< Slavery in Ancient Greece

Slavery in Ancient Greece

Η δουλεία στην αρχαία Ελλάδα

Sklaven im Antiken Griechenland

A free man?—There is no such thing! All men are slaves; some, slaves of money; some, of chance; others are forced, either by mass opinion, or the threatening law, to act against their nature. Euripides, Hecuba. The word slave comes from Slav, the name of a group of Eastern European peoples. In antiquity, Germanic tribes captured Slavs and sold them to the Romans as slaves ( (from http://www.sentex.net/~ajy/facts/slavery.html )

Categories and names for Slaves in various places in ancient Greece:

  • Andrapoda "'man-footed'" in distinction of Tetrapoda "Four-footed" (animals) (war captives)
  • Doulos (possesed by his master "kyrios").
  • Gymnetes (Argos)
  • Helots (Sparta) "belonged" to the State formed after Sparta conquered Laconia and Messenia, After revolts Sparta was transformed into a state of warriors (hoplites) , they obtained some land (kleros) and Helotes were responsible to cultivate the land and to produce the goods.
  • Hypomeiones (Sparta) those who had not enough to pay for the syssitia ( phitidia ) and therefore did not more belong to the class of omoioi (equals). The common meals of Crete are certainly better managed than the Lacedaemonian; for in Lacedaemon every one pays so much per head, or, if he fails, the law, as I have already explained, forbids him to exercise the rights of citizenship. Aristotle Politics II Of course even among the equals not all were equal some had more privileges.
  • Korynephoroi (Sicyon)
  • Klarotae and Mnoitae (Crete) The Cretan institutions resemble the Lacedaemonian. The Helots are the husbandmen of the one, the Perioeci of the other, and both Cretans and Lacedaemonians have common meals, which were anciently called by the Lacedaemonians not ‘phiditia’ but ‘andria’; and the Cretans have the same word, the use of which proves that the common meals originally came from Crete. Further, the two constitutions are similar; for the office of the Ephors is the same as that of the Cretan Cosmi, the only difference being that whereas the Ephors are five, the Cosmi are ten in number. Aristotle Politics II
  • Penestae (Thessaly) (considered to belong to the old Pelasgians / Aeolians who lived in Thessaly) similar to the Helots they worked for Thessalian aristocrats.

Slaves, Ancient Greece

Slaves, Roman Empire

Mask African Slave BM 1195

Slavery is an economical problem. The United Stated a religious and very conservative society had a large number of slaves and the masters of these slaves had no problem to go every Sunday to the Church as “good Christians”. The number of slaves transported to the United Stated is 10 - 12 (some say 20) millions . Many more died before and during the transport (some assume this number to be 60 millions). Slavery existed in the United States until Abraham Lincoln became President.

It is wrong to believe that the Christian religion did really much against slavery. Even after the Roman empire and its very religious eastern part the Byzantine Empire adopted the Christian religion, they still had many slaves. When slaves tried to escape and were captured they were killed or they were punished terrible. Even the churches had their slaves, the so-called agio-douloi (holy slaves), in the east and west.

...a slave is a living possession, and property a number of such instruments; and the servant is himself an instrument which takes precedence of all other instruments. For if every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, like the statues of Daedalus, or the tripods of Hephaestus, which, says the poet, of their own accord entered the assembly of the Gods; if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves. Aristotle Politics Chapter 3, Book 1,

Stoicism was the first philosophy in history to morally condemn slavery. Emancipation of slave makes their freedom of thought public, maybe also because Zeno of Citium (333-262 BC) was a slave for some time. According to Zeno slavery violates natural law. It exists only where civil law and international custom fail to conform to natural law. By natural law human beings are rational and thus have a power of self-government. Hence no human being should be governed by an external master.

I found one comment very interesting and funny, i.e. that without slavery Democracy in Athens would not be possible. Excluding women and slaves from politics and the relative small size of a city-state allowed the entire remaining population to meet in one place and discuss different state problems.

The Spartans used the entire population of Messinia as slaves (or helotes).

