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Battle Thralls

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Agamemnon: I like your land. I think we'll stay. I like your soldiers, too.
Triopas: They won't fight for you.
Agamemnon: That's what the Messenians said. And the Arcadians. And the Epeians. Now they all fight for me.

You are an Evil Overlord who has just conquered another place, crushed the puny resistance, set up the proper measures to keep people in line and are ready to spill more blood for the blood god. Instead of simply annihilating the conquered enemy's armed forces, you have a much more efficient solution: add them to your own army. Les Collaborateurs may serve as the sergeant to this new army, but often it is headed by a Fantastic Racist who will rarely show much mercy for this battalion.

Compare Trapped in Villainy, which an army of Battle Thralls may very well be.

There are several regiments of the Battle Thralls:

  • Proud Warrior Race: This branch consists of a group of people who believes that might makes right. Because they were beaten in combat, they accept their new leader and will not question his authority. Their new leader is a source of enlightenment, and serving him is their highest honor. However, any who feel their honor has been insulted will gladly join with, or at least be neutral towards, the rebels. Those who do join La RĂ©sistance usually seek to regain their group's lost glory. In battle, they are often both strong warriors and skilled strategists.
  • Barbarian Marauders: Brutish, wild and dumb. The Barbarian Marauder is perfectly fine with serving under the new Evil Overlord. He may terrorize the empire's enemies, but he usually fights for little more than his own amusement. Basically, sociopaths pointed in another direction. Their brutality is offset by their simple-mindedness. If their hedonistic needs are not met, they will pick apart your empire bit by bit.
  • Engineers of Doom: They are responsible for preparing the empire for war. They rarely take sides in the conflict, only working to make sure the war machine is running. They will only fight the rebels if absolutely necessary. They are often the straight man of the Battle Thralls, being the voice of reason that prevents the Chaotic Evil and Lawful Evil groups from killing each other. If the opportunity is given to rebel, they may offer a token of assistance to the heroes but will usually refrain from directly sabotaging the empire's infrastructure.
  • Taskmasters: The Drill Sergeants Nasties of the setting. They're the guys that stand behind all the Slave Mooks and whip them into shape. Although they usually outnumber the Taskmasters, harsh punishments, indoctrination and fear tactics will make sure that the Slave Mooks will rarely rebel against them.
  • Thrall Mages: Wizards, psychics, or other people with supernatural powers who are conscripted or forced into fighting. Because the same powers that make them valuable also make them the most potentially dangerous group here, they're usually controlled through some mix of intense indoctrination and supernatural compulsions (such as Magically Binding Contracts or their true names).
  • Enslaved Grunts: The lowest rank of Battle Thralls, basically rounded up and given a crude weapon or bomb. They are usually employed in a Zerg Rush against their enemies. They are regarded by both sides as target practice and friendly fire is often an issue. They rarely have the courage to stand up and fight against their overlords. If not "freed" by the rebels, they often realize that their lot in life is to die anyway and thus may sacrifice themselves for the emperor, no matter how hopeless the attack is.
  • Sneaky Mercs: Thieves, bandits and other lowlifes who are more than willing to harm a helpless target but flee at the first sign of danger. Their role in combat is to act as the surgical knife of the lowlifes, stealing from, sabotaging, or terrorizing their enemies. They may boast about the fact that the empire has allowed lowlifes such as themselves to live instead of executing them.
  • Dogmatic Drones: Robot Mooks, a dogmatic drone army made of faceless robots united under a single leader, who either created them or gave them a purpose. Often in the Lawful Evil territory. They act as a deadlier version of a Zerg Rush. Unlike grunts, they generally don't have rebellious tendencies. Those that do rebel or otherwise break away from the main contingent are considered "defective".
  • Tyke-Bomb Regiments: Children of conquered peoples, raised through indoctrination to be perfect soldiers through The Spartan Way. Usually used as Elite Mooks due to the cost of raising them, and fight for their enslavers with fanaticism through More than Mind Control.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Berserk:
    • Enslaved Grunts: The Kushan Empire uses captured enemy soldiers as frontline Cannon Fodder: They'll get killed if they try to run away, while the enemy may have difficulty shooting their countrymen.
