Slaves in Athens

Slaves had no rights in Ancient Greece. They were owned either by masters or by the state and came from prisoners of war, piracy, banditry or international trade. These were chattel slaves.

Most households in Athens owned at least one slave. To not own a slave at all was a sure sign of poverty.

Although slaves were not necessarily treated well by their owners it was illegal for owners to beat or kill their slaves, although this is still believed to have happened. Athenian law forbade the striking of slaves. The master could however do as he liked with his slave. He could keep them, sell them, lease them out or give them away. The slave had no choice but to obey the master.

Slaves owned by the city-state did have more freedom than household slaves. They were allowed to live on there own and work for the state. Slaves could be allowed to marry and have children, however as their family unit was not recognised by the state, the members of the family could be separated at will.

Slaves were not allowed to own property but they could save up and buy their freedom. They could then run businesses and pay a fixed payment to their former master.

If a slave was called to give evidence in a trial, the testament was only accepted as true if the slave was tortured. Even though tortured, slaves normally remained loyal to their master.

Slave rebellion or revolt was rare in Athenian society as slaves came from so many different nationalities it was difficult to organise them into rebellion.


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