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What prevented slaves in Classical Greece from running off?

What prevented slaves in Classical Greece from running off?

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I was once again reading the Old Oligach's rant on slaves and how good they supposedly had it.

if it were customary for a slave (or metic or freedman) to be struck by one who is free, you would often hit an Athenian citizen by mistake on the assumption that he was a slave. For the people there are no better dressed than the slaves and metics, nor are they any more handsome. [11]

Now perhaps this is to be taken with more than a mere grain of salt. Or it might be peculiar to Athens, hence worth stressing to the author of the text.

If there is truth to this, why didn't most Greek slaves (even if they were a minority among slaves) run off to their cities? Some cities, such as Megara were less than 50km away and long standing enemies of Athens. I assume, if the slave could find his way into the city and to his family without being spotted, they would have helped him to re-settle in Megara!

Despite the Old Oligarch's information, was there anything such as a metal ring around the neck, a branding, etc., whereby to recognise them?


Thanks for bringing to my attention this informative answer. As a Greek I am of course aware of the problems associated with enslaving Greeks. There is still no doubt that it was done. As the aforementioned answer states:

When cities fell, there was a recurrent tendency for the victor (even when dealing with Greeks) to kill the men and enslave the women and children.


First, it is important to note that Greek (and other) slaves performed many kinds of jobs and this fact alone could influence the likelihood of a slave running away:

The status of slaves, and the conditions under which they lived, depended in part on what kind of work they did… Some slaves received a formal education and training and managed to attain executive positions in business and industry… Slaves… could also attain positions of management and oversee the work of other slaves…

Source: Theodore M. Sylvester, Slavery Throughout History

At the other end of the spectrum,

Some of the hardest work for slaves was in the farm fields, but the worst possible fate for a slave was to be sent to the mines, where the hours were long, the work was backbreaking

Source: Sylvester

Thus generalizing about why they did or didn't run away is impossible, and there is also the character of the individual to consider - ancient sources refer to some slaves being meek while others were difficult to manage. It is also impossible to say what percentage of slaves ran away, but we do know that some did.


There are a variety of reasons why many slaves didn't run away:

1. Slaves acquired through conquest would, in some cases at least, have found it difficult to return home, either because their city was still under the control of the conquering power or because there was nothing / no one left there for them (e.g. Melos).

2. Some slaves were born into slavery, others were abandoned babies (resulting from the practice of infant exposure) who were found and brought up as slaves. In both cases, they had no 'home' to go to and were not citizens of any state (a major handicap in Classical Greece).

3. Others were sold into slavery as children - difficult to return to one's parents under those circumstances. This was common for Thracians.

4. Some people became slaves due to extreme poverty - slavery at least usually meant food and a place to stay. In Athens, though, Solon (d. circa. 558 BC) made debt slavery of Athenian citizens illegal and had all enslaved Athenians released.

5. Fear of being caught. The comic poet Antiphanes' play Drapetagogos (The Runaway-catcher or The Catcher of Runaway Slaves) is evidence that some slaves clearly did run away but also, at the same time, that those who did could not expect their masters not to do something about it. The risks were considerable: being caught might well mean exchanging a relatively comfortable position for working in the silver mines, probably the worst fate for a slave.

6. It has been argued that some slaves became very close to their master or mistress and were generally content with their lot, or even almost part of the family:

Some have suggested (e.g. Westermann 1955: 18) that slaves failed to rebel there because they were relatively well treated and content.

Source: K. Bradley, P. Cartledge (eds.), The Cambridge History of Slavery

Note also

Euripedes' tragic character of Medea confided her deepest feelings with her nurse, who both advised and comforted her in her troubled times.


Tombstones of upstanding Athenian women often depict scenes of familiarity between the deceased and her slave companion.

7. It has also been argued that the wider dispersion of slaves in Athens (Mines of Laurion excepted) was a factor in slaves not rebelling:

Paul Cartledge (2001b), however, suggested that Athens differed in key ways from modern societies that experienced slave rebellions. Athens had a lower proportion of slaves (a third or less), and they were dispersed in relatively small groups with a relatively personal relationship to their masters.

Source: K. Bradley, P. Cartledge (eds.), The Cambridge History of Slavery

8. The slaves who would have had the most reason to run away would have been the ones who had the worst tasks. The prime example here would be slaves working in the Mines of Laurion, but they were under guard and sometimes (at least) chained (but see below for more on this).

9. A final factor is that research indicates that the large majority of slaves in Athens (at least) were probably either non-Greeks or else Greek women / children, for Greek men captured in wars between Greek states were usually put to death rather than enslaved. The relevance of this is that a young, fit Greek male would find it easier to escape than a 'barbarian' (less far to safety/home city) and a woman / child (on average, better able to evade slave hunters).


We know that some slaves did run away as this is referred to in a number of ancient sources. For example, in Xenophon's Memorabilia,

Socrates expresses surprise that people sometimes give more effort to hunting runaways (or looking after sick slaves) than cultivating friends who are much more useful.

Source: K. Bradley, P. Cartledge (eds.)