Kevin Bales provides an estimate of slaves in the modern World. In Modern Greece he estimated that there are 5000-9000 slaves, the same number in Germany, while the number of slaves in the United States is estimated to be in the range 100000 to 150000. The number of slaves in India is estimated to be up to 22 millions! The United Nations estimate that 4 million slaves are sold each year to other countries and the total number of slaves worldwide to be approximately 27 millions. The earnings from modern slavery is estimated to be 7000 million Euro per year that is really not so much (see Forbes and Bill Gates).

Slave labor was an essential element of the ancient world. While male slaves were assigned to agricultural and industrial work, female slaves were assigned a variety of domestic duties which included shopping, fetching water, cooking, serving food, cleaning, child-care, and wool-working. In wealthy households some of the female servants had more specialized roles to fulfill, such as housekeeper, cook or nurse. Slavery played a major role in so many aspects of Greek civilization from domestic living to the infamous Athenian naval fleet. The price one might have paid for a slave in ancient Greek times varied depending on their appearance, age and attitude. Those who were healthy, attractive, young and submissive, could sell for as much as 10 minae down to ½ mina for the old and weak (1 mina around $300??). If there happened to be a large supply of slaves on the market, the price automatically went down. This usually happened after winning a large battle, when there were many prisoners of war.

Slavery played a major role in ancient Greek civilization. Slaves worked not only as domestic servants, but as factory workers, shopkeepers, mineworkers, farm workers and as ship's crew members.

There may have been probably more slaves than free people in ancient Greece. There were many different ways in which a person could have become a slave in ancient Greece. They might have been born into slavery as the child of a slave. They might have been taken prisoner if their city was attacked in one of the many battles which took place during these times. They might have been exposed as an infant, meaning the parents abandoned their newborn baby upon a hillside or at the gates of the city to die or be claimed by a passerby.

Slaves were treated differently in ancient Greece depending upon what their purpose was. If one was a household servant, they had a fairly good situation, at least as good as slavery could be. They were often treated almost as part of the family. They were even allowed to take part in the family rituals, like the sacrifice. They were always supervised by the woman of the house who was responsible for making sure that all the slaves were kept busy and didn't get out of line. This could be quite a task as most wealthy Greek households had as many as 10-20 slaves.

A 300 BC Greek statue of an African slave polishing a boot. On the right, Roman bronze copy of a Hellenistic original statue , 3rd century BC or later showing an African musician , the so-called "black Orpheus", Biblotheque Nationale, Paris Inv. 1009. Colour version

There were limits to what a slave could do. They could not enter the Gymnasium or the Public Assembly. They could not use their own names, but were assigned names by their master as their property.

Not all forms of slavery in ancient Greece were as tolerable as that of the domestic servant. The life of a mineworker or ship's crew member was a life of misery and danger. These people usually did not live long because of the grueling work and dangerous conditions of their work. Often those forced into these conditions were those condemned to death for committing crimes because it was understood that they wouldn't live very long under these circumstances.

It is surprising to note that the police force in ancient Athens was made up mainly of slaves. Even the clerks at the treasury office were slaves.

Because female slaves were literally owned by their employers, how well slaves were treated depended upon their status in the household and the temperament of their owners. As a result of her vulnerable position within the household, a female slave was often subjected to sexual exploitation and physical abuse. Any children born of master-servant liaisons were disposed of because female slaves were prohibited from rearing children.

As Xenophon's Oceonomicus (The Economist) reveals, slaves were even prohibited from marrying, as marriage was deemed the social privilege of the elite citizens of Athens. In addition to their official chores in the household, slave girls also performed unofficial services. For example, there is evidence that close relationships developed between female slaves and their mistresses. Given the relative seclusion of upper-class women in the private realm of their homes, many sought out confidantes in their slave girls. For example, Euripides' tragic character of Medea confided her deepest feelings with her nurse, who both advised and comforted her in her troubled times. Furthermore, slaves always accompanied their mistresses on excursions outside of the home.

A young slave with a lantern leading his drunken master home after a party.

A slave being punished

Art, science and philosophy are outcomes from the schism between intellectuals and manual workers. A few men could make immortal expressions of high culture or aesthetically enjoy the purifying essence of masterpieces because many men had to work hard and produced food, heat, security, protection. Of course this is not the only reason as Spartans did not contribute really much to Greek Science.

