First Slaves On Earth: When and Where did They Appear?

The first slaves on earth simultaneously appeared all across the globe when the transition from hunter-gatherer tribes to agricultural societies started to take place. While there is not a precise answer on when and where due to a lack of traces, history is able to provide correct years and locations of the first recorded slavery. This leads us to Sumer civilization and ancient Mesopotamia region sprawling on the territories of today’s Kuwait, most of the Iraq, eastern parts of Syria, and south-eastern Turkey in the shape of a crescent known for its fertile soils.

Requirements for Existence of Slavery

Economic surpluses are considered as a necessity for the development of slavery. The reason for such an assumption is that exceeding needs and accumulating valuable resources allows the emergence of social stratification from which, with time, slavery ensues. Few in numbers are examples of people being submitted and treated as a lower form of existence in hunter-gatherer tribes.

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Ubaid People and Slaves

Ubaid people were the first to establish settlements in the area of the mouth of Euphrates. They were also to ones to start melting copper around 6000 years B.C. Living in the areas of fertile crescent resulted in the development of agricultural societies. Ubaid people were known for farming, raising cattle and even the invention of beer. Their communities were most likely featured by economic surpluses and social stratification. Therefore, the answer to the question of when and where did the first slaves appear on earth is going to lead as more than 5000 years in the past to the territories of the fertile crescent.

Sumer Civilization – The First Slaves on Earth

Sumerian Civilization

Sumerian Civilization

While Ubaid people and their social hierarchies are an assumption with high probability, a certain fact regarding time and place of first submitted human beings relates to Sumer civilization established around 3200 B.C. Sumerians were possibly the first to start adding tin to a copper in order to produce bronze. It is the reason they are considered for the pioneers of the bronze age.

Bronze Age Opens Doors to Tracking Slavery

While the title above might seem a little bit misleading it actually represents the pure truth. Since bronze was more durable than copper it allowed the production of tools and weapons featured by higher quality. It allowed Sumerians to become the primary force in the area, build string of city-states and develop their culture. Such a resolution of events, besides many other things, led to the invention of the wheel and letter. Cuneiforms that remained allow historians to reconstruct and learn great things about society today observed as the cradle of civilization. One of the most prominent heritage is the oldest written law – Code of Er-Nammu.

The Oldest Written Law – Code of Er-Nammu

Despite Hamurabi being widely observed as the one who wrote the first laws, the oldest recorded remains of the formal legal structure are 300 years older. These laws were written in the city of Elba around 2300 B.C. There are two points of this law regarding slaves:

  • If a slave marries a slave, and that slave is set free, he does not leave the household.
  • If a slave marries a native (free) person, he/she is to hand the firstborn son over to his owner.

These laws prove that slavery was present for a long period of time before any of the rules were written. This is due to a fact that in the beginning, the first laws were developed for the prevalent occurrences in people’s interactions. Having that said, we can conclude that slavery was a long-nurtured tradition. While recorded slavery dates back to 2300 B.C. and is bound for the area of the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia it is most likely that even Ubaid people gave birth to the enslaved population after establishing farming and cattle raising communities.


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