The institution of slavery is as old as human civilization. For as long as man has been able to exert his dominance and power over another, slaves have been an integral part of that equation. In 1791, on the French colony of Haiti the slaves rose up in rebellion sparking the Haitian Revolution. The uprising was one in a long history of slaves throwing off the yoke of oppression and rising up to fight for freedom. Despite European intervention to defeat the revolution, the slaves of Haiti achieved the impossible, gaining their freedom and establishing their own nation.
In Ancient Sparta, there was a serf-like populace known as helots. Lacking the same rights and privileges of the Spartans, it was not uncommon for the helots to rise up in rebellion. According to the ancient historian, Herodotus, helots outnumbered the Spartans seven to one. To keep the helot population in line, every autumn the Spartans would declare war on these people, allowing Spartan citizens to kill a helot without fear of guilt for their action. During the Roman Republic, a rebel slave leader, Spartacus, led an uprising against the Romans in the Third Servile War. While Spartacus and his slave army were defeated, it led to slavery reforms within Rome.
While African slave revolts are usually attributed to the European colonization of the Americas, one of the largest occurred in the Middle East. In 869 AD, a half-million African slaves rose up in rebellion in the Zanj Rebellion against the Abbasid Caliphate. The Abbasid’s had built up a huge slave populace from the African peoples of East Africa and the African Great Lakes region. The Caliphate was able to crush the uprising. Many of the slaves that had risen up in rebellion became slave-owners themselves. The Abbasid’s also reformed their use of slaves following the revolt, using private trade to gain needed goods.
The Peasants Revolt in 1381, while not by definition a slave uprising, was a revolt by the serf and peasant classes of England against the aristocracy. The English monarchy was able to quell the violence. As a result, reforms were instituted into English law that granted the poor and working-class individuals of English society rights and privileges that had not been available prior to the revolt. With the abolition of slavery by most nations in the 19th century, the slave revolt became a footnote of history, but their legacy helped establish laws and human rights that are seen around the world today.
Look for more information regarding the history of the Haitian slave revolt in the upcoming Strategy & Tactics issue #296 with the article “Blood in the Fields: The Haitian Revolution – 1791 to 1803” and join the conversation on Facebook!