The Eastern slave trade

The slave trade between the East and Africa began in the 7th century. It is often called the Oriental slave trade because slaves were taken to countries in the east. This trade remained at a low level for centuries, and expanded in about 1750. Enslaved Africans were transported across the Sahara Desert, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Slaves were taken to the countries of North Africa such as Egypt, Morocco and Algeria. They also went to the Middle East, including (what is today) Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran. Enslaved Africans were also taken to countries in Mediterranean Europe such as Turkey and Southern Spain.

In the Medieval period (1066-1485) the demand was mainly for servants to work in people’s homes. Africans were also taken to serve as soldiers and labourers. The majority of enslaved Africans sold to the Oriental slave trade were women. It was women who were wanted as servants, and just a few men as labourers. There were exceptions to this sometimes. For example, large numbers of African men seem to have been sold in the 17th and 18th century for the armies of Morocco, who were fighting the Spanish at this time.

The number of slaves sold to the Oriental slave trade was low. It is estimated that in the 17th century (1601 – 1700), about 10,000 slaves were sold from West Africa and North East Africa each year across the Sahara and Red Sea. From lower down the east coast of Africa, small numbers of slaves were sold to the east, to countries such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and India. The numbers of enslaved Africans ‘exported’ from the east coast rose dramatically in the late 18th century. This was due to French and Brazilian slave traders buying slaves to work on their sugar plantations. It is estimated that about 30,000 slaves per year were sold from the east coast from about 1800 until 1850.

The total for the Eastern slave trade, from 650 to 1850, is estimated at about 11,500,000. This is close to the numbers taken over the 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade.

Link: To see how many slaves were taken in the transatlantic slave trade alone, from the west coast of Africa, go to The Atlantic Crossing.