10 Uses of Slavery You Didn’t Learn About in School

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Slavery appeared alongside the agricultural revolution some 12,000 years ago, when humanity went from hunting and gathering to a sedentary and more hierarchical society. With the appearance of agriculture and animal husbandry came the first abundance, and along with it the material advantage of owning another person.

This phenomenon has afflicted almost all of mankind. The rivalry generated between these newly formed classes of people, master and servant, had strong effects felt even to this day. From the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, to European colonial powers and the Atlantic slave trade, not to mention modern slavery around the world, slavery has changed human society significantly. Below are less famous cases you may not have heard of, yet were no less influential.

10. Mesopotamia

Like writing, slavery officially starts with the Sumerians. Living on the banks of the Euphrates River in what is now Iraq, the Sumerians centered their civilization on a dozen city-states which were all under the protection of local deities. The Sumerians were a fairly peaceful people, but they sometimes warred with each other for economic reasons. The winner would then enslave the locals, mostly as concubines or domestic workers, under the pretext that their gods had allowed them to conquer an inferior people.

Later, with the arrival of the Babylonians in the region, strict laws were put in place regarding slavery. The Code of Hammurabi, dating back to the 18th century BC, discusses how to own slaves, what was allowed and what wasn’t, and what the penalties were for both masters and slaves who broke the law.

In Babylon, slaves had some rights that spared them from “unwarranted abuse,” and allowed them to own private property and even businesses. Free men could offer themselves or their children into bondage, but could later buy their freedom back if they had the means to do so. Mothers couldn’t be separated from their children, and children born into servitude remained on the same estate as their parents. Most slaves in Babylon and Sumer were native to the region, spoke the same language and believed in the same gods. Only a minority was brought from distant lands by trade or conquest.

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