Famous slaves

  • Aesop, a Greek slave (probably on the island of Samos) (6th century BC) wrote a well known collection of brief tales (Aesop's Fables).
  • 394 - 371 BC, Pasion, a slave, becomes the wealthiest and most famous Greek banker and gains his freedom and Athenian citizenship in the process. He accumulated around 80 talents. He was owner of a shield factory. The funny story is that Pasion had also slaves, one known to be Phormion. When Pasion retired he leased his bank and factory to Phormion who paid a few thousand drachmas per year.
  • Diphilus and Epicrates were even 2 and 7 times richer than Pasion.
  • Epictetus a slave from Phrygia was later a Stoic philosopher.
  • Phaedo was a slave who gained later his freedom and opened a school of philosophy in Elis. He is known from Plato's dialogue that carries his name.

William Stearns Davis

Slavery an Integral Part of Greek Life.--An Athenian lady cares for everything in her house,--for the food supplies, for the clothing, yet probably her greatest task is to manage the heterogeneous multitude of slaves which swarm in every wealthy or even well-to-do mansion.[*]

[*]The Athenians never had the absurd armies of house slaves which characterized Imperial Rome; still the numbers of their domestic servants were, from a modern standpoint, extremely large.

Slaves are everywhere: not merely are they the domestic servants, but they are the hands in the factories, they run innumerable little shops, they unload the ships, they work the mines, they cultivate the farms. Possibly there are more able-bodied male slaves in Attica than male free men, although this point is very uncertain. Their number is the harder to reckon because they are not required to wear any distinctive dress, and you cannot tell at a glance whether a man is a mere piece of property, or a poor but very proud and important member of the "Sovereign Demos [People] of Athens."

No prominent Greek thinker seems to contest the righteousness and desirability of slavery. It is one of the usual, nay, inevitable, things pertaining to a civilized state. Aristotle the philosopher puts the current view of the case very clearly. "The lower sort of mankind are BY NATURE slaves, and it is better for all inferiors that they should be under the rule of a master. The use made of slaves and of tame animals is not very different; for both by their bodies minister to the needs of life." The intelligent, enlightened, progressive Athenians are naturally the "masters"; the stupid, ignorant, sluggish minded Barbarians are the "inferiors." Is it not a plain decree of Heaven that the Athenians are made to rule, the Barbarians to serve?--No one thinks the subject worth serious argument.

Of course the slave cannot be treated quite as one would treat an ox. Aristotle takes pains to point out the desirability of holding out to your "chattel" the hope of freedom, if only to make him work better; and the great philosopher in his last testament gives freedom to five of his thirteen slaves. Then again it is recognized as clearly against public sentiment to hold fellow Greeks in bondage. It is indeed done. Whole towns get taken in war, and those of the inhabitants who are not slaughtered are sold into slavery.[*] Again, exposed children, whose parents have repudiated them, get into the hands of speculators, who raise them "for market." There is also a good deal of kidnapping in the less civilized parts of Greece like Aetolia. Still the proportion of genuinely GREEK slaves is small. The great majority of them are "Barbarians," men born beyond the pale of Hellenic civilization.

[*]For example, the survivors, after the capture of Melos, in the Peloponesian War.

40. The Slave Trade in Greece.--There are two great sources of slave supply: the Asia Minor region (Lydia and Phrygia, with Syria in the background), and the Black Sea region, especially the northern shores, known as Scythia. It is known to innumerable heartless "traders" that human flesh commands a very high price in Athens or other Greek cities. Every little war or raid that vexes those barbarous countries so incessantly is followed by the sale of the unhappy captives to speculators who ship them on, stage by stage, to Athens. Perhaps there is no war; the supply is kept up then by deliberately kidnapping on a large scale, or by piracy.[*] In any case the arrival of a chain gang of fettered wretches at the Peireus is an everyday sight. Some of these creatures are submissive and tame (perhaps they understand some craft or trade); these can be sold at once for a high price. Others are still doltish and stubborn. They are good for only the rudest kind of labor, unless they are kept and trained at heavy expense. These brutish creatures are frequently sold off to the mines, to be worked to death by the contractors as promptly and brutally as one wears out a machine; or else they become public galley slaves, when their fate is practically the same. But we need not follow such horrors.

