Reading Comprehension | A Short History of Slavery

Develop your reading skills. Read the following short history of slavery and do the comprehension questions

What is slavery?

History of Slavery

Slavery is any system in which principles of property law are applied to people, allowing individuals to own, buy and sell other individuals. A slave is unable to withdraw unilaterally from such an arrangement and works without remuneration. In a broader sense, however, the word slavery may also refer to any situation in which an individual is de facto forced to work against their own will. Scholars also use more generic terms such as unfree labor or forced labor to refer to such situations.
Slavery existed in many cultures, dating back to early human civilizations. A person could become enslaved from the time of their birth, capture, or purchase.
Slavery was legal in most societies at some time in the past but is now outlawed in all recognized countries. The last country to officially abolish slavery was Mauritania in 1981. Nevertheless, there are an estimated 40.3 million people worldwide subject to some form of modern slavery. The most common form of the modern slave trade is commonly referred to as human trafficking. In other areas, slavery continues through practices such as

  • Debt bondage, also known as debt slavery or bonded labor, the most widespread form of slavery today,
  • Domestic servants kept in captivity,
  • Serfdom(serfs were a class of people who had to work on a particular person's land and could not leave without that person's permission.)
  • Certain adoptions in which children are forced to work as slaves,
  • Child soldiers.
  • Forced marriage.

History of slavery

The history of slavery stretches across so many cultures, nationalities, and religions from ancient times to modern times. The emergence of slavery is unclear, but it is believed that this practice was not common among primitives since it normally develops under conditions of social stratification. As civilizations evolved, organized cities and farms (as in Sumeria and Mesopotamia) were developed and the need for slaves appeared. The first evidence of the practice comes from the Mesopotamian Code of Hammurabi (c. 1860 BCE), which refers to it as an established institution. The practice then spread in the ancient world, in Greece and other parts of the world. Later, slavery became common within much of Europe during the Dark Ages and it continued into the Middle Ages. The Byzantine-Ottoman wars (1265-1479) and the Ottoman wars in Europe (14th to 20th centuries) resulted in the capture of large numbers of Christian slaves. The Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, British, Arabs and several West African kingdoms played a prominent role in the Atlantic slave trade. This trade, also known as the transatlantic slave trade, involved the transportation by slave traders of enslaved African people, mainly to the Americas, whose economies were particularly dependent on the supply of slave labor for the production of commodity crops, making goods and clothing to sell in Europe. This was crucial to those Western European countries which, in the late 17th and 18th centuries, were vying with each other to create overseas empires.

Abolition of slavery

Some of the first countries to abolish slavery as a practice in their lands were Western European although they depended largely on slavery to build their empires abroad. Later, in spite of the abolition of slavery globally, slaves still existed in the Americas. It was only later that slavery abolition groups managed to stop the practice in countries such as the United States. When Abraham Lincoln won the presidency and called for the abolition of slavery, the Southern states seceded from the Union and tried to defend the practice. The Northern Union, however, fought to preserve the country and put an end to slavery. A turning point in the Civil War was President Lincoln's signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, altering the status of all enslaved Americans from bondage to freedom. This led many slaves to escape from the Southern states to regain their legal freedom in the North. When the Union regained control of the Southern Confederate States, the slaves in those areas were formally freed. It is sad to note that even though these slaves became legally free, their lives did not improve and the struggle for racial equality is still on the agenda of the Civil Rights movements.

Slavery in modern times

Unfortunately, slavery still exists in modern times in many forms. Modern slavery still involves vulnerable people, such as children, women and, the poor. For example, these groups of people are sometimes forced to work against their will. Modern forms of slavery include prostitution, child abuse, forced labor, human trafficking, and debt bondage.

Source: Wikipedia


  1. Legally, slavery does not exist anymore.
    a. True
    b. False
  2. Primitive people had their form of slavery.
    a. True.
    b. False.
  3. After the abolition of slavery in the United States, the lives of former slaves became better.
    a. True
    b. False

Related pages: