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Slavery on the Red Planet
by Alan Hanson
The sun never sets on the enslaved of the red planet. Its rays bring out the slaves to the housetops of Lesser Helium. Faithfully and happily, they arrange canopies so that their finely-bred mistresses might shade themselves from the sun. The sun also shines on the mountain city of Gathol, but her slaves do not see it. They labor abjectly in the underground diamond mines. Meanwhile, far to the south, the slave women of Ghasta spin the wonderfully strong fabric from the fine webs made by the hideous spiders in the forest along the river Syl. On the western edges of the Great Toonolian Marches, 20 slaves in scant harnesses are on their knees to roll out a huge carpet so that Phundahl’s jeddara might approach the Great Tur with dignity. Wherever there is civilization on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars, there is slavery.
Indeed, the author provided glimpses of the institution of slavery in every corner of Barsoom. Slaves were there from the courts of the therns and the Temple of Issus in the extreme south to the doomed cities of Kadabra and Pankor in the far north. Zodanaga, Manator Toonol, and Jahar had slaves, as did Tjanath, Gooli, Amhor, Kamtol, and Invak.
Not only was slavery on Barsoom a global phenomenon, but it was also apparent that great numbers of people were held in servility. In the land of Manator the slaves from Gathol and their descendants numbered near a million people. Their percentage of the total population was unknown, but in the Black Pirate city of Kamtol there were known to be 5,000 slaves among the city’s 200,000 inhabitants. Having no other indication, perhaps that ratio of 2 ½ per cent enslaved can be assumed typical of most Martian cities. Of course, there are the unusual cases, such as Ghasta, where all 600 inhabitants were slaves of their jed Ghron. Then there were the Bantoomians, who seem to have had no slaves and performed their own labor.
If slavery was common among the human races of Barsoom, what about among the Green Martians? As violent and warlike as they were, surely they also accumulated and used slaves. But is there an indication anywhere in Burroughs’ Mars stories that they did so? That question will be addressed again at the close of this survey of slavery as practiced by Barsoom’s more “civilized” races.
On Barsoom, a slave was a person held in servitude to toil for his or her owner. In that light, Dejah Thoris was not a slave of the Tharks in A Princess of Mars. Instead, they considered her a prisoner to be used for ransom or torture. On the other hand, Carthoris was a slave of the Black Pirates, who forced him to work in the remodeling of their subterranean galleries.
The slaves of Barsoom can be categorized according to the kind of work they did. First, there were those who can be classified as house slaves. A slave announced Hadron when he visited John Carter’s palace in A Fighting Man of Mars. In he palace of Mu Tel in Toonol, slaves conducted Vad Varo and his companions to their sleeping quarters and later brought the visitors weapons. At a banquet in Kamtol, “a small army of slaves” bore food and wine to the guests. These house slaves also had duties outside the palace. In Zodanga, such slaves were messengers and in Pankor, John Carter, then posing as a slave, went to the marketplace, “where slaves gathered to buy and sell for their owners.”
Then there were the body servants. In Swords of Mars, John Carter chose Zanda as his personal slave in the house of Fal Sivas. “Her duties would consist of keeping my apartments clean, shining my metal, sharpening my swords and daggers, and otherwise making herself useful.”
Red Martian ladies also had personal servants. The clearest picture of the duties of such handmaidens appears in The Chessmen of Mars, when the “slave girl” Uthia tended to her master, Tara of Helium. Uthia prepared Tara’s bath and afterwards rubbed her mistress’ body with a “sweet smelling semi-liquid substance.” Later the slave girl built Tara’s hair into a becoming coiffure and adjusted Tara’s jewel-encrusted trappings to her figure before the mistress went forth to mingle with John Carter’s guests. The Warlord himself had seen a more exaggerated example of a handmaiden’s duties years before in the amphitheatre of the Black Pirates in Omean. The women of the First Born, Carter noted, “do absolutely nothing. Slaves wash them, slaves dress them, slaves feed them There are some, even, who have slaves that talk for them, and I saw one who sat during the rights with closed eyes while a slave narrated to her the events that were transpiring within the arena.”
