Ancient Greek Slavery was quite prominent in ancient Greece. Slaves were found in all the places. Slaves were taken as domestic servants, factory workers, shopkeepers, ships crew, mine workers, and also as farm workers. Slaves were abundant. We can say they in ancient Greece there were more slaves than freemen.
What are the ways in which a person was taken as a slave in ancient Greece?
People became slaves in various ways. Some of the ways are:
- If a child was born into a family of slaves he was naturally a slave from birth.
- In ancient Greece, the life of soldiers captured in war rested upon their captor. With a low population and general scarcity of labor, most of them were converted into slaves. This was a very common practice in ancient Greece and the most common source of slaves. They were generally employed in hard laboring works like in mines and queries. The women and children captured in wars were also taken slaves with them mostly being converted into agricultural slaves and even into sexual slaves.
- Sometimes people abandoned children in some deserted place within the city or near the city gates. They either died or they were claimed by trespassers. Some of them took up these infants and employed them as slaves. This was quite a common occurrence in ancient Greece.
Another major way by which people were made into slaves was through piracy and banditry. With most of the economies dependent on marine trading, piracy was very common. The crew captured in these raids was again sold in the market fetching a good price for the pirates. Similarly, bandit groups were also very active taking travelers as captives and selling them as slaves.
Famine and natural calamities were common in ancient Greece leading to widespread poverty. Along with these without any child planning in those days, there was sometimes too many children being born into poor household leading them to sell some of their children to a prospering slave trade due to a lack of financial abilities to feed them.
Lastly, people would even sometimes willingly sell themselves into slavery due to poverty or for want of a better life as sometimes slaves even lived successful lives as professionals like a teacher and enjoyed respect even as a slave.
Types of slaves
There were two types of slaves in the ancient Greek society:
- There were the personal slaves who attacked their respective masters. They worked in their household or even in their agricultural fields and were at the mercy of their masters for their needs. They needed permission for almost everything, even for marrying and having children
- The second type of slaves was the bonded slave. They were not attached directly to a master but to a particular land. They could not leave their assigned land and it was their duty to cultivate the land and produce food. Most of the cultivated items were taken by the state or officials assigned leaving them a bare minimum. This was very much prevalent in the Spartan territory of Messenia. They enjoyed greater freedom but still, they were at the mercy of the state or its officials who had to give them a certain fixed amount of items.
Importance of slavery in Ancient Greece
The Greek society was known as a slave society as almost everything other than its politics rested on the slaves.
Cultivation especially in large estates was done completely by the slaves, generating wealth for the elites of the society. Even the owners of small pieces of land had a slave or two to assist them.
The slaves were also used in the mines, queries which was the base of ancient Greek wealth. It was owned by wealthy residents and operated by the hard toil of these slaves.
Sometimes they were even engaged in the making of art and crafts. They were trained from an early age which made them brilliant in their arts, resulting in the popularity of Greek crafts all over the world.
Lastly, they assisted the ancient Greeks in their regular household work. They cooked, cleaned, and bought household goods for the Greeks families. They were even sometimes teachers and trained professionals which made teachers to the children at an early age.
All this made slaves extremely important in ancient Greece. Even famous philosophers like Aristotle, and Socrates proposed the importance of slavery which helped the ‘talented’ to flourish. The famous ancient Greek art, culture, literature, and architecture can be attributed to the work of the slaves which gave them the privileged of time to create these exquisite cultural and scientific inventions as their daily basic works were taken by the slaves.
They were extremely for the wealth of the states, and it was the capability of the states to sustain number of slaves determined their prosperity. States like Athens had a huge number of slaves, and even made elaborate rules to give them certain protection against maltreatment. They were sometimes used in battles and wars as soldiers which also helped he states to increase their power.
They actually became so important in ancient Greece because of the low population and a lack of workforce. A steady stream of slaves gave them a steady workforce to till their lands, take care of household and also teach their children. It was absolutely fine in those times and considered a way of life which they considered gave the more ‘talented’ people a chance to focus on finer things in life.
Spartan slaves or Helots
Sparta was a state which was almost completely dependent on its slaves. Their famed hoplite army was the only standing army in ancient Greece. This was made possible due to their capture of the Messenian fertile lands and exploiting the Messenians for food. They never were engaged in agriculture like the other states
These slaves were not tied to a specific individual but the state in general. Their movement was restricted and had to give most of their products to the Spartan soldiers.
They enjoyed greater freedom with no restrictions on marriage and having children. But on the other hand, the Spartans had a practice of killing or torturing a Messenian slave or helot by a newly incorporated soldier to complete his training to have their bodies and make them aggressive.
They used to kill or torture them making their superiority clear to the helots and incorporated this superiority among their children.
Daily of Slaves
The agricultural slaves were generally employed under the supervision of the women of the household. They had to look after the estates and do the daily work required for cultivation. For this, they used to get food and other necessary items for survival. Similarly bonded slaves also were agricultural but instead of depending on their masters for necessities they used to grow their crops but had to donate most of it to their masters and only a subsistence was left to them for their appetite.
Flogging and torture were common for these agricultural and mining slaves. Maltreatment was common as they were considered inferior to the free citizens and their life was worth almost nothing.
But despite these hardships, certain household slaves had it easier. They were expected to take care of the household work. They used to go to the market for shopping and then do the needed work in houses like cleaning, cooking and even taking care of children.
What treatments did the slaves receive in the hands of the masters?
The treatment of slaves was determined by what task they were assigned to perform. If a slave had to work at the household he was considered to be fortunate. He was treated as a person belonging to the family.
They could participate in some rituals of the family like the sacrifice. A woman belonging to the household always supervised the activity of the slave. She made sure that the slave performed work accurately and provide his best service.
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