Let me provide some insight to my magic system. 75-95% of people have magic powers. (Depending on where you are.) These powers manifest themselves any time from birth to the end of puberty. These magical powers fall under seven broad categories. Air, water, earth, plasma (fire/lightning), plants, light, and animals. Animal magic is tricky, because living things resist magic. But, many animal mages can influence animals, and some can control dead animals (this is called necromancy and is a big societal no-no.) The strength and scope of magic varies from individual to individual. But, these are the most common in order. Earth, water, air, plants, animals, plasma, and light.

These magical capabilities are like the show Avatar, the last airbender, in how controlling magic works. However, in my book magic is much less powerful. For instance, an earth Mage may only be able to influence as much dirt as they could lift, and lifting this dirt would take about as much energy as doing it by hand, except you don't have to touch it, and it could be a perfect brick shape.

NOTE - People who control magic have a magic organ instead of an appendix. This makes magic, or the lack thereof, inheritable.

So, if a person has no magic by the time they're an adult, it is legal to take them as a slave. If you can use your magic to grab a jug from across the room, why have a slave to go get it? How would people's limited abilities affect the influence of slavery? For example, if you can tear weeds out of the ground with magic, or influence them to die, why have slaves to cultivate your fields? Would this make it unlikely for regular people to have slaves?

I think that wealthy people would definitely have household servants, but what about work? With the level of magic people have, would it be more feasible to pay people with magic or feed and house non-magic slaves? (They're not like us normal people, so they don't need as good of housing or food.) What types of areas would have more slavery? For example, would there be a lot of slaves in agricultural areas, and fewer in large cities? (I would also assume that some good people would have slaves just so that they get treated better than they otherwise would have.)

This question is kind of long, and I apologize for that, let me know if there is anything I can clean up.

Edit - Pulling weeds would actually be easier with magic, because you can force the plants to move however you desire. And doing things is easier with magic. It will make you tired, and you can only do it so much, but it would take less time. You also don't need to actually do anything other than exert your will over what you're controlling. You could pull weeds sitting in a lawn chair under an umbrella with a glass of lemonade (most people don't do this, because they don't have lemons and concentration is important). Also, magic allows you to do things you couldn't do by hand, such as making wind, or shooting lasers. I was describing the magical abilities of most people, not all. More powerful people would be able to move large amounts of material, or use magic for a prolonged period of time.

Edit 2 - People can exert more power than they're capable of doing physically; magic is like a muscle. (Or karate.) If you work hard at it, you can increase your power and or range. But most people don't have teachers to help them learn or grow their power. However, most people don't have enough ability to even warrant their magical instruction. People who do often end up as things like guilders, or other specialized professions. Range is normally along the lines of ten yards, but it only makes a little difference where in your sphere of influence you are using your power.

  • $\begingroup$ I think these are very good answers. +1 $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2016 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure the edit clarifies much - in theory, I can run a marathon, or I can walk 26 miles. Running is faster, but either way, I'm not going to be doing much else for the rest of the day - either I'm at the end, collapsing, or slogging along! If it uses the same energy, there is a limited benefit to doing things faster, since I can't recover instantly to be able to do other, more fun, things. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Jan 12, 2016 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but let's say you run 3 miles, which takes you half of an hour. You then have to rest for an hour. If you run those three miles in five minutes, then rest for an hour, you save 25 minutes. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2016 at 20:32
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    $\begingroup$ to be honest your magic seems pretty limited in power, even with clarification, and each mage can only handle one type of magic; that means that 90% of what they want to do in a day aren't aided by magic and thus slaves are still useful. Magic needs to be stronger before the difference in magical society is that drastic, and in any case there are non-physical actions like managment, therapy, thinking and planning etc that will need people regardless of magic. Thus the benefit of slaves is still quite real. Though slaves won't happen in this world anyways.... $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Jan 13, 2016 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ @dsollen There are many models for slavery beside the American/English one. In Greece, you might go yachting, get blown onto the wrong beach, and BAM, housework by day, gangbang with the lads all night. Maybe your fam can pay the ransom, maybe not. Just the luck of the draw. $\endgroup$
    – chiggsy
    Feb 13, 2020 at 13:11

9 Answers 9


If you are limited to what you could do by hand in terms of energy usage, you would want slaves for when you need more than that to be done. It takes an equal amount of energy to walk around my field and pull out weeds by magic as it would to walk round my field and pull out weeds by hand, but it takes me a lot less energy to have a bunch of other people do it for me, while I watch from my balcony with a nice cool drink.

