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HIST7104: Slavery in the Classical World

Dr Simon Corcoran

This course seeks to study slavery in the context of the societies of Greece and Rome, while remaining aware also of the influence of developing modern debates and concerns on the subject. The topic is approached principally through the study of the ancient sources, in order to find out both how slavery functioned in practice, but also how the people of antiquity thought about it. It tackles the difficulties of uneven and incomplete ancient evidence, both textual (we have plentiful writings from slave-owners, but little from slaves) and physical, and considers the merits of other approaches less dependent on ancient material (e.g. demography, and comparison with better documented ‘slave societies’). Slavery is considered from economic, social and ideological perspectives. The sources of slave-supply, the work slaves did, how they were treated and their legal position are all examined. The process of manumission and the varying statuses of freedmen are also covered, as well as other forms of dependent labour. More general issues are also addressed, such as the definition of what a slave is, the notion of a ‘slave society’, and ultimately how important and integral to ancient societies the institution of slavery was. Each class lasts two hours, and includes prepared presentations by students, group discussions of issues or texts, and consideration of material distributed on hand-outs. Preparation is by the reading of a quantity of ancient source material, in the light of suggested topics for thought and secondary reading.


Assessment methods


HIST7104A: 2 X 2,500 word essays

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