SLAVERY IN ANCIENT GREECE

SLAVERY IN ANCIENT GREECE

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Actor playing a slave
While the practice of slavery is looked upon with abomination in modern society. This was not so in ancient Greece. The ancient Greeks did not share are beliefs in universal human rights. Slavery was accepted as a normal part of society and was justified on a number of levels. Even Aristotle, the great defender of democracy and political freedom, believed that the goal of a civilized man was to attain a life of leisure so that he was free to pursue the higher things in life. How was this life of leisure attained?...With slaves, of course. Aristotle also believed that the laws of nature dictated that free men should rule and dominate slaves and women. [Source: "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum]

There are no reliable figures on the slave population in ancient Greece but it is estimated Athens had slave population of perhaps as many as 80,000 in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, with an average household having three or four slaves, except in poor families. Cristian Violatti wrote in Listverse: “Slave population varied significantly across different regions of Greece. Modern estimations suggest that in Attica (Athens and its vicinity) from 450 to 320 B.C. there were roughly 100,000 slaves. The total population of the region was around 250,000, which would give us a slave-to-free ratio of about 2:5. Other, more general estimates state that between 15 and 40 percent of the ancient Greek population were slaves in various regions at different times. [Sources: Wikipedia, Cristian Violatti, Listverse, September 29, 2016]

Slaves were present during the Mycenaean civilization (1600-1100 B.C.) in Greece as indicated in numerous tablets unearthed in Pylos. There were two main types: 1) "slaves" and 2) "slaves of the god" (the god probably being Poseidon). Slaves of the god were allowed to own their own land and their legal status was near that of a freemen. Slaves are mentioned in Homer’s epics. In the Iliad, slaves are mainly women taken as booty of war, while men were either ransomed or killed on the battlefield. In the Odyssey, the slaves also seem to be mostly women, mostly servants and sometimes concubines.There were some male slaves, especially in the Odyssey, a prime example being the swineherd Eumaeus.

A good book on slavery in the ancient world is “Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology” by Moses Finley. On this book Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard said, “When I read this book it was the first time I realized that there could be, and ought to be, an explicit connection between a modern political stance and the ancient history that I was studying....He was the first person I had read who looked ancient slavery in the eye and said it was something really terrible. All the stuff that I had read before had been slightly embarrassed about ancient slavery and saw it as a blot on the landscape. They said: “The Greeks were so wonderful and slavery was a bit of a problem but you shouldn't think about it. It was more like domestic service really!” And Finley says you can't let the ancient world off the hook. You have to have a moral stance on this one.

Websites on Ancient Greece: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia hsc.edu/drjclassics ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization pbs.org/empires/thegreeks ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Ancient-Greek.org ancientgreece.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Ancient City of Athens stoa.org/athens; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea showgate.com/medea ; Greek History Course from Reed web.archive.org; Classics FAQ MIT rtfm.mit.edu; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu

Labor and Rowers in Ancient Greece

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building a ship
The Greeks were not known for having a strong work ethic. Citizens abhorred physical labor and came to rely on slaves. Tradesmen and merchants were looked down upon and teachers and doctors had about the same status as a craftsman. The only respectable occupations were farming, politics and philosophizing. [Source: "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum]

Cristian Violatti wrote in Listverse: “In Athens, making a living by working for others was perceived negatively. State employment was the only form of wage labor free from this prejudice. Since most free citizens avoided wage labor as much as they could, slaves were used to fill the workforce gaps. As a result, saves could perform a wide range of jobs in ancient Greece. [Source: Cristian Violatti, Listverse, September 29, 2016]

Contrary to the popular myth Greek fighting ships were not manned by slaves, who were thought to be untrustworthy and expensive (they had be fed year-round even though a ship only operated about half the year). Instead they were manned by free citizens who sat on three levels. The oars were secured with leather straps. The rowers had to learn to row in unison so their oars didn't collide. One rower said, "Because there are only nine inches between the blades any tiny discrepancy in a stroke caused one blade to hit the next and, and so on in a domino effect." When it is working well it was "like a centipede, with all oars moving beautifully." The rowing stations at the center of the ship were best because if a oar is viewed as a lever and the oar hole is the fulcrum. According to the laws of mechanics the further one is away from the fulcrum the easier is to lift the object---or in the case of the oar, push the water.