    • The new Band of the Hawk pulls a reversal on them: Kushan soldiers defeated but not killed by them are thrown on the front lines in a similar manner. However, those that manage to survive three battles are offered the chance to swear their loyalty to Griffith and, if they do so, become full members of the Band of the Hawk. A lot of the Kushan consider this better treatment than they received under Ganishka.
  • Captain Harlock: Several of the various Alternate Continuities have the Big Bads employ conquered races in their forces; Harlock himself is sometimes turning his back on a homeworld all too eager to join the ranks of the Battle Thralls that helped conquer it. Most of the other Thralls in the franchise are mixes of Enslaved Grunts and Proud Warrior Race Guys.
  • Code Geass:
    • Lloyd, who's only really interested in machines and doesn't really care much about humans, is an Engineer of Doom.
    • An army of Enslaved Grunts pops up late in the show, controlled by Emperor Lelouch's Geass as part of a 0% Approval Rating.
  • One Piece: Hody Jones' New Fishman Pirates is partially comprised of human slaves fitted with explosive collars. If they do not fight, they are blown up.
  • Space Battleship Yamato 2199 uses this trope to perform a Cerebus Retcon of how the original changed the skin color of the Gamilas (Gamilons for Star Blazers) after the first few enemy commanders were defeated; the new version has members of other conquered species serving in the Gamilas military. Note that these guys are all volunteers: some have enrolled because their worlds have been culturally assimilated and they're patriots, while others want the first-class citizenship that comes for them and their families once they complete the term (or honorably die trying).

    Fan Works 
  • Misaligned Gemini: The Decepticons take over Kaon and conscript many of its gang leaders, gladiators, arms dealers, other criminal syndicates, and civilians into their growing army. Some are eager to join up while others despise the new regime but have no choice but to fight for the faction that took over the city. They also forcefully recruit any civilian that works in their Headquarters. The civilians' choices are to accept a Decepticon symbol, accept a slave brand, or die. Any who are given the slave brand but then chooses to become a Decepticon becomes an Enslaved Grunt as punishment for not joining up sooner.

  • 1632: A good guy variation occurs in 1636: The Saxon Uprising. General Mike Stearns led his army against the primarily mercenary army of John Baner and routed them completely. Stearns then offered the survivors a chance to volunteer to join his army, with those not volunteering being put to work cleaning up after the battle. Stearn's army welcomed the volunteers because it proved the rightness of their cause and the high respect earned by their army: even people who fought against them recognized their status. This actually increased the size of his army after a battle, which was unheard of in those times.
  • Belisarius Series: The Rajputs and Kushans are Proud Warrior Race Guys; both of them defected though the Kushans defected earlier (the Rajputs had to be left so that Belisarius would have someone decent to fight through most of the plot). These two are more Worthy Opponents than the rather grim jackboots described above; the Rajputs are aristocratic warriors and the Kushans tough professionals, not totally unlike Romans. Their skill at siegecraft makes them Engineers of Doom as well as a Proud Warrior Race. The Ye-tai are barbarian marauders; while brave enough, they tend to be uses as taskmasters, driving the conscripted peasant grunts whose main purpose seems to be to get killed one way or another. The sneaky mooks appear as well in the form of assassins which range from street thugs to ninja-like badass Stealth Experts. Interestingly, the last are what Link seems to trust must.
  • Conrad Stargard by Leo Frankowski: The Polish gunboats with Steampunk weaponry are massacring the Mongol invaders trying to cross the river Vistula, but they just keep coming. The Poles assume the Mongols are Not Afraid to Die, as a Mongol ambassador ordered several of his men to cut their own throats just to prove this point. What they don't know is that the enemy commanders are using Polish prisoners and soldiers from nations they've already conquered as Cannon Fodder.
  • Ranks of Bronze: The Galactic Federation allows trade guilds to start wars to secure predatory trade deals with low-tech planets, but they can't use weapons more advanced than those of the natives. So one guild obtains an enslaved Roman legion and makes them fight for them. They seem like proud warrior race guys, but they attribute their own repeated successes to their discipline as soldiers.
  • Star Wars:
    • Mandalorian Clone Troopers in the Expanded Universe serve as Proud Warrior Race examples.
    • The Yuuzhan Vong are in the habit of enslaving conquered populations to add to their armies, usually after extensive physical and genetic modifications.
