The Aspects Of Greek And Roman Slavery

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Slavery, almost unanimously, can be viewed as a blemish on the history of mankind. It is immoral and simply wrong to own another human being and force them to work for very little in return. A hot topic in relatively recent years has been the following: can we continue to praise a society’s advancements and achievements if they participated in the practice of slavery? This paper serves as an attempt to answer that question and possibly a few others.

The largest problem in discerning the answer to this question is that it is impossible to tell if slavery had a large impact on the advancement of the society. Many may argue that because of slavery, those of wealth and high status had the leisure time to pursue science, art, philosophy, and so on. However, if this argument is to be made, another argument naturally progresses because of it: is it not possible that there were slaves who could have contributed to those same pursuits that were not allowed to due to their position as slaves? This leads to a stalemate in which both sides are attempting to guess at what could have been, rather than discussing facts, and therefore making imaginary scenarios to combat the other side. Because of this, the remainder of this paper will be as focused on the facts and ethics of slavery rather than this particularly muddy issue.

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Starting with Greece, Aristotle claims that by nature some are meant to lead, and some are meant to follow. That in itself is not a problematic statement. It is where he continues with this line of thinking that causes problems. He claims that some people are born to be slaves, being naturally “inferior” and requiring a slave master in order to survive. Although these two claims may look similar, their implications are different. When a discussion of natural-born leaders and natural-born followers is discussed, it can be assumed that what is meant by the term “follower” is someone who still has control of their own life. Meanwhile when it comes to slavery, there is a lack of agency and consent in the matter. Living in Greece and believing in democracy whilst also holding these views is hypocritical. It also is reminiscent of eugenics, which is the belief in keeping the human race “genetically strong” by not allowing those with “inferior traits” reproduce. He also compares slaves to inanimate tools, as if they are nothing more than a means to an end.

Rome was also very reliant on slavery. Columella describes how to treat your slaves in order to get full control of them, including ways of emotionally manipulating human behavior into making slaves like their masters. Such behaviors include specifically speaking to them informally so that the master can then understand the slaves’ abilities and will make them feel as if the master truly cares about them. It would be one thing if this was done out of the kindness of the master’s heart, but the way it is presented makes it appear as if it is solely a tool for them to use to their advantage. This is morally repugnant and socially unacceptable behavior.

While there were possibly masters who treated their slaves well, which truly can not be confirmed since there are no writings by slaves themselves, there were definitely masters who were cruel to their slaves. If people were truly fine with being slaves, then there would not have been the slave revolt of over 70,000 men led by Spartacus and Crixus. If slaves were inferior human beings, why was Sparta so afraid of a helot rebellion that they created the military state that they are known for today? Why was the slave revolt as successful as it was if they were just tools? This proves that not only were slaves and helots powerful enough to give the state a run for their money, but that in some strange way the states were forced to acknowledge that.

In conclusion, while Rome and Greece provided the world with many advancements, it is morally wrong and unjust to praise them for these without consistently condemning their use of and treatment of the slaves working beneath them. They should not be over-romanticized. There can be no separation of art and the artist. The art is molded by and includes these putrid ideals and behaviors, whether visible on the surface or not. Does this mean that one can not appreciate the things that Greece and Rome provided? Of course not, but one must be aware of their own thought processes and realize how many people suffered for those things.

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The Aspects Of Greek And Roman Slavery. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 24, 2024, from
“The Aspects Of Greek And Roman Slavery.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
The Aspects Of Greek And Roman Slavery. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 Jun. 2024].
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