Created By: AmbarSonofDeshar on May 24, 2012 Last Edited By: jormis29 on May 15, 2014

Soulless Slave Trader

Slave traders are pure evil

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Trope
Slavery really isn't a nice business. No matter how you slice it, the entire trade requires that one take away another human beings basic freedoms, and sell them the way you would a cow (or a piece of furniture for that matter). Is it any wonder, therefore, that in fiction, slave traders are portrayed as some of the very worst people you could possibly meet?

Finding a sympathetic slave trader in any work of fiction, is a lot like trying to find a needle in a haystack. At best, slave traders will be generic villains, at worst they will be so bad that other villains will give them funny looks. Expect them to not only buy and sell those slaves purchased from "legitimate" sources, but to kidnap anybody they can get their hands on. They're liable to enjoy beating and tormenting their slaves, sometimes to the point where the Fridge Logic kicks in—if you damage your goods that much, what are you going to sell.

Examples

Anime and Manga
  • Most of the slave traders in One Piece are irredeemable jerks, and every character who's bought a slave thus far is similarly reprehensible. The Flying Fish Riders are an exception, however: Inspired by Sanji's spontaneous cosmetic surgery to their leader, they give up slave trading and rename themselves the Rosy Life Riders.

Comic Books
  • The Slavers arc in Punisher MAX has Frank Castle battling a sex slave trafficking ring. As you can probably imagine, these guys are among the very worst Complete Monsters that Castle has ever fought, and the horrible things that they do to their captives hit every one of Castle's Berserk Buttons concerning mistreatment of women and children, resulting in one of his most violent killing sprees.

Film
  • The Albanian sex slavers in Taken, who kidnap the protagonist's daughter and her friend with the intent of turning them into slaves. The slavers don't rape Kim because virgins are considered quite valuable on the black market, but Amanda and other captives do wind up dead by the time the protagonist finds them.

Literature
  • A Song of Ice and Fire
    • The slave traders of Mereen, Yunkai, and the other city-states are universally presented as foppish, slimy bastards, who enjoy raping children, and hideously breaking small boys so that they might turn them into Unsullied. Even for this series, they're bad.
    • Jorah Mormont, a fairly sympathetic character needed money in the past and decided to get it by selling some poachers to slave traders. That's why he can't go back to Westeros. In an interesting bit of Irony, while Danaerys Targaryean is anti-slavery and fights against that bunch in Mereen, Yunkai, etc., Mormont was one of her closest allies, in addition to the fact that she considers herself a part of the Dothraki culture, and they are notorious slave takers/traders.
  • Anyone who deals in slaves in Redwall is usually pretty bad, so it isn't surprising that Slagar the Cruel, the one slave trader to serve as The Big Bad of one of the books, is among the worst villains in the series. Slagar regularly kidnaps young creatures (preferrably the children of those who have angered him) so that he might sell them to Malkariss to work in his mines. Some of his henchmen are just as bad, with the sadistic stoat Halftail being perhaps the worst of them. Slagar actually has to reprimand him, not out of morality, but because he was endangering of killing the product they were trying to sell.
  • David Eddings
    • In The Belgariad the slave trade is such a vile process that Sadi (himself a drugdealer and Master Poisoner) couldn't stomach it and got out. A favourite practise of slave traders is said to be leaving crippled slaves chained on the path for the lions.
    • In The Elenium/The Tamuli, slave trading is portrayed in a similarly negative light. The Atans (a race who believe that they need to be enslaved) loathe the traders who regularly try to steal their children. When one of them, Mirtai, recounts her life's story, she has sympathy for some of her owners, but none for the men who captured and sold her. It's worth noting that Scarpa, perhaps the nastiest (and certainly the most insane) of The Tamuli's villains comes from the nation where their national hero is the man who invented the slave trade.
  • In The Book of Negroes the slave traders, both African and white, are hideously vile people who enjoy sexually exploiting their slaves before selling them off. Some of the people who own the main character are portrayed in a semi-positive light. The traders who sold her to them, are not.
  • In Voyage of the Dawn Treader King Caspian and some others are captured by an evil slaver, even though Caspian had outlawed the slave trade. Naturally they don't believe he's the king, but once he is redeemed (by being bought & freed) he replaces the corrupt governor of the island.

