Slavery and Women in Ancient Greece


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Slavery and Women in Ancient Greece

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Slavery and Women in Ancient Greece

Homer demonstrates plainly that the Greek warriors liked to sack a town and take women to be sex slaves or servants. Slavery was acceptable, and slavery meant that slaves must do what is requested. Slave owners had life and death control over their slaves. A slave owner could not deal with an aggressive slave so that person would be killed. Slaves tended to be pretty passive and obedient.

Homelessness was a very uncommon state in ancient Greece. Unfortunately homeless people were commonly caught into slavery. If they were useful then they were sold. If they were useless they were then killed or allowed to die. The family was more important in those days. If your family could not protect you and care for you when you were down and out, then you ended up as a slave. The good thing about slavery is that whoever bought you included you in their family. The bad thing was that you were then forced to do drudgery and if you did not work you were killed or left to die. Sex crimes could easily be perpetrated on a slave.

If your family was poor you could be sold into slavery to help pay off their debts.

The Greeks had marble quarries and silver mines. In other parts of the world there were copper, lead, gold, tin, iron, and mines for precious and semi-precious stone. Slaves did almost everything except smelting. They did the dangerous job of going into the earth to bring the ore to the surface. They also did the heavy work of removing the earth to expose the ore. They wielded the pick and the hammers to drive the drills. Very dry sticks were pounded into the holes so when water was applied they swelled and broke the rock. The large rocks were broken with picks and hammers and chisels. The burden and ore was removed from the mines in sacks on the back of slaves. Slaves had to constantly sharpen the tools to work the rock. Men and women might be used in the mine. Women also may have served as prostitutes as well as cooking and serving food and water.

In Agamemnon by Aeschylus line 951 Agamemnon says of Cassandra”

“This foreign girl receive into the house with kindness. A god from afar looks graciously upon a gentle master; for no one freely takes the yoke of slavery. But she, [955] the choicest flower of rich treasure, has followed in my train, my army’s gift.

In Agamemnon line 1038 Clytaemestra speaks to Cassandra:

“Get down from the car and do not be too proud; [1040] for even Alcmene’s son2, men say, once endured to be sold and eat the bread of slavery. But if such fortune should of necessity fall to the lot of any, there is good cause for thankfulness in having masters of ancient wealth; for they who, beyond their hope, have reaped a rich harvest of possessions, [1045] are cruel to their slaves in every way, even exceeding due measure. You have from us such usage as custom warrants.”

But soon Cassandra is dead.

In the Iliad of Homer line 292 Briseis states,

“My husband, unto whom my father and queenly mother gave me, I beheld mangled with the sharp bronze before our city, and my three brethren whom mine own mother bare, brethren beloved, all these met their day of doom. [295] But thou, when swift Achilles slew my husband, and laid waste the city of godlike Mynes, wouldst not even suffer me to weep, but saidest that thou wouldst make me the wedded wife of Achilles, and that he would bear me in his ships to Phthia, and make me a marriage-feast among the Myrmidons.

In Ajax by Sophocles, line 487 Tecmessa states:

“I was the daughter of a free-born father mighty in wealth, if any Phrygian was. Now I am a slave, for somehow the gods so ordained, [490] and even more so did your strong hand. Therefore, since I have come into your bed, I wish you well, and I do beg you, by the Zeus of our hearth, by your marriage-bed in which you coupled with me, do not condemn me to the cruel talk [495] of your enemies, do not leave me to the hand of a stranger! On whatever day you die and widow me by your death, on that same day, be sure, I shall also be seized forcibly by the Greeks and, with your son, shall obtain a slave’s portion. [500] Then one of my masters will name me bitterly, shooting me with taunts: ‘ See the concubine of Ajax, who was the mightiest man in the army. See what menial tasks she tends to, in place of such an enviable existence!’”

In The Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles Line 759 Jocasta states:

“he pled with me, with hand laid on mine, to send him to the fields, to the pastures of the flocks, that he might be far from the sight of this town. And I sent him; he was worthy, for a slave, to win even a larger favor than that.”

Minoan girl auction as a Slave in Mycenaean Greece.

Aristotle, Economics(1.1344b)states, “Slaves, again, are no exception to the rule that men become worse when better conduct is not followed by better treatment, but virtue and vice remain alike unrewarded. Accordingly we must keep watch over our workers, suiting our dispensations and indulgences to their desert; whether it be food or clothing, leisure or chastisement that we are apportioning. Both in theory and in practice we must take for our model a physician’s freedom in prescribing his medicines; observing at the same time that food differs from medicine in that it requires to be constantly administered.”