Similarly, if I can kill weeds because I have plant magic, this presumably takes the same amount of energy as to make weedkiller, by this logic. I'm not sure how much energy it would take, since it might depend on what I can get hold of locally, how much processing I need to do, how it is applied. If I need to account for every stage of the process, it will take a lot of energy to kill a single weed, but killing lots becomes relatively easier, just as with technology.

Essentially, if a job takes more than one person to complete, in terms of energy expenditure, it might be better to get someone else to do it. A builder might be able to make bricks more quickly than an unskilled labourer, but they will still be exhausted at the end of the day. They might use their brickmaking skills along with a bunch of people to lift and carry the resulting bricks to build houses.

From the description, I'd say the limiting factor is the energy expenditure - non-magical people set the baseline for magical people's energy usage. If someone worked out a more energy efficient way of doing something, would that affect the magical method?


Slave vs. Personal Action

The first thing to consider about slavery is the resource aspect. What's the difference between having a slave get something as using magic to get it? Who expends the resources.

Consider the life of a landowner, Jim, with a lot of land. Let's give Jim 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) of cropland. We'll also give Jim the ability to neutralize weeds, and he can clear 1 hectare of weeds in 10 minutes. To clear all his cropland of weeds, he would need to spend 10,000 minutes (166 hours and 40 minutes, or 7 full days).

If a slave can clear 1 hectare of weeds in 1 hour, then six slaves can do the same amount of work in the same amount of time. If Jim has twenty-four slaves, they can do the work four times faster than Jim can on his own. Simultaneously, Jim is now free to spend his time and magical energy doing something he's much more interested in doing.

Numbers used above are completely arbitrary.


So Jim's a good landowner with a magical ability that meshes well with, or defines, his role in society. While he can control his fields really well, he can't defend himself with great capability. He can't call down lightning on trespassers, for example.

Slaves would give him a means of defense against aggressors, but I would rather trust my safety to guards, people I'm paying to protect me. That way they have a vested interest in keeping me alive: I pay their bills, feed, clothe, and house them. Slaves have the same motivator, of course, but if the aggressor treats slaves better than I do, they may just want to watch my household burn.

Hiring other magic users to perform tasks Jim can't, like calling down lightning bolts, healing broken bones, and sending secure messages via charmed animals, would be a great boon to Jim's household.

Rural vs. Urban

Traditionally, slaves are more common in rural areas than urban ones due to the need for more bodies to get the work done. According to this PBS article, urban slaves represented about 6% of the total slave population in the U.S. Urban slaves could be hired out, so they could pull double duty in both urban and rural areas.

The number of slaves found in an area will depend on a number of factors, including: amount of manual labor required (fields vs. household), amount of time required to perform common/menial jobs (tailor vs. blacksmith), and societal expectations (more slaves is higher status vs. higher quality slaves is higher status).

Impact of Magic

Honestly? Not much. Instead of predominantly white-skinned peoples owning predominantly black-skinned peoples, predominantly magic-users own predominantly mundanes. Everything else will likely remain the same or similar.

  • $\begingroup$ The problem I see with this answer, is that while yes, the math works out that 6 slaves can do the job just as well as 1 magician, the world's population is weighted 9 magicians per muggle. That is: For every magician who owns 6 slaves, there are 53 magicians having to do the work themselves. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Draco18s It's entirely possible those six slaves working nonstop can provide the resources needed for the 54 magicians to live without having to do the work. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Jan 13, 2016 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ I postulate that it would be easier/cheaper to magically create a construct that could perform the same task just as well as the slave, and could be mass produced. I call it the Automagic Harvester. The whole reason slavery works is that slaves are cheap, expendable, and numerous. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Draco18s If we're going that route, then there's really no reason to have any kind of conflict in a world with magic. After all: Magic! The OP's question isn't about constructs, but, I agree, in a magical setting, a construct is a much more effective method than slaves. There's no chance of revolt, for one. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Jan 13, 2016 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ Kind of why I don't think the situation as presented is viable. I actually see it somehow ending up the reverse in some way: the mundanes enslaving the magical. How to keep them in bondage, I am not sure. But the dominos fall into place much more easily. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 20:31

It sounds like you're trying to create a post-scarcity world in order to limit slavery. Unfortunately, creating such a world is more difficult than it first appears, because the world typically adapts to the new capacities. This adaptation can lead to unexpected consequences.