Live Action TV

Tabletop Games

Video Games
  • Mass Effect. The Batarians consider slavery a part of their caste system and see the Council's anti-slavery laws as discrimination. The rest of the galaxy sees Batarians as nothing but criminals and scum. Also, according to one of Commander Shepard's potential back stories, Shepard's home colony was destroyed by Batarian slavers and Shepard's parents died in the attack.
  • In Fallout 3 the slavers are one of the factions you can join. Not only does co-operating with them give you bad karma, but killing them with no provocation gives you good karma. There's also another group of slavers who you can find raiding the Washington Monument looking to buy Lincoln artifacts to destroy (you can instead choose to drive them out of the memorial so some former slaves can move in).
  • Played straight in Illusion of Gaia, though with some Faux Affably Evil, Video Game Cruelty Potential, and possibly Moral Dissonance thrown in when the hero must rat out an escaped slave in order to complete a sidequest.

Web Comics

Community Feedback Replies: 54
  • May 24, 2012
    zarpaulus
    Possibly one of the few aversions:
    • Eric in Two Kinds trades in Keidran slaves for a living, but he treats his slaves well and he's an ally of the main characters.
  • May 24, 2012
    Jordan
  • May 24, 2012
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
  • May 24, 2012
    Jordan
    • Played fairly straight with Watto in the Star Wars prequels, although he's presented as not completely irredeemable.
  • May 24, 2012
    Grahami
    How about the Batarians from Mass Effect?
  • May 24, 2012
    AmbarSonofDeshar
    ^I would need to know more about the Batarians.

    ^^^Simon Legree is a slave owner, not a slave trader, am I wrong?

    On another note, the reason I created this YKTTW was because we didn't have a single trope about slave traders. Would "Slave Trader" itself be tropable, or is it better the way that I've set it up?
  • May 24, 2012
    KTera
    The Batarians consider slavery a part of their caste system and see the Council's anti-slavery laws as discrimination. The rest of the galaxy sees Batarians as nothing but criminals and scum. Also, according to one of Commander Shepard's potential back stories, Shepard's home colony was destroyed by Batarian slavers and Shepard's parents died in the attack.
  • May 24, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Literature:
    • In Voyage Of The Dawn Treader King Caspian and some others are captured by an evil slaver, even though Caspian had outlawed the slave trade. Naturally they don't believe he's the king, but once he is redeemed (by being bought & freed) he replaces the corrupt governor of the island.
    • On Gor slavery is common and slavers in general are not particularly evil, it's just their job. The only one presented as truly "evil" is Cernus of the House of Cernus in Assassin of Gor, who seeks to overthrow the government of Ar.
      • One minor slaver (Targo) and his assistant eventually become Those Two Guys, appearing in several books for a chapter or three.
  • May 25, 2012
    ZombieAladdin
    Most of the slave traders in One Piece are irredeemable jerks, and every character who's bought a slave thus far is similarly reprehensible. The Flying Fish Riders are an exception, however: Inspired by Sanji's spontaneous cosmetic surgery to their leader, they give up slave trading and rename themselves the Rosy Life Riders.
  • May 25, 2012
    Bisected8
    • In Fallout 3 the slavers are one of the factions you can join. Not only does co-operating with them give you bad karma, but killing them with no provokation gives you good karma. There's also another group of slavers who you can find raiding the Washington monument looking to buy Lincoln artifacts to destroy (you can instead choose to drive them out of the memorial so some former slaves can move in).
  • May 25, 2012
    TwoGunAngel
    Slave traders are pretty damned bad in fiction, but those who trade in Sex Slaves are the very worst of the worst.

    Comic Books
    • The Slavers arc in Punisher MAX has Frank Castle battling a sex slave trafficking ring. As you can probably imagine, these guys are among the very worst Complete Monsters that Castle has ever fought, and the horrible things that they do to their captives hit every one of Castle's Berserk Buttons concerning mistreatment of women and children, resulting in one of his most violent killing sprees.