[*]A small but fairly constant supply of slaves would come from the seizure of the persons and families of bankrupt debtors, whose creditors, especially in the Orient, might sell them into bondage.

The remainder are likely to be purchased either for use upon the farm, the factory, or in the home. There is a regular "circle" at or near the Agora for traffic in them. They are often sold at auction. The price of course varies with the good looks, age,[*] or dexterity of the article, or the abundance of supply. "Slaves will be high" in a year when there has been little warfare and raiding in Asia Minor. "Some slaves," says Xenophon, "are well worth two mine [ $640.80 ] and others barely half a mina [ $160.20 ]; some sell up to five mine [ $1602 ] and even for ten [$3204 ]. Nicias, the son of Nicaretus, is said to have given a talent [over $17800 ] for an overseer in the mines."[+] The father of Demosthenes owned a considerable factory. He had thirty-two sword cutters worth about five mine each, and twenty couch-makers (evidently less skilled) worth together 40 mine [about $12816 ]. A girl who is handsome and a clever flute player, who will be readily hired for supper parties, may well command a very high price indeed, say even 30 mine [about $9612 ].

[*]There was probably next to no market for old women; old men in broken health would also be worthless. Boys and maids that were the right age for teaching a profitable trade would fetch the most.

[+]Xenophon, "Memorabilia," ii. 5, section 2.

The Treatment of Slaves in Athens.--Once purchased, what is the condition of the average slave? If he is put in a factory, he probably has to work long hours on meager rations. He is lodged in a kind of kennel; his only respite is on the great religious holidays. He cannot contract valid marriage or enjoy any of the normal conditions of family life. Still his evil state is partially tempered by the fact that he has to work in constant association with free workmen, and he seems to be treated with a moderate amount of consideration and good camaraderie. On the whole he will have much less to complain of (if he is honest and industrious) than his successors in Imperial Rome.

In the household, conditions are on the whole better. Every Athenian citizen tries to have at least ONE slave, who, we must grant, may be a starving drudge of all work. The average gentleman perhaps counts ten to twenty as sufficient for his needs. We know of households of fifty. There must usually be a steward, a butler in charge of the storeroom or cellar, a marketing slave, a porter, a baker, a cook,[*] a nurse, perhaps several lady's maids, the indispensable attendant for the master's walks (a graceful, well-favored boy, if possible), the pedagogue for the children, and in really rich families, a groom, and a mule boy. It is the business of the mistress to see that all these creatures are kept busy and reasonably contented. If a slave is reconciled to his lot, honest, cheerful, industrious, his condition is not miserable. Athenian slaves are allowed a surprising amount of liberty, so most visitors to the city complain. A slave may be flogged most cruelly, but he cannot be put to death at the mere whim of his master. He cannot enter the gymnasium, or the public assembly; but he can visit the temples. As a humble member of the family he has a small part usually in the family sacrifices. But in any case he is subject to one grievous hardship: when his testimony is required in court he must be "put to the question" by torture. On the other hand, if his master has wronged him intolerably, he can take sanctuary at the Temple of Theseus, and claim the privilege of being sold to some new owner. A slave, too, has still another grievance which may be no less galling because it is sentimental. His name (given him arbitrarily perhaps by his master) is of a peculiar category, which at once brands him as a bondsman: Geta, Manes, Dromon, Sosias, Xanthias, Pyrrhias,--such names would be repudiated as an insult by a citizen.

[*]Who, however, could not be trusted to cook a formal dinner. For such purpose an expert must be hired.

Cruel and Kind Masters.--Slavery in Athens, as everywhere else, is largely dependent upon the character of the master; and most Athenian masters would not regard crude brutality as consistent with that love of elegance, harmony, and genteel deliberation which characterizes a well-born citizen. There do not lack masters who have the whip continually in their hands, who add to the raw stripes fetters and branding, and who make their slaves unceasingly miserable; but such masters are the exception, and public opinion does not praise them. Between the best Athenians and their slaves there is a genial, friendly relation, and the master will put up with a good deal of real impertinence, knowing that behind this forwardness there is an honest zeal for his interests.

