I have a series of weakly interconnected magical realms, in which there is limited movement between the realms. The technology in these realms varies from the medieval to the early 1800s. There is also magic very similar to that of the Ars Magica RPG system, however, I do not expect this to influence the answers to this question much, if at all.

In many, but not all, of these realms, slavery is legal. In some realms, despite its legality, it is not common, while in others it is very common, and slaves may make up over 50% of the population. Slavery may be for life, life until the slave can purchase their freedom, or for a certain duration (typically 20-25 years) after which the slave must be freed or the owner is enslaved as a penalty. There are variations as to the rights a slave has, from none (other than that a slave is a chattel of a certain value) to being guaranteed a certain minimum level of subsistence and the right to life.

In one particular small mountain-city realm of about 31 square kilometres, with early 1800s technology, slavery is legal, slaves have no rights, and slaves make up about 10% of the population, but slave-trading to nearby realms - quite a lot of them, given that the mountain moves about each day - is big business.

While the slaves that are sold out of the mountain realm fulfil all the roles that slaves can be expected to fulfil, in the mountain realm, since agriculture is almost non-existent due to its climate, most slaves are employed in domestic services, manufacturing and service industries, which is to say simplistically that they can be house, factory, labouring, shop or sex slaves. There are also some slaves with professional skills.

Slaves may be born slaves - the owner of a slave woman typically (this is the case in the mountain realm) has the power to decide whether her offspring will be slaves or free on an individual basis. Free people may sell themselves to clear family debts, or may be sold to clear otherwise unsecured personal debts that are sufficiently in default.

The realms the mountain realm visits includes some where slavery is legal but non-existent, and some where slavery is illegal, as well as many where slavery is legal and common.

However, the new goddess-queen of this realm is anti-slavery, having experienced life as a slave in some other realms on her way to the throne, and wants her kingdom to have nothing more to do with slavery. The Goddess-Queen is an absolute monarch. Her word is law, and she answers to no-one but recognises that she must at least consider public opinion if she wants her kingdom to flourish.

What would be the best way to abolish slavery in this kingdom? Over how short a time period might this be accomplished?

Please take into account what would happen to any freed slaves, how slaves, slave owners and slave traders might react, and how the society would have to adjust. In addition, since it is likely that the neighbouring realms would not be simultaneously changing their laws, how might relations with these realms change?

  • $\begingroup$ What do the slaves in this realm do? $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Jan 28, 2016 at 23:19
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868, Good point, have a look at my edited question. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Jan 28, 2016 at 23:59

5 Answers 5


The Good News

The slaves in this world have a method by which they can be freed. Some people may even call this form of slavery an enhanced version of indentured servitude, especially when some slaves have some rights in places. Due to the fact that some slaves can alter their station in life, like what the new queen-goddess has done, there isn't as much cultural momentum to thinking that slaves are inferior people. (Well, maybe they got themselves into slavery due to their own vices, but they're redeemable.)

The Bad News

There is an economy around slavery, which allows for goods and services to be very cheap. Straightaway abolishing slavery makes the costs for goods go way up, not to mention the small impact of some slave-masters loosing their jobs. What is an even more concerning prospect is collecting debt. Do you make a debtors' prison? It's a new, but less terrible, problem.

A Gradual Approach

This essentially goes from chattel slavery to bond slavery with some humanitarian rights, trying to utilize the cultural currents which already appear present. I personally would only recommend this course if outright abolition is not an option. (She's a queen-goddess. She can tell people below her to 'just deal' with her choices!)

  1. Give slaves rights. Included are: a right to life (including safety from beatings, rape, and "inhumane" treatment); the right to buy their freedom for a reasonable cost through money, a prearranged time, or upon the completion of an event; the right to stay within reasonable distance of their families and to not separate parents and dependents; the right to remain under a master (to ensure protection from abuses to step 2 or 3); and the right to immediately appeal to any judge or enforcer of laws for violation of these rights. After all, if you spent time as a slave, you would want some basic rights!
  2. Establish that any slave, of any origin, has these rights while within territory controlled by the crown. (This can cause international debacles, sure, but it's a simple law.)
  3. All slave owners must register with the crown; who they are, who their slaves are, how much those slaves owe, under what conditions they will be released, and if sold to another, who that other party is. Any violations will result in a very unpleasant penalty, which may include immediate emancipation of those slaves.

Using those terms, "slaves" basically turn into indentured servants. This essentially a compromise between what some potentially influential people want and the queen's will. She could also wait for many years under these rules, and then finally abolish slavery altogether! Sure, wage slavery may exist, but it's better than chattel slavery!

We should also note that views on slavery varied greatly in real history, and were opposed and supported and lacked the binary status of "supported" and "not supported." Some religious leaders (like Paul) don't outright condemn slavery, but do advocate for particular behavior on both sides, which can be seen as non-binary actions which move the history of slavery along.


How I would do it is.

1) Immediately abolish the import of slaves.

2) The sale of slaves to anyone but the crown is prohibited.

3) the crown is obligated to buy them at customary market valuation reckoned at three months before the date of abolition. Declining at a rate of 50% per month for the next year at which time the slaves are automatically manumitted.

4) Anyone found holding slaves after this date will be imprisoned at the pleasure of the crown.

