Did Ancient Greece Have Slavery?

Ancient Greece is often revered as the birthplace of democracy, philosophy, and the Olympics. However, one aspect of ancient Greek society that is often overlooked is its reliance on slavery. Yes, ancient Greece did have slavery, and it was a crucial part of its economy and society.

What was Slavery in Ancient Greece?

Slavery in ancient Greece was the practice of owning another human being who had no rights or freedoms. These people were called slaves or “doulos” in Greek.

Slaves were not considered citizens and were owned by their masters who had complete control over their lives. Slaves were used for various purposes – as laborers, domestic servants, artisans, soldiers, and even as concubines or prostitutes.

How did Slavery begin in Ancient Greece?

The origins of slavery in ancient Greece are unclear, but it is believed to have started as early as the Mycenaean period (1600-1100 BCE). During this time, slaves were mostly prisoners of war who were captured during battles. As time went on, slaves became more abundant and cheap due to increased trade with other civilizations like Egypt and Phoenicia.

The Role of Slavery in Ancient Greek Society

Slavery played a major role in ancient Greek society. It provided the labor force needed for agriculture, mining, construction projects like temples and public buildings. It also allowed citizens to pursue intellectual pursuits like philosophy and politics since they didn’t have to do manual labor.

The Treatment of Slaves

Slaves were treated differently depending on their roles and owners. Some slaves worked alongside free workers while others worked under harsh conditions like mines or quarries where they suffered from injuries or diseases. Female slaves often faced sexual abuse from their masters while male slaves could be physically punished for disobedience.

The Abolition of Slavery in Ancient Greece

Slavery in ancient Greece was not abolished but there were efforts to mitigate its harshness. For example, the Athenian lawgiver Solon (6th century BCE) abolished debt slavery and forbade selling oneself or family members into slavery. The philosopher Aristotle (4th century BCE) believed that slavery was natural and necessary but argued that slaves should be treated humanely.


In conclusion, ancient Greece did have slavery, and it was a fundamental part of its economy and society. While it provided the labor force needed for various industries, it also deprived people of their freedom and dignity.

Slavery in ancient Greece was not abolished, but there were efforts to make it less harsh. It is essential to learn about this aspect of ancient Greek history so that we can understand the roots of modern-day issues like racism, inequality, and human rights violations.