meant bad news for foreigners. Slaves from conquered lands in Africa and Asia were brought en masse to the continent to take the place of the liberated serfs. And when new territories were discovered and colonised in the Americas, more slaves were needed to work the land and supply cotton to feed industrial mills and sugar to feed over-rich appetites.
Then things at last began to change. In the 1780s the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was founded in Britain and they sought to ban the practice throughout the Empire. At the same time, the French Revolution preached freedom for all. Soon, slavery was illegal all over Europe.
In America things were different. Despite crying out for freedom when they revolted against British rule, the colonists hung onto their slaves far longer than any other advanced country. In fact, the issue of slavery and its abolition even brought the country to a state of civil war. The practice finally ended in America in 1865.
Although slavery is now outlawed in every nation, it does still go on. It’s estimated that more than 20 million people today are being forced to work against their will. Large countries with high levels of poverty seem to be the worst offenders and a report made in 2013 found that India, Russia and China had 17 million slaves between them. So today spare a thought not only to history’s slaves, but also to those still in bondage today.
Slavery is one of the topics covered in the National Curriculum but what else is there? You’ll find the answer on our Knowledge Bank page. It’s a collection of articles which aim to inform parents about all aspects of education, from pre-school to university. You’ll also find plenty of advice on different aspects of parenting too, from online safety to special educational needs. It’s a valuable tool in your parenting armoury!
If you are interested in the history of slavery then take a look at our KS3 History section. It includes four quizzes on slavery and its abolition which you may find captivating, in more ways than one!