History Of Slavery
An evil of civilization
Slavery enters human history with civilization. Hunter-gatherers and primitive farmers have no use for a slave. They collect or grow just enough food for themselves. One more pair of hands is one more mouth. There is no economic advantage in owning another human being. Once people gather in towns and cities, a surplus of food created in the countryside (often now on large estates) makes possible a wide range of crafts in the town. On a large farm or in a workshop there is real benefit in a reliable source of cheap labour, costing no more than the minimum of food and lodging. These are the conditions for slavery. Every ancient civilization uses slaves. And it proves easy to acquire them.
War is the main source of supply, and wars are frequent and brutal in early civilizations. When a town falls to a hostile army, it is normal to take into slavery those inhabitants who will make useful workers and to kill the rest. There are several other ways in which slaves are acquired. Pirates offer their captives for sale. A criminal may be sentenced to slavery. An unpayable debt can bring the end of liberty. The impoverished sell their own children. And the children of slaves are themselves slaves - though with a cheap supply of labour available through war, not many owners will allow their slaves the diversion of raising a family. [ (gascoigne, 2001) ]
Slaves in Babylon: 18th century BC
Information about slaves in early societies relates mainly to their legal status, which is essentially that of an object - part of the owner's valuable property. The Code of Hammurabi, from Babylon in the 18th century BC, gives chilling details of the different Rewards and penalties for surgeons operating on free men or slaves. But it also reveals that the system is not one of unmitigated brutality. Surprisingly, Babylonian slaves are themselves allowed to own property. But the first civilization in which we know a great deal about the role of slaves is that of ancient Greece.
Slaves in Greece: from the 7th century BC
Both the leading states of Greece - Sparta and Athens - depend entirely upon forced labour, though the system in Sparta is more properly described as serfdom rather than slavery. The distinction is that the helots of Sparta are a conquered people, living on their own hereditary land but forced to work it for their Spartan masters. Their existence is a traditional rural one to which certain rights remain attached. The slaves of Athens, by contrast, have no conventional rights. But their condition varies greatly according to the work they do.
The most unfortunate Athenian slaves are the miners, who are driven often to the point of death by their owners (the mines are state-owned but are leased to private managers). By contrast other categories of slaves - particularly those owned directly by the state, such as the 300 Scythian archers who provide the police force of Athens - can acquire a certain prestige. The majority of Athenian slaves are domestic servants. Their fortune depends entirely on the relationship they develop with their owners. Often it is close, with female slaves looking after the children or acting as concubines, or a male slave running the household as a steward.
No free Athenian works in a domestic capacity, for it is considered shameful to be another man's servant. This inhibition applies equally to a subsidiary position in any form of business. As a result male slaves in Athens do all work of a secretarial or managerial nature, for in these contexts they are unmistakably somebody else's personal assistant. Such jobs include positions of influence in fields such as banking and commerce.
[ (westermann, 1955) ]
Slaves in Rome: from the second century BC
The same loophole, offered by the self-esteem of free citizens, provides even greater opportunities to slaves in imperial Rome. The most privileged slaves are the secretarial staff of the emperor. But these...
Bibliography: dresches, s. (2009). abbolition:a history of slavery and anti slavery.
gascoigne, b. (2001). Gascoigne, Bamber. HistoryWorld. From 2001, ongoing. Retrieved 10 14, 2012, from histoy world: http://www.historyworld.net
parish, p. j. (1989). slavery: history and historian.
westermann, w. l. (1955). The Slave Systems of Greek and Roman Antiquity .
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