For example, what you have described is a two class system between "magic users" and "the useless." If magic is indeed so powerful that there's little to no reason to have slaves, that means these non-magic users have little to no value to magic users. Why would I pay a Muggle (oh why not, let's just steal J.K. Rowling's term, since it's catchy) good money to make a loaf of bread by hand, when I can pay the same money to have a magic user make a hundred loafs using magic! If you make magic sufficiently good as to get rid of slavery, you also create a level of income inequality never seen before in the history of man! If you weaken it enough to avoid this, slavery becomes viable again.

As a solution, you need to find a weakness in magic which gives the Muggles a niche market to eke out their lives. However, you have to be careful as to where this weakness is. If it affects menial labor, then slavery will still be a valid solution. As twisted as it might be, we need to find a way to make magic weak at doing high quality work. If we can find a way to do that, then our Muggles can have high quality jobs. Jobs that require a great deal of freedom of expression tend to be poor tasks for slaves. Very rare would it be to rely on a slave to paint your portrait, or a slave to craft your custom Kayak made of exotic woods. These sorts of jobs are simply at odds with the mental shackles one relies on to keep slaves in check.

Brainstorming time! Because I always enjoy bringing in Eastern philosophy, let's take a look at Chinese martial arts for an inspiration. I take these descriptions from a beautiful post regarding the meaning of Fā Jìn (發勁).In Chinese thinking, there is a term for power: 勁, which is pronounced Jìn. There is also another term for power: 力 pronounced Lì. Lì may be thought of as "dumb power." This is the power it takes to drag a plow through the earth, pushing with much resistance, while Jìn is considered a skillful power. Of course, phrased coarsely in English that way, it suggests there is a dividing line, but that's not how it is has to be, for one may note that the character for Jìn, 勁 contains the symbol for Lì, 力. They are clearly related in a more nuanced way.

The post I list as my source goes into beautiful detail about the meaning of the different parts of the other half of the symbol, Jīng(巠), and I very much recommend reading it yourself. But if I may summarize, Jīng has a general meaning of something flowing underneath the surface, or something which passes through. When brought together, the author of that post suggests the meaning of Jìn is close to "A power that passes through and requires skill to manifest."

The clearest example they give for the difference is weight lifting. Anyone can lift a weight using Lì. All you have to do is make sure the weight gets lifted. Olympic weight lifters lift their weight with Jìn. The difference? Look at how they do it. Look at their faces when they are at the top of the lift. Some shining part of their soul appears and shines through all of the dumb work, turning it into Jìn. They almost look radiant, with hundreds of pounds balancing over their head.

You can see this anywhere you look, really. To borrow from Shaolin Soccer, The Karate Kid (remake), and several others, "There is Kung Fu in Everything." There's the poorly paid gardener who is slumped over, pulling weeds one at a time, and then there's the gardener who might be paid the same, but you can see he or she takes pride in their work. There's a grace to their movements. A purpose. After an hour of pulling, the slumped gardener who used Lì has to go back and pick up all the weeds he pulled, while the one using Jìn worked the gathering of the pulled weeds right into his or her cadence! They didn't have to. They weren't just trying to save time. There was an internal purpose to doing something perfectly, no matter how mundane it might seem.

Okay, that's enough of a etymology lesson for today, let's get to making a magic system work the way you'd like!

What if you make it harder to accomplish Jìn using magic. It doesn't need to be impossible, for magic should inspire wonder in any book, but lets make some things harder. For example, perhaps it is easy for a bunch of mages to lift the stone blocks needed to build a capitol building. They might even be able to carve a stone face above the lentel. However, it may be hard to get the proper expression on that face. Perhaps they can carve the face with magic, but it takes an artist with their hammer and chisel to make that face truly shine like it was alive. Perhaps magic can build that Kayak, but it doesn't have quite the right flow. The exotic woods don't marry quite as well as in the hands of an expert woodworker. Now you've opened jobs for your Muggles. Good jobs.

Of course, we want to make magic exciting. Now that we know our Muggles have gainful employment, we can look at making the magic stronger again. What if we let magic do anything an expert could do, but you have to specialize more if you want to do so. So a master of magic might be able to put together perfect kayak out of exotic woods, but may not be able to do other woodworking tasks with Jìn. Perhaps they might have learned to make a wonderful kayak, but can't make a wonderful canoe.

