Ancient Greek Slaves

Ancient Greek slaves were a major reason for prosperity in Greece. Slavery in ancient Greece was a driving force behind the economy.

Some historians believe that slavery played an important role in creating democracy in ancient Greece. Slaves allowed citizens to participate more regularly in politics without sacrificing money or wealth.

Who were the slaves?

Ancient Greek slaves were often times prisoners of war. People captured during battles were sent back or sold into slavery. Poor people were slaves too. You became a slave if you could not pay off your debts.

People were born into slavery. If your parents were slaves, then you became a slave at birth. Wealthy people would take in abandoned children or babies and make them slaves.

Kidnapping was another way a person became a slave. Kidnapping was quite common, no matter what your age.

Occupations of ancient Greek slaves

There was a wide variety of occupations for ancient Greek slaves. A slave’s occupation depended on whether they were a man or a woman. Their occupation also depended on their owner.

Male slaves would tend to agricultural fields from planting to harvesting. Male slaves were also prevalent in the Greek navy. Sailing slaves not only were asked to row the boats but fight when needed too.

The slaves of the sailing merchants and the Greek navy often fell to disease or brutality. Male slaves also worked other treacherous jobs.

They worked in mines and quarries where working conditions were harsh. Male slaves were also used as police officers as well as in pottery factories.

Female slaves of ancient Greece worked in factories making clothing or weaving textiles.

They were domestic servants with jobs that ranged from child care to cooking to cleaning to shopping to serving food. Women slaves of wealthy owners might also be a nurse or midwife as well as a teacher.

How many slaves were in ancient Greece?

Many times slaves outnumbered citizens 20 to 1. Slaves were everywhere in ancient Greece. Ancient Greek slavery was very stratified.

You and your family were slaves for life.

You could not buy or work your way out of slavery. After times of war, the number of slaves increased for the victor and decreased for the loser.

There were exceptions to these rules. If you were a slave with a specialized skill you could earn a small salary. Part of this salary was given to their owner. Sometimes skilled slaves bought their freedom.

Activities a slave could take part in

Slaves were allowed to take part in family rituals like sacrifice and purification ceremonies of new born children. Slaves were allowed in the market.

Many slaves were responsible for buying all things needed for a household.

Slaves were not allowed to enter the gymnasium. Public forums and assemblies were other places a slave could not enter.

Ancient Greek slaves were not allowed to use their original name. Each slave was given a new name by their owner.

Spartan Slavery

Spartan slavery was very different. Slaves in Sparta were called helots. At times helots outnumbered Spartan citizens more than 20 to 1.

The number of slaves in Sparta increased dramatically after winning a battle against a neighboring city-state.

Slaves in Sparta generally worked in the field planting and harvesting crops. Helots were assigned to a specific field and would pay a percentage of their crops to the military ruling class.

Helots also fought in battle. If a helot proved to be brave in battle, they might be given their freedom. Helots were also forced to wear similar clothing that identified them as a slave.

Facts about ancient Greek slaves

  • There were a large number of slaves in ancient Greece. Sometimes slaves outnumbered citizens 20 to 1.
  • Slaves played a role in the development of democracy.
  • They worked a variety of jobs even as police officers and midwives.
  • People became slaves for various reasons from owing debt to being born a slave to being kidnapped and prisoners captured during war became slaves.
  • Spartan slaves were called helots.
  • Female slaves were mainly employed as domestic servers.
  • Slaves played an important role in the Greek navy.
  • Some skilled slaves might be able to buy their freedom.
  • Slaves were not allowed in the gymnasiums.
  • Slaves were given new names by their owners.

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