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Slavery in ancient Greece
Slavery played a major role in ancient Greek civilization. Without
it, the citizens wouldn't have been able to devote so much time into other activities
such as the government, art and thought.
What were the Greeks' sources for slaves?
There were different ways in which a person could have become
a slave in ancient Greece. The main source of slaves was prisoners of war. The
prisoners of war that became slaves were sometimes other Greeks, but the majority
of them were what the Greeks called “barbarians”. The word “barbarian”
referred to any person that was non-Greek. Another source of slaves was children
that had been born into slavery. Also, they might have been exposed as an
infant, and that means that the parents abandoned their newborn baby on a hillside
or at the gates of the city to die or be claimed by anyone who wanted it. Another
possible way in which one might have become a slave was if a family needed money,
they sometimes sold one of the children into slavery. Usually it was a daughter
because the male children were needed to help out with the chores or the farm.
Kidnapping was another way in which one could have been sold into slavery.
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, atttractive,
young and submissive, could sell for as much as 10 minae ($180.00). Those who
were old, weak and stubborn might have sold for as little as 1/2 a mina ($9.00).
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.
What kind of jobs did the slaves do?
There were two kinds of slaves: public and private. The public slaves
were government owned, and they had many jobs: secretaries, clerks, prison attendants,
executioners, scribes, and accountants. The most famous group of public slaves
were the police force in Athens--the
“Athenian archers”. They were made up of about 300 Scythian slaves.
The second type of slave was the private slave. They were owned by an individual
master. These slaves did everything from household chores to working in the industrial
area. Some of their jobs were: maids, wet-nurses, teachers, and messengers. They
also worked in the fields, usually beside their masters. They worked in quarries
and mines, and the most famous mine was the silver mine in Laurium,
where it has been estimated that 30,000 slaves worked.
There were some slaves that were set apart from the others. They were
skilled craftsmen who would make things such as shoes or pottery and sell them.
They would live outside the master's house on their own but give a certain percentage
of their profits to their master. That is why they are sometimes referred to as
“pay-bringers”, because they would bring some of what they earned
to their master. No one in Greece could tell the difference between these slaves
and regular citizens.
What were the things that a slave couldn't do?
There were four personal restrictions that affected slaves:
1) In all legal matters, the slave must have his master represent
him. He cannot represent himself.
2) A slave is subject to seizure and arrest.
3) He can only do what his master orders, he cannot do what he wants.
4) The slave cannot choose where he wants to live, or be who he wants
to be with.
There were other 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. It is important to remember that these people
were thought of as property of their masters rather than citizens of Greece.
If a slave misbehaved, he could be punished. In Athens,
fifty blows was the common punishment. A master could only punish his own slave
and not one that belonged to someone else. Here's an interesting fact: with the
consent of the master, a slave could give testimony in court during a trial through
torture. That is, they believed that the surest way to get the truth out of a
slave was by pain.
How did slaves become free?
There were two basic methods used in setting a slave free. The first
was if the state manumitted the slaves in a big group. (Manumission is a formal
release from bondage by a slave's master.) This was usually carried out by a tyrant
to strengthen his power or gain military support. The second way a slave could
become free (or manumitted) was by his individual master. His master could free
the slave in his own will, or while he was still alive. If a slave had saved up
enough money to buy his freedom, then his master was compelled to accept it and
set him free. In Greece, there were benefit social clubs called Eranoi. They helped
some slaves by lending money so they could buy their freedom. But, if the slaves
could not pay the Eranoi back, then the deal was off and they were back to being
One important thing to note about slavery in Ancient Greece was that
slavery WAS NOT based on race, as in other countries' pasts. Slavery was not identified
with color, but instead with superior force.
by Sarah Mussio
- Portland State University, Greek Civilization Site
Perjury in Ancient Greece
Just like today, perjury, or lying under oath, was a problem in ancient
Greece. The Greeks used verbal oaths to make deals or agreements. These oaths
were unbreakable, and if you did break them you and your children would face punishment
from the gods in the form of a curse. But what if an oath-taker swears to do a
service, but is prevented from keeping his sworn promise by external circumstances,
which are not of his causing, then has he committed perjury? And if a sworn man
swears to the truth of a statement, not knowing it to be false, does he commit
In the Iliad Hector swears to give Achilles' horses to Dolon. But
according to Homer the oath he swore was false, even though Dolon died, which
prevented the fulfillment of the oath, and his death was entirely independent
of Hector's will. Homer is not considering the intention of the oath-taker. This
implies that a perjurer is a person who swears an objectively false proposition.
Hesiod on the other hand did take the oath-taker in consideration:
“god Oath...most grieves men on earth when they willfully swear false oaths.”
Herodutus said that “even the will to commit perjury, without the deed,
would bring down punishment.” Aristotle was the first to differentiate between
the perjury of a promissory oath, breaking an oath, and the perjury of an assertory
oath, intentionally swearing a false oath.
In the third century B.C. Cleanthus decided that an oath taker swears
rightly or falsely at the time he swears. If he intends to do the things he swears
to do in the oath he swears rightly. But if he has no intention of performing
them he swears falsely. Chrysippus, on the other hand, said that an assertory
oath is true or false, but a promissory oath is either good or bad. According
to Chrysippus a man is not a perjurer at the time he swears to an oath if he swears
falsely, but becomes one when it is time to fulfill the terms of the oath.
Aristotle, Cleanthus, and Chrysippus agree that the intention of an
oath-taker is an essential factor of perjury. And they disagree as to whether
the intention can be applied to the future (promissory oath) or the past and present
Ethical-Religious Aspect of Perjury.
The curse of the oath is connected to its religious aspect. According
to Homer a “perjurer is a sinner in the eyes of gods, and the Furies”
And impossibilities that prevent the fulfillment of an oath do not relieve one
from the obligations of the oath. Hesoid said that the perjurer makes an oath
a punishment, and Herodotus says the perjurer is stricken by the curse.
This made many believe the curse was magic and the only way to break
the spell was to fulfill the oath. This magic was so strong that not even the
gods could escape the curse in case of perjury. According to Herodotus, “Delphian
Apollo assured that the curse would strike, if not the perjurer himself, then
certainly his offspring.” And because some oaths were sworn under stress
of necessity and then broken, the gods learned how to separate forced oaths from
voluntary oaths and did not require their observance.
The Legal Aspect of Perjury
Perjury as false testimony was a legal offense and subject to legal
action. In Athens legislation
on perjury has been dated fifth century. Because depositions were oral cases of
perjury were rare and difficult to prove. In the beginning of the fourth century
when depositions became written, perjury cases were more frequent, since they
were easier to prove.
Prosecution of false testimony was encouraged and slight penalties
were given to the prosecutor in cases of failure. A small fee was given to the
party that brought fourth the notice of perjury if they failed to follow up with
Perjury before arbitrators was not punishable. “For it is not
the same, men of Athens,
to give false evidence before you and before the arbitrator; great indignation
and penalty await those who gave false testimony before you; but before the arbitrator
they give what evidence they wish, without risk and without shame.” Many
people wanted to solve problems through arbitrators because there was no risk
Those convicted usually paid a fine to the wronged party or to the
prosecutor and to the treasury. All penalties were decided upon by the judges.
Also those convicted faced contempt of court charges, with the penalty of loss
of citizenship rights. However, if the prosecutor of the case is unsuccessful,
he had to pay the alleged perjurer an amount equal to one third of the litigation
sum. Over time there was development in the legal punishment for perjury. Gradual
progression of simple compensation to additional punitive fines to the state.
- Portland State University, Greek Civilization Site