The earliest example I know is from Sumer. That would be the earliest example of institutionalized slavery, because that's (one of) the earliest forms of urbanized civilization. However, what's the story gleaned from pre history, can we give a date for when the targeted raid with the explicit goal to subjugate foreigners starts to appear?

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    Welcome to HistorySE, vectory! What has your research shown you so far? Where have you already searched? Please help us to help you. You might find it helpful to review the site tour and help center. You may improve your question to comply with site guidelines with an edit and the help of How to Ask. Thanks! – Mark C. Wallace Nov 27 '18 at 1:59
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    Very likely the answer is "prehistory". What kind of nontextual artifacts would indicate the emergence of slavery, let alone the first raid? – Mark C. Wallace Nov 27 '18 at 13:18
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    Can you define what slavery is in the context of the question? (E.g., does bride kidnapping count or not? This would have existed among hunter gatherers; perhaps not in general, but in some cases.) Perhaps the reason for your earliest example being Sumer is that the Sumerians were among the first cultures to have written records. How would you know about a concept of slavery among prehistoric peoples of they did not write down their laws and culture in connection to this concept? – 0range Nov 27 '18 at 16:45
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  • The official answer is, slavery (any work involving involuntary workers) is as old as time. It is an ugly past of the collective human experience. But fortunately, we are the first to be enlightened enough to understand and to fix it. Praised be to us. Now go and sleep soundly at night! – sofa general Nov 28 '18 at 18:17

Slavery became only possible when people got the means to keep slaves, which was after the neolithic revolution. Slaves need feeding, some care, they need to be properly locked up and guarded. That's a pretty big resource drain for hunter-gatherers.

Of course hunter-gatherers had plenty of nasty/dangerous jobs they'd love to give to slaves. But they lacked the means to do it. When people started to settle down and became agriculturalists they got the capacity to keep slaves.

This is in a nutshell what Guns, Germs and Steel goes into with much more detail.

@T.E.D.: herding societies are pastoralists. They have -usually- less resources, consequentially have less resources to keep slaves. Doesn't say that they didn't keep slaves. They kept less slaves because they lacked the resources to keep more.

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  • According to one theory slavery was necessary for the neolithic revolution as early farming gave less food for the work than hunting and gathering. – liftarn Nov 27 '18 at 10:10
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    That didn't answer the Q directly. A rope, e.g., hinders runaways effectively. Agriculture starts 9 kya ago at the latest. I'm not even talking about field workers. Cultures accosiated with Venus figurines had permanent cave dwellings 30 kya. It's hard to imagine a jump from nothing to sacrificing dozents in burials. Cattle raids and bride stealing correlate at least in bride pricing. Of course primitive exploits have to look a bit different. – vectory Nov 27 '18 at 10:58
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    Sources would improve this answer. – Mark C. Wallace Nov 27 '18 at 11:47
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    I believe there are examples of pre agricultural slave holding societies in the Americas, and possibly in Arabia. – Mark C. Wallace Nov 27 '18 at 13:20
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    Herding societies may not be "agricultural" by some standards, but they are still Neolithic or later. – T.E.D. Nov 27 '18 at 14:33

The earliest traces of slavery actually surprisingly only dates back to the Moors, as the word "slave" derives from the word Slav.



The word slave is derived from the ethnonym (ethnic name) Slav.[10][11][12] It arrived in English via the Old French sclave. In Medieval Latin the word was sclavus and in Byzantine Greek σκλάβος.[10] Use of the word arose during the Early Medieval Period, when Slavs from Central and Eastern Europe (Saqaliba) were frequently enslaved by Moors from the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa.[13][14][15]

However forced labour is thought to date back 11,000 years, possibly beginning with American indigenous peoples.

Forced labour

Early history

Slavery is rare among hunter-gatherer populations because it requires economic surpluses and a high population density to be viable. Thus, although it has existed among unusually resource-rich hunter gatherers, such as the American Indian peoples of the salmon-rich rivers of the Pacific Northwest Coast, slavery became widespread only with the invention of agriculture during the Neolithic Revolution about 11,000 years ago.[53]

The earliest known example which i personally can find, comes from around 2600bc, when a Pharoah named Sneferu invaded Nubia and Libya in order to obtain slaves to build three pyramids, one of which is now one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.


Foreign relations

To enable Sneferu to undertake such massive building projects, he would have had to secure an extensive store of labour and materials. According to Guillemette Andreu, this is where the king's foreign policy played a large part. Sneferu's conquests into Libya and Nubia served two purposes: the first goal was to establish an extensive labour force, and the second goal was to gain access to the raw materials and special products that were available in these countries.[35] This is alluded to in the Palermo Stone:

One of the seven wonders

Building projects

which would lead to Khufu's Great Pyramid, which would be seen as the pinnacle of the Egyptian Old Kingdom's majesty and splendour, and as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

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    No, slaves did not build the Pyramids. – Spencer Aug 8 at 23:21
  • @Spencer Really? Well i do not have a clue who built those three pyramids. All i can do is research and provide citation as to where i obtained this information which formed my current understanding. Can you please help improve my understanding by providing your own information as to who built the pyramids then. Also citation would be helpful. – Steven Ian Gall Aug 8 at 23:24
  • Did you follow my link? – Spencer Aug 8 at 23:28
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    There's also this in Wikipedia: "There is a consensus among Egyptologists that the Great Pyramids were not built by slaves. Rather, it was farmers who built the pyramids during flooding, when they could not work in their lands." – Spencer Aug 8 at 23:30
  • @Spencer Yes, but why is the word of one man, that says the Pyramids were built by rich elitist families, that rolled their sleeves up, any better than my wikipedia link regards to Sneferu? – Steven Ian Gall Aug 8 at 23:30

It all depends on how you define slavery.

If by slavery you mean, prisoners with jobs. Then I am sure it predated history and global.

But if by slavery you mean, people are treated as livestock, bred like livestock, sold like livestock, and even their offsprings are slave.... then that is actually a tradition that is certainly not global. That kind of slavery seems to be a mostly Mediterranean and Middle Eastern tradition. And it seems the justification of such practices was generally based on religious principles....

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    Sources would improve this answer. – Mark C. Wallace Nov 28 '18 at 15:50
  • What kind of sources would you need? – sofa general Nov 28 '18 at 15:51
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    Any source at all. – Mark C. Wallace Nov 28 '18 at 15:52
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    You might be interested in the history of slavery in China, particularly the Shang dynasty of the second millennium BCE, which is neither a Mediterranean nor a Middle Eastern culture. – sempaiscuba Nov 28 '18 at 16:25
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    Shang Dynasty slavery sources? Certainly: Superficially, you have Wikipedia, obviously. For more detail, you could look up David N Keightley's PhD thesis, Public work in ancient China : a study of forced labor in the Shang and Western Chou, and - of course - there is the 4 volume Critical Readings on Global Slavery (esp pp 504–552) – sempaiscuba Nov 28 '18 at 23:30

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