This would lead to a more balanced culture which stands a better chance against slavery:

  • Menial work is done through magic, because its easy.
  • Middle-class work and artistry is done by Muggles because their hands are more versatile than the magic
  • High-class work and artistry is done by either Muggles or Mages who specialized in a particular activity.

Now your Muggles are middle class, rather than slaves. The proper way to enslave a middle class I leave to a future post!

  • $\begingroup$ The whole point of this is that they ARE seen as lesser people by a majority of magic users. It's important to my story's plot. However, I'm trying to establish how common it is and to whom they will be indentured. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2016 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon If you need the Muggles to be lesser people, then they either need to be subjugated or ignored, because those sorts of behaviors are associated with how humans have always dealt with "lesser people." How much they will be subjugated and how much they will be ignored is a matter of culture more than anything else. Consider the difference between how the English dealt with their poor vs. the Indian "untouchable" caste. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 12, 2016 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ They are subjugated, that is why they're slaves. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2016 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon So you have a caste you intend to be slaves, but you're not sure what work they'd do? The answer to that is easy: find what things the ruling class doesn't want to do. They'll be made to do that! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 12, 2016 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ I know that, but what I'm after is a supply and demand type deal. At what point is it easer to use option S vs option M. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2016 at 20:39

Why do people who own cars and have driver's licenses take taxis? Why do restaurants offer home delivery? Why do people shop online for stuff they could get for the same price at nearby brick&mortar stores?

Time, and convenience.

Having slaves to do things you are capable of doing yourself is incredibly freeing to the person who can afford it. So to encourage magic-users in your world to have slaves, you'll need to make it economically and logistically viable. You don't say whether taking a slave is by mutual agreement (which would be more like hiring household staff) or involuntary; if the former you'll need to make it attractive to the would-be slaves too, and if the latter you'll need to deal with enforcement (keeping them slaves).


You said that "lifting this dirt would take about as much energy as doing it by hand." In such a a magic-heavy society, magically grabbing a cup from the cupboard would be just like walking over to the cabinet and getting it. If someone is idly rich, they may see using their own energy on tasks like this as "beneath them," just like a stereotypical billionaire has servants and staff to take care of all these incidental details. Using any magical energy for menial tasks could be seen as a waste by upper-class magic users, and these tasks would be delegated to the lowest class of human.

Additionally, conspicuous consumption could come into play. Assuming that you can't magic food and materials out of thin air, feeding, clothing, and maintaining slaves would take some level of resources. Owning slaves would be a sign of wealth, and the aristocracy of your world could be trying to outdo each other in such displays (especially in ways that can't be replicated by magic).

I could see slave-owning being more prevalent for your middle-class magic users, too. If there is equal energy expended to carry a backpack with magic as with your own back, using plant or animal magic to get food for your personal slave may end up taking less energy than than carrying the pack yourself.

  • $\begingroup$ What you say is true, but keep in mind you need to feed and clothe that guy carrying your backpack. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2016 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon Oh, you need to clothe a slave? $\endgroup$
    – Vylix
    Apr 13, 2017 at 2:11
  • $\begingroup$ @AdiNugroho Unless the owner is a changeling or shapeshifter. They tend to be more open about those type of things. $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2017 at 11:33

Slaves are expensive to keep. Keep alive, keep in line,... There are more cultural habits to keep in mind than just "no magic = slave".

So why ? The question would be more why only mundane people taken as slaves ? They do the same things slower than magic user, and a man barely able to poke a field with his mind is not much of a threat. The non magic slaves would more likely be used in area where their disability is not a liability. Preceptors, various household employ where looking pretty or being smart are premium. Also war ! Because if only a handful can cast a lightning strike, an arrow can be more deadly than a spark, with appropriate motivation, an army of slaves can work.

The main reason for slavery would remain cultural. It takes a lot of thinking for a people to decide that it's either not worth the trouble or to evolve a moral ground that makes slavery a taboo.


"If people had magic powers, how would it affect slavery?"

It could encourage it.

The setting you describe hammers my brain towards Shinsekai Yori. I can't help but recommend you watch it (unless you already have, and somewhat base your setting on it).


In Shinsekai Yori, a thousand years into the future, humans developed (scientifically, however) something called Cantus. This "Cantus" is the ability to use telekinesis.

Immediately, problems arose. People were afraid of murderers using Cantus to rise. As they would be able to slaughter a massive amount of people before they were stopped.

Of course, part of the reason for that is that, unlike your setting, Cantus allows everyone (not just some gifted individuals) to exert a power far beyond what they are physically capable of.

