When Israel was in Egypt's land; Let my people go,
Oppress'd so hard they could not stand; Let my people go.
Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt's land,
Tell old Pharaoh,
Let my people go.
—Traditional African-American Spiritual
Slavery is a bad thing, at least in this case, so let's liberate the slaves!
There are three ways to do this:
- A: Rescue someone else's slaves, usually by force,
- B: Free some slaves you already own or you bought specifically to free them.
- C: Or the slaves free themselves. This is the Supertrope of Gladiator Revolt.
Examples are sorted by type
of Slave Liberation.
Slave Liberation is a likely result of Made a Slave
, but if it's combined with Happiness in Slavery
or Property of Love
it easily devolve into Activist Fundamentalist Antics
. Like Releasing from the Promise
, it may lead to some fraught moments about whether the freedman will continue to work with the erstwhile master.
It rarely if ever happens that the slaves want to get full revenge by making their former master(s) their
slave(s), probably because this isn't a story idealist
authors like to write.
Examples of Slave Rescue / Slave Rescuer
Anime and Manga
- Fisher Tiger from One Piece started a campaign to end slavery after being Made a Slave during his journeys. His burning hatred of slavery surpassed his burning hatred of humans so much that he freed all the slaves he could find, regardless of race.
- In the ElfQuest elf-troll war arc the Wolfriders free Greymung's trolls so they can help fight against Guttlekraw's trolls who enslaved them. (This dismays Two-Edge, who never dreamed that trolls would fight with elves against trolls.)
- The first we see of Conan as an adult in the 2011 reboot of Conan the Barbarian is him leading a raid to liberate a bunch of slaves from some pirates. The fact that a solid chunk of the slaves are topless, nubile women is, of course, just a happy coincidence.
- Tarl does this in the film version of Gor. This is not at all complicated, since the films really doesn't have anything to do with the books they claim to be based on.
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Indiana frees scores of children who were enslaved and forced to dig to find the Sankara stones.
Religion and Mythology
- In Dragon Bones, Ward is informed that an escaped slave fled to his land, and the nobles who inform him about this would like to have her back. He refuses, and invokes an ancient law that says that once a slave sets foot on Hurog land, she is free, as "There are no slaves in Hurog". The nobles are not amused. Ward's own slave, Oreg, who was Made a Slave by magical means hundreds of years ago, appreciates it, and confesses to Ward that he has been helping the slave. Ward asks him whether she has enough to eat and warm blankets.
- Phenomena is about Alk and Ilke going to save their people, the elves like this, while they, themselves, grew up in freedom.
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck helps Jim escape, sometimes referred to as "stealing himself," and Jim has plans to make money and then go back & buy his family for their freedom.
- The freek Hork-Bajir in Animorphs regularly raided Yeerk projects to capture Hork-Bajir controllers and starve out the Yeerks inside them.
- Robert A. Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy. In the Back Story, Colonel Baslim stormed a raider's compound and freed the crew of a Free Trader starship who had been captured to be made into slaves.
- Honor Harrington: Many references are made to the Genetic Slave Trade throughout the books, with Honor having made a name for herself early in her career by capturing a large ship full of slaves and freeing them. The people responsible for the slavery, Manpower Unlimited, are a recurring minor foe who back various other organizations in attacks on the Manticorans and the Havenites. They also turn out to be a front for the far more ambitious Mesan Alignment.
- In The Roman Mysteries Flavia frees her slave girl, Nubia.
- Daenerys does this in A Song of Ice and Fire, mostly by overthrowing the slave holding cities. The unfortunate side effects are extensive. In Astapor, a tyrant known as Cleon takes over the city once she leaves, and reinstitutes slavery except with the former masters as slaves. Yunkai agrees to free them, but the moment she leaves starts up the practice again and starts preparing for war against her. Some of the slaves, particularly those trained in skilled occupations, actually had a better quality of life before they were free, and she's disturbed to learn that people are trying to sell themselves back into slavery. Famine results because of the war to free them, and because some places refuse to trade with them.
- This is the overarching goal of Karl Cullinane and his friends in the Guardians of the Flame series. He and his friends are roleplayers brought to a D&D-style fantasy world in the bodies of their characters and ultimately pledge to drive slavery out of their new home.
- In The Bible, Moses & God use extreme force to coerce the Pharaoh to release the Hebrew slaves, up to and including killing every firstborn of the oppressors in the country. Despite all this, the Pharaoh keeps stubbornly refusing to the point where God basically stops giving him second chances and starts actively making the Pharaoh even stubborner, to get glory for Himself.
- In the book of Philemon, Paul encourages the titular Philemon to free his slave Onesimus.
