When considering the slave trade, most people think of Europeans kidnapping, transporting and enslaving Africans in the Americas. The slave trade actually existed before this -- in the 14th century, Africans and Europeans both enslaved the weaker and poorer people of their own nations. When the Europeans turned to Africa to capture slaves there, they used the same methods used by Africans on their own people -- raids, war, and trade.

Slave Trade in Africa

The slave trade existed in Africa in several forms before Europeans arrived. Richer, more powerful African nations would enslave weaker ones, such as the Egyptians, who raided neighboring African societies for slaves over 3,500 years ago, according to the Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. When Africans took other Africans into slavery, it was by force or through financial superiority. African slaves in Africa lived as indentured servants would in America. These slaves could work for their freedom and were paid meager wages for food, housing and essential items.


Europeans exploited African nations by pitting them against one another. While one African nation was fighting another, Europeans would take this chance to raid villages and steal Africans for slavery. Europeans also took the prisoners of war that had been captured by either side of the warring African nations during battle. When these nations were fighting one another, they became too weak to defend against European slave catchers. Europeans used the chaos of war to break down the structure of African nations.


Many African slaves were taken by force, or kidnapped, even if it was not a time of war for the people of that nation. If a European found a village that looked particularly weak or few in numbers, the entire population of that village could be taken by force with the use of firearms. With advanced weapon technology at their aid, Europeans knew that most small African villages or tribes had little to no protection against kidnapping.

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Richer African nations would trade with Europeans. In exchange for slaves, Europeans would give affluent African leaders guns, tobacco, alcohol, textiles and beads, among other items. Those enslaved because of debt, crime or other punishable actions were given to Europeans in exchange for valuable items that couldn't be found in Africa.