Even being a simple handmaiden could be dangerous. In Swords of Mars, when Ur Jan’s agents kidnapped Dejah Thoris in Helium, they left behind the bodies of two slave women, who had been sleeping in their mistress’ quarters.
In the next category are the slaves who do security work for their owners. In Thuvia, Maid of Mars, Carthoris had two armed slaves guarding his flier. In Phundahl, when Vad Varo and his companions spent the night in a public lodging house, “two armed slaves patrolled the aisle to guard the guests from assassins.” In another public house in Kadabra, female slaves paced “back and forth among the sleepers within, ready to notify the warriors should their presence be required.” Slaves also served as bodyguards, as John Carter did when he posed as Gor-don’s slave in Llana of Gathol.
Then there were the large number of slaves who did civic work. In Gathol, warriors brought in slaves to be sold at the public market to labor for their owners in the diamond mines. Ages ago the First Born also used slaves underground to dig the long tunnel from the Temple of Issus to the principal temple of Matai Shang. Slaves also performed other civic duties. In Dusar, Carthoris and Kar Komak encountered a slave running a “drop” in the palace, and when John Carter was in Kamtol, he made reference to red slaves being street cleaners and garbage collectors for the black men.
Another group of slaves provided their masters with entertainment. When the Black Pirates from Dor visited Kamtol, they were entertained by dancing slave girls. The most common way slaves were used for entertainment on Barsoom, however, was fighting in the arena. In the city of Manator, “there were scores of slaves and prisoners being forced into the games by their owners or the government. There live players usually fought for a slave woman of great beauty. In one game, Gahan bribed his way to the leadership of the all-slave Black Team, which defeated a team of criminals for possession of the slave girls Tara and Lan-O. Slaves also provided sport in the Lesser Games of Kamtol. “They are held about once a week in a stadium inside the city, and here the rich nobles pit their warriors or their slaves against those of other nobles in feats of strength, in boxing, in wrestling, and in dueling.”
Finally, there is evidence that slaves were used for sexual purposes. This was in spite of John Carter’s assurance the Martian men possessed a “high and chivalrous humor (which) is always ample protection for every woman in his household.” In Chessmen of Mars, it is implied that the slave girls offered as prizes in the games of Jetan become the playthings of the winning team, and E-Med indicated that in the upcoming games he wanted to win Tara for sexual reasons. Also, Tavia was among thousands of slave women in the palace of Tul Axtar in Jahar. The fact that she fled after the Jeddak saw and summoned her indicates that Tavia, at least, did not think he was going to ask her to do his laundry. Sexual services could also be required of male slaves. In the royal apartments of Tjanath, Hadron wandered into the forbidden quarters of the jeddara. “Her position was most compromising, and from this harness I judged that her good-looking companion was a slave.”
It’s probable that on Barsoom children born to slaves also become slaves. However, most of the slaves who appear in Burroughs’ stories were once free before being enslaved. There were several ways of entering the state of slavery on Mars. First, many were enslaved after first becoming prisoners of war. That’s how Hin Abtol accumulated his million slaves. He attacked and sacked smaller cities, and then flew away to the frozen North with as many prisoners, mostly men, that his ships could carry. Incidentally, John Carter reported that not all prisoners of war could count on the luxury of slavery. The Warlord revealed that most Martian countries, “kill their prisoners if they find it difficult or impossible to take them home into slavery without endangering their own ship.”
Second, slaves were often obtained through kidnapping. In the inner gardens of the thern stronghold in Dor, John Carter saw the First Born abducting the young girls of the therns to take them into slavery in Omean. Carter also revealed the black men occasionally made raids in Mars’ outer world. “It is then that they capture many females of the royal houses of the red men, and take the newest battleships and the trained artisans who build them, that they may copy what they cannot create.” Manator was another country that obtained its slaves through raiding. Every three to seven years the Manatorian raiding parties lingered along the roads leading to Gathol. Entire caravans were captured and carried to Manator to slave and die manning the Jetan squares.