Status, Lifestyle and Freedom of Ancient Greek Slaves

The status of some slaves could be viewed as being closer to that of an animal than a human being. They were tortured on the stand in a court of law until they told the "truth" and put to death for simply belonging to a murdered man. They sometimes held their chamber pots of their masters. Slaves were branded on their faces until the A.D. 4th century when Constantine, the first Christianized Roman emperor, decided that it was a inhuman thing to do to a creation of God, so he ordered that they be branded on their arms and legs instead."


An elite woman with her slave

Cristian Violatti wrote in Listverse: “There were different types of slaves in ancient Greece, and their living conditions and expectations were strongly linked to their occupations. The most unfortunate were the slaves involved in mining, who were condemned to a miserable life and almost certainly an early death. However, not all slaves were doomed to suffer cruelty and abuse, and some could expect a more or less decent living. Slaves specialized as craftsmen, for example, could work and live separately from their masters and could engage in commerce and generate income, though a portion of what they earned had to go to their masters’ pockets. Spartan slaves (helots) could enjoy family life. State slaves in the Athenian army who died during combat were even honored with a state funeral, the same as free citizens.” [Source: Cristian Violatti, Listverse, September 29, 2016 ><]

Mary Beard said, “Slavery is a classic case for thinking about those connections. Greece and Rome were one of the few mass slave-owning societies that there have ever been. What Finley was interested in doing was looking hard at ancient slavery and thinking about how it was the same or different from modern slavery. One key difference that comes out is that modern slavery is tinged by racism, whereas ancient slavery wasn’t.

Slaves were often freed or allowed to buy their freedom. Violatti wrote: “Some slaves could hope to gain their freedom. It was possible mainly for those in a position of saving money, especially those who where involved in wage labor and therefore had some degree of financial autonomy. Slaves who were able to save enough money could buy their freedom by paying their masters an agreed sum. We also know of slaves employed in the army who were granted their freedom as a reward for their service. At Delphi, many inscriptions displaying the names of slaves who bought their freedom have been found. They illustrate the diverse array of regions from which the slave were procured: Caria, Egypt, Lydia, Phoenicia, Syria, and many other countries appear.” ><

There are descriptions of slaves being flogged but how slaves were treated depended very much on the type of work they did, where they resided and they type (status) of the slave. On the supposed brutal treatment of slaves Aristophanes wrote in “Peace”: "He also dismissed those slaves who kept on running off, or deceiving someone, or getting whipped. They were always led out crying, so one of their fellow slaves could mock the bruises and ask then: 'Oh you poor miserable fellow, what's happened to your skin? Surely a huge army of lashes from a whip has fallen down on you and laid waste your back?'"

Buying and Owning Slaves in Ancient Greece

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collared slaves
Slaves were bought at the market. Most slaves were people captured in wars or pirates raids. In many cases they were serfs, or conquered people, that came with the land and passed their statuses down from generation to generation .

Cristian Violatti wrote in Listverse: “A large number of slaves were prisoners of war, usually part of the booty seized by the victorious army. One famous example comes from Philip II of Macedon (Alexander the Great’s father), who sold 20,000 women and children into slavery after the invasion of Scythia in 339 B.C. . The connection between war booty and slave procurement was so tight that slave traders sometimes joined the armies during their campaigns so they could buy the prisoners immediately after they were captured. [Source: Cristian Violatti, Listverse, September 29, 2016 ><]

“Other streams of slave procurement included piracy, debt, and even barbarian tribes who were willing to exchange their own people for specific goods. Trading posts also acted as big suppliers of slaves for Greece. Many of these were located around the Black Sea, and some cities such as Byzantium and Ephesus also had big slave markets. ><

“Owning slaves was a fairly common practice in ancient Greece. A middle-class family might have had between three and 12 slaves, but those numbers are just estimations by scholars and hard to verify. The number of slaves varied according to time and place. In his work Ecclesiazusae, Aristophanes equates not owning any slaves to a sign of poverty. The two major owners of slaves in ancient Greece were the state, where slaves were employed as police and various other public functions, and also wealthy businessmen, who supplied slaves for working in the mines.” ><

Work Done by Slaves in Ancient Greece

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The Greeks used slaves and prisoners to build their temples. The were used in mining, agriculture, construction and as household slaves. Slaves could be craftsmen, entertainers, teachers, secretaries or even businessmen trading for themselves. One thing a slave was not was a citizen. Mycenaean tablets, dated at 1200 B.C., described slave women who worked as grain grinders, spinners, and pourers of baths, They were often grouped by the places they were captured: "women in Asia," "women of Knidoes," "women of Miletos."