Nevertheless the slave system of Athens is not commendable. It puts a stigma upon the glory of honest manual labor. It instills domineering, despotic habits into the owners, cringing subservience into the owned. Even if a slave becomes freed, he does not become an Athenian citizen; he is only a "metic," a resident foreigner, and his old master, or some other Athenian, must be his patron and representative in every kind of legal business. It is a notorious fact that the MERE STATE of slavery robs the victim of his self-respect and manhood. Nevertheless nobody dreams of abolishing slavery as an institution, and the Athenians, comparing themselves with other communities, pride themselves on the extreme humanity of their slave system.

The "City Slaves" of Athens.--A large number of nominal "slaves" in Athens differ from any of the creatures we have described. The community, no less than an individual, can own slaves just as it can own warships and temples. Athens owns "city slaves" (Demosioi) of several varieties. The clerks in the treasury office, and the checking officers at the public assemblies are slaves; so too are the less reputable public executioners and torturers; in the city mint there is another corps of slave workers, busy coining "Athena's owls"--the silver drachmas and four-drachma pieces. But chiefest of all, THE CITY OWNS ITS PUBLIC POLICE FORCE. The "Scythians" they are called from their usual land of origin, or the "bowmen," from their special weapon, which incidentally makes a convenient cudgel in a street brawl. There are 1200 of them, always at the disposal of the city magistrates. They patrol the town at night, arrest evil-doers, sustain law and order in the Agora, and especially enforce decorum, if the public assemblies or the jury courts become tumultuous. They have a special cantonment on the hill of Areopagus near the Acropolis. "Slaves" they are of course in name, and under a kind of military discipline; but they are highly privileged slaves. The security of the city may depend upon their loyal zeal. In times of war they are auxiliaries. Life in this police force cannot therefore be burdensome, and their position is envied by all the factory workers and the house servants.

Plato's Laws


An Athenian stranger
Cleinias, a Cretan;
Megillus, a Lacedaemonian

Ath...In the next place, we have to consider what sort of property will be most convenient. There is no difficulty either in understanding or acquiring most kinds of property, but there is great difficulty in what relates to slaves. And the reason is that we speak about them in a way which is right and which is not right; for what we say about our slaves is consistent and also inconsistent with our practice about them.
Megillus. I do not understand, Stranger, what you mean.
Ath. I am not surprised, Megillus, for the state of the Helots among the Lacedaemonians is of all Hellenic forms of slavery the most controverted and disputed about, some approving and some condemning it; there is less dispute about the slavery which exists among the Heracleots, who have subjugated the Mariandynians, and about the Thessalian Penestae. Looking at these and the like examples, what ought we to do concerning property in slaves? I made a remark, in passing, which naturally elicited a question about my meaning from you. It was this: We know that all would agree that we should have the best and most attached slaves whom we can get. For many a man has found his slaves better in every way than brethren or sons, and many times they have saved the lives and property of their masters and their whole house — such tales are well known.
Meg. To be sure.
Ath. But may we not also say that the soul of the slave is utterly corrupt, and that no man of sense ought to trust them? And the wisest of our poets, speaking of Zeus, says: Far-seeing Zeus takes away half the understanding of men whom the day of slavery subdues. Different persons have got these two different notions of slaves in their minds — some of them utterly distrust their servants, and, as if they were wild beasts, chastise them with goads and whips, and make their souls three times, or rather many times, as slavish as they were before; — and others do just the opposite.
Meg. True.
Cle. Then what are we to do in our own country, Stranger, seeing that there are, such differences in the treatment of slaves by their owners?
Ath. Well, Cleinias, there can be no doubt that man is a troublesome animal, and therefore he is not very manageable, nor likely to become so, when you attempt to introduce the necessary division, slave, and freeman, and master.
Cle. That is obvious.
Ath. He is a troublesome piece of goods, as has been often shown by the frequent revolts of the Messenians, and the great mischiefs which happen in states having many slaves who speak the same language, and the numerous robberies and lawless life of the Italian banditti, as they are called. A man who considers all this is fairly at a loss. Two remedies alone remain to us — not to have the slaves of the same country, nor if possible, speaking the same language; in this way they will more easily be held in subjection: secondly, we should tend them carefully, not only out of regard to them, but yet more out of respect to ourselves. And the right treatment of slaves is to behave properly to them, and to do to them, if possible, even more justice than to those who are our equals; for he who naturally and genuinely reverences justice, and hates injustice, is discovered in his dealings with any class of men to whom he can easily be unjust. And he who in regard to the natures and actions of his slaves is undefiled by impiety and injustice, will best sow the seeds of virtue in them; and this may be truly said of every master, and tyrant, and of every other having authority in relation to his inferiors. Slaves ought to be punished as they deserve, and not admonished as if they were freemen, which will only make them conceited. The language used to a servant ought always to be that of a command, and we ought not to jest with them, whether they are males or females — this is a foolish way which many people have of setting up their slaves, and making the life of servitude more disagreeable both for them and for their masters.

