11.5 The Slave Trade and Its Impact on Africa

In the 1400s and 1500s, as you have read, Europeans set up small forts on the coast of West Africa in order to resupply their ships and profit from local trade, especially in gold. As Europeans built colonies in the Americas, they needed large numbers of laborers to make their colonies profitable. By the 1600s, they increasingly turned to Africa to provide that labor.

Diagram cross section of a large ship in two views, showing levels of dark skinned people in minimal clothing lying closely together in all available space.

This 1800s diagram shows how slaves were so tightly crammed in small spaces that they had to lie side by side with little room to move for many hours at a time.


  • Summarize the expansion of the African slave trade.
  • Explain how triangular trade worked.
  • Understand the nature of the Middle Passage and describe its effects.
  • Analyze the impact of the Atlantic slave trade on West Africa and the Americas.

Key Terms

  • Osei Tutu
  • Oyo empire
  • plantation
  • missionary
  • Asante kingdom
  • monopoly
  • triangular trade
  • Middle Passage
  • mutiny
  • Afonso I
  • Olaudah Equiano

The African Slave Trade Expands

Slavery Throughout History

Slavery has existed all over the world since ancient times: ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, as well as China, Persia, the Aztecs, and other societies had enslaved people. The English word slave comes from Slav, the people of Eastern Europe who were often sold into slavery in the Middle Ages.

The Arabs also used slave labor. Some were captives taken from Africa.

In the Middle East, enslaved Africans worked on large farming estates or large-scale irrigation projects. Others became artisans, soldiers, or merchants.

European Traders Enter the Slave Trade

In the 1400s and early 1500s, the Portuguese and other Europeans brought a few Africans back to Europe as slaves. There, Africans were seen as exotic servants of the rich. As European colonies in the Americas grew, however, Europeans turned to slave laborers to clear plantations, or the large estates run by an owner or an owner's overseer.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments