In history, most ancient societies have thrived on quite a few paradoxes just like ancient Greece where citizens were taught to live freely. But, at the same time slavery in ancient Greece was also a parallely thriving practice, or say industry. The practice of keeping slaves was not uncommon in ancient Greece or Rome.
Though, freedom to live at one’s own will was considered a right for most individuals, yet, in Greece, slaves were kept for doing various kinds of chores and duties, bound to work for their masters all their lives. Today, we will throw some light on 13 interesting facts about slavery in ancient Greece. Enjoy reading it!
Slaves, as we often conjure up in our minds, typically resemble ill clad men and famished women, bundled up together to render jobs requiring hard labor. But, in ancient Greece, slaves did all kinds of jobs and there were classes of them. Some of these slaves, both men and women, worked as housemaids. Their jobs were basically restricted to performing household duties like cleaning, washing and taking care of the house. Some slaves also got employed in mines and their life was probably the toughest. These slaves never got the opportunity to get back to a life of freedom and often didn’t survive for long.
But, if you are thinking that all slaves had to bear cruelty at the hands of their masters, you are wrong. Though, in ancient Greece, slaves were reared and bred for living a comfortable life, some classes like maids, nurses, craftsmen, artists, musicians, and cooks could live a decent life and earned income too. Craftsmen that worked with their masters lived in their own quarters and earned their income at free will. The Spartans employed Greek slaves known as Helots who could have their own families, though, their treatment was very harsh.
2. Ancient Greeks had no qualms about the practice of slavery
In a society where individual freedom was valued so deeply, keeping slaves was rather a common practice. In modern times, we are averse to even hear the word ‘slave’ but this was not so in ancient Greece. In fact Greeks believed that slavery contributed a lot towards economic and social stability.
There were famous men who actually justified this practice. Among them was the famous philosopher Aristotle. According to him, slaves were born to serve the rulers. He propagated the doctrine of natural slavery. The master philosopher went on to say that it was important to enslave men and women who could not live a fruitful life if not guided and controlled by the rulers. He saw them as property that could be traded and owned.
3. Slaves in ancient Greece were supplied through many sources
There was not one way of procuring a slave in ancient Greece. In fact slaves were supplied through many sources. Some of these slaves were born free, but owing to poverty, were sold by their parents into the slave market. A fraction of slave men and women were sold by their own tribes in exchange for goods. A large number of slaves comprised of such men who were prisoners of war and were captured by the winning army.
One can get an idea of this by reading records that mention the sale of at at least 20,000 slaves by Philip II of Macedon. He conquered Scythia and procured children and women and thereafter sold them in slave market. Some other ways of supplying slaves were through the Greek trading posts that were established in Ephesus and Byzantium.
On reading the various ancient Greek records on slavery, it has been found that a large chunk of slave population was in fact born free. Not all slave children, men and women were enslaved since birth, but were born to parents who sold them in exchange of money. Such poor parents often did so because they didn’t have enough money to bring up kids. Some of these slaves were also sold by their own tribesmen in exchange of goods. Greek slaves came from different cities of Greece, while others came from Egypt and Persia.
Though, not many records mention the authentic figures relating to slave population in Greece in ancient times, yet, we do know that these people formed half of the population at some point. But as per scholars and historians, Athens and the areas near to it comprised of a total population of 250,000 of which at least 100,000 were slaves. However, there are no valid estimates to prove the authenticity of this information.