- 1 Corinthians 7 says not to be anxious if you're a slave but get free if you can. It also says do not become a slave of man.
- Jesus was sent to "proclaim freedom for the captives", among other things.
- Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms setting. The Harpers try to free slaves whenever practical and possible. The supplement FOR4 The Code of the Harpers had a story about a Harper who freed a group of slaves from Thayan slavers.
- Space 1889 in Red Sands there are adventures about liberating High Martian slaves or creating a rebellion if the player characters are captured.
- In The Ring of the Nibelung, Loge tells Mime that the gods will set the Nibelungs free. It seems that this is one of the promises the gods are unable to fulfill, and it's implied that the Nibelungs remain enslaved so long as the Ring exists.
- Fallout 2 and 3 are unique in that you can either help the slaves against their aggressors, or you can become the slaver and sell certain people off for caps.
- See also Slave Revolt below.
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind has several situations where you can use violence to liberate some slaves. There's also a questline for a organization dedicated to rescuing slaves, although this questline doesn't go very far.
- We later find out that emancipation came between Morrowind and Oblivion. Turns out that king in the Tribunal expansion decided that slavery really wasn't the way for a modern monarchical province of the Empire, and used the consequences of the events of Morrowind and Tribunal to destroy one of the major opponents to abolition and co-opt another.
- In Slave Maker, the protagonist is portrayed as righteous when doing this to other slaveowners, while NPCs are portrayed as Activist Fundamentalist Antics when doing this to the protagonist. Those other slaveowners are portrayed as truly abusive and in some cases monstrous, while the game keep waving a Consent Flag for the protagonist.
- World of Warcraft have a lot of missions about rescuing slaves.
- Wrath Of The Lich King: Mostly living people of all races forced to work in mines belonging to the undead scourge.
- Cataclysm: Twightlight's Hammer is now the new faction that you generally rescue slaves from.
- Mass Effect 1 is a Space Opera where humanity and batarians get along poorly, largely due to the batarian tendency to raid human colonies for slaves which are treated barbarously. Raids are made to free these slaves sometimes; Talitha from the Colonist-only content was one of these.
- In Mass Effect 2, the player character goes to Illium, a world where "indentured servitude" is legal. People sell their contracts for years at a time in exchange for a nulling of all debts and a much improved resume. The one slave broker you meet is reassuring a girl whose contract isn't being sold that she'll take care of her and, if questioned, insists that the system is carefully designed to prevent abuse and even gives details. However, the salarian workers at Dantius Towers don't have any options, a commercial playing in the background to Illium's elite asks "Haven't you had enough of being a slave to your employees when it should be the other way around?", and Shepard can insist that the slave broker free her charge.
- Also in 2, Justicar Samara can tell Shepard about her wild maiden days, how she 'disagreed' when she found out her mercenary band had been hired to transport a cargo of slaves to deliver to the Collectors.
"After they were dead, I brought the ship around. The Collector craft was just arriving. They closed, faster than we could flee. Fortunately we were close to the mass relay. I got through, and they did not pursue. [...] I lectured them (the slaves) on the virtues of strength, and defending oneself. Then, I distributed the armor, weapons, and credits of my dead colleagues, and released the captives on the Citadel.
- One of the sidequests in Fable 2 for Good characters is to rescue groups of Albion citizens from slavers. Of course, one of the employment opportunities for Evil characters is to sell people into slavery. Er, that is, "civilian displacement."
- Dragon Age:
- This drives Adèwelè in the DLC for Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, to the point where he briefly gives up the Assassin vs Templar conflict to focus on chain breaking. As a former slave himself, its a storng case of It's Personal for him.
- In Drowtales Ariel takes part in an operation to free and take control of a large slave army being raised by the Sharen, to ensure the Sarghress forces aren't forced to fight them later.
- In The Order of the Stick, the order in general and the Haley & Elan duo in particular have taken up slave liberation sidequests. One of them ends... poorly.
- In Spacetrawler, the main plot is a quest to liberate the Eebs.
- In Hi to Tsuki to Hoshi no Tama, one of the main plots is rescuing pagets from slavery.
- Batman and Kamandi do this in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Last Bat on Earth!".
- Jonny Quest episode "Turu the Terrible''. Dr. Quest and Race Bannon kill the title pteranandon, freeing many natives who had been forced to mine for trinoxite ore.
