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The Cambridge World History of Slavery
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    Donnelly, Jack 2015. Normative Versus Taxonomic Humanity: Varieties of Human Dignity in the Western Tradition. Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 14, Issue. 1, p. 1.

    Mogetta, Marcello 2015. A New Date for Concrete in Rome. Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 105, p. 1.

    2013. A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic.

  • Volume 1: The Ancient Mediterranean World
  • Edited by Keith Bradley, University of Notre Dame, Indiana , Paul Cartledge, University of Cambridge

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Book description

Volume 1 in the new Cambridge World History of Slavery surveys the history of slavery in the ancient Mediterranean world. Although chapters are devoted to the ancient Near East and the Jews, its principal concern is with the societies of ancient Greece and Rome. These are often considered as the first examples in world history of genuine slave societies because of the widespread prevalence of chattel slavery, which is argued to have been a cultural manifestation of the ubiquitous violence in societies typified by incessant warfare. There was never any sustained opposition to slavery, and the new religion of Christianity probably reinforced rather than challenged its existence. In twenty-two chapters, leading scholars explore the centrality of slavery in ancient Mediterranean life using a wide range of textual and material evidence. Non-specialist readers in particular will find the volume an accessible account of the early history of this crucial phenomenon.


‘No slave voices survive. But what can be excavated from the evidence is considered here in a scholarly, detailed, clearly argued and thoroughly worthwhile collection of essays.’

Source: Literary Review

'This first instalment in the four-volume Cambridge World History of Slavery is an impressive synthesis of current Anglophone scholarship on slavery in the Greek and Roman worlds. It is a very welcome addition to the bibliography. With its wide chronological and thematic scope, its detailed coverage of key scholarship and primary sources and the authority of the contributors, it is sure to become the first port of call for students and for scholars approaching a period or topic for the first time. This substantial volume is certainly the new authority on Greco-Roman slavery. It is an invaluable resource for students and scholars alike.'

