HIST7104: Slavery in the Classical World
This module 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.
HIST7104A: 2 X 2,500 word essays
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