Ancient Greek History

Origins of Slavery in Ancient Greece

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When most of us think of Ancient Greece, certain images come to mind. We think of the Golden Age of Greece and the way the Greek culture has influenced Western Civilization. Without Ancient Greece, wouldn’t have certain concepts, such as democracy, theater, and even mathematics. We admire the architecture. We listen to grand stories about the mythological heroes and are generally fascinated by all that the Ancient Greeks accomplished.

However, there is a side of the Ancient Greek culture that isn’t often talked about. Not all of the people living in Ancient Greece were “free” or were actually considered citizens. There was a large slave population present in allt he Ancient-Greek city-states. For example, from around 450 B.C. to 320 B.C., there were around 100,000 slaves living in the city-state of Attica and the slaves were an essential part of the economy of Greece.

When learning about slavery in Ancient Greece, it’s a good idea to start at the beginning. Here’s a look at the origins of slavery in Ancient Greece:

Slavery Had an Early Beginning

There is some evidence that slavery was present starting with the Minoan civilization located where modern-day Crete is today. The Minoans are the earliest known people in Greece, and evidence of their greatness can still be found on the island at the grand palaces located at the archaeological sites in Knossos in modern-day Heraklion and other Minoan archaeological sites, such as Malia, located elsewhere on the island. The Minoans were known for their peaceful nature and have been shown to engage in trade with other civilizations, such as the Egyptians. There is also some evidence that the Minoans used slaves to help out. However, not much is known by how many slaves they used or whether or not slavery had a large economic impact.

Mycenaean Civilization Also Used Slaves

Once the Minoan civilization collapsed, the Mycenaeans took over as being the prominent civilization in Ancient Greece. There is some debate as to how the Mycenaean Civilization began and the Minoan Civilization ended. However, one thing historians do understand is that slavery started to be a common practice in Ancient Greece during the time when Mycenae thrived. The reason why historians know this is that archaeologists unearthed stone tablets in Pylos that described parts of the economy in Mycenae. One of the economic categories was listed as “slaves”, which usually referred to domestic slaves and also the “slaves of gods”, which referred to those people who were in service to the gods, usually Poseidon. Both types of slaves were common in Mycenae. After that, not much is known about the nature of slavery during the Greek Dark Ages, which came about after the Mycenaean Civilization collapsed.

As you can see, slavery started early on in Ancient Greece. Through the centuries, the role of slavery expanded and the slaves became increasingly important to the culture. In fact, the Ancient Spartans even enslaved an entire ethnic group known as the Helots. Here, the slave population actually outnumbered the Spartan population and much of how the society was structured depending on keeping the Helots from revolting.


Wikipedia – Minoan civilization

Wikipedia – Slavery in Ancient Greece

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