Miles Lavan Source: The Journal of Roman Studies

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  • 1 - Slavery in the ancient Near East
    pp 4-21
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    The literate Near East had at least two thousand years' experience of slavery by the time the Greeks under Alexander arrived with their own take on the institution. The appearance of slaves in literary texts is limited and not as suggestive as in the categories just named. However, the slave was a social type that sometimes had to be dealt with in texts copied for scribal education in the cuneiform tradition. Yet in Egypt and in the North-West Semitic-speaking areas of the Syrian and Palestinian coast, there is evidence for something like the ancient Near Eastern practice of slavery. From early in the Old Babylonian period, there are two monumental texts that show how slavery worked in theory. One is the Edict of Ammisaduga and the other is Hammurapi's so-called code, which recorded about 282 decisions of justice, some of which dealt with slaves.
  • 2 - Slaves in Greek literary culture
    pp 22-47
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    Slaves are as conspicuous in the culture of the classical Greeks as they were important in their society. This chapter examines the slave metaphor and representation of slaves, and provides a few themes in Homer's treatment of slaves which foreshadow or contrast revealingly with later representations. According to him, slavery is both a disaster and a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship. Classical historians, Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon, refer often to political freedom and slavery, but rarely to actual chattel slaves. Comedy was set in contemporary Athens; although its free characters sometimes portray themselves as average citizens, they invariably own slaves. The tragedies of fifth-century Athens present slavery as an appalling catastrophe. Whereas Aristotle tried to justify slavery, the main Hellenistic schools of philosophy gave up that attempt. The statements considered appealing the condemnation or questioning of slavery show the real and main Euripidean or the tragic attitude towards slavery.
  • 3 - Classical Athens
    pp 48-73
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    In classical Athens, slave labour assumed multifarious forms, such as agricultural slavery, artisan slavery, and mining slavery. This chapter discusses these types of slavery after analyzing the slaves' social status, and political and economic functions. There are two principal factors for qualification as a slave society: the sheer number of slaves, and the significance of the role slaves played in the society at issue, especially economically. A slave manumitted in classical Athens became a metic. The metic was prohibited from participation in the political, religious and legal life of Athens. Where the household had only one slave, the slave lived and worked alongside the master as a partner. In such circumstances, the slave's principal economic function might be farming, fishing, herding or making objects for sale. The chapter also addresses why and how Athens became a slave society.
  • 4 - The Helots: a contemporary review
    pp 74-90
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    According to Plato, the Helot-system of Sparta is practically the most discussed and controversial subject in Greece, some approving the institution, others criticizing it. This chapter establishes how the Messenian and Laconian Helots originally came to suffer their common servile lot, and describes the emancipation of the Messenian Helots in 369. For the Spartans, the Helots, Laconian and Messenian indiscriminately, were collectively the slave group. Many Helot women and some Helot men, served as domestic servants within the individual homes and on the individual farms of their Spartan masters and mistresses. In the third century, as the whole Spartan system creaked to a standstill, it underwent a distinct evolution or rather revolution. It was only when the Spartans themselves became too divided internally and too stretched externally, by the 370s, that the Messenian Helots were able, with crucial Theban help, to achieve their liberation and independence.
  • 5 - Slavery and economy in the Greek world
    pp 91-111
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    This chapter assesses the location of slavery within the ancient Greek economy with a focus on slaves in agriculture and industry, and on household slaves. The Helots were a Greek population subjected to bondage through conquest of their land by other Greeks. Greek slavery ultimately depended upon war and violence. Slaves never owned land and only made decisions about it when they became bailiffs in control of other slaves. The Greek economy was a slave economy, because a significant proportion of its labour power was exploited to a degree that free labour power could never be within its social, political and military systems. Chattel slavery sharpened the social structure of Greek cities. Possessing slaves made leisured lives possible and secured the position of slave-owners in the social structure. Thus, by securing the dominance of the dominant classes, slavery was the principal mode of production in the classical Greek world.
  • 6 - The slave supply in classical Greece
    pp 112-133
