Africa, the arrival of Europeans and the transatlantic slave trade

Slavery in Africa and Europe

by Marika Sherwood

Both in Europe and in Africa some people were free while others were not and were effectively enslaved people in some form or other.


For example, in Europe the lowest class of people were known as serfs who were legally bound to a piece of land which they had to work on for the lord of that land, and had to pay the lord for doing so, for life. Their children inherited that same status and piece of land.

Forms of slavery in Africa

In Africa there was also a trade in enslaved people from the south to the north and across the Red Sea. Enslaved men were mainly used as household servants and in the military; women became concubines and courtesans.

It is important to know that in these systems, the enslaved could rise in status. For example, Egypt was ruled by the Mameluks (ex-military slaves) from 1250 and the empire of Mali was ruled by Mansa Sakura, a freed slave, from 1298. This kind of slavery was very different from the brutal selling of masses of children, women and men as if they were non-human objects to be owned, used and disposed of at will, as was to be practised by Europeans in transatlantic slavery.

Further relevant writings by Marika Sherwood include:

'After Abolition: Britain and the Slave Trade since 1807'I.B. Tauris, 2007
‘Manchester, Liverpool and Slavery’, North West Labour History, 32,16-22 2007-08
'Perfidious Albion: Britain, the USA and slavery in the 1840s and 1860s', Contributions to Black Studies, 13-14 1995-6