Commerce in People: The Atlantic Slave Trade

AP World History Notes: Chapter 15
The Atlantic Slave Trade
Lasted from about 1500 to
About 12.5 million Africans
taken from their societies
About 10.7 million made it to
the Americas
 About 1.8 million (14.4%)
died during the transatlantic
 Millions more died in the
process of capture and
transport to the African coast
 didn’t even make it to the
The Middle Passage
Middle Passage
 Enslaved
person’s journey from
Africa to the Americas
 Middle leg of the “Triangular
Trade” pattern
 Miserable journey
 Packed
tightly together
 Chained together
 Many suffocated or died of
disease (1 in 6)
 Some committed suicide or went on
hunger strikes
The Atlantic Slave Trade
When slaves arrived in the Americas, they were sold
at auctions
 Used
as laborers, seen only as a unit for profit
 Viewed as valuable property/things, NOT people
The Slave Trade in Context
Idea of slavery = nothing new
Before 1500 = Mediterranean and
Indian Ocean regions were major
areas of slave trading
Many African societies practiced
slavery themselves, as well as selling
slaves into these networks
Depiction of slaves in ancient Rome
Major source of slaves = southern
Trans-Saharan slave trade = brought
Africans to the Mediterranean
East African slave trade = brought
Africans to the Middle East and Indian
Ocean area
The Slave Trade in Context
Slaves have always been
considered “outsiders” of their
masters’ societies, but slavery
came in many forms  examples:
Some slaves could be assimilated
into their owners’ households or
 In some places, children of slaves
were considered slaves; in other
places they were considered free
 Preference for female slaves in the
Islamic world
 Jobs of slaves differed depending
on the region
African slaves in the Islamic world
Slavery in the Americas:
Something Different
Immense size of the traffic of
Centrality of slave labor to the
economies of colonial America
Slavery based on plantation
agriculture only
Slaves treated as dehumanized
Slave status = inherited; little
hope of freedom
Racial dimension  Atlantic
slavery came to be indentified
with Africa and “blackness”
Origins of Atlantic Slavery
Origins = lie in the
Mediterranean = where
Europeans first established sugar
After they learned about
sugarcane and producing usable
sugar from the Arabs
Also set up sugar plantations on
islands off the coast of West
Sugar plantation work = difficult
and dangerous
Slavery became the source of
labor because nobody would work
under these conditions for the small
wages being offered
Origins of Atlantic Slavery
Slave raiders in eastern Europe
Original slaves on these
Mediterranean plantations =
Slavic-speaking people from the
Black Sea region
1453 = Ottoman Turks captured
Result = Official end of Byzantine
 Result = Ottomans now controlled
Black Sea region
 Result = Ottomans cut off Christian
Europe from its major source of
Origins of Atlantic Slavery
At the same time = the
Portuguese were starting
to explore the coast of
West Africa
Were looking for gold 
but found an alternative
source of slaves there
Result = when sugarplantations started in the
Americas, Europeans
already had ties to a
West African source of
labor supply
Origins of Atlantic Slavery
Africa = primary source of
slave labor for the colonies
through a process of
Slavic-peoples = no longer
 Native Americans = quickly died
off from European diseases
 Europeans = Christians =
exempt from slavery
 European indentured servants =
expensive and temporary
Inspection and sale of an African slave
Origins of Atlantic Slavery
To the Europeans, Africans
were perfect for plantation
labor because:
Skilled farmers
 Some immunity to tropical and
European diseases
 Not Christian
 Relatively close and easy to
 Available in large numbers
 Had darker skin  allowed
the Europeans to view them as
an “inferior” race
“Testing an African Slave for Sickness”
The Slave Trade in Practice
Slave raiding in Africa =
unnecessary and unwise
 African
societies = capable
of defending themselves
against European intrusion
 African societies = willing to
sell their slaves peacefully
 Europeans = dropped like
flies when entering Africa’s
interior because not immune
to tropical diseases
How Did the Slave Trade Work?
Step 1: African merchants and
political elites captured slaves
and brought them to the coast
of West Africa
Step 2: Europeans waited on
the coast (in ships or fortified
settlements) to purchase these
Step 3: Europeans brought
slaves to the Americas and
sold them at slave auctions to
plantation owners
The Slave Trade in Practice
In exchange for slaves,
African sellers wanted:
European and Indian
 Cowrie shells (used as
money in West Africa)
 European metal goods
 Firearms and gunpowder
 Tobacco and alcohol
 Decorative items, such as
The Slave Trade in Practice
African slave trade = hurt
smaller societies within
 Raided
by larger, more
powerful neighbors to
conquer their people to
sell as slaves
 Lacked the protection of a
strong state
Where Did These Slaves Come From?
Slave trade drew mainly on the
societies of West Africa
Progressively moved into the
interior of Africa as the demand
for slaves picked up
Slaves = drawn from marginal
groups in African societies =
prisoners of war, criminals,
debtors, people who had been
“pawned” during times of
difficulty, etc.
Those captured and sold =
So Africans didn’t believe they
were “selling their own people”
The Impact of the Slave Trade in Africa
Slowed Africa’s population
Simultaneously =
populations of Europe,
China, etc. were expanding
Loss of millions of people
over 4 centuries
 Economic stagnation caused
by the slave trade
 Political disruption caused
by the slave trade
Number of Slaves Traded During the Slave Trade
The Impact of the Slave Trade in Africa
Slave trade = did not help
Africa economically
because: African merchants
and elites who sold the
slaves kept the money for
themselves and did not
invest in their African
No technological
breakthroughs in agriculture
or industry to help increase
the wealth of African
Proclamation of the New King of
Dahomey in Africa
The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.
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