However, I'll go ahead and say that in your world as well, killing someone is much easier using magic, as crushing someone's windpipe with a small rock and all other kinds of malicious actions are FAR easier. Once you begin to think of ways to do something as if you could benefit from it, you will see that you will find a way.

Using the setting of magic with the law of equal energy makes the magic all about the control it provides. That means either precision, or the lack of the need to be physically near what is being controlled.

Side note: It's not clear from what you said if the distance matters for the energy spent or if the energy spent only equals to the work needed based on the object.

Back to SY's setting and then slavery: The solution humans found to murder was comprised of two things: Attack Inhibition & Death Feedback. Give this a quick read, it's not long.

The purpose of these two mechanisms was to make humans unable to attack others. This resulted, however, in all humans with Cantus being EXTREMELY vulnerable as they could not even retaliate against other humans even if they were attacked.

And so, what they did was to alter all humans without Cantus and mixed their genes with molerats' until they no longer recognized them as humans and could attack them should they get any ideas.

They also got rid of any kids who didn't show their power until the final age it could appear (My guess is that this meant they also didn't have AI&DF) which (finally) brings us back to your setting:

Basically, my points in a TL;DR:

  • Magic would make humans fear each other using magic on them.
  • They would find ways to limit themselves.
  • They would be inclined to enslave the no-magic people and keep an eye on them as they might find ways to exploit said weakness and try to riot*.

This could be summarized as fear. The magic users won't really need the no-magic people's abilities - They just want to keep their minds busy, and just killing them all likely won't come without a price to pay.

People who are used to using their magic will generally be weaker than those won't don't have it, since using your magic might drain you of the same amount of energy, but won't train your muscles. This means the no-magic people will have a slight edge if a fight were to rise and they found a way to defend against magic/magic users. This part is up to you as a writer.

*Being a magic user vs not isn't the only reason for wanting to riot. Try money. Heck, the no magic people might even try to enslave the magic users exploiting the weakness right down to the end!

  • $\begingroup$ People CAN exert powers far beyond what they're capable of, but they're a small percentage. John Doe over there isn't that powerful. Dan Smith, John Doe, And Average Joe aren't that powerful. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon That's all the better. They would be even more inclined to find ways to limit attacks on other humans. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon And every little bit counts. :) I'll also add the part about people's powers. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon Err... TL;DR is shorthand for Too Long; Didn't Read. AI - Attack Inhibition. DF - Death Feedback. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ Instantly upon reading that link I became skeptical about the foresight of these people. Genetics is hard. Make a mistake and it's cancer, passed down to any kids you might have. Wolf DNA? I have magic? I become a pacifist, and stay human. $\endgroup$
    – chiggsy
    Feb 13, 2020 at 13:40

75-95% of people have magic powers. If a person has no magic by the time they're an adult, it is legal to take them as a slave.

That's the problem right there. If MOST people have magic, then theirs is a society that doesn't need slaves.

Slavery works when you have a large work force overwhelmed by a smaller number who have greater firepower, money, and/or technology. But if the enslaving force has greater fire power and greater technology and more money AND greater numbers the there's not much point. What would actually happen is that people without powers would become your worlds homeless. They would be worthless people who are cast aside pushed out of society.

You need a reason why the magicians would need slaves:

A) Make the magicians the ones who are fewer in number.

B) bring down the magicians power levels (Example: They can raise a plant magically, but not an entire field of crops) so they're still powerful but not so much that they can do everything alone.

C) Make it somewhat desirable to be under the magicians rule. Maybe the magicians are worshipped, or maybe being under a magicians rule offers some measure of protection or clout.

D) Sex slaves? That there will always be a demand for.

And as for why the magicians might want slaves...? To brag. A show of power and influence.

Give your society a need for slaves.


Slavery relies upon Dehumanization more than Efficiency

All types of labor (forced, paid, and machine) have upfront and ongoing costs.

Even where forced labor might be the most cost-effective (counting in the total cost in magical and real capital), slavery is still not viable unless you have a culture that views slaves as being sub-human, of somehow deserving such poor treatment.

Magic could facilitate the institution of slavery -- it could make it easier for the "haves" to justify the dehumanization of the "have nots" -- but if magic is not particularly hereditary, people are unlikely to dehumanize members of their own families.

Furthermore, magic could undermine slavery -- it could facilitate communication, allowing abolitionists to organize and shame (or even thwart) the industries/localities where slavery thrives.


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