Also, Thucydides mentions that

Athens punished the town of Megara for (among other things) harbouring runaways (Thuc. 1.139-40)

Source: K. Bradley, P. Cartledge (eds.)


Several law-court speeches mention owners chasing escaped slaves (Ps.-Demosthenes 49.9, 53.6).3 Travelling after runaways could be a risky business, but these texts do not imply that it was unusual. There is some epigraphic evidence too (SEG iii 92.9-19).

Source: K. Bradley, P. Cartledge (eds.)

There is also a reference to slaves running away noted by R. Zelnick-Abramovitz in Not Wholly Free,

Socrates, speaking about good estate management, claims that there are households in which slaves are fettered and yet attempt to run away, whereas in other households, although they are without fetters, they are willing to work and remain

Finally, there was a major rebellion with thousands of slaves running way to nearby Decelea following an Athenian defeat at the hands of Sparta in 413 BC during the Peloponnesian War.


As noted in the question, slaves could easily be mistaken for citizens. On this, J.W. Roberts says:

The similarity of dress is not surprising in view of the known overlap of occupation: citizen and slave artisans worked at the same tasks for the same wages

Source: J. W. Roberts, City of Sokrates (2nd ed.)

It is also quite plausible that the favoured slave of a wealthy Athenian would be better dressed than some less well-off citizens. However, it is fair to assume that Athenian citizens would not be found in certain jobs - for example, down the mines.

There is evidence of confusion even among ancient historians concerning Argos in the aftermath of their defeat at Sepeia the hands of Sparta in 494 BC as to whether the men who defended Argos after the catastrophic defeat of the Argive army were slaves or local farmers.

According to Kostas Vlassopoulos, it is no surprise that, as

Slaves and freemen exercised the same professions; this overlap made it impossible to differentiate status solely on the basis of profession or living conditions. Thus, many slaves were in a position to take advantage of this blurring of identities to escape detection and create better conditions for themselves.

The only evidence I've found for any kind of 'marking' of a slave is this in J. W. Roberts:

A runaway slave who was recaptured could expect to be branded.


IF one considers the Messenian helots as slaves (which many historians do not, preferring to call them serfs), there were a number of revolts against Spartan ownership of the land and the people. For the most part, though, the helots of Messenia were not 'runaways' - Messenia was, after all, their home.

However, the Athenians helped to establish the city of Naupaktos

as a refuge for liberated ex-helots during the great post-earthquake revolt of the 460s.

Source: Paul Cartledge, The Spartans

Subsequently, over the years, a number of helots did escape from Spartan-controlled Messenia to Naupaktos but, mostly, they stayed put. This was most likely because they considered the land theirs (so why should they move). Also, despite being slaves / serfs, they were left enough of their produce by their Spartan overlords to survive.

Other sources

S. Murnaghan, Women and Slaves in Classical Culture

Robert Osborne, Classical Greece 500 - 323 BC

R. A. Tomlinson, Argos and the Argolid

M. Gann & J. Willen, Five Thousand Years of Slavery

10 Exciting Films About Ancient Greece

Fans of Greek epic films should take a look at this list of the best movies that celebrate ancient Greece, which bring to life timeless tales of old.

Greece has a rich and vibrant culture of ancient mythology and history. The appeal of these stories full of legendary monsters, brave heroes, and dangerous quests is alive and well to this day - an appeal that can be found in stories about other ancient civilizations, as well.

This list will focus on Ancient Greece and the way its legends and histories have been realized through the medium of film. From Disney to Zack Snyder and Franc Miller to Stanley Kubrick, these masterpieces bring to life some epic tales from long ago.

Greece Learns to Read and Write

Let&rsquos start this journey by visiting the bucolic paradise that was pre-cultural Greece. A fertile ground for nomadic tribes of hunter-gatherers, wandering herds of undomesticated animals, and wild-growing edible plants, the land naturally develops primitive settlements both along its coasts and interior regions.

In this era are the roots of trade. Olive trees are abundant, and regions where they grow become highly desirable waystations for travelers and traders. As the trade routes are established, olive oil emerges as the most important currency of its time.

It is during this period that the earliest form of Greek writing &ndash a still-undeciphered script called &ldquoLinear A&rdquo &ndash appears in the historical record. Around 1,500 BCE, a more familiar-looking form called &ldquoLinear B&rdquo emerges. It is recognizable enough as a precursor to the Greek language that it has been translated and provides a window into Greek life before more advanced settlements evolved.

For that, we need to travel to . . .

What prevented slaves in Classical Greece from running off? - History

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More Information about the Spartans

An Entertaining Film m

More fascinating facts from the HistoryWiz archives

The Spartan family was quite different from that of other Ancient Greek city-states. The word "spartan" has come down to us to describe self-denial and simplicity. This is what Spartan life was all about. Children were children of the state more than of their parents. They were raised to be soldiers, loyal to the state, strong and self-disciplined.

It began in infancy. When a Spartan baby was born, soldiers came to the house and examined it carefully to determine its strength.The baby was bathed in wine rather than water, to see its reaction. If a baby was weak, the Spartans exposed it on the hillside or took it away to become a slave (helot). Infanticide was common in ancient cultures, but the Spartans were particularly picky about their children. It was not just a matter of the family, the city-state decided the fate of the child. Nurses had the primary care of the baby and did not coddle it.

