Make Roma Great Again
ru | en

Slavery in Greece

Attention! The text below was auto-translated from Russian. You can switch the site language to Russian to see the text in its original language or wait until it is fully translated.

The ancient slave-owning mode of production, which ensured the economic development of ancient civilization, also determined its cultural achievements.

Even in the prehistoric Homeric period, slavery was the norm. The victor turned prisoners of war into slaves, sold them, or released them for ransom. Sea robbery was also associated with numerous cases of enslavement. Most of the slaves in this era were Greeks and were captured in wars between the Greek poleis, which affected the attitude of the masters towards the slaves. Over time, the distance between freemen and slaves begins to grow, and the number of the latter gradually increases. It is very likely that the ratio of free citizens to slaves was 1: 3. There was hardly a single family in Athens, even a very poor one, that did not own at least one slave.


In the 19th century, the classic work of the French historian A. Vallon "The History of Slavery in the ancient world" (1st ed. 1847, 2nd ed. 1879) stands out, this fundamental work for a long time remained the only attempt to systematize the material of antiquity on the issue of ancient slavery. Among other scholars of the 19th century, one can mention K. Bucher, who emphasized the importance of slavery for the peoples of classical antiquity.

William Mitford, drawing attention to the development of slavery, emphasized that only a small minority could enjoy freedom in Greece.

In contrast to the nineteenth century, in the twentieth century the question of the social structure of ancient society, in particular ancient slavery, became one of the most important in the focus of ancient scholars.

As noted by M. Finley, ancient society considered slavery as a natural and organic part of its existence. A. I. Dovatur emphasized the inclusion of Aristotle in the number of primary human associations, along with the married couple, the union of master and slave. Aristotle, at the very beginning of his famous treatise "Politics", theoretically justified the need for slavery as a social institution, without which the "good life" of his compatriots would have been impossible.

A. P. Medvedev highlights the role of the polis in maintaining the slave-owning character of ancient Greek society: According to Xenophon, all the masters of slaves in a community act together as a "voluntary guard"; Socrates is known to have argued the same thing in a conversation with Glaucon.

As Engels stated, " only slavery made possible the division of labor on a more or less large scale between agriculture and industry, and in this way made possible the flourishing of the ancient world and Greek culture. Without slavery, there would be no Greek state, Greek art and science; without slavery, there would be no Roman Empire, and without the foundation of Greek culture and the Roman Empire, there would be no modern Europe. We must never forget that all our economic, political, and intellectual development had as its precondition a system in which slavery was as necessary as it was universally recognized."

E. Meyer, who believed that slavery was not much different from wage labor, and W. Westerman, according to whom slavery, serfdom and wage labor were equally inherent in ancient society, stand apart in the historiography of the issue.

It is noted that historiography on the issue of slavery in the ancient world is closely connected with the ideological differences of modern times.

Professor E. D. Frolov, describing K. M. Kolobova's general outline of the economy of classical Greece in 1937, which, as he notes, still remains one of the best among such general reviews of the economy of the ancient world, presents it as fully reflecting the concept of the slave-owning mode of production developed by Soviet historians at that time as the defining system core of the ancient economy. Whence — " sharp rejection of both views Ed. Meyer and M. I. Rostovtsev, who did not see any special differences between the economic life of classical antiquity and the relations of the new, capitalist time, and the theory of K. Bucher, who reduced antiquity to the level of primitive, without a developed system of exchange, natural economy."

Sources of slavery

The sources of slavery were generally the same as everywhere else: natural growth, war, sea robbery, child abduction, the slave trade, the sale of children (practiced everywhere except Athens) and throwing them (allowed everywhere except Thebes), the enslavement of insolvent debtors; in addition, the law recognized as slaves freedmen and meteks who did not fulfill their duties to the state, as well as foreigners who fraudulently assumed the rights of a citizen.

They bought slaves in Syria, Pontus, Phrygia, Lydia, Galatia, Paphlagonia, Thrace, Egypt, and Ethiopia. The most important markets for the slave trade were Cyprus, Samos, Ephesus, Chios, and Athens. Subsequently, all of them were eclipsed by Delos. Every major city had its own slave market. When selling, merchants tried to show their goods "face", exposing its advantages and hiding its shortcomings, and buyers looked at it very carefully — they turned it in all directions, undressed it, forced it to walk, jump, run. There were known disadvantages, the presence of which made it possible to return the slave back to the seller.