      • The most prominent example are the Chazrach, reptilian Slave Mooks often seen as low-ranking soldiers in Vong armies. They were once an independent species that was enslaved by the Vong back when they still lived in their original galaxy, and were turned into obedient soldiers through generations of genetic tampering and organic mind-control growths implanted in their heads.
      • In addition, the Dark Tide duology shows an outpost where Vong Shapers are inspecting humans modified to grow organic armor, while the Rodians captured after their homeworld fell to the Vong were rebuilt on a cellular level into ferocious war beasts known as Vagh Rodiek.
  • Warhammer 40,000: In the background book Xenology, the Ethereals are hinted to have turned the Tau into Battle Thralls for the Eldar since their innate warp resistance meant that they can't be controlled by Chaos nor be wary of being manipulated by the Eldar, and since the numerically few Eldar can definitely make use of a large number of expendable aliens willing to eagerly throw themselves at their enemies. The source was poetic and symbolic, spread over sources from two races on opposite sides of the galaxy; the interpretation of the text as referring to the Eldar was in-universe and it could equally apply to the Dark Eldar or to human-looking Necron infiltrators (which feature heavily in the book).
  • The Wheel of Time: The Seanchan capture and enslave female magic-users with enchanted leashes that enforce obedience and use them in combat. They consider them more like Attack Animals than soldiers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Falling Skies: In season 4 the Espheni started a new program in converting human children into soldiers, by placing them in reeducation camps and convert them into Espheni. Later they created a new weapon which slowly converts humans into Espheni.
  • Stargate SG-1: Kull Warriors are Dogmatic Drones of the Super-Soldier variety, and until a weapon specifically made to kill them quick was developed, also very hard to stop.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: This is generally how the Dominion works. The Founders are the head of government and instruct the Vorta (the only solid race they actually trust) to perform diplomatic and administrative tasks. Vorta in turn are given control over the Jem'Hadar, shock troops who are less diplomatic about enforcing the Founder's will. Both are fanatically loyal and see their service to the founders as their greatest duty (they see them as gods). Interesting, most races view the Jem'Hadar as more trustworthy as they have a code of honor, and the Vorta as scheming and superficially respectful. Within the Dominion itself, most clients don't know anything about the leadership of the Dominion beyond that the Vorta are the deal makers and the Jem'Hadar enforce the deal.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech: Clan Warriors are Proud Warrior Race Guys who are expected to, if captured in battle, serve their captors as bondsmen and women. Often they are made Warriors of their capturing Clan and this practice enables Clans to add new genes and Bloodnames to their gene pools. This caused some confusion when they invaded the Inner Sphere, whose major powers typically return prisoners of war to their home nations at the soonest possible convenience.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: In the Dark Sun setting, Enslaved Grunts come in both slave soldiers and gladiator varieties.
  • Kings of War: The Abyssal Dwarfs use orc slaves and demonic gargoyles to boost their numbers.
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse: Grand Warlord Voss builds his armies out of the peoples of the worlds he conquers. He has them genetically modified to emphasize their combat-worthy features and ensure their loyalty, while stripping them of anything else; the victims of this process are referred to as "Gene-Bound".
  • The Unofficial Hollow Knight RPG: The Lord of Dust has a habit of taking a single species from each kingdom he conquers, using the influence of Dust Magic to make them just as twisted and evil as he is. The scorpions are the sole exception to this, as they chose to serve him.
    • The Locusts were once a peaceful and rustic society of crickets, twisted into a ravenous swarm by the Lord of Dust's foul magic.
    • The Cicadas were enslaved by the Lord of Dust for their hibernation, as it means that they could sustain themselves without food for the long spans between invasions.
    • Although they have not been added to his ranks yet, the Lord of Dust has his eyes set on enslaving the ants as a force of diligent and loyal workers to support his army.
  • Warhammer Fantasy:
    • The Chaos Dwarfs use orcs and goblins as Barbarian Marauders, since they don't have enough Dwarfs to fill out their armies, with hobgoblins serving as Taskmasters.
    • The bulk of the Skaven armies are composed of slave rats from other Skaven clans that were conquered. They are mostly used as Cannon Fodder and their masters have no problem shooting with their own weapons (not that they wouldn't do the same to their own grunts).

