A disguised, stealth title is my way of sidestepping assumptions and conclusions about a difficult subject. Some prefer one model of slavery fact over another, but it is difficult/impossible arguing slavery came-to-be with Colonial (British) America in a cane sugar to rum to slave triangle pre and post US independence. All that did happen, but so did a much larger human trade by Spain, Portugal, France and Holland by a likely factor of eight or nine to one by the non-British. Can a hard-fast trail of evidence be followed? No, but we do know Portugal did its best to hide its main slave export location from discovery, especially after Britain committed to abolition. Regardless of late-history events, slavery was known around the globe well before and independent of its recent tag as Western.  

Asia had slaves and slavery, as did Africa and the New World. Who was enslaved? Usually one’s neighbors because they were available. The Vikings (major slave traders) did not go to Africa, Asia or the America’s when slave material existed nearby. Strong (aggressive) groups enslaved vulnerable weaker societies. Sumerians, Egyptians, the Khans, Greeks, Romans, Incas and more held slaves. In many/most instances the enslaved were of lower status by honoring the wrong gods, speaking the wrong language and having foreign customs or appearance. People clump up and tend to stay so, which is why you’ll not see many Mormon shirts and ties at an LGBTetc gathering. Many of us denounce, but we seek affirmation from others like ourselves.  

Slave status was more permanent than less. Where being freed was possible the freedman carried the stigma of former slave, a stigma often enduring because human societies love ranking, else there would be no deed for $1,000 sneakers to proclaim elevated status.  

Are there difficult, tangled or gray areas. We’re talking about human activity so you can bet on as much confusion as light. Some might argue that adoption services sell children making them a sort of benign slave trade. The Oatman girls taken and sold in the Southwest or John Tanner held captive by Northland natives are other twists. And don’t leave out the once-common indenture and apprentice bonds relying on limited ownership of individuals and their labor.

None of this is simple. Issues wrap around one another like a ball of garden snakes in a woodpile. Is a slave owner apt to be more protective of their property than a less responsible indenture holder? How much onus or credit rests on owner/renter behavior? Is owners hip itself the condemning factor?  

The last sound like empty academic questions. They are not because in much of Europe the serf or peasant was attached to certain land that could be held by king, noble or successful business venture. As example, when improved agriculture caused less need for peasant farmers any who became landless peasants were free but destitute. Little consideration is given to the convolutions of serfs becoming free. European serfs struggled for freedom from compulsory labor by paying rent (tax?) instead. But that worked best in places where skills such as plow and wagon making were needed, in effect both replacing and augmenting agricultural work.

Plus, whoever held the land and its peasants (oftentimes forbidden freedom of movement) paid what was commonly called the Soul Tax on every male peasant above age 10. That tax went in part to build fords and bridges for commerce, but also for a force to defend land (and people) from raiders. A thousand years of Central and East Europe history shows roughly two hundred invasions: Mongols, Tatars, Ottomans and Vikings went at it for centuries. Protecting land meant protecting the people who made it productive. No farmer, no food, the land is barren.  

At times you’ll hear European Slavs meaning slaves. This true? Somewhat. Latin use of the term is certainly more convincing than asserting Aztec means slave. Also, Slavs were late being Christianized which made them fair game for other Pagan (Viking) raiders, plus Christian and Muslim raids. In the Balkans non-Muslims paid a tax in children. Why were pretty girls and strong boys taken? Take a guess.

If a good Muslim male could have five wives he had to look outside the immediate vicinity. Boys were circumcised and trained as Janissaries to serve the Caliph. Do we call a well-cared for harem girl or Janissary a slave because they had no other choice? Or were they slaves simply for having been gathered as a tax?  

We can hold any number of notions, but landless servitude came in various forms and was found widely in a great many civilizations around the globe. Some of those practices more palatable in our eyes than others, but forced servitude is enslavement. Whether in a beautiful harem or as a sacrificial victim the individual was not free. Freedom, then, was the defining issue; not always pretty if you were a freed, landless peasant enjoying liberty while starving.  

Play a thought game. Imagine globally 10,000 years past tribal groups came in conflict over resources and in the process took captives (enslaved other tribe members) for labor, sacrifice or etc. Imagine 5,000 years later societies/nations on every continent carrying on roughly the same practices. I

n all that time I’d suppose most every form of enslavement and master-slave stance has been tried and that we’re well experienced as occupier-owners of land and human property. Nothing new. Taxes acknowledges a person’s effort and success belong in some measure to a state, nation or both. Maybe, then, homelessness is freedom because the land and homeless individual isn’t bound, enslaved as is a taxpayer. How many tax-rent payers are needed to support the “free,” who increase and seem to get fed?  

I can’t settle slavery, but consider this. In 1627 a convoy of ships raided Denmark and Iceland seeking for blonde, fair-skins for sale in North Africa. 300+ were delivered in Algiers where Olafur Egilsson was privileged to see his 11-year-old son (in Moroccan jargon “uncircumcised dog”) among the first selected. Egilsson was returned north on condition he arrange ransom for Icelander slaves. Years later he was reunited with his wife. The fates of their abducted children, unknown.