    Film
    • The Albanian sex slavers in Taken, who kidnap the protagonist's daughter and her friend with the intent of turning them into slaves. The slavers don't rape Kim because virgins are considered quite valuable on the black market, but Amanda and other captives do wind up dead by the time the protagonist finds them.
  • May 25, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Battlestar Galactica (new series): "Black Market" features Phelan, a black market gangster who deals in weapons, slaves, sex slaves and CHILD sex slaves.
  • May 25, 2012
    Astaroth
    • A pair of slave traders serve as the antagonists in one quest in Fallout New Vegas. They're portrayed as dispicable perverts, and their only redeeming feature is that they're freaked out by Cook-Cook, who is himself an insane pyromaniac rapist.
  • May 25, 2012
    CaveCat
    • The 1962 film version of Five Weeks In A Balloon featured a slave-trader by the name of Ahmed (played by Peter Lorre).
  • May 25, 2012
    NimmerStill
    Played straight in Illusion Of Gaia, though with some Faux Affably Evil, Video Game Cruelty Potential, and possibly Moral Dissonance thrown in when the hero must rat out an escaped slave in order to complete a sidequest.
  • May 28, 2012
    AmbarSonofDeshar
    ^^How bad is Ahmed portrayed as being?
  • April 7, 2014
    Arivne
  • April 7, 2014
    jatay3
    I thought I read somewhere that it more then one culture slaving was looked on analogically to prostitution: as an occupation everyone takes advantage of but everyone hypocritically despises at the same time.

    I can't remember where I read that though.
  • April 7, 2014
    jatay3
    Also of course slavers from a rival tribe that had been preying on one's own will certainly be looked at differently. Spaniards, for instance would probably absolutely hate Barbary Corsairs,even though had their own slave trade. That would of course be Moral Myopia.
  • April 7, 2014
    TheWanderer
    • On Firefly, Sympathetic Criminal Mal, who generally chooses to do business honestly and fairly with his fellow criminals, outright plans to steal from a group of slave traders and then leave them high and dry during one episode's prologue.
  • April 7, 2014
    AgProv
    In Rolbert Shea's post-illuminatus novel Saracen, Daoad was born the son of a minor Frankish lord in Outremer. When Saladin's army over-runs the Christian kingdoms, his parents are killed and the boy, then seven, is sold into slavery. Right from the start the Turkish slavers do to him what several hundred years later they would do to Lawrence of Arabia. Daoad is eventually bought by the Jannisary general Baibars for training as a soldier slave. The slave-trader who sodomised him the previous night is keen for one last go before the boy is sold. But Baibars cuts him with a knife and emphasises that no Janissary soldier will be used sexually. "Touch the boy again and you die". Baibars, a general tasked with training an army of slave-soldiers, proves to be a fair and intelligent slave-owner.
  • April 7, 2014
    DAN004
  • April 9, 2014
    aurora369
    In Fallout 2 you can join the Slavers' Guild. This not only lowers your karma but also gives you a special perk of infamy, which means many normally helpful NPCs will refuse to aid the player character, thinking you are this (and probably being right).
  • April 13, 2014
    dvorak
    Fan Fiction
    • In Chains, slavers make a game out of seeing how badly they can mistreat their charges before they'll fight back.
  • April 13, 2014
    jatay3
    In Belisarius Series the occasional murder or maiming of a pimp is considered funny. Sometimes even by the city police. Because everyone agrees that pimps are a low form of life.

