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A Note on Antique Slavery—The Institution of Bondage in Classical European History

In ancient Greece and Rome slaves were easy to come by, and the desire to differentiate and politically disenfranchise people was notable. Foremost, a person could be born into slavery by virtue of their parentage. One could also be born of free parents, who decided to sell the child into slavery. If bond heritage and youth were not immediate pathways to captivity then criminality certainly was. When a war was over, those among the conquered who were still alive could be captured and made a slave.

Butler’s mosaic.

Butler’s mosaic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Freedom was tenuous if a person was legally sentenced for the commission of a crime—he or she could be enslaved. If the crime was refusing to pay a debt, then slavery was the remedy. With all the circumstances that could lead to bondage, the need to address the attendant commerce was lively—thus, the business of buying and selling slaves for monetary gain existed as a profitable opportunity. Classical historians have asserted that Greco-Roman slaves could be seen functioning in society as free people; however, under the old Roman law, the master of a slave held the power of life and death.–HSM

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