Household slaves didn't have it so bad especially if their masters were kind and easy-going. They were often treated as members of the household. Slaves that worked in the fields had a hard life but they were not nearly as bad off as the slaves who worked in iron, copper, tin and silver mines. They spent their entire day laying on their stomach in hot, suffocating, narrow passageways.

Cristian Violatti wrote in Listverse: “We know of slaves being employed as cooks, craftsmen, maids, miners, nurses, porters, and even in the army as attendants to their masters, baggage carriers, and sometimes as fighters. Some specific public positions were performed by slaves, the most famous example being (surprisingly) the police in Athens, which, at least during part of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. consisted mostly of Scythian slaves. [Source: Cristian Violatti, Listverse, September 29, 2016 ><]

“During Classical times, the booming Athenian craft production industry forced many workshops to evolve into factories. Slave labor was the dominant workforce in many prominent factories, most of which belonged to wealthy politicians. We have records of two factories owned by Demosthenes that were largely supported by slaves. One of these factories produced swords and had about 30 slaves, while the other used 20 slaves and produced couches. Lysias, the famous writer, owned the largest production center we have on record, a shield factory which had 120 slaves.” ><

Slaves And Mining in Ancient Greece


mining slaves

Cristian Violatti wrote in Listverse: “Mining has always been a highly profitable activity, and ancient Greece was no exception. The profits from mining were as immense as the risks of working in the mines. It’s no wonder that the Athenians employed slaves for a job so dangerous. Large profits were made not only from the actual mining activity, but also by those who could supply slave labor. We know that the politician and general Nicias (fifth century B.C.) supplied as many as 1,000 slaves to work in the mines, making 10 talents a year, an income equivalent to 33 percent on his capital. [Source: Cristian Violatti, Listverse, September 29, 2016 ><]

“The fate of slaves working in the mines was precarious. Many of them worked underground in shackles, deprived from sunlight and fresh air. In 413 B.C. an Athenian army was captured during a disastrous expedition to Sicily, and all 7,000 Athenian prisoners were forced to work in the quarries of Syracuse. Not one of them survived. ><

Roman historian Diodorus Siculus wrote in the first century B.C. "The men engaged in these mining operations produce unbelievably large revenues for their masters, but as a result of their underground excavations they become physical wrecks...they are not allowed to give up working or have a rest, but are forced by the beatings of their supervisors to stay at their places and throw away their wretched lives...Some of them survive to endure their misery for a long time because of their physical stamina or sheer will power; but because of the extent of their suffering they prefer dying to surviving." [Source: "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum,"|]

Helots — Spartan Serfs — and Crypteia

The Spartans kept serfs known as called “helots.” Sparta subjugated an area of the western Peloponnese and forced many of people there not deemed Spartans to be helots. By some estimates the helots outnumbered Spartans by 10 to 1. The Messenians, who greatly outnumbered Spartans, once revolted only to be brutally put down by the Spartans. After that the Spartans vowed to never let a similar situation occur again and established a totalitarian state.

The exact origin of helots is unclear. Cristian Violatti wrote in Listverse::”Some accounts claim that they had been the inhabitants of a place called Helos, which was conquered by the Spartans. With every new conquest, the number of helots increased. The helots were occupied as farmers, house servants, and any other activity that would distract the Spartan citizens from their military duties. There was constant tension between the helots and the Spartans. They were treated in humiliating ways and constantly intimidated. They had to wear a cap made of dog skin and a leather tunic. It was agreed that the helots should be beaten an agreed number of strokes every year, regardless of any transgression they might have committed, so they would not forget that they were slaves. [Source: Cristian Violatti, Listverse, September 29, 2016]

In a practice called “crypteia” (forced thuggery), Spartan boys were given daggers and minimal rations of food and sent out to the countryside to ambush and murder as many helots. There is some debate among scholars as to whether this was a form of training for the boys and a kind of terrorism to keep the herlots in line.