The ancient author Athenaeus writes: "Ctesicles, in the third book of Chronicles, says that during the 117th Olympiad in Athens, Demetrius of Phalerum took a census of the population of Attica and found 21 thousand Athenians, 10 thousand Metaks, 400 thousand slaves." This census dates back to the period from 312 to 308 BC. However, some scholars, beginning with Hume, are skeptical of Athenaeus ' account of 400,000 slaves in Athens.

On the contrary, Beck, Augustus, based on data on the size of the Athenian army, has 84 thousand citizens, metekovs 40 thousand, and considers the total slave population of Athens at 400 thousand plausible. Based on Hypereides ' report of 150 thousand slaves in the silver mines, he estimates the number of slaves outside Athens at 160-170 thousand, at 50 thousand in Athens itself, receiving a total of 200-220 thousand only adult male slaves, and taking into account women and children, he considers the figure of 400 thousand quite acceptable.

Belokh, Karl Julius, on the contrary, strongly disagrees with the figure of 400 thousand slaves. Based on the calculated size of the Athenian army of 20-23 thousand people and the ratio of men capable of military service to the total population, Beloch estimates the free male population of Athens in the fall of 424 at 30-35 thousand people, and in 431 at 40-47 thousand (the subsequent epidemic claimed a quarter of the population) with a total free population of 120-140 thousand people. Another 10 thousand citizens, according to him, were in cleruchy. Beloch criticizes the information about 400 thousand slaves in Athens with similar figures about 470 thousand slaves in Aegina and 460 thousand in Corinth. Aegina and Corinth did not have enough agricultural land to employ so many slaves, and the merchant fleet employed free people as rowers. He also criticizes Beck's assumption that 60 thousand slaves worked in the Lavrion mines, referring to Xenophon's desire to increase the number of slaves on Lavrion to 10 thousand people. Therefore, in his opinion, there was a mistake of the translator and it was actually about 70 thousand slaves on Aegina, 60 thousand in Corinth, and in Athens, like Hume, he counts 40 thousand adult male slaves and 100 thousand of the entire slave population. In the second half of the fourth century. Attica gave 400 thousand medimns of bread, which at 6 medimns per person, according to Belokha's estimates, could feed 40-45 thousand people, and at the same time 800 thousand medimns of bread were imported for 130 thousand people. Thus, the total population of Athens is estimated at 175 thousand people. Of this number, Belokh takes away 100 thousand of the free population and receives 75 thousand slaves for the second half of the IV century. For other reasons, Beloch estimates the total number of slaves in Athens at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War at 75, 100 thousand or slightly more.

Eduard Meyer, based on the calculated size of the Athenian army in 431 BC in 34,300 people (of which horsemen-1000, Hoplites-13000, horse riflemen-200, foot riflemen-1600, Attica guard or militia: Hoplite citizens-13000, Meteks-3000) and the known ratio of men capable of military service to the total population in 1/3, gets the number of the total free population of Athens in 170 thousand people and Meteks in 42 thousand. However, in his opinion, it is impossible to reliably determine the number of slaves in Athens, but based on Thucydides ' report about the flight of 20 thousand slaves to Dhekelia, he considers the maximum possible number of slaves to be 150 thousand people.

R. L. Sargent tries to calculate the number of slaves in different categories. First, she defines the free population: in her opinion, under Demetrius of Phalerum in Athens there were 90-100 thousand free people, and on the eve of the Peloponnesian War, 208,500 people. Based on the ratio of different classes and the known number of slaves in homes on the eve of the Peloponnesian War, it estimates the total number of domestic servants at 30,500, and after the end of the war at 9-10 thousand people. For agriculture, based on general considerations of 150,000 acres of suitable land for agriculture (1/4 of the territory of Attica), it estimates the number of slaves in the V-IV centuries at 10-12 thousand slaves. The number of slaves in the Lavrion mines in 430, in her opinion, could be 20 thousand people. She criticizes Wallon, who assigns 3 slaves to each citizen and metek, and adds 10 thousand in the mines and 101 thousand in other areas to the resulting number of slaves in 96 thousand people, thus obtaining 207 thousand slaves in Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries. According to her estimates, the average rich family had 22 artisan slaves, the number of slaves in the average family is unknown, but she assumed it was one person. However, there are differences in the number of rich and poor families: for the fifth century, Ed. Meyer has 1,650 well-to-do and 22,250 medium-sized homes, while Beloch has 1,050 well-to-do and 10,950 medium-sized homes. Thus, according to the first estimate, we get 58,550 artisan slaves, and according to the second, 34,050 people. Sargent is inclined to Beloch's figures and believes that there were no more than 28-30 thousand artisan slaves before the Peloponnesian War, but most likely 18-20 thousand. Based on an analysis of the known number of slaves held by masters of different social groups, she estimates the total number of slaves in craft workshops and mines at 45-50 thousand for 25-50 years before the Sicilian catastrophe, after this catastrophe at 20 thousand, and in the second half of the IV century at 35-40 thousand people. There is even less information about state slaves: according to some sources in Athens, there were 700 slaves-servants of statesmen (although Sargent considers this number exaggerated), 1,200 Scythian riflemen and 1,000-1,200 policemen (although Sargent again considers these figures too high) and slaves for public works (the number of which is unknown). In general, among slaves, due to economic considerations, there was a preponderance of adult men of working age over women, and the number of children and natural growth was small (although it may have been higher in rural areas than in the city). Thus, for the 5th century, the total number of slaves is estimated at 71-91 thousand people, of which women are less than 1/5 — from 16,200 to 18,200 people, and children under 9 years of age are approximately 9-10 thousand people (9,720-10,920). According to Sargent, under Pericles, the number of slaves in Athens was half the size of the free population.