Among those who were enslaved after being abducted were Valla Dia, who was captured by the Phundahlians before being sold to Ras Thavas; Phao, who was sold into slavery in Tjanath by the captain of the ship on which she was sailing; and Zanda, who became a slave in Fal Sivas’ house after his men killed her escort and sized her on the streets of Zodanga.
Instead of going forth to captures slaves, some Barsomian countries waited at home and let slaves come to them. The courts and gardens of the therns were filled with red men and women who made the long pilgrimage down the River Iss into enslavement. At the other pole, the yellow men of Kadabra found a steady supply of labor among the wreckage of out-worlder ships at the base of the magnetic Guardian of the North. “Will they never cease their fatal curiosity?” asked a Kadbran officer. “Let us hope not,” responded a companion. “For then what should we do for slaves and sport?”
Indeed, all over Barsoom it is obvious that being a stranger was grounds for enslavement. In Tjanath, Tul Axtar tolerated no aliens other than those brought in as prisoners and slaves. In Swords of Mars, John Carter knew he risked being thrown into slavery if caught trying to enter Zodanga without identification papers.
Once being a slave, there were a number of ways of regaining one’s freedom. The first and surest way was to escape. The Village of Lost Souls was peopled by slaves who occasionally escaped from the therns. Tavia ran away from slavery in Tjanath, and John Carter himself escaped slavery three times in Llana of Gathol.
A slave might work his way to freedom, as in Gathol, where slaves in the diamond mines were normally permitted to return to their own people after a year of faithful service. Another place where a slave might work to earn his liberty was the arena. In Manator any man who survived 10 games of Jetan was given his freedom.
Sometimes a slave earned his freedom through a single good deed. In A Fighting Man of Mars, the slave Kal Tavan first tried to save Sanoma Tora from abduction by Tulj Axtar’s men, and then later his information resulted in John Carter’s rescue mission to Jahar. For this he was not only set free by Carter, but also eventually became a dwar in Helium’s navy. (It is interesting that Kal Tavan was given his freedom by John Carter, even though Tavan did not belong to the Warlord, but rather was the faithful slave of Tor Hatan.) In Swords of Mars, Fal Sivas offered the slave Woka his freedom if he would kill John Carter. In the ensuing fight, Woka was indeed freed from his slavery, but it came at the point of the Virginian’s sword.
There are other instances of slaves being freed by their owners for various reasons, but surely the Great Emancipator of Barsoom was John Carter. In The Chessmen of Mars, after arriving with his fleet in Manator, he announced, ”I come only for my daughter and to free the slaves from Gathol.” With that simple statement he freed perhaps a million people throughout the land of Manator. The Warlord freed nearly another million slaves when he went to Pankor at the end of Llana of Gathol to thaw out the captives of Hin Abtol.
Finally, one could escape slavery on Barsoom through marriage. In Dusar, the Jeddak Nutus married a slave woman, and the jed U-Thor married Haja, a slave girl from Gathol, and made her a princess of Manatos. The result was that A-Kor, the son of U-Thor and Haja, “might sit on the throne of Manator with as perfect congruity as O-Tar himself.”
Incidentally, in his Martian books, Burroughs described two slave uprisings, one a failure and one a success. The red slave women rose against their masters in the amphitheatre of Issus in The Gods of Mars. The women “wreaked the long-pent vengeance which at best could but partially recompense them for the unspeakable cruelties and indignities which their black masters had heaped upon them.” In the end, however, all the women were cut down. A more successful uprising occurred in Manator. When U-Thor attacked O-Tar’s city, the slaves from Gathol arose and destroyed the palace guard. Soon afterwards John Carter arrived and, as noted earlier, gave the slaves their freedom.
