** Middle Eastern slave markets

Enslaved Africans

Figure 1.--Here we have a detail depicting a slave market in Cairo. A buyer is examining a boy for possible purchase. Click on the image to seen the entire market. We don't think this was the major markert in Cairo, but do not have Ebers text describing it. The drawing came from a book published by Georg Ebers. He was a noted German academic and Egyptologist. He traveled to Egypt twice in the 1860s-70s before the British established a protectorate and moved to supress the slave trade in Egypt.

Arab slave traders sold large numbers of Africans in markets located in North Africa, the Arab Middle East, and Persia. There were also sales to markets in the Ottoman Empire and even India before the British Raj. Africans were not the only people sold as slaves. European Christians captured in the Mediterranean or on raids in Europe were also sold. Also slaves taken by the Ottomans in the Balkans and what is now the Ukraine and southern Russia appeared in these markets. The composition varied over time. There were also war captives. There were many important slave markets. Here we are just beginning to collect informtion. Zanzibar, Muscat, and Cairo were three of the most important. There were several other important markets (Ceuta) and many smaller ones. Muslim buyers (usually men) would inspect the human merchandise. Their inspection depended on how the slkaves were to beused which was entirely up to the buyer. African women and young girls were probed in a demeaning fashion by male buyers to determine the sexual worth of their potential purchases. Muslim women also had slaves. I believe the actual purchases, however, were usualy done by her husbands or other male representative. But here we still have very limited information. A slave who did not sell were killed to avoid expenses on unwanted merchandise. African slaves by the 19th century were being sold in large numbers in African markets (especially Zanzibar and Mombassa) as agricultural labor. This shift was the result of the development of plantations along the coast of what is now modern southern Somalia and Kenya and on Zanzibar and slave labor was needed for these plantations.


Barbary States

The Sahara Desert was a huge barrier to the movement or transport of Africans north. This changed with the advebt of the cammel making caravan traffic more feasible. This occurred about tghe same tgime that Rome began to decline and Christianity ewhich friened in slavery becoming widespread. As a result, the flow of caotive Afrucans into the Roman Empire was limited. This changed with the Arab conquest and the Islamizatiion of North Africa (7th cenyury AD).



China was not a slave society. For the nostpart the largely landless peasantry privided the work force required, even fir major construction projects. A few Afrucan skaves are known to hve nade theurvway to China. Itwas apparently ba status symbol in Canton to have at least one African household slave.

East Indies




Indian Ocean Islands


There is a long history of slavery in Persia, covering ancient, medieval, and modern periods which, however, is poorly documnted. Persia is one of the earliest civilizations in the world and oine of the great powers of the ancient workd. It was on the fringe of Mesopotamia where the Sumerians, one of the great River Valley civilizations launched agriculture and civilization. One of the peoples the Sumerians and Babylonians had to contend with were the Elamites, a non-Persian people who inhabited modern southwestern Iran--including the ancient cities of Anshan and Susa. The Elamites, perhaps because of their location adjacent to the Sumerians left a writtem record, one of the few pre-Achaemenid civilizations of what we now know as Persia/Iran to do so. And in that record, as was standard for ancient peoople, slaves are mentioned. As a result we know that slavery was an accepted istitution in Persia even before the arrival of ethnic Persians. And this did not change when Persians established themselves in what is now Iran. The arival of African slaves is difficult to date with any certainty, but appears to date primarily from the Islamic era. Small numbrs of African slaves may have existed earier, especially when Persian armies conquered Egypt (525 BC). The Persian conquest of Egypt was planned planned by Cyrus, but became the major achievement of Cambyses' reign. The Persians riled Egypt for a century until defeated by Alexander. Duyring that time, some African slavesmust have appeared in Pesia. Much later Arabia includung Arabia Felix / Yemen was briefly aquired by Persia (575 AD). These extensions of Persian empires were for relatively short periods. We believe that African captives were a relatively small propprtion of slaves in ancient Persia huch did nit have a hiuge slavepopukation to bergin with, although admittedly actual data is virtually nonexistant. This changed with the Arab conquest of Persia (633-54 AD) whuch led to collapse of the Sassanid Empire. This meant the inevitable decline of the Zoroastrian religion and the Islamization of Persia. It also meant the beginning of the flow of enslaved Africans into Persia. At the time, Arab merchants were establishimg trading posts along the developing Swahili coast of eastern Africa looking for gold, ivory, spices, and other luxury itemns. Capturing and enskaving Africans became one of their most imprtant commodity. In this effort, Islamicix=zed Swahili chiefs became an imprtant part of the Arab Indian Ocean slave trade. One of the two maritime corridors for the Indian Ocean slave was the Persian Gulf leading to Persian ports and Basra--a major slave market funneling captive Africans into the Middle East, including Persia.

Persian Gulf Emirates

Unil the discovery of oil, the Oersian Gulf emorates in modern times were among the poorest regioins in earth. An important economic activity in the Persian Gulf was pearl diving. This is an arddous and dangerous effort. We note enslkaved Africans being ysed ijnto the 20tyh century.



Somalia was for much of its history a source od captive Africans. With the rise of plantation agriculture (19th century), it became an imprtant destination for caotive Afrucans, supplyingh the needed labor force.

Turkic Empires


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Created: 7:54 PM 8/23/2011
Last updated: 3:34 PM 10/2/2021