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Age: The Qunari started using their mages, whom they call "Saarebas" or "dangerous things", as slaves soldier after it becomes apparent that they can't ignore the advantages that magic brings to the battlefield. They are chained up like animals and are kept on a leash with special control rods.
  • EXTRAPOWER: Star Resistance: The Snowmarker enemies, clusters of aliens resembling white ghosts, usually seen flying around Moon Bases. They were a weak race that was conquered by Mensouma and forced to fight for Dark Force's cause. They seek to escape from Dark Force's army.
  • Gems of War: One of the troops associated with Darkstone is the Thrall; they're presumably not happy to be fighting, and their special move actually hurts them (in addition to other effects).
  • Halo: The Covenant has most of these, with the Prophets in charge:
    • The immensely proud and duty-bound Elites (Sangheili) are the Proud Warrior Race Guys.
    • The Brutes (Jiralhanae), ferocious fighters with little use for codes of conduct and long-standing rivals of the Elites, are the Barbarian Marauders.
    • The weak and expandable Grunts (Unggoy) are, well, the Enslaved Grunts.
    • The Jackals (Kig-Yar), technically an independent mercenary race with few ties to the Covenant's ideology, are the Sneaky Mercs.
    • The Drones (Yanme'e) are, you guessed it, the Dogmatic Drones, although an organic insectoid form of such.
    • The Engineers (Huragok), who never fight but are cubical in maintaining the Covenant's infrastructure and technology, are, naturally, the Engineers of Doom.
  • Star Control is the Trope Namer with the Hierarchy of Battle Thralls led by the Ur-Quan Kzer-Za, although you learn more about them in Star Control II.
    • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Thraddash, overlapping with the Barbarian Marauders (they're proud, but also dumb as bricks and unapologetically violent to a fault). The Yehat in Star Control II are a more straight example; being classic Proud Warrior Race Guys who serve the Ur-Quan Kzer-Za willingly under orders from their Veep-Neep Queen; in the first game, the Yehat were part of The Alliance of the Free Stars.
    • Barbarian Marauders: The Ilwrath. They live for evil and became Battle Thralls to the Ur-Quan Kzer-Za solely for the purpose of obtaining sacrifices for their dark gods. The VUX are a bit of a subversion; they're intelligent and very eloquent, they're just narcissistic as heck and are heinously violently solely because they consider every non-VUX lifeform (humans especially) in the universe uglier than they are.
    • Engineers of Doom: The Umgah. Pranksome geneticists that can be helpful if you can figure out why they're so quirky.
    • Enslaved Grunts: The Spathi, a race of cephalopod cowards. The Mycon might also apply here, in the "living bomb" sense — they joined the Ur-Quan Slave Empire in order to gain new worlds to terraform by burying their children into its crust. In general, Kzer-Za policy limits the slave part of it — a race becoming Battle Thralls is supposed to be a choice by that race (with the alternative being Slave Shielding), but the choice is final... even if an Umgah practical joke made you think you were choosing to be Slave Shielded.
    • Dogmatic Drones: The Mycon are the unholy combination of Planet Eaters and a Horde of Alien Locusts.
    • The backstory reveals that the Ur-Quan themselves were Battle Thralls for the Dnyarri millenia ago. The green Kzer-Za were Engineers of Doom while the black Kohr-Ah were Enslaved Grunts. The reasoning behind the Ur-Quan's enslaving or killing of other species is to ensure that this never happens to them again.
    • The Dnyarri had a unique fate in store for them. Instead of being recruited for battle, they were turned into mindless animals and forced to translate for the Ur-Quan - a task that the Ur-Quan consider the lowest and most degrading. There is a Dnyarri on every Ur-Quan ship. They don't quite fit into the Dogmatic Drone category (since they're not robots, don't fight for their masters, and aren't sufficiently sentient to be considered "loyal" in any sense), but that is probably the closest.
  • Stellaris:
    • If your empire allows slavery, you can conscript your slaves into Slave Armies, which generally work best when under the watchful eyes of Comissars serving as the Taskmasters. The "Utopia" DLC has Battle Thralls as a specific type of slave that are more effective as soldiers but lack the normal resource production bonus other slaves have. However, they are less unhappy than other slaves and can fill Specialist and Ruler-tier jobs, meaning that their overlord doesn’t have to import administrators and enforcers of their own species.