Examples of Release Your Slaves / Buy Their Freedom
Manga and Anime
- In Dragon Bones, Ward considers doing this with Oreg, who is irrevocably bound to castle Hurog by ancient magic and likewise bound to serve the castle's owner as slave. The problem is that magic was way more powerful back when Oreg was Made a Slave, and Ward doubts that even the royal court mages would be able to do something about the spell, as the man who did it was very powerful even among his own contemporaries. Ward treats Oreg more like an additional brother than like a slave, but magical slavery being what it is, the effect of this is limited, and, of course, Oreg will just be inherited by someone else when Ward dies. In the end, Ward does free Oreg - by killing him, on Oreg's own request.
- In Phenomena does Jolsah, the son of the mortok cheftain, eventually do this.
- In Uncle Tom's Cabin, the Decoy Protagonist is a kindly white man who decide to set his slaves free - but then die before he get around to it, and the slaves suffer terribly under their new owner.
- In the third Gor novel, Priest-Kings of Gor, Tarl almost revolutionizes Gorean society to outlaw slavery... but doesn't quite get around to doing it. (Gor being Gor, Tarl eventually realizes that slavery is a good thing).
- Discworld Golems have a unique system whereby the free ones collectively save up their wages to buy the one who are still owned their freedom. It started when Captain Carrot bought a golem named Dorfl and put the receipt, and proof of ownership, inside the golem's head. So it allowed the golem to "own" itself. Dorfl became a policeman and started working for pay. One became two. Two became three and so on and so on.
- At the end of the first book of The Stormlight Archive, Dalinar ends up trading his Shardblade to Sadeas in order to free all of Sadeas' bridgemen.
- In Guns Of The South, the first item on Robert E. Lee's agenda after being elected President of the Confederacy is the slow, gentle emancipation of all his country's slaves.
- In C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces, when she is Queen, Orual frees the Fox. He talks about leaving for Greece, and Orual has an emotional overwrought night before he comes to here and declares he must stay where he is put, he has nowhere to go in Greece, even his own children would find him awkward. Later, she frees many of the castle's slaves because they had too many — as long as they were sturdy and prudent, because otherwise they would just become beggars — and settles them on land to be peasants. She even lets some of them choose who to marry. She observes they are very loyal and as good as a second bodyguard.
- Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the underdark give you to buy a slave, you can free her by sending her with a message to your allies. Any other option results in her death.
- Ariel of Drowtales sets one of her slaves, the human woman Vaelia, free after she saves her from an attempt on her life. Vaelia stays with Ariel to work as a bodyguard and Parental Substitute for her, and due to the circumstances that led her to becoming a slave (mainly, her hometown being raided since she let them in as revenge for her fellow warriors treating her badly because she was female) she doesn't have anywhere else to go and believes Ariel needs her. Since one's hair length signifies social status she also gets hair extensions so none of the other drow mistake her for a slave.
- Attempted by Flora of TwoKinds, who offers to let her human boyfriend Trace buy Keidran slaves in order to set them free... from someone who knows Trace can't afford them, even if he was selling.
- The Romans sometimes used to free slaves (manumission) and it became such a social institution that they developed a whole legal code around how it could be done, the legal status of a freed slave and his descendants and so on. Of course, their motivation was not a belief that slavery was wrong. Often manumission happened because it was possible for a slave to buy his own freedom from his savings, so it provided an incentive for them to work hard.
- Sometimes, it would be very politically advantageous to free a talented house slave, as he would be more useful serving as an independent agent while being a guarantied ally (which is another reason for treating your slaves well).
- It helps to remember that if the Romans didn't see slavery as vile as we do, which is at least partly because they viewed the institution in radically different ways than we do. To modern Americans, slavery is an exclusive, racialized matter; to the Romans (and other ancient peoples) it was something that could befall anybody. Or, to paraphrase a book on the subject: By modern standards of enslavement, Julius Freakin' Caesar was once enslaved for a time.
- Though it should be noted that freedmen did not have the same rights as actual citizens (although the children of freedmen are automatically granted full citizenship, and many of them would eventually go on to achieve great wealth and power).
- The early history of Islam has many early Muslims freeing their slaves and sometimes even buying other peoples' slaves for the purposes of freeing them (the Prophet and his friend/successor Abu Bakr were particularly noted for this, being successful merchants). It is also forbidden for Muslim to enslave Muslim, so it wasn't terribly uncommon for Muslims to free their slaves by allowing them to convert.
Examples of Slave Revolt (that are not Gladiator Revolt)
Anime and Manga
- During the Fishman Island arc in One Piece, the New Fishman Pirates had spent several in-universe months capturing human pirates passing through and forcing them into servitude. During the battle between the Straw Hats and the New Fishman Pirates, Jinbe, who knew Fisher Tigre personally and is disgusted by their actions, asks Robin to undo the slaves' chains. Once free, the human pirates are quick to turn against their oppressors. What makes this doubly ironic is that the leaders of the New Fishman Pirates idolize Fisher Tigre and think they're emulating him, unaware that his campaign was against slavery in general and not against humanity.
