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Modern incidence of slavery is a percentage of the population, by country. Credit: Kwamikagami.

"The initial enslavement of individuals was the result of a number of mechanisms of enslavement: war, piracy, brigandage, enslavement by judicial condemnation, enslavement for debt or self-sale due to poverty, the sale of infants and child abandonment, and the natural reproduction of a slave population; some or all of these processes could be in play in any given region at any given time in the ancient world. By these means individuals could be severed from their indigenous social milieu and become items of trade to be sold to foreign lands such as Greece. In terms of the northern branch of the slave trade, most historians have concluded that the majority of slaves ‘generated’ in Thrace, Scythia and Colchis were the product of inter-tribal warfare and raiding (both by land and sea); others were sold by parents who could not afford to keep large families (e.g. Hdt. 5.6; Poll. 7.14).71"[1]

On the right is a colored map of modern slavery by country. Color values are based on median estimates rounded to the nearest 0.05%. Data from Sudan does not account for the independence of South Sudan, and will differ depending on if slavery was concentrated in the north or the south. Estimates by sources with a broader definition of slavery will be higher.


The classical era from 5000 b2k to 1400 b2k had the recovery of minerals and metals from the Earth as commodities. So too did nations or empires use hominins as slaves, sometimes their own children or the members of other tribes, peoples, or intelligent species.

"Whilst a relatively small proportion of Attica’s slaves worked on grand building projects, an enormous number – perhaps even 35,000 by 340 B.C.E. – worked in the mining region of southern Attica."[1]

Market economy[edit]

Growth of the slave population and cotton production in the United States is compared. Credit: Delphi234.

Enslavement is in "a "market economy" in which the trade in slaves was the result of individual initiatives developing in an atmosphere of free competition".[1]

On the right is a graph approximately showing the correlation between cotton production and the slave population in the United States.

A "polyglot population [...] was principally drawn from Asia Minor, Syria and the eastern Balkans".[1]

Debt bondages[edit]

"Another form of slavery was debt-bondage, where people became slaves in exchange for a loan of money. You could be free again if you paid off the loan, but most people never managed to pay it off, because of the very high rates of interest and because their bosses didn't pay them very much. These people worked in the fields, or making shoes or weaving saris or carpets. Debt bondage is still very common in India today, especially for children between four and twelve."[2]

Ruling classes[edit]

"'Consequently, the ruling class accumulated all the wealth for themselves, and the slave-population filled the country, while the real Italian population decreased terribly, worn out by poverty, taxation, and military service. And when there was a respite from these things they found themselves unemployed, because the land was owned by rich men who used slaves instead of freemen on their farms.' Whatever the origin of this passage may be, it shows the necessary result of the military expansion of Rome,"[3]

"Farmers found it unprofitable to grow grain in Italy since the Roman market was flooded with masses of imported grain which forced down the price (Liv., xxx, 26)."[3]

East African slave trades[edit]

The East African diaspora has three causes:

  1. migration of ethnic groups like the Zulu,
  2. the slave trade, and
  3. climatic changes which caused wars and forced ethnic groups to abandon certain areas.[4]

"Slaves' masters were obliged to teach their pagan slaves Islam ... as it justified slavery and facilitated the control of a dominant group".[4]

"Slave owners were Africans".[4] "Although most and the biggest slave owners on the coast and islands were Muslims, there were also Christians and native Africans who were slave owners."[4]

Atlantic slave trades[edit]

Map depicts major slave trading regions of Atlantic Africa. Credit: Eric Gaba, Zscout370 and Grin20.

The map on the right describes the regions of western Africa that constituted the Atlantic slave trades.

