SLAVE TRADE IN ANCIENT PERIOD
Slavery was an accepted feature, often essential to the economy and society, of all the ancient civilizations. The ancient Mesopotamian, Indian and Chinese civilizations employed slaves, either domestically in homes and shops or in gangs for large scale construction or agriculture. The ancient Egyptians used slaves on a mass scale to build the royal palaces and monuments. The ancient Hebrews also used slaves, but they were required by religious law to free slaves of their own nationality at certain fixed times. In the more advanced civilizations of pre Columbian America, for example, those of the Aztec, Inca and Maya, slave labour was also used on a large scale in both agriculture and warfare.
In the Homeric epics, slavery is the ordinary destiny of prisoners of war. The later Greek philosophers did not consider the condition of slavery as morally objectionable, although Aristotle went so far as to suggest that faithful slaves might be freed in reward for loyal service. With few exceptions, slaves in ancient Greece were humanely treated. However, the Helots of Sparta, descendant of an earlier, conquered race of inhabitants who were forced to labour on large estates and to fight with the Spartan armies, were severely treated, mainly because they far outnumbered their dependent masters. More typically, slaves were employed in domestic services, in trades, as labourers on country estates, and as seamen and oarsmen. Where they were employed in private domestic service, it was not uncommon to find them in friendly terms with their masters.
Roman slavery differed in several important aspects from that of ancient Greece. Roman masters had more powers over their slaves, including, by law, the power of life and death. Slavery was also far more necessary to the economy and social system of Rome, especially during the Empire, than it had been in Greece. Wealthy Romans, often maintaining large city and county homes, dependent on numerous slaves for the efficient operation of these households. Imperial conquest and expansion eventually strained the native Roman workforce, so great numbers of foreign slaves had to be imported to fill agricultural labour needs. The primary way of acquiring slaves were through war; tens of thousands of captured prisoners of war was brought to Rome as slaves. Other source of slaves were debtors, who sold themselves or members of their families into slavery, and persons convicted of serious crimes. Ultimately, dependence on slavery contributed significantly to Rome’s downfall.
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