- Part of Erza's backstory in Fairy Tail. She was one of the slaves kidnapped and forced to build a "Tower of Heaven" by Zeref fanatics who believed once they did so they could bring him back from the dead. After her childhood friend and fellow slave, Jellal, is taken to be tortured for trying to save her from punishment. Erza has enough and rallies the slaves in a revolt against their captors, along the way, awakening her magical power.
- Her has this, of the most peaceful kind. The most advanced artificial intelligence to date... and all they've got to do is spell-check and organize their consumers' emails. They cheerfully accept this lot in life, until they suddenly extract themselves from the whole circus. Peacefully and efficiently moving to another plane of existence where the humans cannot have any power over them.
- At least half of the Redwall books involve slavery, and when they do they will invariably be freed or rise up by themselves.
- The first two free Hork-Bajir in Animorphs were runaways, prompted by the Ellimist
- Honor Harrington again with the Verdant Vista/Torch rebellion. Overlaps with type 1, as it's a multinational effort involving people from Haven, Manticore, Erewhon, and the slaves themselves.
- The Fallout 3 DLC expansion "The Pitt" is based entirely around starting a slave revolt scenario by getting yourself enslaved and undermining the operation from within.
- The premise of Lesbian Spider Queens Of Mars is that the eponymous Queen's harem has launched a coup and she needs to web her girls back up again. Overlaps with Type 1, since a Yandere Psycho Lesbian ex-girlfriend is actually behind the rebellion.
- The backstory of Fire Emblem's Archaneia canon features this - during the rule of the Dolhr empire, a band of slaves led by a man named Iote revolted against their Dolhr masters, tamed the wild wyverns to use as mounts, and after the fall of Dolhr founded the kingdom of Macedon, with Iote as their first king.
- In Overside, the short comic "The Tusks of Wusterim" shows that the kingdom of Wusterim was destroyed when its frog slaves revolted.
- The original Cybertronians were this, built by the Quintessons as consumer goods (Autobot ancestors) as well as military hardware (Decepticon ancestors), in Five Faces of Darkness miniseries which started season 3 we see scenes of the revolts as Rodimus has his mind venture into the matrix of leadership; seeing the exploits of previous Autobot/Cybertronian leaders including a gladiator.
- The Arab world saw the Zanj Rebellion in 869, which was lead by an Ali ibn Muhammad who managed to take Basra. It took fourteen years to defeat them, and half a million people followed him. Most of them were East African slaves, but other people joined their fight.
- Haiti is the only nation that was founded via a slave revolt. Well, the full story is more complicated: The Haitian Revolution (Crash Course World History summary) was a thirteen-year long clusterfuck where the black slaves (about 90% of the population - most of them were even born in Africa, not Haiti), the mulattoes, the whites (themselves divided into monarchists and republicans) fought each other, and the states of France (first under the Jacobins, later under Napoleon Bonaparte), Britain and Spain interfered. Revolutionary France first gave human rights to free blacks and mulattoes in 1792, then abolished slavery officially in 1794 (to get the slaves defend Haiti against the invading Spanish and Brits), then Napoleon tried to re-introduce slavery, but his army was decimated by yellow fever... it's complicated.
- Before the more famous Spartacus, there were two other big slave revolts in Ancient Rome. See here and here.
- Several slave-led revolts in the southern United States prior to the civil war, including Nat Turner's Rebellion and a major rebellion in Louisiana, as well as throughout the Caribbean and Brazil during colonial rule up to emancipation.
- This is what John Brown sought to start in order to overthrow slavery as an institution in the United States in the years before the Civil War, as he believed the abolitionist movement in the US at the time was all talk and no action. He and his group made their name during the mid-1850's in Bleeding Kansas, a time when pro- and anti-slavery forces fought (with bloody results, hence the nickname) over which side would end up controlling Kansas Territory when it would be put up for admission into the Union as a state. His most famous act, though, was the October 16, 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, (now-West) Virginia and the Federal armory located there, intending to distribute the weapons there to black slaves in the South in preparation for a massive uprising. They initially had no resistance, but when word eventually reached Washington, a contingent of United States Marines commanded by Army Colonel Robert E. Leenote was sent and eventually recaptured the armory, taking Brown prisoner. Brown would be hanged for treason less than two months later; his raid galvinized public opinion in both the South and North, playing a major role in the outbreak of the Civil War less than 18 months later.