Recent history[edit]

This photograph is of a slave boy in Zanzibar c. 1890. Credit: Unknown photographer.
The image depicts the capture of slaves by an African in 1860. Credit: Queen Mother Kradin Goree.
This is a lithograph, after a painting by Johann Moritz Rugendas. Credit: Isidore Laurent Deroy.
Turks taking the English / Selling slaves in Algiers / Execution with a batoone / Turks burning of a frierer / Divers cruelties / Making their boat & their escape to Mayork. Credit: William Okeley.
Arab slave trade in Africa in the Middle Ages is described on a map of Africa. Credit: Hakeem.gadi and Aliesin.

The recent history period dates from around 1,000 b2k to present.

On the right is a photograph c. 1890 of a slave boy in Zanzibar.

On the left is a painting depicting the capture of slaves by an African in 1860.

The full-rigged ship was the essential technology that enabled the trans-Atlantic slave trade to flourish. Between 1698 and 1807 around 11,000 ships were fitted out in England for the slave trade, transporting around three million Africans. But the Danish merchant marine was far larger and transported many more slaves.

Second down on the left is a lithograph Marche aux Negres, depicting slavery in Brazil between 1827-35.

"From 1650, the slave trade flourished in the city of Cadiz as a consequence of its increasing involvement in American colonial trade. The city received North African Muslims, subjects of the Ottoman Empire and especially black Africans, who started to be the dominant group in the 1670s."[5]

Second down on the right is a depiction from 11 April 1675 of the enslavement of English in Algeria.

Third image down on the left is a map of the medieval slave trade of north Africa and eastern Africa.

Classical history[edit]

Illustration is of the sack of Thessalonica by the Arab fleet in 904, from the Madrid Skylitzes, fol. 111v, detail. Credit: Cplakidas.

The classical history period dates from around 2,000 to 1,000 b2k.

The illustration on the right shows slaves being taken from Thessalonica by Arabs in 904 (1096 b2k).

Ancient history[edit]

The ancient history period dates from around 8,000 to 3,000 b2k. The classical era from 5000 b2k to 1400 b2k had the recovery of minerals and metals from the Earth as commodities. So too did nations or empires use hominins as slaves, sometimes their own children or the members of other tribes, peoples, or intelligent species.

"Whilst a relatively small proportion of Attica’s slaves worked on grand building projects, an enormous number – perhaps even 35,000 by 340 B.C.E. – worked in the mining region of southern Attica."[1]

Ancient Italy[edit]

Roman collared slaves in chains are portrayed in this relief found at Smyrna (present day İzmir, Turkey), 1800 b2k. Credit: .

Slavery in ancient Rome played an important role in society and the economy. Besides manual labor, slaves performed many domestic services, and might be employed at highly skilled jobs and professions. Teachers, accountants, and physicians were often slaves. Greek slaves in particular might be highly educated. Unskilled slaves, or those condemned to slavery as punishment, worked on farms, in mines, and at mills. Their living conditions were brutal, and their lives short.

Slaves were considered property under Roman law and had no legal personhood. Unlike Roman citizens, they could be subjected to corporal punishment, sexual exploitation (prostitutes were often slaves), torture, and summary execution. The testimony of a slave could not be accepted in a court of law unless the slave was tortured—a practice based on the belief that slaves in a position to be privy to their masters' affairs would be too virtuously loyal to reveal damaging evidence unless coerced. Over time, however, slaves gained increased legal protection, including the right to file complaints against their masters. Attitudes changed in part because of the influence among the educated elite of the Stoics, whose egalitarian views of humanity extended to slaves.

The 1st-century BC Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus indicates that the Roman institution of slavery began with the legendary founder Romulus giving Roman fathers the right to sell their own children into slavery, and kept growing with the expansion of the Roman state. Slave ownership was most widespread throughout the Roman citizenry from the Second Punic War (218–201 BC) to the 4th century AD. The Greek geographer Strabo (1st century AD) records how an enormous slave trade resulted from the collapse of the Seleucid Empire (100–63 BC).[6]

Ancient Greece[edit]

Slaves in the mines of ancient Greece are depicted. Credit: Huesca.

