!Slavery in Greece and Rome inthe early stages of the development of the” Greek and Roman Civilization” traditionally referred to as the “Western Civilization”

Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440-1870 (Simon & Schuster:New York), 1997

“Most settled societies at one time or another have employed forced labor; and most peoples, even the proud French, the effective Germans, the noble English, the dauntless Spaniards and, perhaps above all, the poetical Russians, have experienced years of servitude.

A Greek philosophyer, stated:  “Humanity is divided into two: the masters and the slaves”  –  Aristotle, in Politics

“In the golden years of both Greece and Rome, slaves worked as domestic servants, in mines and in public works, in gangs, and individually, on farms, as well as in commerce and in cottage industries.  They both managed and served in brothels, trading organizations, and workshops.

For example:  “There were slaves in Mycenae (1600 B.C. -1100 B.C.);  and Ulysses had fifty female slaves in his palace. ..”

“Athens (600 B.C.-100 B.C.) had in her heyday about 60,00 slaves.  Her police force was a body of 300 Scythian archer slaves; her famous silver mines at Laurium employed over 10,000 slaves until a rebellion in 103 B.C.; and 20 slaves – perhaps a quarter of those so employed – helped to build the Parthenon.  The Athenians used slaves to fight for them at Marathon, even though they freed them first.

“The Romans made use of slaves in all the categories employed by the Greeks, though they had many more domestic ones: a prefect in the days of the Emperor Nero might have 400 in his house alone.  There may have been 2 million slaves in Italy at the end of the republic.

From the first century B.C. to the early third century A.D., the use of these captives was the customary way in which prosperity was created.  That did not mean all these were equal:  rural and urban domestic slaves lived different lives; a man working in a gang in the fields had a different life from one in a workshop in the city; some slaves practiced as doctors or lawyers, and others acted as majordomos to noblemen, or as shepherds in the hills.

“Cicero’s slave Tiro was a confidential secretary and was well educated; he even invented a shorthand called after himself.

Half a million captives seem to have been required every year in Rome during its most self-confident age – say, 50 B.C. TO 150 A.D.  The Roman state itself possessed innumerable: – 700, for example, were responsible for maintaining the imperial city=s

aqueducts.   Perhaps one out of three members of the population was a slave.  During the early empire.  one rich lady, Melania, is said to have liberated 8,000 slaves in the early 5th century A.D., when she decided to become a Christian


“Caesar, it will be recalled, brought many captives home to Rome from the Gallic wars.  Many Germans were enslaved in later centuries.  Then Septimius Severus brought a 100,000 captives home after defeating the Parthians at Ctesiphon.  Fifteen thousand Gallic (French) slaves a year were exchanged for Italian wine in the first century B.C.

“Many slaves of old Rome were fair Germans, including saxons: the beautiful faces of the young slaves wrote Gibbon, were covered with a medicated crust or ointment which secured them against the effects of the sun and frost.  [Footnote:   Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. VII (New York, 1907), 244].  They must have been from northern Europe, perhaps from the historian’s own land.”

[Source:  Quoted from Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440-1870 (Simon & Schuster:New York), 1997]


About Harold L Carter

Bachelor of Science, Columbia University Masters degree, Ohio State University Undergraduate National Officer, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Eastern Asst Vice President, when a student at Columbia University Profile Photograph: Mom & Me, when I was a graduate student
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