How did Europeans change slavery?

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mlsldy3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the 15th and 16th centuries, Europeans were interested in the trading going on in African nations and their sophisticated trading networks. This gave the Europeans the idea to get involved in trading human beings. They took the enslaved people from West Africa to the Americas.

In the Americas people were now getting used to the idea of owning their own land. They didn't want to work for other people now that they had some freedom to work for themselves. Convicts were being used to work the land at the time, but the landowners found that these people were just not getting the work done. The planters and overseers at the farms and plantations, then began to purchase the enslaved people the Europeans were bringing over. The action that the Europeans took by selling people, affected slavery immensely. This would go on for generation after generation. The horror of people being taken from their native homes to become sold as slaves. 

With the Europeans now becoming involved with the slave trade, they brought it to the Americas. It affected this country in one of the worst ways possible. You have to wonder, if the Europeans hadn't come here with the enslaved people what would have happened? Would some other country done it? Would we, as Americans, discovered what was going on? Would there have been a way to keep this from ever happening? This is how the Europeans changed to face of slavery forever.

sid-sarfraz | Student

What is slavery?

Slavery refers to a condition in which individuals are owned by others, who control where they live and at what they work. Slavery had previously existed throughout history, in many times and most places. The ancient Greeks, the Romans, Incas and Aztecs all had slaves.

Characteristics of Slavery

  • Slaves are supposed to live their lives in a manner their master wants
  • Slaves are to follow all the instructions given by their master
  • Slaves are under the complete power of their masters and they can be sold or passed along on the will of their master only as they are known as their master's property.
  • Slavery is transmitted from parent to child.

What does it mean to be a Chattel Slave?

A chattel slave is an enslaved person who is owned for ever and whose children and children's children are automaticallyenslaved. Chattel slaves are individuals treated as complete property, to be bought and sold.

Chattel slavery was supported and made legal by European governments and monarchs. This type of enslavementwas practiced in European colonies, from the sixteenth century onwards.


While slavery was a significant feature of ancient Greek and Middle Eastern societies, the direct roots of Europe's early modern traffic in slaves can be traced to ancient Rome and to early Islam. At the height of its power (c. 200 b.c.e.–200 c.e.), the Roman republic depended upon perhaps 2 million slaves (or about a third of its population) to perform every kind of labor, from agricultural production and domestic service to military command and political advising. Many of these slaves were taken from the communities and cultures at the empire's periphery and pressed into service where, through trade networks, they relocated throughout the lands under Roman imperial control.

With the collapse of the Roman Empire in the late fourth century, slavery became much more marginal in most European regions. While some families continued to maintain small numbers of slaves, often as domestic servants, widespread agricultural slavery generally gave way to serfdom, especially in northern and western Europe (including England, Scandinavia, and France).


Chattel slavery was supported and made legal by European governments and monarchs. This type of enslavement was practiced in European colonies from the sixteenth century onwards.

  • Europeans wanted lots of slaves , so people were captured to be made slaves.
  • Enslaved Africans were transported huge distances to work. They had no chance of returning home.
  • Children whose parents were enslaved became slaves as well.

Europeans were not only slaveholders in the early modern period; they were also slaves. From at least the sixteenth century, thousands of Europeans were captured by Muslim privateers in or along the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, or North Sea and sold into slave markets from Alexandria, Egypt to Meknes, Morocco. Seamen, fishermen, traders, travelers, and soldiers were the most vulnerable to seaborne raiders. On land, with the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe, peasant families were just as subject to enslavement as were combatant soldiers. Some Christian captives converted to Islam and made new lives for themselves, others were ransomed by their relatives, escaped, or died in captivity. Some were pressed into service as galley slaves on Muslim ships. Many observers noted that their treatment there was better than on the French, Italian, or Spanish galleys. In general, slavery in the Ottoman Empire was reportedly milder than slavery elsewhere, and manumission (the individual freeing of slaves) was a common, even expected, form of charity for observant Muslims.


Slavery changed when Europeans became involved, as it led to generation after generation of peoples being taken from their homelandsand enslaved forever. It led to people being legally defined as chattel slaves.

In the second half of the seventeenth century, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the chief minister to France's king Louis XIV (ruled 1643–1715), expanded a system of galley slaves as punishment for many different kinds of crimes. More than 1,500 Protestant dissenters were condemned to the French galleys.

During the same period, the Habsburg emperor Leopold I (ruled 1658–1705), in conjunction with Louis XIV, suspended the religious freedom guaranteed by the Hungarian constitution and sent some sixty Protestant ministers to be sold to the Spanish galleys; twenty-six surviving prisoners were released in 1676. The French galley penal system continued until 1748.

In the same period, from the end of the seventeenth century until the end of the eighteenth, the seizure of war captives for ransom or labor became a fixture of warfare between the Russian and Ottoman empires. However, in contrast to the Ottomans, whose slaves were overwhelmingly non-Muslim outsiders, Russia drew most of its slaves from its own domestic population, many of whom sold themselves to escape famine or destitution.

Slavery persisted in Russia until the early eighteenth century, when the tsarist state redefined domestic slaves as serfs so that they might be taxable. The line between serf and slave, however, was often blurred in practice. Slavery in Ottoman Europe continued in reduced form through the nineteenth century until its formal abolition at the end of the century.

The movement to abolish slavery has roots in European urban culture, elite European religious and intellectual movements, and African-American slave resistance. Yet it was not until the late eighteenth century that all of these forces combined to create a sustained attack on the institution of slavery itself, and not until the nineteenth century that the Atlantic slave trade, and then American slavery, were finally abolished.

Since at least the thirteenth century, urban centers in France, such as Toulouse and Pamiers, became refuges from the most extreme forms of bondage by adopting charters that freed slaves upon entrance to the village. In England, a Russian slave was freed in 1567 on the grounds that "the air of England is too pure for a slave to breathe." In seventeenth-century France, local traditions supporting liberty were extended to the French kingdom in the maxim, "All persons are free in this kingdom; and as soon as a slave had arrived at the borders of this place, being baptized, is freed."

In the eighteenth century, more secular voices began to critique slavery on the grounds of natural law and the linkage of personal slavery with political despotism. Scottish Enlightenment writers Francis Hutcheson and George Wallace were among the first to attack both slavery and the slave trade as violations of "natural justice" and "humanity." French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) drew directly from Wallace to challenge the right of slaves to sell themselves into bondage in his On the Social Contract. By 1762, there was a sufficient body of antislavery thought for the Pennsylvania Quaker Anthony Benezet to publish the first title devoted solely to the abolition of slavery and the slave trade, a collection he titled A Short Account of That Part of Africa Inhabited by Negroes, which was widely read on both sides of the Atlantic.

The third source of abolitionism was the actions taken by slaves themselves to resist slavery. In the Americas, slaves who ran away, known as "maroons," established independent communities in the regions beyond direct colonial power, such as the canyons of Jamaica, the mountains of Guadeloupe, the sertão of Brazil, and the swamps of Florida. Some of the maroon communities were so powerful militarily that they established treaties with the local European colonial powers, as in Surinam.