"During the Classical period, Athens and a number of other poleis relied upon trade with ‘barbarian’ territories on the periphery of the Aegean world to maintain large slave populations which played an integral role in economic life and formed the bedrock of elite wealth."[1]

Slaves "were imported from a number of regions [...] Thrace and the Black Sea regions [...] Colchis [...] Getic slaves from the lower Danube region [the] Scythian slave-trade in the 6th and 5th centuries BC [...] Asia Minor and the Levant [...] which fell under the domination of the Persian Empire during the Classical period. [...] Boeotia [...] Sarmatia and Syria. [...] the region of southern Iran generally known as Elam [...] Paphlagonia, bordering the southern Black Sea littoral, was another well-known source of slaves. [...] Phrygia, Caria and Paphlagonia were the most important suppliers of slaves from Asia Minor, Lydia and Cilicia are also attested as slave sources for the Greeks"[1]

"The Getai are the people living in the area reaching eastwards to the Black Sea, while the Dacians live in the area towards Germany and the sources of the Danube. I think that in ancient times they were called ‘Dai’; and it was because of them that the names ‘Geta’ and ‘Daos’ were common for slaves among the Athenians – at least, this is a more likely explanation than that they were named after the Scythian tribe called the ‘Daai’, since they live far away in Hyrcania and it is most unlikely that any slaves were ever brought to Attica from there. In fact, the Athenians would either name their slaves after the area from which they were imported, or give them the same names as their tribes (such as ‘Lydos’ or ‘Syros’), or give them names which were common in those countries, like ‘Manes’ or ‘Midas’ for a Phrygian, or ‘Tibios’ for a Paphlagonian."[1]

"The Athenians wanted to diversify the ethnic composition of their slave holdings to limit cohesion among the slaves, and were not overly concerned about the ethnicity of their slave stock so long as it was free from what they perceived as excessively weak or excessively bellicose peoples. This was aimed at maximizing the profits of slave labour whilst minimizing the risks of resistance; there was little incentive for a slave seller to falsify the ethnicity of his merchandise."[1]

"In Attica alone during the Classical period there was a slave population of perhaps 100–150,000 at its height.60"[1]

Slavery was common practice and an integral component of ancient Greece throughout its rich history, as it was in other societies of the time including ancient Palestine and early Christian societies.[7][8][9] It is estimated that in Athens, the majority of citizens owned at least one slave. Most ancient writers considered slavery not only natural but necessary, but some isolated debate began to appear, notably in Socratic dialogues while the Stoics produced the first condemnation of slavery recorded in history.[9]

Slaves were present through the Mycenaean civilization. In the tablets from Pylos 140 do-e-ro can be identified with certainty. Two legal categories can be distinguished: "common" slaves and "slaves of the god" (te-o-jo do-e-ro / θεοιο), the God in this case probably being Poseidon. Slaves of the god are always mentioned by name and own their own land; their legal status is close to that of freemen. The nature and origin of their bond to the divinity is unclear.[10]

Ancient Israel[edit]

Slavery "played an important role in ancient Israel [...] the qualities of an ideal housewife are set out, which centre upon the ability to manage a household, including ordering the slaves to perform their various tasks.64 And recently, Catherine Hezser has demonstrated that slave labour was the key ingredient in elite wealth as pictured in the stories of the early patriarchs, which reveals that the Israelites as well as the Greeks perceived a connection between large slaveholdings and wealth.65"[1]

Ancient Babylonia[edit]

Slaves "may have constituted between a quarter and a third of the population of Babylonia under the Persian Empire; in terms of its social location, many households owned a few slaves, with wealthier families owning dozens and sometimes hundreds, and the Royal household owning considerably more.66"[1]

Ancient Asia Minor[edit]

"In Asia Minor, slave ownership was not merely restricted to the Greek cities of the coast; for instance, Herodotus tells us of Atys, the richest man in Asia (besides the king of Persia), who was apparently willing to give up the vast majority of his riches to finance Xerxes’ invasion of Greece and to live out the rest of his days on his estates, from wealth generated by his slaves and flocks (Hdt. 7.27–8)."[1]

