Friday Lore Post: Human Slavery

Slavery has a long and fraught history on Menechit. It used to be practiced almost everywhere in some form or another, but by the modern period has died out except in the northwestern region of Dolovai and in some parts of Kyaine’s deep south. What is now northwestern Dolovai used to be the kingdom of Porean before its conquering at Dolovin hands in SC 2690/DN 905, just under eleven hundred years ago. Though Porean was conquered and its citizens named Dolovins, slavery was a practice that was allowed to persist in that region only.

The reason for this is because the conquest of Porean was, as one might expect, not taken well by the people who’d been conquered. The war was very bloody and long, and though Dolovai eventually won, it wasn’t without a great deal of sacrifice. In order to keep the unity of their newly-enlarged kingdom, House ven Sancte had to mollify the inhabitants of its newest territory, and allowing them to maintain slavery—which had long been used as a justification for conflict between the two nations and had therefore become an entrenched identity marker for the Poreanel people—ensured that they remained calmed and were therefore less likely to rebel. These elements of the story are commonly told today even if the official story is that the crown was respecting Poreanel cultural customs, but there is another layer to this. House ven Sancte had made alliances with several Poreanel lords to put an end to the war, and one of the promises they’d agreed to in gaining their aid was to continue allowing them to enslave other humans. And so the practice continued.

Dolovai has been slowly attempting to erode slavery as a tenable practice, especially in the last hundred years. Mostly this is done through circumscribing how it can be practiced—the very first thing they did upon making the allowance for it in law was to stipulate that slaves could only be bought and purchased through recognized slave markets rather than privately between individuals. Breeding slaves was also outlawed through the stipulation that all people are born free by default. A more recent law makes clear that no child under the age of five can be enslaved no matter the reason, and that if the parents of a child are slaves, the master must allow them to keep and care for their child.

Similarly, restrictions have been put in place about who can be made a slave. It is not possible to simply raid a village or a house or a caravan and forcibly make people slaves, which was possible in old Porean. Criminals can be made into slaves, but otherwise, receipts must be provided indicating that people have either willingly sold themselves or been sold by someone with the authority to do so—a stipulation existing only for children. In Dolovin law, all children under fourteen are legally considered the property of their parents, and so in the north a family can choose to sell a child into slavery until they are fourteen, after which a parent is not legally permitted to do this. Attempts to curtail this practice have met with no success thus far. Slave parents of free children can sell their children after they are old enough and essentially barter their own freedom.

Slaves are recognized as objects rather than people, and have essentially no rights whatsoever. Masters are not permitted to kill slaves without cause, but the definition of cause is loose. Almost all crimes are considered capital crimes if committed by a slave, and punishments are severe. Attempts to escape are met with lengthy confinements and potential maiming to prevent future escapes, if the master does not simply choose to have the slave executed. Any and all assaults on free people, from a slap to murder, are met with immediate execution. Slaves are not permitted trials. For misdeeds not considered crimes, masters have broad and almost unchecked power to punish their slaves as they see fit. Slaves are not recognized as existing in family groups, and so aside from the instance of a slave bearing a free child, no legal protections exist to keep families together. Slaves have no sexual rights either and are expected to comply with whatever their masters want from them, including having or refraining from having sexual encounters with other slaves. Because the law does not specify slaves as people, usual laws about incest, rape and the molestation of minors don’t apply to slaves.

Most slaves are labourers or house servants, though some are trained to do more specialized jobs such as scribes or teachers. Most industry in the north is run on slaves, including mining, fishing and forestry. Most prostitutes are slaves as well and are owned by pimps or brothels. Most wealthy people in the north own several slaves, which is a status symbol, and it is not uncommon for them to have at least one or two bed slaves, even for married couples. Though opinions will vary between people, sex with a slave is not widely considered to be adultery, or indeed sex at all. Because a slave is an object, sex with a slave is generally understood to be a form of masturbation.

Efforts to stamp out slavery have been gaining some traction in recent years. After White Cape successfully outlawed slavery four hundred years ago, small movements have started and usually failed to try and end it elsewhere. A slave rebellion about two hundred years ago was extremely violent and set the emancipation movement back a long time, but it is starting to get moving again in the underground of Merket especially, which is the epicentre of the old north.

Slaves are typically sold at auction to the highest bidder, usually in batches. Private sales can happen as long as they are done through the market, but this is not normal. Slave markets generally treat their product in approximately the same way that livestock is treated, keeping multiple slaves in small cages, feeding them just enough to keep them alive, not washing them well. The freeing of slaves must also be done through a slave market, with proper manumission papers being written up and notarized, which the former slave must keep at all times to prove that they have not run away. It is traditional in northern Dolovai to give a freed slave a small sum of money to get their own start in the world. Roughly half of freed slaves end up enslaved again within five years for inability to function in the world of free people, including inability to manage their money.

