In Scandinavia, a penal institution known as “slavery” existed from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Penal slaves laboured in the creation and maintenance of military infrastructure. They were chained and often stigmatized, sometimes by branding. Their punishment was likened and, on a few occasions, linked to Atlantic slavery. Still, in reality, it was a wholly distinct form of enslavement that produced different experiences of coercion than those of the Atlantic. Such forms of penal slavery sit uneasily in historiographies of punishment but also offers a challenge for the dominant models of global labour history and its attempts to create comparative frameworks for coerced labour. This article argues for the need for contextual approaches to what such coercion meant to both coercers and coerced. Therefore, it offers an analysis of the meaning of early modern penal slavery based on an exceptional set of sources from 1723. In these sources, the status of the punished was negotiated and practiced by guards and slaves themselves. Court appearances by slaves were usually brief—typically revolving around escapes as authorities attempted to identify security breaches. The documents explored in this article are different: They present multiple voices speaking at length, negotiating their very status as voices. From that negotiation and its failures emerge a set of practiced meanings of penal “slavery” in eighteenth-century Copenhagen tied to competing yet intertwined notions of dishonour.
Along the East African coast, marronage increased in the 19th century as a consequence of the intensification of the slave trade and the development of a plantation economy based on slave labor. Research on the fugitive slaves on the Swahili coast has been conducted since the 1980s and has mainly highlighted the ambivalent relationship (between rejection and belonging) of maroons with the dominant coastal culture—that of the slave owners, shaped in particular by Islam and urbanity. This article goes beyond the existing interpretations by showing that the aftermath of slavery often consisted of a range of options, less static than those described so far and less focused on opting either into or out of coastal culture. Relying on a case study in present-day Kenya and drawing from European written sources and interviews, I examine what happened to escaped slaves in the Witu region, where a Swahili city-state was founded in 1862. Their history is examined through a spatial analysis and the modalities of their economic and social participation in regional dynamics, showing that no single cultural influence was hegemonic in this region.
The Middle Assyrian period (1500–1000 BCE) is used to describe the Northern Mesopotamian state, centered around the capital city Aššur (mod. Qalʿat Aš-Širqāṭ, Iraq). In the early years, Aššur was a small urban center of little political importance. However, as the neighboring state of Mitanni/Hanigalbat weakened, the local rulers were able to politically and militarily dominate Northern Mesopotamia. Due to the expanse of this, originally, small state, a strong administration was required to make the governance of the newly conquered regions possible. Over 3,000 cuneiform texts from the Assyrian administration were uncovered, of which 2,000 were from the two capital cities Aššur and Kār-Tukultī-Ninurta. Just as in any ancient state, slaves were a part of society. However, attestations of slaves are relatively uncommon, and most scholarly attention has gone to the related class of deportees and prisoners of war. Nonetheless, administrative documents such as loans provide us with sufficient information on debt and chattel slavery to make a number of observations on (semi) privately owned slaves.
In August 1831, around sixty enslaved people fought a war against enslavers in Southampton County, Virginia. It became known as the “Nat Turner Revolt.” Four months later, perhaps sixty thousand enslaved people fought their own emancipation war, commonly known as the “Baptist War,” throughout much of Jamaica. These uprisings differed in size, strategy, and outcome. The Virginian episode allowed slaveholders to strengthen their grip on slavery, while the Jamaican one catalyzed Britain’s capitulation to abolition. Historians have detailed the significant role kinship played in the more localized Virginian example. Comparing both emancipation wars, this paper extends analysis to the Jamaican case. It argues that kinship shaped both uprisings in remarkably similar ways, influencing radicalization and recruitment beforehand, support or opposition during war, and vulnerability to or evasion of white retaliation afterward. The similar function of kinship in such different events suggests a possible larger pattern that shaped other uprisings.