On crypteia, Plutarch wrote in “Life of Lycurgus of Sparta”: “"Now in all this there is no trace of injustice or arrogance, which some attribute to the laws of Lycurgus, declaring them efficacious in producing valor (andreia), but defective in producing righteousness (dikaiosyne). The so-called K rypteia at [Sparta], if it really was one of Lycurgus' institutions, as Aristotle says it was, may have given Plato (Laws 630.d) also this opinion of the man and his constitution.” [Source: Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus of Sparta 28, CSUN]


Spartan family with a slave


“This is as follows: The magistrates from time to time sent out into the countryside at large the most discreet of the young men, equipped only with daggers and necessary supplies. During the day they scattered into obscure and out of the way places, where they hid themselves and lay quiet. But in the night, they came down to the roads and killed every Helot (Spartan serf) whom they caught. Often, too, they actually made their way across fields where the Helots were working and killed the sturdiest and best of them.

“So, too, Thucydides, in his History of the Peloponnesian War [IV.80], states that the Helots who had been judged by the Spartans to be superior in bravery, set wreathes upon their heads in token of their emancipation, and visited the temples of the gods in procession, but in a little while afterwards all disappeared, more than two thousand of them, in such a way that no man was able to say, either then or afterwards, how they came to their deaths. And Aristotle in particular says also that the Ephors, as soon as they came into office, made formal declaration of war upon the Helots, so that there might be no impiety in slaying them."”

Classical Writers on Slavery in Ancient Greece

Hesiod wrote in “Works and Days” (c. 750 B.C.): “First of all, get a house, and a woman and an ox for the plough--a slave woman and not a wife, to follow the oxen as well--and make everything ready at home, so that you may not have to ask of another, and he refuse you, and so, because you are in lack, the season pass by and your work come to nothing.” [Source: Fred Morrow Fling, ed., “A Source Book of Greek History,” Heath, 1907, pp. 23-26, 29-30]

Strabo wrote in “Geographia,” (c. 20 A.D.) about Greece around 550 B.C: “And the temple of Aphrodite in Corinth was so rich that it owned more than a thousand temple slaves---prostitutes---whom both free men and women had dedicated to the goddess. And therefore it was also on account of these temple-prostitutes that the city was crowded with people and grew rich; for instance, the ship captains freely squandered their money, and hence the proverb, "Not for every man is the voyage to Corinth."” [Ibid]

Antiphon wrote in “the Choreutes,” (c. 430 B.C.): “So powerful is the compulsion of the law, that even if a man slays one who is his own chattel [i.e., his slave] and who has none to avenge him, his fear of the ordinances of god and of man causes him to purify himself and withhold himself from those places prescribed by law, in the hope that by so doing he will best avoid disaster.” [Ibid]


family with a slave on a funerary stele

Demosthenes wrote in “Against Timocrates” (c. 350 B.C): “If, gentlemen of the jury, you will turn over in your minds the question what is the difference between being a slave and being a free man, you will find that the biggest difference is that the body of a slave is made responsible for all his misdeeds, whereas corporal punishment is the last penalty to inflict on a free man.” [Ibid]

On debt slavery, Aristotle quoted the following Solon poems: in “Constitution of the Athenians”:
And many a man whom fraud or law had sold
Far from his god-built land, an outcast slave,
I brought again to Athens; yea, and some,
Exiles from home through debt’s oppressive load,
Speaking no more the dear Athenian tongue,
But wandering far and wide, I brought again;
And those that here in vilest slavery (douleia)
Crouched ‘neath a master’s (despōtes) frown, I set them free.

Aristotle on Slavery

In doctrine he called “natural slavery” Aristotle said in “Politics” (1, 1253b15–55b40) that some people were born to be slaves, while others were born to be slave masters. Slavery, he said, was a good thing for slaves, because without masters, slaves would not know what to do with themselves. He described slaves as “animate tools”—pieces of property to be used, with no rights other than those granted by their masters. [Source: Cristian Violatti, Listverse, September 29, 2016]

Aristotle wrote in “Politics” Book I; Chapter V, (c. 330 B.C.):“But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature? There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.


“And it is clear that the rule of the soul over the body, and of the mind and the rational element over the passionate, is natural and expedient; whereas the equality of the two or the rule of the inferior is always hurtful. The same holds good of animals in relation to men; for tame animals have a better nature than wild, and all tame animals are better off when they are ruled by man; for then they are preserved. Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind.

