Where Does the Word “Slave” Come From and What Does Slave Mean In German?

Prior to the Christian Era little was known of the people living north of the Carpathian Mountains, in the vast regions now embracing, in particular, Poland and adjacent areas.

The names of a few tribes had been mentioned by some Roman and Greek historians, but few travelers or even military expeditions had penetrated those lands.

By the sixth century A.D., however, the northern tribes along the Baltic began pressing to the west against their more warlike neighbors, the Germans, along the banks of the Elbe. The Germans called them Sclays.

In the inevitable conflicts that followed, the fierce Germans found these people no match for their arms and were able to take many captives. Some were sold into serfdom to willing Roman and Greek buyers of the south, and others were held in bondage by their captors.

In time the entire population of parts of their land were reduced to servility by their Teutonic neighbors, and Sclav or Sclave became a term of contempt applied to anyone of servile character or actually in bondage.

Later it became a synonym for the latter condition only.

When it came into English use, the term retained the initial scl- until the sixteenth century, then our present form, slave, began to appear.

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