An again “Every slave should have before his eyes a definite goal or term of his labor. To set the prize of freedom before him is both just and expedient; since having a prize to work for, and a time defined for its attainment, he will put his heart into his labors.”

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Slavery and Women in Ancient Greece

Questions and Answers

Question: Did women own slaves and how often did the men and women have sex and could the men have sex with more thatn on e woman at one time??

Answer: Women did not own anything let alone slaves. Mainly men had sex
with their wives. Since the wives controlled the women slaves the men had less
sex with the slaves than they wanted. They could have sex with another man’s
slave set up as a prostitute, but they had to pay for it. They could have sex
with more than one woman. There were hetaerae who might give them favors,
but they might have to earn them.

Question: Did menh just go arondlaying other mens slaves cause that what you make it sound like

Answer: No. It was a crime to have sex with another man’s slaves unless
that man set the slaves up as prostitutes. And normally the female slaves were
under the control of the man’s wife and she would not let them have sex with
anyone. Only the men who were not yet married could have a slave they could
have sex with. But the ones he wanted to have sex with were very valuable
as hetaerae and prostitutes, so unless he was very rich, he did not have sex
with them either.

Question: Did women slaves have any right as how to they were treated
sexually.

Answer: No. But a pregnant slave could do no work. It seems unlikely that
the value of any baby produced would exceed the cost of the loss of work in
ancient times. The result is that slave owners tried to keep the slaves from
getting pregnant. Instead of rights there was custom which Cassandra speaks of in the quote above.

Question: How passionate was the sex in those days?

Answer: Extremely passionate. The ancient Greeks were extremely passionate
people.

Question: why did they have slaves

Answer: Slavery allowed the labor of one person to benefit another. When
you bought a slave you did not have to pay a wage to the slave but you could
make the slave work for you. Even though you had to feed the slave to keep
him working you were not responsible for the slave. If you did not feed the
slave and he died it was not your responsibility. If the slave did not work
you could beat him. If he died it was not your responsibility. In the
Mycenaean culture most of the slaves were women. These slaves were made to
spin and weave so the Mycenaeans could have cloth to trade with. In Classical
times many slaves were household servants. Other slaves did mining and other
dangerous tasks. Smiths had trained slaves to help them. Hetaerai and other
trained slaves could often buy their freedom.

Question: Feelings of woman slave, especially in Homeric times

Answer: Most of the comments in Homer and elsewhere indicate that being a
slave was not a happy thing. Breisis, Andromache, and many of the other Trojan
women make statements to this effect.

Question: How wer they enslaved?

Answer: Several ways.

  • Wars produce slaves:
    • Camp followers of a defeated army become slaves of the opposing army.
    • If the defeated army is defending a town then the residents of the
      town become slaves.
    • As a condition of defeat a defeated army may have to produce a certain
      number of slaves as punishment for warring.
    • Political factions may be punished for their beliefs by being defeated
      and enslaved.
  • Pirates may kidnap people who are sold as slaves.
  • Parents may sell their children into slavery.
  • Prostitutes may sell their unwanted children into slavery.

Question: were female slaves just raped or did they consent in sex with
their masters

Answer: Females slaves had to consent to sex, but they rarely had sex
with their male masters. A pregnant slave was a liability to a master so
slaves were often denied sex. Normally female slaves were under the control
of the wife. Sometimes a master would force a female slave into sex for
sale. The slave had no choice in the matter.

Question: Slave markets. Were women sold naked?

Answer: Probably. Only trusted slaves got to wear clothes.

Question: How was the slavery in ancient greece?

Answer: Pretty rough, but not as bad as elsewhere. Athens had laws regulating slavery.

Question: Were women slaves or just had limited rights just like the slaves?

Answer: Women were not slaves. But in general they had no rights either. The ancient Greeks invented rights but only gave them to citizen men. Women lived in a separate world from the men most of the time. In that world there was a heiarchy by status in the family with slaves at the bottom. The highest status woman was the wife of the owner of the property. Then there were the wives of the sons them the daughters, then any other relatives, then the female slaves. Most women had to answer to another woman. Only wives answered to their husbands. Some households involved numerous people in this way. In those households there was the matter of custom that controlled the behavior of the women. In some households only the wife and daughters were involved. To have a woman live alone was rare but hetarae did it. In those households there were only the hetarae and their slaves.

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