“Where then there is such a difference as that between soul and body, or between men and animals (as in the case of those whose business is to use their body, and who can do nothing better), the lower sort are by nature slaves, and it is better for them as for all inferiors that they should be under the rule of a master. For he who can be, and therefore is, another's and he who participates in rational principle enough to apprehend, but not to have, such a principle, is a slave by nature. Whereas the lower animals cannot even apprehend a principle; they obey their instincts. And indeed the use made of slaves and of tame animals is not very different; for both with their bodies minister to the needs of life. Nature would like to distinguish between the bodies of freemen and slaves, making the one strong for servile labor, the other upright, and although useless for such services, useful for political life in the arts both of war and peace. But the opposite often happens- that some have the souls and others have the bodies of freemen. And doubtless if men differed from one another in the mere forms of their bodies as much as the statues of the Gods do from men, all would acknowledge that the inferior class should be slaves of the superior. And if this is true of the body, how much more just that a similar distinction should exist in the soul? but the beauty of the body is seen, whereas the beauty of the soul is not seen. It is clear, then, that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right.

In “Politics”, Book I; Chapter VI, Aristotle wrote: “But that those who take the opposite view have in a certain way right on their side, may be easily seen. For the words slavery and slave are used in two senses. There is a slave or slavery by law as well as by nature. The law of which I speak is a sort of convention- the law by which whatever is taken in war is supposed to belong to the victors. But this right many jurists impeach, as they would an orator who brought forward an unconstitutional measure: they detest the notion that, because one man has the power of doing violence and is superior in brute strength, another shall be his slave and subject. Even among philosophers there is a difference of opinion. The origin of the dispute, and what makes the views invade each other's territory, is as follows: in some sense virtue, when furnished with means, has actually the greatest power of exercising force; and as superior power is only found where there is superior excellence of some kind, power seems to imply virtue, and the dispute to be simply one about justice (for it is due to one party identifying justice with goodwill while the other identifies it with the mere rule of the stronger). If these views are thus set out separately, the other views have no force or plausibility against the view that the superior in virtue ought to rule, or be master. Others, clinging, as they think, simply to a principle of justice (for law and custom are a sort of justice), assume that slavery in accordance with the custom of war is justified by law, but at the same moment they deny this. For what if the cause of the war be unjust? And again, no one would ever say he is a slave who is unworthy to be a slave. Were this the case, men of the highest rank would be slaves and the children of slaves if they or their parents chance to have been taken captive and sold. Wherefore Hellenes do not like to call Hellenes slaves, but confine the term to barbarians. Yet, in using this language, they really mean the natural slave of whom we spoke at first; for it must be admitted that some are slaves everywhere, others nowhere.

Aristotle on the Master and Slave


Aristotle wrote in “The Politics---On Slavery” (c. 330 B.C.): “Let us first speak of master and slave, looking to the needs of practical life and also seeking to attain some better theory of their relation than exists at present....Property is a part of the household, and the art of acquiring property is a part of the art of managing the household; for no man can live well, or indeed live at all, unless he be provided with necessaries. And so, in the arrangement of the family, a slave is a living possession, and property a number of such instruments; and the slave is himself an instrument which takes precedence of all other instruments. [Source: Aristotle, “The Politics of Aristotle,” translated by Benjamin Jowett,(New York: Colonial Press, 1900), pp. 4-9]

The master is only the master of the slave; he does not belong to him, whereas the slave is not only the slave of his master, but wholly belongs to him. Hence we see what is the nature and office of a slave; he who is by nature not his own but another's man, is by nature a slave; and he may be said to be another's man who, being a human being, is also a possession. And a possession may be defined as an instrument of action, separable from the possessor.But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature? There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.

“Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind.Where then there is such a difference as that between soul and body, or between men and animals (as in the case of those whose business is to use their body, and who can do nothing better), the lower sort are by nature slaves, and it is better for them as for all inferiors that they should be under the rule of a master. For he who can be, and therefore is, another's and he who participates in rational principle enough to apprehend, but not to have, such a principle, is a slave by nature. Whereas the lower animals cannot even apprehend a principle; they obey their instincts. And indeed the use made of slaves and of tame animals is not very different; for both with their bodies minister to the needs of life.

