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Energy from Slavery

As with the First Age, almost everything done during the Second Age was powered by muscle, either human or animal. What was different was the capacity to organize large numbers of humans or animals to a centrally directed task. Many monumental architectural projects were accomplished with what appears to have been willing community labor; Göbekli Tepe, the Great Pyramids, and Stonehenge stand out as examples. Even so, slavery, usually of populations subjugated by war, became the power tool of this age. From Sumer onward, slavery built the Second Age. Digging at the site of the ancient city of Uruk, archaeologists unearthed thousands of bowls in three standardized serving sizes, 0.9 liters, 0.65 liters, and 0.45 liters. These were no doubt the standardized ration bowls used to feed the laborers that built the city’s walls and palaces and temples (Kelly 2016). I question whether these were happy willing laborers. We need to recognize up front that slavery was not new, novel, or an aberration. Homines sapientes had no qualms about forcing other Homines sapientes to do their will. As we’ve already seen, groups had been killing males and stealing females for millennia. Coerced servitude was part of what powered tribal groups. As with war, the growth of larger populations simply took slavery to a higher, more sophisticated level. As state power increased, so did wealth inequality. And the increasing power of the state made possible forcing individuals into coerced labor roles, either their own subjects or those captured through warfare (Hunt 2015). Rome was not built in a day, nor was it built by willing hands (Cartwright 2013). To say that slavery was ubiquitous is perhaps the greatest understatement of all time. Certainly it was ubiquitous throughout the ancient world’s first city-states. Slavery is ubiquitous throughout the Old Testament. China, Korea, India, Thailand, Burma, Philippines, Nepal, Malaya, Indonesia, Japan, and Central Asia (the Sogdiana, the Khorezm, Mongols, Kalmyks, Kazakhs) all had slaves. In the Americas, the Inca, Creek, Comanche, Yurok, Pawnee, Klamath, Callinago, and Tupinamba all had slaves. In Europe, France, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Scandinavia, and England all had slaves. Ten percent of the English population at the time of the Domesday Book (1086) was enslaved. Slavery existed throughout the Islamic states as well. The Ottoman Empire enslaved and trained young Christian boys to fill the ranks of their elite Janissary troops. In Africa, slavery was universal; it was Africans enslaving and selling other Africans that fueled the New World slave trade. And, of course, slavery was the “peculiar institution” that was the economic basis of the ante bellum American south (Hellie 2020). John Busby Jr. was my fifth great grandfather.

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