It may seem strange (and horrible) to us today, but slavery was a common practice during the time period of Ancient Greece. Most Greek families owned at least one slave and slaves were an important part of the culture and economy of Ancient Greece.
Did the Greeks have a lot of slaves?
Historians aren't sure exactly how many slaves the Greeks owned, but they usually estimate that between 30 and 40 percent of the population were slaves. Even the poorest families owned at least one slave with some wealthy families owning hundreds.
Where did the slaves come from?
Most of the slaves were foreigners who had been captured in war or purchased through the slave trade.
What kind of work did they do?
Slaves did a wide variety of work depending on their skills and who owned them. Some slaves performed hard labor in the mines or on farms. Other slaves did household chores or worked as artisans in the city.
Did they have any rights?
There were different types of slaves in Ancient Greece and different rules depending on the city where the slave lived. However, in general, slaves had few rights. They had to work long hours doing whatever job their owner demanded. Slaves couldn't own property and had fewer rights than citizens. In most cases, they could not be put to death without a fair trial.
Were slaves ever set free?
Yes, slaves were sometimes set free by their owners (called "manumission"). Owners may also allow the slave to save up money and buy their own freedom. Freed slaves were still not considered full citizens and often had obligations to their former owners.
How did they know who was a slave?
It was sometimes difficult to tell a slave from a free person in Ancient Greece. Slave women often had their hair cut short. This would have marked them as a slave because free women kept their hair long. Sometimes slaves were marked with scars or tattoos so they could be recognized as slaves.
Slaves of the Spartans
The Spartans ruled over a group of people called the Helots. The Helots were treated like slaves by the Spartans. They farmed the land and performed other manual labor for the Spartans. There were actually a lot more Helots than Spartans. In order to keep control, the Spartans had secret police who kept track of the Helots and killed anyone who they thought might rebel.
Interesting Facts About Slaves in Ancient Greece
Slave owners were responsible for any crimes their slaves committed.
Slaves participated in most occupations in Greece, but were not allowed to participate in politics.
The worst job for a slave was working in the mines. This was dangerous and hard work. Slaves working in the mines didn't live very long.
Wealthy Greeks would buy slaves as an investment and then rent them out to others.
The Spartans would declare war on the Helots each year so they could kill them without it being considered murder.
Slaves were often captured by pirates or bandits and sold at the slave market.