Homme assumes in 425 16,500 citizens aged 18-60 years of hoplitic and equestrian qualification and possibly 4 thousand meteks of the same qualification, but recognizes the impossibility of an accurate assessment of fets and criticizes Eduard Meyer's divinatory assumptions about the proportion of fets among rowers. Homma, in turn, draws attention to 3 sources about the number of slaves. According to Thucydides, more than 20,000 slaves, mostly artisans, fled from Attica to Dhekelia during the Dhekelian War. After the defeat at Chaeronea, Hypereides offered to arm all adult male slaves in the amount of 150 thousand people, but Gomm considers such a number of slaves unreliable. And finally, Athenaeus ' report of 400,000 slaves in Athens, which in 313 would have given 13 slaves for every free inhabitant — an absolutely incredible number for a city where a workshop with 20 slaves was considered large, and the owner of 45 slaves was rich. Based on the consumption of local (410 thousand medimns) and imported (1,200 thousand medimns) bread, Homme estimates the population of the whole of Attica in the IV century at about 270 thousand people. At the same time, he estimates the number of male slaves in Attica in the 5th century AD at a maximum of 85 thousand people (50 thousand employed in industry, including more than 10 thousand slaves in the Lavrion mines in the 5th century according to Xenophon and 35 thousand servants), to which he adds the total number of female slaves in 35-40 thousand people. According to Gomm, the number of slaves varied according to economic need: there were fewer slaves in 480 than in 430; there were more in 338 than in 313.

Westerman also finds Athenaeus 'account of 400,000 slaves in ancient Athens unreliable, and is more inclined to trust Thucydides' account of 20,000 slaves fleeing to Dhekelia. According to him, slaves in ancient Athens made up from 1/4 to 1/3 of the population. In his opinion, the number of slaves in contrast to the free population fluctuated sharply, and in Attica increased in the era of Pentecontaetia (479-431), and the slaves themselves were used mainly in small-scale handicraft production, the demand for products of which determined the number of slaves (in his opinion, handicraft work was unpopular among the free population).

Status of slaves

It is noted that in Ancient Greece, slavery penetrated mainly into handicraft production (up to 50-100 slaves worked in large workshops) and mining (for example, in the Lavrion silver mines, individual individuals used the labor of 300-1000 slaves), but in agriculture, the use of slave labor played a relatively small and auxiliary role. In Attica, slaves made up about a third (about 33-35 %) of the total population.

Slaves were domestic servants: they kept the house, served at the table, formed a personal retinue — which, however, was not numerous (1-3 slaves), often replaced guard dogs. They were also engaged in crafts and crafts in the city and country. Many slaves lived separately from their master, independently engaged in crafts and paying a fixed rent (Greek: αποροφά), all other earnings remained in their hands. In Athens, some slaves managed to build up quite large fortunes, and their pomp and extravagance even gave rise to complaints and complaints. There were speculators who either exploited their own slaves or hired them out for a variety of purposes. The profitability of slaves was different depending on their craft: for example, the slaves who were engaged in the workshops of Demosthenes 'father making swords, brought him annually 30 min (at a cost of 190 min); Timarchus' tanners-2 obols a day; Nicias paid an obol a day for each slave miner. Slaves served as oarsmen and sailors in the navy, and in extreme cases were sometimes recruited for military service, and for their bravery received freedom, and their owners were rewarded at the expense of the treasury.