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    This chapter explores the processes that brought people into slavery in Greece, and gives a sense of the individual slave's experience of these processes. At the periphery of Greek culture, slaves were traded all around the Black Sea, in the Adriatic and in the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, and in traditional centres such as Athens, Aegina, Corinth and Chios. The scattered instances are no more than drops in the ocean of the ancient Greek slave trade, with its ripples reaching far and wide into barbarian hinterlands. Ransom was a major brake on the slave supply, but also a very profitable strategy for the enslaver. The Melian enslavements confirmed the negative image of Athenian imperialism, not of their liberation. The importance of the miner skills that the slave Atotas had gained in Paphlagonia helps to account for the pride that his epitaph shows in his work.
  • 7 - Slavery and the Greek family
    pp 134-152
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    This chapter discusses slavery and the Greek family under three headings: slaves in citizen and other free families; slave families; and the creation of new families from the sexual intercourse of slave and free. It concentrates on the period between 500 and 300 BC, and focuses on Athens and Sparta. Slaves performed a wide range of roles in the Athenian oikos: child minding, caring for the sick, answering and guarding the door, cooking, wool working, carrying messages, fetching water, and shopping. Helots were among the few Greek slave populations expected to reproduce themselves and often lived apart from the Spartans to whom they were assigned. But Sparta also took account of children of unions between free and unfree. Unmarried citizens' sex acts with slaves were essentially their own business. The chapter also discusses the effects of slavery on parent-child relations in classical Greece.
  • 8 - Resistance among chattel slaves in the classical Greek world
    pp 153-175
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    Little evidence of slave rebellion survives from the classical Greek world. More predictably, perhaps, non-Marxists have also downplayed large-scale slave resistance. Slave troubles were perhaps under-reported, but it is still difficult to believe there were, for example, unacknowledged rebellions in Athens, the source of most of the surviving classical evidence. Ethnic diversity and differing opportunities for social mobility further undermined slave solidarity and removed potential leadership. Indeed, Athenians sometimes contemplated arming chattel slaves in times of war. This chapter examines the comedies of Aristophanes and Menander, the Oeconomicus and Memorabilia of Xenophon, Plato's Laws, Aristotle's Politics and the Pseudo-Aristotelian Oeconomica. Plato combines comments on Spartan Helots and Athenian chattel slaves. However, the absence of evidence of resistance is not evidence of its absence. To summarise the evidence that has survived, the control of slaves was seen as potentially irritating, but it was, ultimately, portrayed as a problem of middle management.
  • 9 - Archaeology and Greek slavery
    pp 176-193
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    This chapter sketches two ways in which archaeological evidence may yet make important contributions to understanding Greek slavery. Archaeologists assume that burials with poor grave goods must be those of slaves, but very few sixth and fifth century Greek graves contained more than half a dozen pots and one or two simple bronze or iron ornaments. Some masters banned their slaves from holding funerals, apparently out of fear that they provided a symbolic focus for resistance. The Laurium burials that did contain grave goods were not very different from graves in other parts of Attica. An archaeological approach to Greek slavery through material culture involves trying to re-experience slaves' lives through the immediacy of physical remains. Classical Greek statues were used mostly as grave markers and religious offerings, and their ideal forms left little room for obviously realistic representations of slaves.
  • 10 - Slavery in the Hellenistic world
    pp 194-213
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    This chapter concerns with one particular aspect of the impact of Greek rule on new areas of the East, the introduction of chattel slavery to areas where previously it had not formed part of the culture. It provides a set of three snapshots, selected to illustrate various aspects of the Ptolemaic slave experience. The second group of dependants who do not fit the category of chattel slave yet were important in the New Greek lands of the East were sacred slaves. They were those attached in varying ways to the temples of Asia and Egypt Sacred prostitution, and attached to sanctuaries in all areas of the Hellenistic world. In Hellenistic Egypt, when immigrant soldiers made their wills, slaves were included in the possessions that they listed. In both Ptolemaic Egypt and the Seleucid East, slaves were predominantly found in Greek households and productive spheres.
  • 11 - Slavery and Roman literary culture
    pp 214-240
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    In Roman letters and philosophy, love poetry, satire and epigram, history and novels, slaves appear as the projection or vessel of masters' imagination. This chapter examines a selected group of Latin authors as representative of both Roman literature from the late third century BC to the early second century AD and the appearances of slaves in it. It begins with a facet of slavery most troubling for the modern reader: what seems to be the contradiction between the slave as chattel and the slave as human being. Literature's images of good and bad slaves act out masterly hopes and fears, desires and anxieties. The metaphor of slavery also serves Seneca's articulation of Stoic ethics which reconstructs the traditional Roman aristocracy as an aristocracy of virtue. Slaves' fungibility allowed for their consumption as agents: indeed, whether metaphoric or literal, paternalism requires and consumes slaves as human subjects and agents.