The institution of slavery on Barsoom carried with it a set of socially mandated rules, customs, and procedures. Certainly, in public a slave had his place. First of all, a slave generally wore the sign of his status. In Pankor, Gor-don furnished John Carter with a harness and insignia, which definitely marked the Warlord as a slave of the former’s household. When accompanying their owner in public, a well-trained slave took a position indicative of his subservience. While riding in a public flier in Pankor with Gor-don, Carter sat with the driver, “as befitted a slave.” Later, when Gor-don received a messenger in his home, Carter took his assigned place standing behind his master’s chair. This custom was noted much earlier in the series. In The Gods of Mars, after Dejah Thoris had left to seek the River Iss, her chair was left empty at mealtime in the royal palace in Helium. “Behind stood a slave as in the days when his mistress occupied it.” Slaves were summoned to their master’s presence by the striking of a gong of some type. In The Chessmen of Mars, O-Tar did this twice in Manator, and in Helium, Tara called the slave girl Uthia by lightly tapping on a bronze disc with a wooden stick.
Giving a slave his freedom also was governed by a set procedure recognized throughout Barsoom. John Carter explained when he emancipated the reluctant Zanda in Swords of Mars. “I told you once that you were free, and now I tell you again in the presence of a witness. You know the customs of Barsoom, Zanda. You are free now, whether you wish to be or not.” Earlier in the series, Tara gave Uthia her freedom, but as there was no witness present, Uthia apparently had the right to refuse freedom, which she did.
Just prior to offering Uthia her freedom, Tara, in a fit of anger, threatened to send her slave girl to the public market place, where slaves legally changed hands in the large cities of Barsoom. Valla Dia was sold on the auction block in Phundahl, but the clearest picture of the public slave market occurred when Carthoris was the principal bidder there one day in Greater Helium. “One by one the masters mounted the rostrum beside the slave block upon which stood their chattels. Briefly and clearly each recounted the virtues of his particular offering. When all were done, the major-domo of the Prince of Helium recalled to the block such as had favourably impressed him. For such he made a fair offer. There was little haggling as to price.”
In closing this survey of the institution of slavery on the red planet, let’s return to the question posed earlier. Did the Green Martians use slaves? If slaves do their master’s work, it would seem the Green Martians had little need for them. After all, in their society they had a built-in slave class in their own women. They catered to the needs of the men, prepared the food, and produced all the manufactured goods for the community. The Thark females were treated as property, passing from one owner to another, along with the metal, when one warrior laid low another. It appears the green men could afford the luxury of killing all strangers who fell into their hands, forsaking the use of slavery.
It has been suggested that the Green Martians enslaved Dejah Thoris after capturing her in A Princess of Mars. It’s true that she was made to labor on one occasion during her captivity among the Tharks. She told John Carter, “They have had me down in the pits below the buildings helping them mix their awful radium powder, and make their terrible projectiles.” However, the Tharks’ purpose in making her work on that occasion was keeping her away from John Carter. The daughter of the Jeddak of Helium was an extremely valuable captive in their conflict with the red race. The Tharks took precautions to keep John Carter and Dejah Thoris apart so that they could not plan an escape. Having her work was part of that strategy.
However, even though never seen using them, it turns out that even the Green Martians sought slaves. However, that fact is not confirmed until the tenth book of Burroughs’ Martian series. As Llana of Gathol fled from the green warriors in the ancient city of Horz, the author acknowledged that the pursuers, “would not quickly forego an opportunity to capture a red woman for torture or slavery.”
2. The Gods of Mars
3. The Warlord of Mars
4. Thuvia, Maid of Mars
5. The Chessmen of Mars
6. The Mastermind of Mars
8. Swords of Mars
9. Synthetic Men of Mars
10. Llana of Gathol
11. John Carter of Mars
(Giant of Mars | Skeleton Men)