The binding of one person to another, servant to master, has a long history in
human affairs. Ancient peoples bought and sold humans, worked and
exploited them for material gain, out of vengeance, or for personal status.
Warriors in the ancient world lay siege to enemy cities knowing that when
the siege was broken and the city fell there would be, after the initial blood-
lust was satisfied, hundreds, even thousands of women and their children to
capture as booty, to use, work, and sell at will. Bondage as a fact of life, the
product of war, purchase, trade, or birth, was the experience of countless
peoples of all ages and places for centuries.
Africans enslaved Africans long before 15th-century Portuguese sailed
along the coast of West Africa seeking slaves. Africans, like Europeans, Asians,
and Americans, captured enemy men, women, and children in battle; some
captives were made ritual sacrifices; some were retained as personal slaves;
some were sold to others. Besides war captives, there existed a lively trade
throughout Africa of buying and selling slaves for labor, agriculture, war, and
harems; some kingdoms demanded tribute in slaves from subordinate peo-
ples; some people were enslaved for debt or crime. Notwithstanding religious
beliefs—Muslim, Christian, or African polytheism—slavery was matter-of-
fact, a present way of life, whether in South Africa, along the shores of the
Mediterranean, or in sub-Saharan Africa.
Likewise, the indigenous inhabitants of North America enslaved people
through war for centuries before the arrival of the Europeans in the late 15th
and early 16th centuries. Indians used war captives for ceremonial purposes,
resulting in torture and sacrifice, other times to adopt into the family or clan
to replace a lost member, or as outcast laborers. Indian masters traded cap-
tive slaves to other tribes and, beginning in the 16th century, to European
settlers in North America.
Western European traders began purchasing African slaves in West Africa
and transporting them to America beginning in the 16th century and, once