  • April 13, 2014
    jatay3
    In Firefly the first thing Mal does on seeing River in stassis is to call Simon a trafficker. Not only because it is an obvious thought but because Mal is angry at Simon and in a hurry to think of an insult.
  • April 13, 2014
    Dalillama
    • In Guardians Of The Flame, the heroes are projected into the world of their fantasy game, where slavery is alive and well. They devote their lives to ending the practice, by killing every slaver they (or their troops, eventually) can catch.
  • April 14, 2014
    dalek955
    • In Code Name Hunter, the country of Astoria practices slavery, which is believed to be the fate of many missing RCSI agents, as well as passengers of various ships and aircraft that Astorian mages have basically shot down over the years. The (very few) sympathetic Astorian characters, like Lord Saeran, are the most opposed to the institution, while the ones who enjoy it, like Headmaster Cedric, are some of the vilest individuals in the whole comic. It's strongly implied that if they knew the full scope of the problem, the British and American leaders would both declare total war on the place.
  • April 14, 2014
    Waterlily
    Is there an inverted version of this trope dealing with slavers who treat their slaves humanely?
  • April 16, 2014
    dalek955
    ^In this day and age, I'd be pretty surprised if that wasn't Too Rare To Trope. This is essentially a sister trope to Rape Is A Special Kind Of Evil.
  • April 17, 2014
    kjnoren
    ^^ Yes, one can find it, though I'd probably make that character trope more general, like Decent Person Doing Evil Job or so.
  • April 17, 2014
    DAN004
  • April 17, 2014
    kjnoren
    ^ Ugh. That trope has a rather poor name (understandable, but not clear), and the examples seems to be of poor quality, at least those I read.
  • April 17, 2014
    jatay3
    At the end of Captain Vorpatril's Alliance the Space Mafia Arqua family, while on the planet Barrayar, hire a smuggler named Imola to carry of the treasure they find. Imola's business includes kidnapping and transporting people to captors upon order, an activity which causes the militaristic and authoritarian but honorable Barrayarans to loathe him. As it happens Imola does not even have a criminal's code of honor, and is perfectly willing to try to betray the Arquas in the middle of the op-which wakes up the local security in time to intervene.

  • April 17, 2014
    Waterlily
    "Is there an inverted version of this trope dealing with slavers who treat their slaves humanely?"

    Happiness In Slavery is often like that (but not always).
  • April 17, 2014
    jatay3
    I have read stories where owners treat slaves humanely. I can't remember that of slave traders. Part of the reason is that a trader is going to dispense with his "cargo" as quick as possible and the best that can be expected from a trader is impersonal care for the slave's physical health, and refraining from obvious extra cruelties such as breaking up families, raping the cargo, etc. And if the trader is really quixotic which is unlikely given his job, some effort to make sure the new boss isn't abusive.

    Of course if a trader specializes in high-end slaves like house servants and slave-artisans that is a different matter. He might have fewer on his voyage.

    In any case I can't remember a fictional slave trader presented in an approving fashion.
  • April 17, 2014
    jatay3
    Truth In Television: The Hindu Kush(Hindu Killer) mountains got their name from casualties suffered by the "cargo" of slave caravans from the Indian valley country.
  • April 17, 2014
    jatay3
    Oh I remember a slaver that treated slaves humanely. In the Korean historical soap opera Emperor of the Sea there was a Merchant Princess, who among her projects acted as a rather creepy sort of schoolmarm to peasant girls who she was rearing in cultured manners so as to sell them as high-value concubines to Chinese nobles. In that case it wasn't by humanity so much as self interest; that kind of slave is not the kind you can afford to devalue. Nor did the trader give an air of humanity in other aspects of the show that I can remember. It's been a long time since I saw it though.
  • April 17, 2014
    jatay3
    In Burn Notice there was a slaver with Villainous Virtues(Comrades, I think it was). He was a Sex Slave trafficker for the Russian Mafia. He didn't have any "humanity" but he did have tribalistic loyalty toward his syndicate and he could not have been broken by physical or psychological torture. Michael Westen(the protagonist)found where he had hid his slaves by luring him into trying to escape and then finding them. So he was a slaver that was not "pure evil" and indeed had some sympathetic qualities. But kindness toward captives was not among them.

    Of course that kind of thing is a little different. Slaving is a dangerous business at least(for transporters anyway if not for brokers or other such that deal mostly in paperwork) and no one would get into it without enough guts to handle it. Besides the hero needs a challenge. And if the enemy is a slaver he has to be made a good enough enemy.

