The study by Herbert S. Klein which is to be analyzed here represents an ambitious attempt to lay down a new concept of post-1500 Atlantic slave trade and its impact on both Africans and European colonies in the New World. In Chapter 1, the author deals with historical precedents and foundations for the wide-scale slave economies in the pre-industrial Western world. He observes that all major slave regimes, such as the Roman one, were ultimately founded on the utilization of slaves as the cheapest and most mobile labor force in agricultural occupations, rather than in household and specialized ones, and that the system of plantations, such as existed under Arab Caliphate in the eastern Mediterranean or in the Crusader states in Palestine and Cyprus, had to a significant degree presaged the development of the Caribbean system of plantation slavery. In Africa itself, the ‘pure’ slave systems were few and far between, the significant exceptions being the sub-Saharan empires (such as the Songay) or the mercantile city-states of the eastern coast. Nonetheless, the extensive slave-trade system arose in northern and eastern regions of African continent as early as the 900s, with 3.5 to 10 million slaves having been transferred through it until the 13th century. However, it was with the arrival of the Portuguese that the external slave trade gradually came to be more widespread than the internal one. The Portuguese, for the first time, extended the network of slave trade operations from the Mauritanian and Guinean coasts of West Africa to the more southern regions of modern Congo and Angola, laying the foundations for the slave hunt operations in the interior of the continent.
The importance of African slave trade was, in the author’s opinion, increased due to the necessity to exploit natural reaches of the New World in the absence of opportunities for the use of either Native or free European workforce in large numbers. Therefore it was the African slaves that became a preferred source for the replenishment of servile labor resources.
In Chapter 2, the author dwells on the particular factors that influenced the Europeans’ decision to rely on African slaves for the economic exploitation of their Western Hemisphere empires. He proposes several explanations for this development. Firstly, the Spaniards were limited in their ability to export the European free waged labor to their colonies by the fact that the wages in Europe were high enough and the employment in various fields (such as the Spanish imperial army) guaranteed enough for the laborers to risk crossing the Atlantic Ocean to the new lands. At the same time, the usefulness of Amerindian workforce for such endeavors as sugar plantations or precious metals mining was limited by the communal lifestyle of the conquered Indian tribes that were more amenable to the relatively non-coercive methods of peasant exploitation, as well as by high mortality rates after the contact with European diseases. Therefore the import of African slaves, thanks to high profits from precious metals mining, was relatively cheap and profitable for the Spanish Crown.
The Portuguese were even more reliant on the African slave labor in their New World colonies, as the free laborers’ population of Portugal itself was extremely small and the conquered Indian tribes belonging to hunter-and-gatherer stage of social evolution were unaccustomed to forced labor, dying out en masse. That is why, it was more logical for the Portuguese to make use of the African slaves’ labor when dealing with the colonization and acculturation of vast landmasses of Brazil. Finally, the Northern European powers that succeeded Spain and Portugal as major colonizers in the 17th to 18th centuries