Source: David Eltis and David Richardson,
Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade
(New Haven, 2010), reproduced with the permission of Yale University Press.
For permission to reuse these images, contact Yale University Press.
Map 1: Overview of the slave trade out of Africa, 1500-1900
Captive Africans followed many routes from their homelands
to other parts of the world. The map shows the trans-Atlantic
movement of these captives in comparative perspective for the
centuries since 1500 only. Estimates of the ocean-borne trade are
more robust than are those for the trans-Saharan, Red Sea and
Persian Gulf routes, but it is thought that for the period from the
end of the Roman Empire to 1900 about the same number of captives
crossed the Atlantic as left Africa by all other routes combined.
Map 2: Migration of sugar cultivation from Asia into the Atlantic
Sugar cultivation began in the Pacific in the pre-Christian
era and gradually spread to the eastern Mediterranean, the Gulf of
Guinea, then to Brazil, before entering the Caribbean in the
mid-seventeenth century. Eighty percent of all captives carried
from Africa were taken to sugar-growing areas.
Map 3: Old World slave trade routes in the Atlantic before 1759
Before the Atlantic slave trade began and for two centuries
thereafter, some African captives were taken to Europe as well as
to the Atlantic islands and between African ports. It is hard to
get precise estimates of these flows, but they were certainly much
smaller than the trans-Atlantic traffic. Many of the captives
involved in this traffic were subsequently carried to sugar
plantations in the Old World.
Map 4: Wind and ocean currents of the Atlantic basins
In the age of sail, winds and ocean currents shaped the
direction of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, effectively creating
two separate slave-trading systems – one in the north with voyages
originating in Europe and North America, the other in the south
with voyages originating in Brazil.
Map 5: Major regions and ports involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, all years
Few commercial centers in the Atlantic world were untouched by the slave
trade, and all the major ports had strong connections with the traffic.
Map 6: Countries and regions in the Atlantic World where slave
voyages were organized, by share of captives carried off from Africa
Slave voyages were organized and left from all major
Atlantic ports at some point over the nearly four centuries of the
trans-Atlantic slave trade. Nevertheless, vessels from the largest
seven ports, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Liverpool, London, Nantes,
Bristol, and Pernambuco carried off almost three-quarters of all
captives removed from Africa via the Atlantic Ocean. There was a
major shift in the organization of slaving voyages first from the
Iberian peninsular to Northern Europe, and then later back again to
ports in southern Europe. A similar, but less pronounced shift may
be observed in the Americas from South to North and then back
Total documented embarkations: 8,973,701 captives
Percent of estimated embarkations: 72.1%
Map 7: Major coastal regions from which captives left Africa,
The limits of the regions shown here are “Senegambia,”
anywhere north of the Rio Nunez. Sierra Leone region comprises the
Rio Nunez to just short of Cape Mount. The Windward Coast is
defined as Cape Mount south-east to and including the Assini river.
The Gold Coast runs east of here up to and including the Volta
River. Bight of Benin covers the Rio Volta to Rio Nun, and the
Bight of Biafra, east of the Nun to Cape Lopez inclusive.
West-central Africa is defined as the rest of the western coast of
the continent south of this point, and south-eastern Africa
anywhere from and to the north and east of the Cape of Good Hope.
West-Central Africa was the largest regional departure point for
captives through most the slave trade era. Regions closer to the
Americas and Europe generated a relatively small share of the total
carried across the Atlantic. Voyage length was determined as much
by wind and ocean currents shown in Map 4 as by relative proximity
of ports of embarkation and disembarkation.
Total documented embarkations: 7,878,500 captives
Percent of estimated embarkations: 63.3%
Map 8: Major regions where captives disembarked, all years
The Caribbean and South America received 95 percent of the
slaves arriving in the Americas. Some captives disembarked in
Africa rather than the Americas because their trans-Atlantic voyage
was diverted as a result of a slave rebellion or, during the era of
suppression, because of capture by patrolling naval cruisers. Less
than 4 percent disembarked in North America, and only just over
10,000 in Europe.
Total documented embarkations: 9,371,001 captives
Percent of estimated embarkations: 88.5%
Map 9: Volume and direction of the trans-Atlantic slave
trade from all African to all American regions
This map summarizes and combines the many different paths by
which captives left Africa and reached the Americas. While there
were strong connections between particular embarkation and
disembarkation regions, it was also the case that captives from any
of the major regions of Africa could disembark in almost any of the
major regions of the Americas. Even captives leaving Southeast
Africa, the region most remote from the Americas, could disembark
in mainland North America, as well as the Caribbean and South
America. The data in this map are based on estimates of the total
slave trade rather than documented departures and arrivals.