5) Anyone found holding slaves after the anniversary of this date will be executed.

The crown trains the former slaves in basic literacy and a trade and provides them with protection.

This would result in less anger by former slaveholders as they would be reimbursed for their financial loss. The declining evaluation would encourage the to be quick and the graduated penalty gives some allowances to logistics.

My alternate plan would be just to kill the slaveholders and give their property to their slaves. I would be more just but might ruffle some feathers of the landed class.

The training and protection are to prevent jim crow and to give the former slaves a more gradual entry into the ranks of free men.

  • $\begingroup$ What would the social effects of a law with these powers have? $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Jan 29, 2016 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyWild Think the American Civil War, but escalating faster (hint: the social effects last a while). $\endgroup$
    – PyRulez
    Jan 29, 2016 at 0:26
  • $\begingroup$ @PyRulez, would you care to elaborate and put that in an answer? Being Australian, I'm not as familiar with the American civil war as some might be. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Jan 29, 2016 at 0:30
  • $\begingroup$ This is an interesting idea. I envisioned the queen wanting to simply decree that slavery was illegal, and then deal with the fallout - she'd actually be looking forward to the probable assassination attempts that would likely stir up - but the social cost and loss of business confidence might be too great, so something like this might be a good second choice that would actually work out better.. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Jan 29, 2016 at 4:43

Not an answer, but OP wanted me to expound on this

This could have very long term consequences

What you describe is some what similar to slavery in the south of the U.S. in the 1800s or so. Slaves made up a lot of the population (definitely over 10%), worked in agriculture, and a slave owner owned his slave's children. When the U.S. got an anti-slavery leader, the South didn't wait for him to abolish; shortly after Abraham Lincoln's election, they succeeded from the Union. This resulted in the U.S. fighting the most powerful enemy in the world, itself. Needless to say, it was very bloody. Afterwards, slavery was abolished. Some problems:

  • People who had lots of wealth had significantly less wealth.
    • To avert this, slave owners either didn't tell the slaves that they were free, or hired them cheaply.
  • The South become poverty stricken, as its economy wasn't ready to be slave free. This is still affecting some parts of the South today. The period of trying to resolve this was called the Reconstruction Era.
  • To this day, the descendants of slaves are still at odds with the descendants of slave owners. Slave owner descendants still regularly discriminate against slave descendants. Slave descendants want privileges from the government.
    • This is made possible by the fact that slaves and slave owners where different races, and even after the abolishment of slavery, slaves descendants and slave owner descendants rarely had children together. (For application to your magic world, see http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FantasticRacism)
    • Even those against slavery were still were in favor of discrimination.
  • A lot of descendants of slaves are still poor today, in part due to inheritance of wealth, but largely due to racism. (These two effects reinforce each other.)

A lot of these problems (but not all) are averted if you slave owners and slaves are the same race, but that is hard if slavery is inherited.

(Also, the goddess-queen is getting shot.)

  • $\begingroup$ These slaves are racially diverse and apart from their shackles, are indistinguishable from the free population, which is also somewhat diverse on the mountain. I'm considering emancipation by decree, with the slave-owners going entirely uncompensated, and yes, I'd already anticipated that the likely response would be assassination attempts. I'd say that the queen would actually be looking forward to them. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Jan 29, 2016 at 3:54
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyWild Surely there would at least be some races that are more commonly slave or non-slave, due to inheritance. (Maybe you could have one race that is exclusively slave, and have them discriminated against, but otherwise not have racism.) $\endgroup$
    – PyRulez
    Jan 29, 2016 at 3:58
  • $\begingroup$ Slaves on the mountain city are represented by members of all races also present as free people, but the slave population is skewed in favour of the peoples from warmer climates, whereas the free population is skewed in favour of people from colder climates. There isn't really all that much discrimination on a racial basis, it's more along the lines of faith and magical ability or lack thereof. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Jan 29, 2016 at 4:37

Historically, non magical realms like the northern parts of the USA found it easy to abolish slavery within a single human lifetime. At the start of our nation, all or nearly all states had slavery. When the urge struck, the usual way of handling it was to set a target date that stated that anyone born after that date would be free, not slave. Thus without taking any assets from a citizen, slaves would vanish from the state.

Similarly, you could set a distance date when any remaining slaves would be freed. This would give anyone plenty of time to sell slaves elsewhere if freeing them was objectionable.

Peer pressure coupled with these laws made it painless at a societal level as long as the proportion of ex-slaves to free is small, even with the racial basis of slavery in the US. The breakdown in the US came when states forsaw that they would have a high to very high level of ex-slaves in their state if emancipation came and no way to get rid of them elsewhere. This was what led to sectional strife.


For a more historically relevant background, study the progress, costs and consequences of the emancipation of slavery from England and the British Empire from about 1770. The common theme is that it is relatively easy to outlaw when slavery is not a cornerstone of the economy (trading, manufacturing etc.), and extremely difficult when you are dependent on it (such as labour intensive plantations). Doing the maths, your economy benefits from slave trading but only 10% of your population are slaves, and it is not unreasonable to assume a trader would have at least 10 slaves, therefore less then 1% of your population is directly dependent on slavery. You can expect some grumbling by banning it but not enough IMHO to make it an issue.


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