Tuesday, February 27, 2007

History of slavery

Slavery predates writing and evidence for it can be found in almost all cultures and continents. Its many origins remain unknown. An example of slavery is thought to have existed in the walled town of Jericho which was established around 10,000 BCE. The settlers of Jericho were plagued by roaming hunting and gathering bands, which they killed or captured. [citation needed] It is thought that the ones that were captured were then put to work as slaves who themselves may have later eventually become citizens and slave owners.[citation needed] Slavery can be traced to the earliest records, such as the Code of Hammurabi in Mesopotamia (~1800 BCE.), which refers to slavery as an already established institution. The forced labor of women in some ancient and modern cultures may also be identified as slavery. Slavery, in this case, includes sexual services.

The history of slavery in the ancient world was closely tied to warfare. Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Hebrew, Greek, Roman, Persian, Chinese, Mayan, Aztec and Indian sources are replete with references to slavery in connection with warfare. Captured prisoners of war were frequently impressed into slavery by their captors, often as manual labourers in military, civil engineering, or agricultural projects, or as household servants. Many ancient households were maintained with one or more slaves and slaves provided nearly all the agricultural and construction labour in some societies.

Many ancient societies had many more slaves than nominally "free" citizens who controlled them. Slavery nearly everywhere permitted cruelty and abuse although slaves were usually treated semi-humanely as valuable "property". Slavery nearly always predates written history on every continent. After writing was introduced, domestic slavery and sometimes concubine slavery was noted among the nomadic Arabs, and among Native American hunter gatherers, African, New Guinean, and New Zealand tribes, and among the Germanic and Viking raiders and many other pre-literate people.

Most slavery is associated with war in that losers are taken prisoner by the victors to prevent a future conflict, or as a form of penal punishment with the criminals being made slaves to partially compensate the victims. Debt slavery existed in very early times, and some African people had the custom of putting up wives and children as hostages for an obligation; if the obligation was not paid, the hostages became slaves. In Homer's Greece, it was not a crime, although unusual, for a master to beat or kill a slave, and the testimony of slaves was not allowed in Greek courts unless it was obtained through torture.