    In any case that is the closest thing that usually comes to a slaver having sympathetic qualities. A slaver might be Badass in his own way but it is hard to present him as a nice person. Much harder then presenting an owner that way as an owner might have grown up with a slave as a childhood playmate.
  • April 18, 2014
    Koveras
    • One the least morally ambiguous boss fights in Dragon Age Origins is against a Tevinter slaver who kidnapped a bunch of Denerim elves from the Alienage and is about to ship them off. The fact that he did so with consent of the regent Teyrn Loghain (in return for Tevinter's support) can be later used to great effect to undermine Loghain's power base in Denerim.
  • April 18, 2014
    marcoasalazarm
    Potential Web Original example: The Star Trek Fan Film series "Star Trek Continues" features an Orion slave trader (played by Lou Ferrigno) who arrives to the Enterprise to retrieve a slave that the crew had encountered. The moral dilemma of Captain Kirk is exacerbated by the fact that the slave is The Woobie and the trader is a very clearly (and rather boisterously) unrepentant (and not to mention abusive) monster-but the Orions are not part of The Federation, and as such he's low on options.
  • April 18, 2014
    dalek955
    • The Mesans from Honor Harrington actually create their own "genetic slaves", which they both sell for money and influence and use themselves for their most demeaning and dangerous jobs (and to test new traits for their own eugenics program). All the series' good guys hate them with a passion and a vengeancenote , even before finding out that Mesa is behind pretty much all of their problems ever, including the Manticore-Haven war.

    Also, I think Ambar's last reply to this was in 2012, so it's Up For Grabs.
  • April 18, 2014
    jatay3
    Among the most gruesome slavers I remember were some of the Jackson's Whole clans in Vorkosigan Saga, who made clones for rich on other planets solely for the purpose of transplanting the brains of said rich folk into the clone, thus giving longer life to the client and killing the clone. Other diabolical uses for clones were common on that planet, including one project by a terrorist group for replacing the heir of one of the most powerful families on Barrayar with a clone-spy.
  • April 18, 2014
    dalek955
    Oh wait...we already have Slavery Is A Special Kind Of Evil.
  • April 18, 2014
    jatay3
    I suppose we can distinguish between a merchant who specializes in slavery and a society that has slavery. The former being a subtrope of the latter.
  • April 18, 2014
    Lumpenprole
    Averted, in a sense, in the SF novel Navigators Syndrome, where the con men who ensnare off-worlders into bondage are mere thugs compared to the Complete Monsters who abuse, torture and kill slaves for idle amusement.
  • April 18, 2014
    DAN004
    So who wanna grab this?
  • April 20, 2014
    jatay3
    We should distinguish between slavery as an institution(Slavery Is A Special Kind Of Evil) and this, which would be a subtrope.
  • May 1, 2014
    zarpaulus
    • Ironclaw adventure modules and novels tend to portray slavers, particularly nobles of House Bisclavret, as particularly depraved. So much so that the Bisclavret hero of Black Iron is a Defector From Decadence who joins an anti-slavery group and helps a bunch of escaped slaves take down a rival lord who made his fortune from the slave-trade. While the Bisclavret player character in Dream Carvernote  quickly establishes that he's pure evil by gloating about selling orphans into slavery.
  • May 2, 2014
    kjnoren
    There is a small risk for literal reading of the trope name Soulless Slave Trader, and it works by making an implicaton about what soullessness means instead of using a proper adjective.
  • May 2, 2014
    Chabal2
    Warhammer 40 K: While slaves are a fact of life in the Imperium of Man, and the orks and Chaos are known to use them, the Dark Eldar are the very best example, since they are literally fuelled by inflicting pain and suffering from others.

  • May 2, 2014
    DAN004
  • May 9, 2014
    hbi2k
    I think this is already pretty well covered by Slavery Is A Special Kind Of Evil, which encompasses both societies and individuals. I mean, we don't need a separate Evil Rapist trope from the various tropes about rape.

    As for sympathetic portrayals of slave-owners: it's unclear whether the Hogwarts house-elves of Harry Potter belong to Dumbledore directly or to "the school", but they certainly report to him. Kind of a weird example since Happiness In Slavery is their hat and he'll happily free and/or give pay and benefits to any of them who ask.
  • May 9, 2014
    DAN004
    While I believe Sympathetic Slaver may be tropable, it's still Too Rare To Trope imo.

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