“Nature would like to distinguish between the bodies of freemen and slaves, making the onestrong for servile labor, the other upright, and although useless for such services, useful for political life in the arts both of war and peace. But the opposite often happens---that some have the souls and others have the bodies of free men. And doubtless if men differed from one another in the mere forms of their bodies as much as the statues of the gods do from men, all would acknowledge that the inferior class should be slaves of the superior. It is clear, then, that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right.There is a slave or slavery by law as well as by nature. The law of which I speak is a sort of convention---the law by which whatever is taken in war is supposed to belong to the victors. But this right many jurists impeach, as they would an orator who brought forward an unconstitutional measure: they detest the notion that, because one man has the power of doing violence and is superior in brute strength, another shall be his slave and subject. Even among philosophers there is a difference of opinion.


drunk man vomiting while a slave holds his forehead

“The origin of the dispute, and what makes the views invade each other's territory, is as follows: in some sense virtue, when furnished with means, has actually the greatest power of exercising force; and as superior power is only found where there is superior excellence of some kind, power seems to imply virtue, and the dispute to be simply one about justice (for it is due to one party identifying justice with goodwill while the other identifies it with the mere rule of the stronger). If these views are thus set out separately, the other views have no force or plausibility against the view that the superior in virtue ought to rule, or be master. Others, clinging, as they think, simply to a principle of justice (for law and custom are a sort of justice), assume that slavery in accordance with the custom of war is justified by law, but at the same moment they deny this.

For what if the cause of the war be unjust? And again, no one would ever say he is a slave who is unworthy to be a slave. Were this the case, men of the highest rank would be slaves and the children of slaves if they or their parents chance to have been taken captive and sold. Wherefore Hellenes do not like to call Hellenes slaves, but confine the term to barbarians. Yet, in using this language, they really mean the natural slave of whom we spoke at first; for it must be admitted that some are slaves everywhere, others nowhere. The same principle applies to nobility. Hellenes regard themselves as noble everywhere, and not only in their own country, but they deem the barbarians noble only when at home, thereby implying that there are two sorts of nobility and freedom, the one absolute, the other relative.

Law Code of Gortyn (450 B.C.) on Slavery

The Law Code of Gortyn (450 B.C.) is the most complete surviving Greek Law code. According to the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: “In Greek tradition, Crete was an early home of law. In the 19th Century, a law code from Gortyn on Crete was discovered, dealing fully with family relations and inheritance; less fully with tools, slightly with property outside of the household relations; slightly too, with contracts; but it contains no criminal law or procedure. This (still visible) inscription is the largest document of Greek law in existence (see above for its chance survival), but from other fragments we may infer that this inscription formed but a small fraction of a great code.” [Source:Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]

“I. Whoever intends to bring suit in relation to a free man or slave, shall not take action by seizure before trial; but if he do seize him, let the judge fine him ten staters for the free man, five for the slave, and let him release him within three days. But if he do not release him, let the judge sentence him to a stater for a free man, a drachma for a slave, each day until he has released him. But if he deny that he made the seizure, the judge shall decide with oath, unless a witness testify. If one party contend that he is a free man, the other that he is a slave, those who testify that he is free shall be preferred. But if they testify either for both parties or for neither of the two, the judge shall render his decision by oath. But if the slave on account of whom the defendant was defeated take refuge in a temple, the defendant, summoning the plaintiff in the presence of two witnesses of age and free, shall point out the slave at the temple; but if he do not issue the summons or do not point him out, he shall pay what is written. And if he do not return him, even within the year, he shall pay in addition to the sums stated one-fold. But if he die while the suit is progressing, he shall pay his value one-fold.


The Greek Slave, a modern statue

“XI. If a slave going to a free woman shall wed her, the children shall be free; but if the free woman to a slave, the children shall be slaves; and if from the same mother free and slave children be born, if the mother die and there be property, the free children shall have it; otherwise her free relatives shall succeed to it.

Slaves as Love and Sex Objects

University of Maryland classics professor Judith Hallett told Smithsonian magazine, “Throughout the ancient Greco-Roman world, slaves had to cater to the whims of the elite. I think all slaves, male and female, were on duty as potential sex partners for their male masters. If you were a slave you could not say no."