...Any one who is of sound mind may arrest his own slave, and do with him whatever he will of such things as are lawful; and he may arrest the runaway slave of any of his friends or kindred with a view to his safe-keeping. And if any one takes away him who is being carried off as a slave, intending to liberate him, he who is carrying him off shall let him go; but he who takes him away shall give three sufficient sureties; and if he give them, and not without giving them, he may take him away, but if he take him away after any other manner he shall be deemed guilty of violence, and being convicted shall pay as a penalty double the amount of the damages claimed to him who has been deprived of the slave. Any man may also carry off a freedman, if he do not pay respect or sufficient respect to him who freed him. Now the respect shall be, that the freedman go three times in the month to the hearth of the person who freed him and offer to do whatever he ought, so far as he can; and he shall agree to make such a marriage as his former master approves. He shall not be permitted to have more property than he who gave him liberty, and what more he has shall belong to his master. The freedman shall not remain in the state more than twenty years, but like other foreigners shall go away, taking his entire property with him, unless he has the consent of the magistrates and of his former master to remain. If a freedman or any other stranger has a property greater than the census of the third class, at the expiration. of thirty days from the day on which this comes to pass, he shall take that which is his and go his way, and in this case he shall not be allowed to remain any longer by the magistrates. And if any one disobeys this regulation, and is brought into court and convicted, he shall be punished with death, his property shall be confiscated. Suits about these matters shall take place before the tribes, unless the plaintiff and defendant have got rid of the accusation either before their neighbours or before judges chosen by them.


Drimacus, famous leader of slaves in Chios island who ran into the mountains and from there attacked the Chians and produced a lot of damage to their properties. Athenaeus and Nymphiodorus of Syracuse describes the story of Drimacus and the rebels. See for more general information about slave rebellions Slave resistance in Antiquity

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. Demosthenes, Against Timocrates. c. 350 BC

In the daily life, royal women and female slaves were engaged in similar tasks, the significant distinction being that royal women worked out of their own volition, while slaves worked under compunction Pomeroy

...If I do not do so and so, may I never drink the Water of Freedom, A slave girl saying this in a Comedy of Antiphanes. She refers to a fountain, the so-called Cynadra in Argos, as slaves used to drink this water after they were free. ( www.archaeonia.com/science/engineering/irrigation.htm )

But among barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because there is no natural ruler among them: they are a community of slaves, male and female. Wherefore the poets say,
It is meet that Hellenes should rule over barbarians;
as if they thought that the barbarian and the slave were by nature one
. Aristotle, Politics Book 1

My pain concerns you,                             
when one of the bronze-clad Achaeans
leads you off in tears, ends your days of freedom.
If then you come to Argos as a slave,
working the loom for some other woman,    

fetching water from Messeis or Hypereia,
against your will, forced by powerful fate, 
then someone seeing you as you weep
may well say: 'That woman is Hector's wife.
He was the finest warrior in battle     

of all horse-taming Trojans in that war
when they fought for Troy.'  Someone will say that,
and it will bring still more grief to you,
to be without a man like that to save you
from days of servitude.  May I lie dead, 

hidden deep under a burial mound, 
before I hear about your screaming,                                      
as you are dragged away."     

