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What Is a Slave Society?
The Practice of Slavery in Global Perspective

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Noel Lenski, Peter Hunt, Kyle Harper, Walter Scheidel, Catherine Cameron, Christina Snyder, Fernando Santos-Granero, Paul Lovejoy, Aldair Carlos Rodrigues, Robert Gudmestad, Theresa Singleton, Matthew Hopper, Bernard K. Freamon, Ehud Toledano, Kim Bok-rae, Anthony Reid, James F. Brooks
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  • Date Published: December 2020
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316508039

$ 37.99 (C)

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About the Authors
  • The practice of slavery has been common across a variety of cultures around the globe and throughout history. Despite the multiplicity of slavery's manifestations, many scholars have used a simple binary to categorize slave-holding groups as either 'genuine slave societies' or 'societies with slaves'. This dichotomy, as originally proposed by ancient historian Moses Finley, assumes that there were just five 'genuine slave societies' in all of human history: ancient Greece and Rome, and the colonial Caribbean, Brazil, and the American South. This book interrogates this bedrock of comparative slave studies and tests its worth. Assembling contributions from top specialists, it demonstrates that the catalogue of five must be expanded and that the model may need to be replaced with a more flexible system that emphasizes the notion of intensification. The issue is approached as a question, allowing for debate between the seventeen contributors about how best to conceptualize the comparative study of human bondage.

    • Assembles leading international scholars who specialize in the study of slavery
    • Offers a cross-cultural and trans-historical perspective
    • Proposes a reexamination of the traditional binary distinction used to examine slaveholding societies
    • Covers extensive ground and speaks at a level of general interest, such that the volume can serve as a textbook
    Read more


    • Winner, 2018 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

    Reviews & endorsements

    "For ancient historians this book contains some important remarks on Greek and Roman slavery and a thought-provoking methodological framework in which to study them. For those with a broader interest in comparative slavery, it is invaluable." --Bryn Mawr Classical Review

    ‘What Is a Slave Society? is highly engaging, broadly applicable, and surprisingly readable.’ Lydial Wilson Marshal, African Archaeological Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: December 2020
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316508039
    • length: 526 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 27 mm
    • weight: 0.768kg
    • contains: 22 b/w illus. 8 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Framing the question: what is a Slave Society? Noel Lenski
    Part I. Ancient and Late Antique Western Societies:
    2. Ancient Greece as a 'Slave Society' Peter Hunt
    3. Roman slavery and the idea of 'Slave Society' Kyle Harper and Walter Scheidel
    4. Ancient slaveries and modern ideology Noel Lenski
    Part II. Non-Western Small-Scale Societies:
    5. The nature of slavery in small-scale societies Catherine Cameron
    6. Native American slavery in global context Christina Snyder
    7. Slavery as structure, process, or lived experience, or why slave societies existed in pre-contact tropical America Fernando Santos-Granero
    8. Slavery in societies on the frontiers of centralized states in West Africa Paul Lovejoy
    Part III. Modern Western Societies:
    9. The colonial Brazilian 'Slave Society': potentialities, limits and challenges to an interpretative model inspired by Moses Finley Aldair Carlos Rodrigues
    10. What is a Slave Society? The American South Robert Gudmestad
    11. Islands of slavery: archaeology and Caribbean landscapes of intensification Theresa Singleton
    Part IV. Non-Western State Societies:
    12. Was nineteenth-century Eastern Arabia a 'Slave Society'? Matthew Hopper
    13. Slavery and society in East Africa, Oman, and the Persian Gulf Bernard K. Freamon
    14. Ottoman and Islamic societies: were they 'Slave Societies'? Ehud Toledano
    15. A microhistorical analysis of Korean Nobis through the prism of the lawsuit of Damulsari Kim Bok-rae
    16. 'Slavery so Gentle': a fluid spectrum of Southeast Asian conditions of bondage Anthony Reid
    Conclusion. Intersections: slaveries, borderlands, edges James F. Brooks.

  • Editors

    Noel Lenski, Yale University, Connecticut
    Noel Lenski is Professor of Roman History at Yale University, Connecticut. A recipient of fellowships from the Humboldt and Guggenheim Foundations, he has published extensively on Roman imperial history, including Failure of Empire: Valens and the Roman State in the Fourth Century AD (2014) and Constantine and the Citites: Imperial Authority and Civic Politics (2016).

    Catherine M. Cameron, University of Colorado Boulder
    Catherine Cameron is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is an Archaeologist of the America Southwest and has conducted a world-wide, cross-cultural study of captive-taking in prehistory. Cameron is the author of Captives: How Stolen People Changed the World (2016), co-editor (with Paul Kelton and Alan Swedlund) of Beyond Germs: Native Depopulations in North America (2016), and editor of Invisible Citizens: Captives and Their Consequences (2009).


    Noel Lenski, Peter Hunt, Kyle Harper, Walter Scheidel, Catherine Cameron, Christina Snyder, Fernando Santos-Granero, Paul Lovejoy, Aldair Carlos Rodrigues, Robert Gudmestad, Theresa Singleton, Matthew Hopper, Bernard K. Freamon, Ehud Toledano, Kim Bok-rae, Anthony Reid, James F. Brooks


    • Winner, 2018 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

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