Both Phidias, the famed ancient Greek sculptor, and the philosopher Socrates, had young male slaves as lovers. Edward Carpenter wrote in “Ioläus,”:“Pheidias, the sculptor, loved Pantarkes, a youth of Elis [in southern Greece on the Peloponnesos peninsula], and carved his portrait at the foot of the Olympian Zeus and politicians and orators like Demosthenes and Aischines were proud to avow their attachment. It was in a house of ill-fame, according to Diogenes Laertius that Socrates first met Phaedo: [Source: Edward Carpenter's “Ioläus,”1902 \=\]

“This unfortunate youth was a native of Elis. Taken prisoner in war, he was sold in the public market to a slave dealer, who then acquired the right by Attic law to engross his earnings for his own pocket. A friend of Socrates, perhaps Cebes, bought him from his master, and he became one of the chief members of the Socratic circle. His name is given to the Platonic dialogue on immortality, and he lived to found what is called the Eleo-Socratic School. No reader of Plato forgets how the sage on the eve of his death stroked the beautiful long hair of Phaedo, and prophesied that he would soon have to cut it short in mourning for his teacher." [Source: J. A. Symonds, A Problem in Greek Ethics, p. 58. \=\]

Documents Freeing Slaves at Delphi

About a thousand Greek inscriptions have been found at Delphi, recording the manumission (freeing) of slaves between 200 B.C. and 100 A.D., through fictitious sales to the god Apollo. It is not clear how these fictitious sales were worked or what advantages they had over with secular contracts. Most of the inscriptions are very formulaic in their wording. The ones here have been translated by M.Austin in "The Hellenistic World from Alexander to the Roman Conquest" (no. 147). Over 60 percent of the inscriptions record the manumission of female slaves. In "Women in the Manumission Inscriptions at Delphi", C.W.Tucker says that the average price for the manumission of an adult woman in this period was between three and five minas, which was 20 percent less than for a man. [Source: attalus.org]


1) Greek text: SGDI_2.1708 (c. 160/59 B.C.): The provision in this contract for the support of Meda's parents is unusual; they had probably provided the money for their daughter's manumission. “When Amphistratos was archon, in the month of . . ., Timo daughter of Eudikos, with the consent of her son Ladikos, sold a young slave girl whose name is Meda, for the price of two minas of silver, on these conditions. Accordingly Meda has entrusted the sale to the god, on condition that she shall be free and unseizable 10 by anyone for her whole life, and shall do whatever she wishes. Guarantor according to the laws of the city: Dromokleidas. Meda shall support her own father Sosibios and her mother Soso and shall take care of them, when she becomes of age, if Sosibios or Soso have need of support or care, regardless of whether they are still slaves or if they have become free. If Meda does not support or care for Sosibios or Soso when they have need of it, Sosibios and Soso shall have the power 20 to punish Meda in whatever manner they wish, and anyone else whom Sosibios or Soso instructs shall have the power to punish her on behalf of Sosibios or Soso. If anyone seizes Meda to enslave her, the vendor Timo and the guarantor Dromokleidas shall provide surety of the sale to the god; if they do not provide this, the vendor and the guarantor shall be liable to pay compensation of four minas to Meda and Sosibios and Soso, according to the law. Similarly anyone who meets her shall be authorised to take Meda away as a free woman, without being subject to prosecution in respect to 30 all legal process and fines, as long as he takes her away to her freedom. Witnesses:
priests of Apollo: Amyntas and the magistrate Asandros
private individuals: Menes, Eukles son of Etymondas, Mesateus, Archon son of Kallias, Athambos son of Agathon and Tyrbaios.”

2) Greek text SGDI_2.1715 (c. 161/0 B.C.): “When Kaphis of Phanotis was general [of the Phocians], in the third month, and when Andronikos was archon at Delphi, in the month of Poitropios, Agamestor of Lilaia, the son of Telestas, [sold] to Pythian Apollo a female slave whose name is Zopyra, a Thracian by race, [and] two home-born male slaves, whose names are Agamestor and Telestas, for the price of seven minas of silver, on the following terms. Accordingly Zopyra , Agamestor and Telestas [have entrusted] the sale price to the god, on condition that they shall be free and unseizable by anyone for their whole life; and they shall remain by Agamestor for as long as he lives. Guarantor according to the contract: Polygnotos of Lilaia, the son of Polyxenos. Witnesses:
priests: Amyntas and Tarantinos
magistrates: Kallimachos and Euagoras
private individuals Mantias son of Damochares, Kallon son of Leptinas, Sodamos son of Andropeithes, Astyochos, Orthagoras, Xenokrates - all from Delphi - and Kallixenos of Lilaia.
The sale contract was deposited with Xenokrates of Delphi and Kallixenos of Lilaia.

