Tag Archives: History of Slavery

Ancient Pirates & Slavers

Pirates have always plagued shipping since trading vessels sailed the seas. During the second century BC, however, pirates in the Mediterranean presented a real danger to shipping. The pirates preferred to attack the slow-moving grain vessels which offered little resistance. The pirates attacked the slow trading vessels and captured the crew. The captives were brought to the island of Delos in the Aegean sea, the center of the international slave trade. On one occasion, more than 10,000 people were sold on a single day.
Rome occasionally sent the Roman navy against them with little success. How could Rome fail? Rome needed the pirates as a source of slaves to work the large plantations. As a matter of fact, the Romans turned a blind eye to the pirates’ activities for economic reasons.  They were then transported to Italy and forced to work at the plantations of the rich Roman senators and knights. Who said that crime doesn’t pay? More on the Cilicians another day. Rita Bay

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Ancient Laws on Slavery

 

The Code of Ur-Nammu, named for a king of Ur, was written in Sumerian circa 2100 BC. The fragment first standardized measures, weights, and money and provided a list of tax codes, ceremonial laws, courtroom procedures, rules for litigation, and penalties for offenses. The laws then defined crimes and punishments. Most of the punishments were in the form of fines, only rape, robbery, adultery, and murder were capital offenses.  The laws distinguished between free (lu) and slave (male,arad; female geme). The following laws survive related to slaves and slavery:

  • If a slave marries a slave, and that slave is set free, he does not leave the household. If a slave escapes from the city limits, and someone returns him, the owner shall pay two shekels to the one who returned him. If a man’s slave-woman, comparing herself to her mistress, speaks insolently to her, her mouth shall be scoured with 1 quart of salt.

The Code of Hammurabi was written in cuneiform in the Akkadian language in Babylon about 1772 BC. The Code became the model for later codes of law and provides for a presumption of innocence and the rule of evidence. The Code enacted 282 laws with punishments determined by slave or free status. (Check out pic of Hammurabi’s Code) Here are a few of the laws relating to slavery:

  • If anyone take a male or female slave of the court, or a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates, he shall be put to death.     If anyone receive into his house a runaway male or female slave of the court, or of a freedman, and does not bring it out at the public proclamation of the major domus, the master of the house shall be put to death.        If any one find runaway male or female slaves in the open country and bring them to their masters, the master of the slaves shall pay him two shekels of silver.     If the slave will not give the name of the master, the finder shall bring him to the palace; a further investigation must follow, and the slave shall be returned to his master.     If he hold the slaves in his house, and they are caught there, he shall be put to death.      If the slave that he caught run away from him, then shall he swear to the owners of the slave, and he is free of all blame.      If anyone fail to meet a claim for debt, and sell himself, his wife, his son, and daughter for money or give them away to forced labor: they shall work for three years in the house of the man who bought them, or the proprietor, and in the fourth year they shall be set free.     If he give a male or female slave away for forced labor, and the merchant sublease them, or sell them for money, no objection can be raised.     If any one fail to meet a claim for debt, and he sell the maid servant who has borne him children, for money, the money which the merchant has paid shall be repaid to him by the owner of the slave and she shall be freed.

Tomorrow, Ancient Pirates & Slavery!   Rita Bay

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The History of Slavery

     Put aside everything you thought you knew about the history of slavery. This month we will investigate the many faces of slavery throughout history. Why? Because slavery in America was a short chapter, maybe even a scene, in a history that spans thousands of years. The library was no help to my research. There were 22 books on slavery. All of them were about slavery in America, so I bought my own books, tracked down some  primary sources and searched the internet. This month, I plan to share some of what I’ve learned about the history of slavery. (See pic of my favorite book)

     Slavery was an economic institution of civilization. Hunter-gatherers and primitive farmers who lived at a subsistence level had no use for slaves. A slave would have been another mouth to feed. That changed, however, where towns and cities evolved. Tradesmen and craftsmen within the cities needed to work at their business or craft to maximize their profit. They generally bought their food from farmers who produced food beyond what was necessary for their own needs. The more they produced, the greater their profit. The ruling classes as they evolved needed servants and indicators of their status.

     These developments created an economic advantage for cheap labor. Whether working in shops doing less-skilled work or laboring on a farm, slavery became economically beneficial in all of the ancient civilizations. And slaves were easily acquired. War was common in the early civilizations. The fate of the losers was either death or slavery. Pirates sold their captives from raids as slaves. Convicted criminals or debtors unable to pay their debts could be sentenced to slavery. The poor sold their children or themselves into slavery to survive. With time, the slave population replenished itself.  In general, the children of female slaves were born slaves. Tomorrow, we’ll check out the most ancient laws that governed slaves and slavery. RitaBay

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