Slavery is also practiced in pockets of southern Kyaine, where it takes a slightly different form. There are a great deal of rules in place regarding the treatment of slaves, stipulating that they must be treated much like other humans. Masters have authority to punish slaves, but not too harshly, and a slave court exists for slaves to complain about poor treatment from their masters, and also for trying slaves who have been accused of crimes. Slaves in the south are forbidden clothes as the only outward mark of their slavery, which is understood to be an impermanent state. Slavery is indentured in the south and slaves can work to pay off the value of their sale.

Southern slavery has been slowly dying out for about a century now and only exists in small pockets, mostly rural areas. The decline sped up rapidly when Bright Harbour, the only major city that allowed slavery in Kyaine, outlawed the practice eighty years ago at the behest of Lord Ichabod DeThane. Forecasts suggest that slavery will die out as a practice in Kyaine within fifty years.

Slavery is also practiced in Aergyre, with almost none of the restrictions that exist in northern Dolovai. Children of slaves are born slaves, masters have no restrictions on punishments, and slaves can be acquired through private means. Because Aergyre is a colonial power, it is very common or them to take slaves from areas they have colonized. As in Dolovai, slaves have no sexual rights and are considered objects to be used for free people’s pleasure. Even middling-income families in most of the empire will own at least one slave. Slaves in the empire usually dress in very little (depending on the climate of course), and are marked with piercings, usually to the genitals, but sometimes to the navel. A full third of the human population of Aergyre is comprised of slaves.

In the Empire, slave do most jobs that involve interacting with human bodies, including serving as gravediggers, medical assistants, bathhouse attendants, beauticians and prostitutes. Most nobles also have slaves as concubines. They are also used for entertainment in the form of gladiators, disposable human bodies that can be torn apart for spectator enjoyment—though there has been a recent trend in some areas for gladiators to engage in public sex instead of public maimings, which has been catching on more and more. Slaves are rarely freed in the empire, but when they are, they are generally given nothing and made to leave their household immediately, which can be very traumatic.

Slavery is practiced in Enjon, but only in the case of captured prisoners of war. As a result, there are not many slaves around, though there is inter-provincial war on a semi-regular basis, and also wars with Imperial colonizers and with their only continental neighbour, the isolationist nation of Yassar. Occasionally Enjoni raiding parties will attack other places and take slaves as prizes, but this is very rare. Generally, Enjoni slaves are used as labourers, and will generally only be used sexually in order to humiliate them. Castration of male slaves is very common in Enjon, so even if they are freed or ransomed back to their homes, they are permanently marked. This also serves a double purpose of making it less likely that someone will marry them—in Enjon, if a free person decides to marry a slave, the slave must be freed.

The eastern nations in Yavhore by and large do not practice slavery, though some of them do indenture criminals rather than imprisoning them. In Djyekkan, slavery is widely considered an abhorrent practice, though it was once widely practiced across both nations there.

Among nonhuman cultures, slavery is uncommon. Centaurs, faeries, werewolves and dragons don’t practice it. Mermaids do, but only on a contract basis and the person must be freed after a certain number of years. Orcs practice slavery widely, but only of captured members of other clans, who do all the domestic labour of keeping their culture running and also mind children. Goblins use captured enemies as untrained combat labour, to die in place of trained fighters. No nonhuman culture currently existent has a systematized form of slavery that resembles human slavery.

In almost all places where slavery exists, concerted efforts are being made to bring it to an end, with success that varies depending on the place and tactics. But it is entrenched, political, and in many places considered an important part of both the economy and culture, so that work is slow in coming and has a long battle ahead of it. In most places, the emancipation movements are largely run by former slaves, which tends to hinder their ability to be heard. But they are growing, so possibly some success will be met in the future.

From “The Definitive Atlas of the World, Vol. 2: Peoples and Cultures,” by Pascal Tiberius Naoton Quimbell Haeverine anNatalie, published in White Cape in DN 1997.

4 thoughts on “Friday Lore Post: Human Slavery

  1. Now, nothing can possibly justify genocide. But of anything could? The extermination of any and all slaveholders, human traffickers, and advocates of slavery as a cultural practice definitely would.


    1. Gotta say, I can’t disagree with that, though clearly a large number of people in-story would. And it would definitely count as a genocide, considering how many cultures practice slavery in some way, shape or form. 🙂


      1. So for this to actually happen, we need someone who won’t flinch from the idea of genocide.

        Scott? What’s your price for ending the practice of human slavery by way of devouring the perpetrators?


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