    • You can also use 'vassalage' as a peace demand in your wars, which means you can build up an empire of Battle Thralls who you invaded and who very possibly loathe you but nevertheless send fleets to support your future war efforts. The achievement for subjugating three empires in this way is even called 'Battle Thralls.'
  • Yuber from Suikoden is a mix of Barbarian Marauder (he destroyed a whole village because he was bored while waiting), Enslaved Grunt (he can be summoned and will work for the ones responsible for doing so.. at least until he's in danger) and Sneaky Merc (he actively seeks, craves and creates chaos and participates in most wars. However once he feels that he is in danger he will flee, usually by teleporting, and abandon the squad he was commanding and the battle he was fighting).
  • Total War:
    • Shogun: Total War: The Mongol's basic, cheap infantry units from the Mongol Invasion expansion are basically Korean captives/vassals pressed into service.
    • You can recruit thralls in the Viking Invasion Expansion Pack for Medieval: Total War.
    • In Total War: Attila, you can recruit troops from either vassal states or (if you're a Roman empire) from friendly tribes passing through your territory. Also, many of the Persians' default units are (in the fluff) troops raised from particular regional cultures.
  • In Tyranny, the Scarlet Chorus gets its recruits from recently-conquered territories. Some are simply bloodthirsty types who join up willingly, but most are the result of a Join or Die choice. Even then, the joiners are thrown into combat against each other (including their own friends and family), ensuring that the ones who survive are both competent fighters and sufficiently traumatized or psychotic to be loyal to the Chorus.
  • Valkyria Chronicles: The battle thralls make up a significant part of The Empire's military might. Some of them even rise to become the Imperial nobles' right-hand men, such as Radi Jaeger. Darcssen finds a special niche amongst Europan battle thralls as engineers of doom. Just look at the Calamity Raven and their advanced death-machines. Heck, even Isara technically is one: without adoption by the Welkins or her inventions, she would never be considered a full-fledged citizen of Gallia.
  • In Warriors Orochi, the Wei and Wu became Les Collaborateurs and Battle Thralls with Orochi
  • The Wonderful 101: The Rival does this to individual champions of 100 different planets, threatening to destroy a world if the champion ever turns traitor or gives up. Interestingly, he has a very high opinion of his minions ("100 of the galaxy's finest") but is too worried that they'll just up and leave the moment their homeworlds are safe. They do, but not before helping him and Centinel save the galaxy from the GETHJERK.
  • X-COM:
    • In The Bureau: XCOM Declassified features the Sectoids and Mutons seen in other entries of the series, though the Sectoids are wearing slave collars, and one cutscene has a Zudjari playfully subject one to Psychic-Assisted Suicide. The Mutons that appear in the game are explicitly mercenaries, and so are not jacked into Mosaic like the rest of the Outsiders' forces.
    • In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, nearly all of the Ethereals' forces are Battle Thralls to some extent, the aftermath of a Technology Uplift that the Ethereals deemed a failure, leading them to incorporate species after species into their army. The Sectoids are described as a "cruel and cowardly" race and are presumably serving out of fear, while the Thin Men are remarked to be quite loyal to their Ethereal masters. The brutish Mutons fit the "Proud Warrior Race fighting for the strongest side" angle, and some are trusted enough to serve as the Ethereals' bodyguards, while the Floaters have been subjected to Unwilling Roboticisation for their failures. In fact, the goal of the entire invasion is to force humanity to develop its technological and psionic potential, so the Ethereals can recruit them as their best Battle Thralls yet, in anticipation of facing "what lies ahead".