3) Greek text: SGDI_2.1722 (158/7 B.C.): “When Archon son of Kallias was archon, in the month of Endyspoitropios, Ateisidas son of Orthaios sold to Pythian Apollo three women slaves whose names are Antigona, of Jewish origin, and her daughters Theodora and Dorothea, at the price of seven silver minas, and he has the whole price. Guarantor according to the law of the city: Eudokos of Delphi, the son of Praxias. Accordingly Antigona, Theodora and Dorothea have entrusted the sale to the god, on condition that they be free and unencumbered in every respect for all their lives. But if anyone seizes them to reduce them to slavery, the vendor Ateisides and the guarantor Eudoxos shall provide surety. If the vendor and the guarantor do not provide surety, they shall be subject to prosecution according to the law. Likewise also, those who meet the women shall be empowered to take them away as free persons, without being subject to prosecution in respect to all legal process and fines. Witnesses:
priest of Apollo: Amyntas
magistrates: Nikarchos, Kleon son of Damosthenes and Hagion son of Ekephylos
private individuals Archon son of Nikoboulos and Eudoros son of Amyntas. [Source: Adapted from the translation by M.Reinhold, "Jewish Life and Thought among Greeks and Romans" (1996 - Google Books)].

4) Greek text: SGDI_2.1747 (165 B.C.): In this contract, the paramone is extended until the marriage of the owner's son. The boy's mother, who is not mentioned in the contract, was probably no longer alive. “When Menesthenes of Hyampolis, the son of Krinolaos, was general of the Phocians, in the eighth month as the Phocians reckon; and when Theoxenos son of Kallias was archon at Delphi, in the month of Herakleios; Euphranor of Lilaia, the son of Kallikrites, with the consent of Euphranor's son Timangelos and his daughter Xeno, sold to Pythian Apollo a female slave whose name is Phalakra, in origin an Aetolian from Kallipolis, at the price of four minas, on these terms. Euphranor possesses the entire price, and accordingly Phalakra has entrusted the sale price to the god, on condition that she shall be free and unseizable by anyone for all her life, and may go wherever she wishes. Guarantors according to the law: Dion of Delphi, the son of Aristoboulos, and Aris... of Lilaia, the son of Nikeas. Phalakra shall remain by Euphranor for [as long as] Euphranor lives, doing everything possible that she is told to do. If Euphranor suffers anything {dies} before his son Timangelos takes a wife, Phalakra shall remain by Timangelos until he takes a wife, doing everything possible that she is told to do. If Phalakra fails to remain as is written here, the sale shall be invalid.
Witnesses:
priest of Apollo: Tarantinos
magistrates: Philokrates, Polemarchos and Archon
private individuals, from Delphi: Aristomachos son of Olympogenes, Damon son of Dexondas, Dromokleidas son of Hagion, Hippon son of Athanion and Menes son of Peisistratos
private individuals, from Lilaia: Stratolaos son of Lykinos, Kleon son of Xenokrates, Nikarchos son of Petraios, Zoïlos son of Heroidas and Kladon son of Xenokrates.”

5) Greek text:SGDI_2.2123 (194 B.C.): In this case, it seems likely that the mother who "entrusted" her daughter to Timon was forced by poverty to sell the girl into slavery; but later she may have collected enough money to make her free again. “When Dikaiarchos of Trichonion was general {of the Aetolians}, in the month of Panemos, and when Peithagoras was archon at Delphi, in the month of Boukatios, Timon of Amphissa, the son of Phillidas, sold to Pythian Apollo a little girl named Eukleia, of Delphian origin, whom her mother entrusted to him, for the price of three minas of silver. Accordingly Eukleia has entrusted the sale to the god, on condition that she shall be free and unseizable, and shall do whatever she wishes. Guarantor in accordance with the law: Lamprias of Amphissa, the son of Alexomenos.
Witnesses:
priests: Xenon and Athambos
private individuals from Delphi: Aristainetos, Damochares and Xenostratos
private individuals from Amphissa: Philon, Pyrrhinos, Ariston and Ainias
private individual from Phlygonion: Kallon “

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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