The United States’ Constitution, that guarantees certain civil liberties, fascinates me from an historical and outsider’s perspective. In particular, the Constitution grants “freedom from slavery and forced labour”.
I imagine many people glide right over that statement, barely giving a thought to how powerful a shield it really is. Canada has a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that includes freedom from slavery. Many countries have similar documents that grant civil liberties and protections to their citizens, including freedom from slavery.
But slavery has been a key part of human history, and still exists in the world today, although it has gone underground and stays hidden. Wikipedia estimates that there could still exist anywhere from twelve to twenty-seven million slaves in the world, even today. Twenty-seven million.
Slavery has to be one of the worst conditions a human could be subjected to. To have all your personal freedom and free will stripped from you and be told what to do and how to live your life, for the term of your natural life, with no chance of parole, escape or manumission, would be soul-destroying. And for millions of humans throughout history, slavery was their life. Many cultures’ economies were built upon slaves and slave labour, including the Romans’, Egyptians’, Byzantines’ and more.
Slaves were acquired when countries were conquered. The people captured by the invading armies were often enslaved and sent to local slave markets for the money they could raise. Waging war was an expensive business and selling slaves helped off-set costs.
Right up until the early medieval period, there were well traveled slave routes across Europe and the middle east that slave traders used to transport their slaves to the bigger population centres such as Constantinople, where they could get more money for their “stock”.
As Christianity grew more popular in the western world, especially amongst the slaves themselves (it was often called “the slaves’ religion”), the purchase and use of slaves began to slowly lose favour as the value of all human life was lifted in the eyes of man. But a slave economy is hard to stamp out when it brings such easy wealth to so many. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that slavery was abolished in the United States — and it took a civil war to do it. Slavery continued unchecked in the less settled corners of the world, and moved underground as authorities declared it illegal.
Technically, every country in the world has declared slavery illegal. But the practice continues at alarming rates every year. Slavery has existed throughout human history and still exists in one form or another on every continent in the world except Antarctica, despite our best efforts to stamp it out.
Because slavery was such a basic commodity throughout history, and because it is such a terrible thing for one human to do to another, it is a common theme in my novels where characters or settings dip back into history. Nial, from Blood Knot, is one example, but I won’t spoil the story for you by explaining why. Brody, from the Kiss Across Time series, is another.
Southampton Swindle, a Blood Drops story that features Nial from the Blood Stone series, has just been released.