    Real Life 
  • Near the end of its reign, Ancient Rome, the classic Vestigial Empire, was hiring a lot of barbarians, because its own army was depleted. They even hired the Huns at one point to take down the Burgundians. The Huns quickly figured out there was a lot more gold where their paycheck came from, and spent several years shaking down the Eastern Roman Empire, who had fairly unprofessional soldiers. Then Attila the Hun went after the West. After a convoluted series of events that included the sister of the Emperor writing Attila for rescue, and possibly sending him an offer of betrothal to get out of marrying a Roman senator, Attila invaded what remained of the West. He lost at the Battle of Catalunian Plains, facing off against a force of Romans and Germans (but mostly Germans, for reasons that will become clear). Both the West and the East had long resorted to recruiting barbarians, usually from Germania and Dacia, for the bulk of their forces. This was because a century-long civil war had just recently bankrupted the Empire, which was only held together by sheer force of will by Emperor Aurelian, and later divided by Diocletian. The wars, the banditry, the barbarian invasions, and the ever-increasing pay of the legions caused an unsustainably high rate of inflation that ruined Rome's economy. The Empire also had a vast and expensive series of border fortifications that rarely saw use, so one way for the Romans to save some money was to pay the Germans to man the border fortifications. You know, the fortifications that were built to keep out the Germans.
    • Rome did it for centuries: for their neighboring Germans, serving in the Roman army was a way to get honor (as they knew that surviving the training meant you were a badass) and improving living conditions for themselves and their families upon discharge (they were allowed to settle inside the borders and got citizenship for themselves and their children). The difference was how it was done: for most of the time, the barbarians were split up and sent to serve inside units raised from fully Romanized populations, thus isolating potential troublemakers and expose them to Roman values until they adopted them. Sadly a series of civil wars and a major military campaign after emperor Valentinian III's death ended up depleting the Western army, with general Ricimer (commander in chief of the army and, by then, the real power behind the throne) opting to not have the veterans train new recruits raised from inside the empire but to have barbarian tribes replace the destroyed armies. As soon as that was done, Rome lost Spain, Africa and Gaul to the barbarians for good, and the empire in Italy would soon fall to the barbarians in the army deciding they're better off without an emperor.
  • The elite Janissary forces of the old Ottoman Empire, later becoming a powerful military caste in their own right, began technically as Battle Thralls, mainly from the then newly-conquered territories such as Greece and Bulgaria. The Ottomans would acquire suitable young boys for the Sultan from those territories specifically for this purpose, making it also a Real Life case of TykeBombs.
    • Well, almost a real life case of Tyke Bombs. They were taken back to Istanbul and given extensive training (in reading, history and religion as well as fighting), so it would sometimes be years before they'd see actual battle.
  • The Egyptian Mamluks had a similar origin as the Janissaries, though they eventually took over the country and ruled it until being conquered by said Ottomans.
  • Christendom had its own equivalent to Mamluks and Janissaries, called Vavasours in France or Ministerialen in Germany. These were serfs who took on the duties of knights, becoming, in essence, unfree noblemen. They didn't have any land to leave their descendants, and their lords still controlled a lot of their private lives (like whom they could marry), but they still held the social esteem that came with knighthood. There were probably more Ministerialien in the Middle Aged Holy Roman Empire than free knights.
  • The reason why the Mongols could show up in great numbers and plow their way to Europe is because they made battle thralls out of every tribe they conquered along the way. And it was a long, long way.
  • The British Empire was largely built on Defeat Means Friendship, with the Scots, Sikhs and Gurkhas among their most elite troops.
  • There was a type of fighting men in Muscovite Russia called boevye kholopy, which literally translates to battle thralls. However, being a battle thrall was significantly more prestigious than being a plain old thrall, since Russian boyars typically equipped their thralls in good armor and used them to relay orders to common soldiers. A battle thrall was basically another instance of the boyar on the battlefield.
  • Throughout the ancient world, galleys and warships were most often crewed by galley slaves, who served as the rowers. As the conditions for a long seafaring journey were brutal at that time, it was essentially a job that one was forced into.
    • This practice would endure up into more modern times. There's even a term for it: press-ganged. Often, crews on civilian vessels or on shore leave would be abducted by navies and forced to serve aboard warships. After all, once they've got you out on a ship, you have nowhere else to go, so you may as well get to work.
    • For most of European History, galley slaves were actually the exception not the norm. Rowing is hard work that, especially with large war galleys, needs good coordination and a well fed individual. On top of that, the last thing you need, when facing down the Persians is a bunch of galley slaves revolting. So for the most time, rowers were actually free men and trained professionals. Slave rowers only really started becoming the norm during the late medieval and early renaissance period.
  • World War II:

Alternative Title(s): Battle Thrall