What Are Freedmen in Ancient Greece?

The term “Freedmen” refers to former slaves who were granted their freedom in ancient Greece. These individuals, once considered property, were able to gain their liberty through various means, such as purchase, manumission by their masters, or as a reward for faithful service.

Origin of Freedmen

In ancient Greece, slavery was a common practice and slaves served in various capacities. They were employed in households, on farms, and even in the military. However, over time, some slaves managed to secure their freedom and became known as freedmen.


One of the primary ways through which slaves could attain freedom was through manumission. Manumission refers to the formal process of releasing a slave from bondage. Slave owners had the legal right to free their slaves by granting them their freedom.

Manumission often occurred when a slave had served faithfully for an extended period or had performed exceptional acts that earned them favor with their masters. In some cases, a slave might even negotiate with their master and offer financial compensation in exchange for freedom.

Freedom Through Purchase

Another avenue for gaining freedom was through purchase. In certain instances, slaves could save enough money to buy their own freedom from their owners. This required careful planning and resourcefulness on the part of the slave.

Some freedmen used this newfound liberty to establish businesses or engage in skilled trades. This allowed them to accumulate wealth and improve their social status within ancient Greek society.

Status of Freedmen

While freedmen enjoyed greater personal autonomy compared to when they were enslaved, they still faced limitations in terms of social standing and political rights within ancient Greek society.

Social Standing

Freedmen occupied a unique position in society. They were no longer slaves but did not possess the same privileges as freeborn citizens. As such, they often faced prejudice and discrimination from those higher on the social ladder.

Despite these challenges, some freedmen managed to rise above their circumstances and establish successful lives. They could accumulate wealth, gain education, and even participate in certain aspects of public life.

Political Rights

While freedmen had more personal freedoms, they did not have the same political rights as freeborn citizens. They were often excluded from participating in the democratic process or holding public office.

However, there were exceptions to this rule. In some Greek city-states, freedmen could obtain limited political rights if they met certain criteria or made significant contributions to society.


The concept of freedmen in ancient Greece represents a significant development within a society built on slavery. While not enjoying the full rights of freeborn citizens, freedmen could achieve personal autonomy and make substantial contributions to ancient Greek society.

  • Manumission: The formal process of releasing a slave from bondage
  • Purchase: Buying one’s freedom from the owner
  • Social Standing: Occupied a unique position between slaves and freeborn citizens
  • Political Rights: Limited or absent political rights compared to freeborn citizens

Acknowledging the existence and experiences of freedmen is crucial for understanding the complexities of ancient Greek society and its reliance on slavery.