The slave was considered the property, the property of the master; his personality played no role either in the state, in society, or in the family. Everything he acquired was considered the property of the owner. The master also had the power to allow and prohibit marriages. Greek writers have left us descriptions of the cruel treatment of slaves. So, in one of Aristophanes 'comedies, we read:" Poor wretch, what's wrong with your skin? did a whole army of porcupines attack your lower back and bruise your back?" In The Wasps, a slave exclaims, " Oh, turtle! how I envy the scales that protect your back! " In "Frogs" there is such an expression: "When our masters are keenly interested in something, we are hit hard." Starvation was the most common punishment. In the case of a more serious offense, they were expected to be imprisoned, whipped, whipped, hanged, and wheeled. The fate of the slaves who worked in the workshops was even worse. Agricultural slaves were put in chains, which were not removed even for the duration of work. Shackles on the feet, rings on the hands, an iron collar, a brand on the forehead — all this was not uncommon. The Sicilian slaveholders were more senseless and cruel than anyone else. The master's care for the slaves was limited to the most basic necessities: flour, wine berries, and in some places burnt and salted olives-these were the slaves ' food. Their clothing consisted of a piece of linen turned into a belt, a short cloak, a woolen tunic, a dogskin cap, and rough shoes. The Sicilian slaveholders, not wanting to feed their slaves, allowed them to earn their living by stealing and robbing, which reached enormous proportions here.

In Athens, the attitude towards slaves was more humane and their life was more tolerable than in other states. Xenophon speaks of the extreme "audacity" of the Athenian slaves: they did not give way to the citizens, and they could not be beaten for fear of hitting a citizen instead of a slave, since the latter here did not differ in appearance from the first. In Athens, there was even a well-known ritual for introducing a slave into the family. Custom permitted him to own property (what in Rome was called peculium); prudent owners for their own benefit only rarely violated this custom. The same custom recognized the marriage of a slave as legal. On certain days, the slaves were released from their duties: in Athens, this time was the festival of Anthesterii, dedicated to Bacchus, when the masters even served their slaves. A slave who ran to the altar or even just touched such sacred objects as the laurel wreath of Apollo was considered inviolable, but the masters sometimes forced him to leave the temple by starvation or fire. In accordance with custom and law, the Athenian patronized the slave: anyone guilty of insulting or killing someone else's slave was brought to court and paid a fine; the master could punish his slave at his own discretion, but he had no right to kill him; if the slave killed the master, he was subjected to the usual court; the slave, dissatisfied with his master, could demand that he be sold to another. Some of these eases existed separately in other Greek cities (peculium, marriage, feasts - in Sparta, Arcadia, Thessaly, etc.), but in Athens they all existed together. Thanks to this, there were no slave uprisings here. In other cities, slaves often rebelled. Nymphodorus tells the story of a victorious slave revolt on the island of Chios, led by Drimak. Both individuals and entire states entered into agreements among themselves regarding the extradition of runaway slaves.

With the master's consent, the slave could buy off his freedom. It was possible to free a slave by will. When emancipation took place during the master's lifetime, it was announced in courts of law, in the theater, and in other public places; at other times, the slave's name was entered on the citizens ' lists; at other times, freedom was granted by fictitious sale to some deity. Freedmen (Greek: απελεύθεροι), however, did not become completely independent of their former owners and had to perform certain duties towards them; if they failed to fulfill these obligations, they could again be enslaved. After the death of a freedman, his property was placed at the disposal of his former master. A slave could also receive freedom from the state, for performing military service or for particularly important services, for example, for denouncing a state crime.

In addition to private slaves, there were also public slaves (Greek: δημόσιοι) belonging to the city or republic. They were in a much better position, were able to own property, and sometimes achieved considerable wealth; outside of performing their duties, they enjoyed almost complete freedom. Of these public slaves, a police detachment of riflemen was formed, which bore the name ΣχύθΑι, although not all of them were Scythians; its duties were to protect order in the people's assembly, courts, other public places, and public works. Jailers, executors of judicial sentences, scribes, accountants, heralds, etc., usually belonged to the same class; there were also public pleasure slaves, that is, inhabitants of brothels. Temples also owned slaves who bore the name of Hierodules: some of them served in the temple itself (singers and singers, flautists and trumpeters, figurants, sculptors, architects, etc.), others were in the position of serfs. These hierodules were donated to the temples by private individuals, out of piety or vanity.

Related topics

Ancient Greece, Slaves, Slave Revolt in Sicily