Remembering Slavery

Remembering Slavery Online Exhibition

Understanding Slavery

The Bathers: Boys Teasing a Slave

The Bathers: Boys Teasing a Slave

This watercolour shows a classical bath-house scene. There is evidence to suggest that black Africans were a minority among the slave population in Rome. However, it was possibly the intention of the artist, J.W. Brown to show the indignity and inhumanity of slavery rather than to be historically accurate.

Slavery was an important part of the ancient world. It was practiced all over the Mediterranean, especially in the Roman Empire.

In Rome, the law recognised slaves as a social class. Slaves lived within this class with very little hope of a better life. Free men owned and exchanged these slaves just like goods.

Slaves were bought and sold in forum markets. Slave merchants had to declare that the slaves being sold were free from disease and from a tendency to steal, run away or commit suicide. The relevant information was written on a label hung from the slave's neck. Prospective buyers inspected the slaves, who stood chained on a raised platform.

The working life of a slave depended greatly on the economic status of the owner. If a citizen could only afford one or two slaves, they would undertake a range of tasks. A wealthy Roman, meanwhile, could afford many slaves each trained for specific tasks.

  • The Bathers: Boys Teasing a Slave

    This watercolour shows a classical bath-house scene. There is evidence to suggest that black Africans were a minority among the slave population in Rome. However, it was possibly the intention of the artist, J.W. Brown to show the indignity and inhumanity of slavery rather than to be historically accurate.

    Slavery was an important part of the ancient world. It was practiced all over the Mediterranean, especially in the Roman Empire.

    In Rome, the law recognised slaves as a social class. Slaves lived within this class with very little hope of a better life. Free men owned and exchanged these slaves just like goods.

    Slaves were bought and sold in forum markets. Slave merchants had to declare that the slaves being sold were free from disease and from a tendency to steal, run away or commit suicide. The relevant information was written on a label hung from the slave's neck. Prospective buyers inspected the slaves, who stood chained on a raised platform.

    The working life of a slave depended greatly on the economic status of the owner. If a citizen could only afford one or two slaves, they would undertake a range of tasks. A wealthy Roman, meanwhile, could afford many slaves each trained for specific tasks.

  • Latrine in the Mansio of Vindolanda (on Hadrian's Wall)

    This watercolour shows a Roman slave carrying a mop and bucket as one man, sitting on the latrine, jokes with another man. The wall behind the two men is covered with graffiti.

    Vindolanda is a typical Roman Fort associated with Hadrian's Wall. Here, the remains of a Roman Mansio have been discovered. This was an inn used by wealthy travellers and dignitaries containing rest rooms, a kitchen, courtyard, bath house and a latrine.

    Two slaves who found themselves in Northern Britain demonstrate how Roman slaves could achieve social mobility by earning or buying their freedom. Regina was a Catuvellaunian, a member of the largest tribe in Southern Britain until she became the slave of Barates, from Syria. Eventually, Barates gave Regina her freedom and they were married. Victor, a Moor from North Africa, was a freed slave who had been owned by a Spanish soldier called Numerianus. The tombstones of Regina and Victor can both be seen in Arbeia Roman Museum, South Shields.

    In 1972, the artist, Ronald Embleton began a long association with Newcastle publisher, Frank Graham. He provided around 140 paintings of the North East and in particular of life on Hadrian's Wall to illustrate Graham's publications. It is acknowledged that Embleton's illustrations are among the most authentic reconstructions of Roman life.

  • Spanish Slave Brig, El Almirante

    The artist, J.W. Carmichael was born in Newcastle upon Tyne. His father was a ship's carpenter and as a youth he was apprenticed to a shipbuilder before deciding to become a professional artist. He specialised in painting ships including this, the Slave Brig, El Almirante. A brig is a two-masted sailing vessel used as a cargo ship.

    The trans-Atlantic slave trade followed a triangular shipping route across the Atlantic Ocean. During the first leg, European manufactured goods including guns, metal goods, cloth and alcohol were shipped to Africa and exchanged for slaves at coastal trading ports. This leg of the voyage took about three months.

    On the second leg, known as the Middle Passage, the enslaved Africans were carried in crowded and unsanitary ships to the Caribbean and the Americas, where they were sold. The journey could take up to six months, yet, despite their brutal conditions between eighty and ninety per cent of the enslaved Africans on board reached their destination alive.

    Slave traders used the money from the sale of the Africans to buy slave-produced goods from the Caribbean Islands and the Americas. For the final leg, these plantation goods of sugar, coffee, mahogany, tobacco, rum and spices were loaded onto cargo vessels and shipped back to Europe to be sold.

    A round trip from a British slaving port such as Bristol or Liverpool would take about a year to complete. Most ships would leave Britain between July and September to avoid the treacherous rainy season off the African coast. They would aim to reach the Caribbean by the end of April the following year during the height of sugar-production.

  • Slaver - all Black

    The artist, J.W. Carmichael was born in Newcastle upon Tyne. His father was a ship's carpenter and as a youth he was apprenticed to a shipbuilder before deciding to become a professional artist. He specialised in painting ships. This is an example of a slave ship; these were cargo boats specially converted for the purpose of transporting enslaved Africans.

    Once the enslaved Africans had been bought by the European merchants, they would be taken on board to begin the journey to the other side of the Atlantic. The enslaved were treated as cargo, to be bought and sold.

    Many died during the voyage to the Caribbean and the Americas as the cramped conditions meant that disease spread rapidly. Due to pressure from abolitionists, a Parliamentary committee was set up to look into overcrowding on slave ships. In 1788, an Act was passed which imposed restrictions on the number of Africans a ship could carry across the Atlantic.

    At this time, leading abolitionist, Thomas Clarkson commissioned the drawing of the Brookes slave ship. This ship had been built in Liverpool and on two voyages in 1783 it had carried over 600 enslaved Africans; its maximum number regulated to 454 after the passing on the Act. The print illustrated that even with 454 Africans on board, conditions were still appallingly cramped.

    The Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807, which stopped ships carrying enslaved Africans to British colonies. It was now against the law for any British ship or British subject to trade in enslaved people.

What is slavery?

  • Slavery exists when a man, woman or child is owned by another human being.
  • They become the property of a slave owner through birth, kidnap or purchase.
  • Enslaved people have no freedom or personal rights to travel, get married, go to school, vote or follow their own religion.

Read more information about slavery in ancient times

How old is slavery?

The practice of slavery goes back to ancient times. In ancient Egypt, slave labour was used to build temples and pyramids. The Greeks and the Romans also used slave labour in their homes and in the fields, drawn from their conquered lands. African people were first enslaved on a large scale by Arabs when they dominated vast areas of Africa about 1,000 years ago.

Take a look

  • In 1783 the captain of a slave ship called the Zong threw 132 Africans overboard. He said he had no choice because the ship's water supply was running out.

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