Homer Iliad Book 6, Response of Hector to Andromache. Andromache the wife of Hector with their baby son (who will not survive) in her arms expresses her fear that Hector will be killed in the battle.


"Helots were defined first as a native population. But modern historians are even less in agreement among themselves than the ancient historians when it comes to being precise about their ethnic origin and the circumstances in which they were reduced to servitude. They are generally believed to be peoples, either free or already in servitude, established in Laconia in the Mycenaean period before the arrival (toward the end of the second millennium) of the Dorian invaders, who included the Spartans. But some scholars regard them as Dorians or as a mixture of Dorians and pre-Dorians, which would explain why, in the classical period, they were distinguished from the Spartans neither by their language nor by their religion. As for the circumstances in which they were reduced to servitude, the hypothesis of conquest predominates. It was first introduced by Hellanicus of Lesbos at the end of the fifth century (prompted by the contemporary revolts or by the fashionable slave-holding theories of the day), and it presents Helotism as the result not so much of the Dorian invasion itself as of the expansion of the Spartan city after (presumably many years after) its foundation, that is, between the tenth century and the end of the eighth. This theory incidentally makes it possible to account for the name, Helots, which is supposed to derive from that of the town of Helos, held to be the center of the native resistance, and also to explain the presence of the perioikoi communities situated on the outskirts of Spartan territory....

The periokoi are supposed to have obtained from their conquerors the right to continue to lead an autonomous existence under the latter’s political supervision. We are told, however, by a contemporary of Hellanikos, Antiochus of Syracuse, that those Lacedaemonians who out of cowardice refused to fight in the first Messenian War in about 725 ‘were adjudged slaves and were named Helots’ (Strabo 6.3.2). Is this an altogether different tradition, presenting Helotism as the result of an internal evolution in the civic community or is it, in this text, simply a matter of reducing a number of bad citizens to a preexisting condition? Whichever of the two solutions is favored, it remains possible, despite the absence of any ancient evidence, to maintain either that Helotism emerged from a process (perhaps and economic process) of social differentiation or (reconciling the two views) that it was initially the product of conquest but later developed more fully as the result of an internal process… of these two traditions, the first has been and still is the more successful because it is altogether in line with what is known of the origin of other serfs of the Helot type and also of one category of Helots in particular, those domiciled in Messenia. In the case of the latter, it is quite clear that it was following a first and then a second war (in about 675?) that the inhabitants of the central plain, who were if not Dorians at least invaders related to them, were in their turn reduced to servitude by the Spartans." Yvon Garfan, Slavery in Ancient Greece. Revised and Expanded Edition. Trans. by Janet Lloyd (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988), pp. 95-96.

Aristotle notes that some men are too narrow-minded to use their wealth, and others are too foolish to keep it -- one is a slave to his gains, the other is a slave to his pleasures. Plutarch, Pelopidas

Omphale and Heracles, Francois Lemyone, 1724. Heracles as a slave of Omphale. As penalty for a murder, Heracles was forced to do women's work and wear women's clothes.


Kevin Bales, Spektrum der Wissenschaft, (German Edition of Scientific American ), October 2002, page 24-32

Interesting Facts about Slavery

Romantic Slavery: Song of a Slave-Girl. 1884

Comments to David M. Goldenberg, The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Cup with Slave Girl Carrying a Full Wineskin on Her Head

Slavery: Ancient Scourge, Modern Vice

Ancient Greece, Slavery and Η δουλεία - μια σύντομη ιστορική αναδρομή Greek Websites

See also


Slavery in the Roman Empire, Numbers and Origins


Roman History: Diodorus Siculus, Sources for the Three Slave Revolts

Slavery in Ancient Egypt

Zalmoxis the slave of Pythagoras ?

F. Hugh Thompson, Archaeology of Greek and Roman Slavery

Sandra R. Joshel, Women and Slaves in Greco-Roman Culture  : Differential Equations - Bryn Mawr Classical Review

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