  • 12 - Slavery in the Roman Republic
    pp 241-264
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    This chapter surveys the development of slavery at Rome under the Republic through the main phases of its political and military history. In the two and a half centuries between its foundations, the Roman Republic became the predominant political and military force in Italy. The evidence of the social and structural centrality of slavery as an institution at Rome comes from Rome's first codified body of law. The last century of Republican history was an age of revolution. Political crisis initiated by a demand for land redistribution in Italy led to a series of civil wars that were fuelled by an intense competition for personal power among Rome's political elite. Welwei provides comprehensive coverage and detailed analysis, emphasising the unreliability of numbers recorded in the sources but regarding Veii and the Third Samnite War as significant indications of the expansion of Roman slavery.
  • 13 - Slavery Under the Principate
    pp 265-286
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    The ancient evidence on slavery in the Roman Empire outside Italy is so thin that it seems compatible with many theories. There is some evidence for the development of ever larger landholdings under the Principate, especially with the growth of the imperial estates. Slaves and freedmen were to be found at all levels of the developing imperial bureaucracy in Rome and in the provinces. Romans established new rules for social competition, in which the display of one's dominance over others took on a particular importance. In the Italian heartland, the Principate is seen in terms of the consolidation of the institutions of Roman slavery rather than their development. Having abandoned the idea that Roman slavery developed during the Principate under the influence of Stoicism, historians have tended to assume that the literary sources from Republic and Principate alike should be put together to delineate a composite Roman attitude to slavery.
  • 14 - The Roman slave supply
    pp 287-310
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    The reconstruction of the Roman slave supply depends on two variables: the total number of slaves, and the relative contribution of particular sources of slaves to overall supply. This chapter begins by considering the probable size of the slave population in Italy, in Egypt and in the empire as a whole. In Egypt, the only part of the Mediterranean world where crude time-series of slave prices can sometimes be pieced together, changes in the currency system impede direct comparisons between the late Hellenistic and Roman imperial periods. The chapter also reviews the various sources of slaves and the mechanisms of the slave trade. The Roman legal tradition makes it clear that capture in war caused loss of freedom. The closest parallels to enslavement in warfare were capture by pirates and brigands. Enslavement and the slave trade constituted the principal means of geographical and social mobility in the ancient world.
  • 15 - Slave labour and Roman society
    pp 311-336
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    Domestic slavery was imagined as existing at Rome from the beginning and established its presence by the middle of the fifth century BC. Slave labour as a concept would have seemed both redundant and paradoxical to Romans of the upper classes, who owned most of the slaves. This chapter discusses the place of slave labour in Roman society, recognizing its crux as an intersection of two conceptual polarities: slave/free and work/leisure. It talks about five main categories of evidence that provide most of the information for Roman practice. The historian Tacitus, characterised the Roman system as one in which specific duties were distributed throughout the household. Within the imperial household, there was a hierarchy of servile functions that help to trace the course of an individual career. However, what mattered more than training or talent or industry in determining a slave's advancement was winning the master's favour.
  • 16 - Slavery and the Roman family
    pp 337-361
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    The monument and its epitaphs allow a vivid sense of the size and complexity of an aristocratic slave household in Julio-Claudian Rome. Some slaves had been allowed to marry or set up quasi-marital unions (contubernia) within the slave household or occasionally with slaves from other households. Within the slave households of the elite, a distinction was drawn between those slaves who made up the urban or domestic staff and those who worked on the family's country estates. The former constituted the familia urbana, the latter the familia rustica. Tension could arise within the household when a master or mistress showed favouritism towards certain slaves over others. Slaves could also cause tension among the freeborn members of the family. Slaves made the lives of the families much more complicated, and in many cases, they had the power to affect intra-family relationships in a manner that far belied their lowly legal status.
  • 17 - Resisting slavery at Rome
    pp 362-384
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    Roman slaves were deracinated, disempowered beings who enjoyed no personal or social identity other than that which derived from association with their owners. Resistance is a category of analysis that historians of slavery commonly employ to refer to acts of defiance and protest by which slaves contested the presumptive right of slave-owners to demand services from and impose claims upon them. From a modern perspective, every act that defied the authority of a slave-owner could be construed as an implicit rejection of slavery. However, resistance did not characterise the life of every Roman slave. Many must be understood to have accepted the reality of their enslavement without demur, to have suppressed notions of challenge, to have internalised the values of those who dominated them, and to have worked within the contours of established society to become candidates for manumission and the prospects of enhanced material well-being manumission brought.
