Presented with the word “slavery,” what comes to your mind? If you are an American, it is surely the race slavery that was a feature of life here for 250 years, that continued through the early decades of the Republic in some states, and that caused divisions that led to the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in our history.
That is as it should be. We naturally think of our own country first. Slavery, however, has been a feature of life in many societies all over the world, from the most ancient times down to the present day. There is hardly a place that has not been touched by it; hardly an ethny* that has not been subjected to this greatest of all indignities at one time or other. It was the memory of seeing English children in the slave market at Rome that inspired Gregory the Great to set about the conversion of the English; and I used to tease my Irish Republican friends—back when such things were still relevant, I mean, before they all got jobs trading financial futures—with the historical fact that in early-medieval Ireland, “British slave girl” was a unit of currency, equivalent to three cows.
We all sort of know this stuff in a piecemeal way, but now and then you read something that makes it vivid to you. I’ve had just that experience the last couple of days, reading Robert Davis’s 2003 book Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters. The book is an account of the enslavement of untold numbers of European Christians by the Muslims of the Barbary Coast, that stretch of the North African shoreline currently under the sovereignty of
We have accustomed ourselves to think of the race slavery of the
The Mediterranean slavery of the 16th and 17th centuries fell somewhere between those two. It was not race slavery, but nor was it indiscriminate. It was religious slavery. The human beings kidnapped and sold by the
There was in fact, says Prof. Davis, something of religious revenge in the depredations of the Muslim slavers. The slave trade really got going after 1492, the year the last Muslims were expelled from
One of the most impressive parts of Prof. Davis’s book is his computation of the numbers of Europeans enslaved by these Muslim raiders. Combing through the historical sources, he concludes that there were about 35,000 enslaved Christians on the
I can recommend White Gold.
According to Thomas Pellow's experience conversion to Islam, (which he did under torture and repudiated once he returned to
I was looking up some of the raids on the coast of
Yes, knowledge of this woefully neglected history of our ancestors' jihad enslavement must be extended. Who was /is taught about this at school/college?
A companion book to that of Prof. Davis could be Giles Milton's excellent "White Gold: the extraordinary story of Thomas Pellew and North Africa's One Million European Slaves". (This book was published in hardback 2004, and in paperback, 2005; publisher: Hodder and Stroughton.)
Melanie Phillips has a short review here: "Britain's 200-year jihad" (27 Sept. 2005)