The Slaves

Convicts of the Kastellet, as well as in other fortresses, were called ”Slaves” and were used for the most dirte and unhealthty work, that no-one else wanted to do. The very term “slave” clearly shows that these men were seen as a particular low class of people, that nobody wanted to be near, and they were treated extremely brutally and inhumanely. The special punishment “slavery” was abolished 1. April 1851, yet in such a way that those who were already convicted should remain in their slavery until either pardoned or they died.

 
 

Sometimes this punishment was termed”being chained to the whellbarrow” as shown above, but in reality slaves were used for any dirty and hard work. Actually slaves were a necessary workforce for the crown, one that was easily acquired by rallying up beggars and travelers, besides that many a soldier came to serve time as a slave due to the harsh military discipline.   

Accordingly there were quite many of them. 1742 the Commandant was ordered to deliver as many slaves for other use, till there were only 50 left in the “Kastellet”. He delivered 76. Often they have been as many as 200.

The slaves were divided into”honest” and ”dishonest” slaves, depending on whether they had lost their honor or not. One would lose his honer if he was publically flogged or had received the “thieves mark”, that is being branded in the forehead. The dishonest slaves got the worst labor, the poorest cells and were always there for life.

The honest slaves were relatively better treated. They might be put to work in the city, where they might earn a little money or beg some food, and most importantly: They had kept their honor, which meant that they could be pardoned or be released after serving their time. This was not possible for the dishonest slaves.

Dishonesty was heredical, and their children were regardes as being dishonest as well. No one would consort with them, nor hire them or help them. This of course meant that they were forced into criminality, and dishonesty consequently almost assured – which most people saw as a natural thing, for a child of a dishonest.

For many years the slaves were fed only water and bread. After some years it appeared for the authorities that no one could survive on such diet, and then it was decided that only the first year should be on water and bread, and then they should be given normal rations, meaning a small allowance so they might buy food from the canteens.

 
 

The slaves were given a special suit, so that everybody could see that this was a rotten man. For a long period this consisted of pants, vest and a coat, where all pieces were in two colors, brown and yellow as seen in the scetchby the artist Martinus Rørbye.

The slaves worked by removing night soil and do other dirty and any hard work as decent soldiers would not do.

When this kind of punishment was abolished, a huge problem arose in how to get such work done.

Beneath you’ll see a contemporary picture of slaves on their way (this is not from the Kastellet, but from the city jail) under military guard. Arms were loaded and orders were to shoot any trying to escape, or even not obeying orders.