Ancient Phrygia[edit]

"Eumenes of Cardia seized a number of similar estates in Phrygia, full of slaves and flocks, in the fourth century (Plu. Eum.8.5)".[1]

Ancient Lydia[edit]

"Xenophon (An. 7.8.9–23). Seizing an opportunity for apparently easy plunder, Xenophon and a number of mercenaries raided the estate of a wealthy Persian named Asidates in northern Lydia, but found the venture more difficult than they had originally envisaged; the slaves who worked Asidates’ lands mostly got away, but some 200 were captured by the Greek soldiers. An estate of 200 slaves would be enormous by Greek standards, and Xenophon’s account makes clear that this was only a por- tion of Asidates’ holdings (Asidates, we may mention, was not even exceptionally wealthy by Persian standards).67"[1]

Ancient Egypt[edit]

"Aršam the satrap of Egypt, from a number of letters dating to the fifth century, and it is clear that slavery was the predominant form of labour on his lands. Many of these letters are addressed to subordinates who had been appointed to administer his estates, and the supply of slave labour is an important theme; in one letter, Aršam orders an officer to acquire more workers for his estates and brand them with his own mark, since many of his slaves had fled during the chaos of a revolt. Aršam also owned estates in Syria and Babylonia in addition to his Egyptian holdings.68"[1]

Ancient Persia[edit]

In relation to Greeks in the Persian work gangs, "There are men in our texts who are simply called Yaunā. No one that I know of has spoken against the obvious view that this is not a true proper name, that the persons concerned are Greeks, known by their ethnics instead of their strange and no doubt unpronounceable names, just as the Greeks habitually called slaves Skythes or Kar."[1]

Ancient Thracia[edit]

"The ownership of slaves in appreciable numbers was possible in other regions; the Thracian king Seuthes had large enough holdings that he could easily give 120 slaves to a Greek mercenary force as a gift (Xen. An. 7.7.53); see Velkov (n. 2 [1986])."[1]


  1. The classicus used local disasters caused by events they could see in the sky to put themselves above others as a dominant group.

Suggested readings[edit]



  • Psychiatric Slavery by psychiatrist Thomas Szasz
  • Add to this list, please!

See also[edit]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 David Lewis (January 2011). "Near Eastern Slaves in Classical Attica and the Slave Trade with Persian Territories". Classical Quarterly 61 (1): 91-113. doi:10.1017/S0009838810000480. http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0009838810000480. Retrieved 2014-07-03. 
  2. Karen E. Carr (April 2016). Slavery in India. Quatr. Retrieved 2017-10-27.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Otto Kiefer (1952). Sexual Life in ancient Rome. Taylor & Francis. p. 379. Retrieved 2013-03-01.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Nik Petek (January 2011). "The East African Diaspora: The Problem with Slaves". Issues (15): 105. http://www.theposthole.org/read/article/105. Retrieved 2011-08-29. 
  5. Arturo Morgado Garcia (2012). "The Presence of Black African Women in the Slave System of Cadiz (1650–1750)". Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies. doi:10.1080/0144039X.2011.641851. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0144039X.2011.641851. Retrieved 2012-04-16. 
  6. Roman Slavery: The Social, Cultural, Political, and Demographic Consequences by Moya K. Mason
  7. John Byron, Slavery Metaphors in Early Judaism and Pauline Christianity: A Traditio-historical and Exegetical Examination, Mohr Siebeck, 2003, ISBN 3-16-148079-1, p.40
  8. Roland De Vaux, John McHugh, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, ISBN 0-8028-4278-X, p.80
  9. 9.0 9.1 J.M.Roberts, The New Penguin History of the World, p.176–177, 223
  10. Burkert, p.45.

External links[edit]

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