Slavery in Anatolia During Antiquity

Slavery in Anatolia During Antiquity

In the 5th and 4th centuries B.C., the Anatolian economy was in very good condition and was experiencing its golden age in almost every field. With the victory of the Persian Wars, the Anatolian peoples, who participated in the colonization activities, became very rich thanks to both import and export activities. Especially the removal of the Persians from the Eastern Mediterranean provided interaction with the Egyptian civilization. Economic wealth had led to wealth accumulation, which had led to an increased interest in luxury goods and art products. This situation has caused the flow of artisans, artists, and merchants to developed cities such as Ephesus, Miletus, and Aphrodisias. Another consequence of the development of overseas trade was the bringing of large numbers of slaves to Anatolian cities to be employed in all kinds of jobs.

The Aristocrat class emerged over time in Anatolia with the collapse of the kings and tyrants. Aristocrats belonged to a small but influential class among the population. The fact that they were busy increasing their wealth caused a distance between them and the people.

Duties such as doing military service and paying taxes were again determined depending on the status of the people. E.g; Those at the top of the wealth class were doing their military service as cavalry, those with the second wealth class as heavy infantry, and those with the third wealth class as light infantry. The fourth class, those with no income or slaves, were exempted from military service and lived in an inferior position in society.

Aristocrats gave up on agriculture-based production such as wheat and barley on their large farms and switched to the more profitable production of olive oil and wine caused an income gap between the farmer and peasant class, who had a difficult time making a living outside of the rich and aristocratic families. The oppressed class, which could not compete with this wealthy class, started to sell their lands for little money over time. The group, who lost their lands due to the debt burden, had to migrate to mountainous and unproductive lands. Following all these developments, some people lost their freedom as well as their land thus creating the earliest form of slavery in Anatolia.

Anatolian society was founded on the institution of slavery. The old institution of slavery was established by regulating slave-trading laws, and slaves were traded in the city squares called “agoras”. The slaves brought to the agora were seen as animals and the sale of slaves was evaluated at a certain price by assigning various values to these slaves. In this pricing, conditions such as the young-old or male-female slave were always effective.

Although this cultural tension between the people and the aristocratic class took a positive turn with the colonization movements, it actually increased the gap between these two classes. Because as the number of colonies increased, the volume of trade also increased too.

A Vase Painting Showing Working Slaves

The new workshops that were established made large productions and were in the hands of certain families. These industrial institutions now had advanced tool technologies such as kick wheel and an institutionalized organization, unlike the previous production methods which were much simpler. These factories were increasing their production day by day in order to keep up with the demands.

The inability and inadequacy of the local Anatolian workforce to meet these demands pushed the wealthy to seek workers from other geographies. This situation caused the world to meet the concept of slavery. Until this time, in Greece, there were people who worked in domestic and daily work, generally held as prisoners of war, and were called slaves who were deprived of all their rights except the right to live. The slaves were bought in exchange for money or any commodity. Slaves were mainly grabbed from areas such as Thrace, Russia, or Ukraine today.

Slavery was very widespread, primarily in Ionia, where a serious industrial workforce was needed. Following Ionia (West Turkey today), it became widespread in Greece too. Local workers and craftsmen who worked freely have never completely disappeared, but the number of slaves needed we increasing constantly. In addition to being industrial workers, slaves were also used in areas where they were no longer a part of the regular workforce but they became maids, babysitters, prostitutes, etc.

they can be compared to machines in today’s sense. They were used effectively until they were out of a full stomach and lost their efficiency, and then they were replaced with the new slaves. The slavery system was not a situation that was found strange by anyone, including the philosophers whose reputation has survived to the present day.

In Ionia, the number of slaves at one time varied between 100,000 and 300,000. The legal status of the slaves was well established. In the first place, slaves were not individuals but the property of their owners. The only legal right granted to slaves was that they could not be killed for no reason. In addition, old slaves could be freed by their owners. As the aging slave was unproductive, he was disposed of and replaced by a younger slave.

Captive Slaves in the Agora

The form of slavery in ancient Greece is basically divided into two parts: debt dependency-state serfdom-movable property slavery and state slaves and private property slaves. Enslavement because of debt was a very common form of slavery in Ancient Greece. It is the situation where people pledge their labor due to debts they cannot pay. The second group was state slaves, it is seen that the slaves in this group belonged to the state or the emperor himself. These slaves worked in special jobs given by the emperor or the state and these slaves were their property. According to many thinkers, the fact that the state also owns slaves apart from private property reveals that slaves have an important position in society and there was a big need for them.

Making a good slave bad and a bad slave worse was considered a crime. The one who makes a slave damage another’s property leads him to sex, makes him a vagrant, gets him into witchcraft, gets him involved in a riot, causes the slave to aspire to an ostentatious life, who leads the slave to rebellion or accustom him to homosexual relations were subjected to severe punishments.

Valeriya Gülday

I have been living in Turkey for more than ten years. I finished my education abroad on linguistics. Russian and Turkish are my native languages, and I am also fluent in English and Mandarin Chinese. I am on the senior year of tour guiding faculty and soon I wish I will be guiding all over Turkey!

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