All My Readers are Descendants of Slaves

I was thinking about African American culture and how it still shows signs of these people descending from slaves, US slavery having been abolished less than 150 years ago. And I asked myself, what is that subculture going to be like a few hundred years in the future? Then it hit me. That’s where my subculture is now.

I’ve made the point before that all my readers are descendants of royalty. But a far greater percentage of our pedigrees lies with the slaves. All currently living members of the various European ethnic groups have ample slave ancestry.

Slavery was common in Iron Age Scandinavia and is particularly well documented for the era’s final part, the Viking Period. It survived into the High Middle Ages, though apparently at a far smaller scale. This was probably due largely to the 11th century introduction of Christianity. Sweden kept issuing Viking-style raiding fleets into the 13th century, but these operated within a Crusade framework against pagans on the eastern shores of the Baltic, and slave-taking does not seem to have been on the agenda. A 1337 law code finally made it illegal to enslave the child of Christian parents, and since no other religion than Christianity was tolerated, this effectively meant abolition within the ensuing generation. Meanwhile, internal colonisation on marginal land meant that by 1400 the grand-children of the last slaves, though nominally free, were tenant crofters on poor dependent farmsteads and worked for the grand-children of the last slave owners.

A difference from the US situation is that phenotypically, European slaves were not very different from their owners. Written Scandinavian sources do occasionally describe slaves as swarthy, but they dwell more on them being ugly, stooped, unwashed and uncouth. To recognise a Viking Period slave, you couldn’t look at his facial features, skin or hair. What gave him away was his bearing, his manner and his clothes. And Viking Period Scandies made no attempt to keep a tenuous colour line. Sons sired by aristocrats on their slave women could unproblematically be raised as lordlings.

Love and desire are largely colour blind among humans absent strong conditioning. African Americans of today don’t look like Western Africans (and not just because of slave-era rape). And as the centuries pass, I guess the difference between “white” and “black” Americans will blur even more, until racial profiling no longer works if a policeman wants to avoid giving the mayor’s son a speeding ticket too many. And so new subcultures will form.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

7 thoughts on “All My Readers are Descendants of Slaves”

  1. Someone was making me laugh recently about how pompous some people get about genealogy – she’s Chinese from Hainan, and her usual reaction is to announce in a loud voice that she’s descended from a shipping clerk and a bus driver. Which happens to be true. She herself is an exceptionally smart law graduate who investigates corporate fraud and corruption.

    My daughter was delighted to discover that Chinese family names can be traced continuously back a very long way – she tracked down the originator of her mother’s family name to the part of Shandong Province where her grandparents were born. The originator of the name was the bastard son of an adulteror who lived about 2,500 years ago who, having shagged someone else’s queen and made her pregnant, murdered the king and attempted to take control of the throne – when he failed by popular revolt he committed suicide. His bastard son assumed a new name to disassociate himself from his disreputable father – Mengsun. This name was subsequently shortened to Meng, and people called Meng have lived in that part of China ever since. My daughter was tickled pink to learn she is descended from a bunch of adulterous and murderous bastards – of course, we figured out that the great philosopher Mencius must also be descended from these people and a distant cousin. I added that there was evidence on my side of descent from murdering bastards also, so she was generally well pleased. When I add in the news about how some of the ancestors must have been slaves, it will only further enrich a story she is already thoroughly enjoying.


  2. Slavery continued in much of Europe till Napoleonic Wars. In Sweden (Pomerania) serfdom was banned in 1806, in Bosnia & Hertzegovina only in 1918.

    Slavery of Europeans continued also in Islamic countries. Raiding for slaves along European coasts as far as Iceland was a big business till 18th century. More than a million Europeans were captured. The slaves were then sold back to their families, if they were rich enough, otherwise they were worked to death as a warning.

    North African slave trade ended only after France conquered Algeria in 1830, as the first step of building a colonial empire in Africa.

    But slavery still goes on, in some form. Today there are probably more people living in slavelike conditions than ever.


  3. The Southern Baptists were formed precisely to promote the pro-slavery branch of christianity, a fact that has been glossed over. Today they hate gay people, tomorrow, who knows?
    — — —
    Everyone named Dyson -including Freeman Dyson- are descended from an eleventh-century woman named Dy. I think this is better than being descended from robber barons.
    But if you want posh genealogies, there are plenty of bigwigs who have traced their ancestry to Muhammed, or even Jesus. Personally, I am a descendant of Nyar’lath-Hotep.
    — — — — —
    Slightly OT: Anti-immigrant loons are completely clueless about how we all are descended from a mixture of immigrants. -Here is one specimen:”Murder trial starts for Malmö sniper suspect”


  4. Slavery was common in England until after the Norman Conquest; the Domesday book indicates that 10% of the population were slaves. The Normans didn’t keep slaves and ended the slave trade between England and Ireland. However, in practical terms there was little difference between a slave and a villein, who was bound to the land.


  5. During the Hellenistic era there were several regional attempts to end slavery, but Macedonia and later Rome always intervened to restore status quo.
    — — — — — —
    Since so many slaves were captured by vikings sailing the Russian rivers, I see a business opportunity for a Nordic franchise of the Rastafarians. This is Babylon, but who should play the role of Haile Selassie?


  6. As a scientist, you would have to not merely comment that modern African-Americans “don’t look like West Africans”, but demonstrate that that difference was due to miscegenation between those of African and those of European descent, and not, for example, due to miscegenation between groups, in America, descended from visually distinct groups of Africans (of which there are many).

    Before making brave predictions, one would also need to consider the reasons why, in a similar timeframe, racial mixing has proceeded so much further in Brazil than in the USA.


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