How Was Slavery Different in Ancient Greece?

Slavery has been a dark stain on human history, one that has unfortunately existed in various forms across different civilizations. Ancient Greece, with its rich cultural heritage and contributions to philosophy, literature, and democracy, was no exception to this unfortunate reality. However, the institution of slavery in ancient Greece differed in several key ways from other historical periods.

Social Status of Slaves

In ancient Greece, slaves were considered property rather than individuals with rights. They were owned by individuals or households and had no legal standing. Slaves were at the complete mercy of their masters and had no control over their own lives or destinies.

Types of Slavery

Ancient Greece had two main types of slaves: chattel slaves and helots.

Chattel Slaves

Chattel slavery was the most common form in ancient Greece. These slaves were bought and sold as property and could be used for various tasks such as domestic work, agriculture, or even as concubines.


The helots were a unique group of slaves who belonged to the city-state of Sparta. Unlike chattel slaves, they were not bought or sold individually but were owned collectively by the state. The helots worked primarily as agricultural laborers on land owned by Spartan citizens.

Treatment of Slaves

The treatment of slaves in ancient Greece varied depending on their roles and individual masters. While some masters treated their slaves relatively well, providing them with basic necessities such as food and shelter, others subjected them to harsh conditions and brutal treatment.

The Daily Life of Slaves

  • Slaves had no control over their own lives and were subject to the whims of their masters.
  • They had to work long hours, often performing physically demanding tasks.
  • Slaves were not entitled to an education and were generally illiterate.
  • They lived in cramped quarters with limited privacy.

Legal Status of Slaves

Slaves in ancient Greece had no legal rights. They were considered property rather than individuals, which meant they could be bought, sold, or even killed by their owners without any legal consequences. Slaves had no access to the justice system and were completely at the mercy of their masters.


Ancient Greek slavery was a deeply ingrained part of society, with slaves being treated as mere property rather than human beings. While some slaves may have experienced relatively better treatment, their status as property deprived them of basic rights and freedoms. It is essential to study and understand the history of slavery in ancient Greece to fully comprehend the complexities of human civilizations and strive towards a more just society today.