  • 18 - Slavery and Roman material culture
    pp 385-413
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    This chapter outlines the evidence from slavery in Roman material culture by dividing it into two major categories. The first is archaeological evidence, such as the physical context in which slaves lived and worked and traces of the slave trade. The other is the images of slaves in Roman art. In ancient Rome, slaves' identity was principally defined by two elements: the master who owned them and the work they performed. Architectural remains and artefacts, such as the tools slaves used, the goods they produced and the physical space in which they passed their days, evoke the arduous circumstances which slaves were forced to endure. To a great extent, the role of slaves in Roman society is mirrored in Roman art, where slaves are subjugated to the artistic agenda of slave-owners, serving either as subsidiary figures who act as foils to their masters, or as symbols of Roman military conquest.
  • 19 - Slavery and Roman law
    pp 414-437
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    This chapter considers Roman law of the classical period, between about 200 BC and AD 200. It touches upon the earlier and later law, such as the Twelve Tables of fifth century BC, imperial legislation in the Theodosian Code, and imperial responses to individual enquiries in Justinian's Code. Slaves, in the eyes of the law, had no relatives. The main legal causes of slavery were capture in war, birth to a slave mother, or purchase from a non-Roman. Many owners freed large numbers of slaves after two decades of civil war which ended by the battle of Actium in 31 BC. Similar concerns are discernible in the two laws on manumission passed during Augustus' reign, the lex Fufia Caninia in 2 BC and the lex Aelia Sentia in AD 4. Legal manumission, conferring Roman citizenship, could be performed by will or in the owner's lifetime by the procedure of vindicta.
  • 20 - Slavery and the Jews
    pp 438-455
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    This chapter focuses on the Jewish experience and rhetoric of slavery from post-exilic to Roman imperial times and late antiquity. Greek Jewish writings from the Hellenistic and early Roman period allow determining the ancient Jewish discourse on slavery and the moral values and ideology on which it is based. In Jewish and Greco-Roman society, slavery was one of the consequences of imperialist politics. Slaves were part of the ancient Jewish household (bayit). Theological usage of the slave metaphor appears already in the Hebrew Bible. The chapter also explores how the relationship between the Jewish and Greco-Roman discourse on slavery can be assessed. The sources clearly indicate that Jewish writers, like their Greco-Roman counterparts, took slavery for granted as an integral part of everyday life in the Land of Israel and the Diaspora. In all likelihood manumission was practised whenever it was economically advantageous in both Jewish and Greco-Roman society.
  • 21 - Slavery and the rise of Christianity
    pp 456-481
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    Slaveholding practices affected the lives of individual Christians and insinuated themselves into ecclesiastical policy. This chapter analyses slavery as root theological metaphor in early Christian theology. Slavery was fertile ground for generating metaphorical language, from the poetic metaphor of the slave to love to the Stoic trope of slave to the passions. Every generation of Christians in antiquity included slaveholders. Slaves were seen as enemies in the heart of the home, submissiveness was identified as a signal servile virtue, and fugitive slaves were vilified. Christian elites perceived slaves as inherently cowardly, physically base and morally deficient. From the stories about slavery and the Church, it is certain that Jesus relied on slavery as a theological metaphor and that the earliest Christian writings, acknowledge the problematical social reality of slavery. In the modern period, European and American abolitionists turned to biblical teachings to argue that slavery was an illegitimate institution.
  • 22 - Slavery in the late Roman world
    pp 482-509
    • By Cam Grey, University of Pennsylvania
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    The late Roman Empire was considered a period during which the inherent limits of slave productivity became increasingly apparent. This chapter first presents brief surveys of the sources for slavery in the period, and the evidence they provide for the location of slaves and the roles they fulfilled across the Mediterranean world. Then, it discusses some issues related to slaves and slavery. Some of the documentary and epistolary evidence for the sale of slaves reveals the geographical distances that might exist between a slave's acquisition and sale. In general, it seems fair to argue that the legislation of the late empire endorsed either implicitly or explicitly the existing legal understanding of slavery. The chapter concentrates upon reconstructing a picture of the socio-economic position of slaves in the late Roman world. In socio-economic terms, little had changed in the balance between slave and free labour in the late Roman Empire.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

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