Soldiers took the boys from their mothers at age 7, housed them in a dormitory with other boys and trained them as soldiers. The mother's softening influence was considered detrimental to a boy's education. The boys endured harsh physical discipline and deprivation to make them strong. The marched without shoes and went without food. They learned to fight, endure pain and survive through their wits. The older boys willingly participated in beating the younger boys to toughen them. Self-denial, simplicity, the warrior code, and loyalty to the city-state governed their lives.

Spartan children were taught stories of courage and fortitude. One favorite story was about a boy who followed the Spartan code. He captured a live fox and intended to eat it. Although boys were encouraged to scrounge for food, they were punished if caught. The boy noticed some Spartan soldiers coming, and hid the fox beneath his shirt. When the soldiers confronted him, he allowed the fox to chew into his stomach rather than confess, and showed no sign of pain in his body or face. This was the Spartan way.

At the age of 20 or so, they had to pass a rigorous test to graduate and become full citizens. Only the soldiers were received the aristocratic citizenship. If they failed their tests they never became citizens, but became perioeci, the middle class. So to some extent class was based on merit rather than birth.

If the young men passed, they continued to live in the barracks and train as soldiers but were required to marry to produce new young Spartans. The state gave them a piece of land which was farmed by slaves and which they did nothing to tend. The income provided for their support so they could remain full-time soldiers. At the age of 30 they were allowed to live with their families, but continued to train until the age of 60 when they retired from military service.

Girls also were removed from the home at 7 and sent to school. Here they learned wrestling, gymnastics, were taught to fight, and endured other physical training. Spartans believed that strong mothers produced strong children. Young women competed at athletic events and may have competed in the nude as the men did.

If they passed their citizen tests, they were assigned a husband. Because this did not happen until they were 18-20, they were more emotionally mature when they married and closer to the age of their husbands. Marrying later than other Greek women, the Spartan women produced stronger children, if not as many. To prepare for the wedding night, her hair was cut short and she was dressed in male clothing. The man then returned to his all-male barracks.

Men and women did not live together, but met occasionally for procreation. The wedding consisted of a ritualized physical struggle which resulted in the man slinging the woman over his shoulder and taking her off. By the end of the 4th century BCE there were more women than men in sparta and women often had more than one father for their children, and a several men might share a wife. Connubial love was discouraged by the city-state, but there is evidence that some husbands and wives loved each other very much. This fact would embarrass them if it were known, a shameful weakness, so such attachments were usually kept secret.

Women enjoyed much greater freedom and independence in sparta than in other Greek city-states. Because mothers had little responsibility for the care of their children, they were not as tied to the home as most Greek women were. They were allowed to walk abroad in the city and transact their own affairs. They owned their own property, as much as a third of the property in Sparta. Their husbands were only a minor part of their lives, and except in matters relating to the military were generally their own masters.

They were not as close to their children as other Greek women in some ways, but a mother had pride in her son's stature as a courageous and strong soldier. “Come home with your shield or upon it” was said to be the advice one woman gave her son as he went off to war. They shared the culture's shame of weakness.

Although the Spartans did not have a family life as we think of it, there is evidence that in some cases at least Spartan men and women had close ties to their children and with each other. Their system certainly was well-ordered and avoided the "moral degeneration" they despised in the Athenians who they saw as wallowing in luxuries. And their is no doubt that the system produced strong soldiers. The Spartan army was legendary in ancient Greece, and the legend continues to this day.

Farming in Ancient Greece

Farming in ancient Greece was difficult due to the limited amount of good soil and cropland. It is estimated that only twenty percent of the land was usable for growing crops. The main crops were barley, grapes, and olives.

Grain crops, such as barley and wheat, were planted in October and harvested in April or May. Olives were harvested November through February. Grapes were normally picked in September.

Barley was the main cereal crop for the ancient Greek farmers. They made the barley into porridge or ground it into flour to make bread. Olive oil was used for cooking oil or in oil lamps. Grapes were primarily used for wine production, although they could be eaten or dried into raisins. The Greeks watered down wine, mixing one part wine with two parts water. Drinking wine straight was considered barbaric.

Most farms were small with four or five acres of land. Farmers grew enough food to support their families and, at times, they grew a small surplus to sell at the local market. There were some very large farms run by overseers while the owner lived in the city. One record showed a farmer making 30,000 drachmas in a year off his large farm. (An average worker made about two drachmas a day.) This was the exception because most farms were small to medium sized.

How the oligarchy wins: lessons from ancient Greece

A few years ago, as I was doing research for a book on how economic inequality threatens democracy, a colleague of mine asked if America was really at risk of becoming an oligarchy. Our political system, he said, is a democracy. If the people don’t want to be run by wealthy elites, we can just vote them out.

The system, in other words, can’t really be “rigged” to work for the rich and powerful unless the people are at least willing to accept a government of the rich and powerful. If the general public opposes rule-by-economic-elites, how is it, then, that the wealthy control so much of government?

The question was a good one, and while I had my own explanations, I didn’t have a systematic answer. Luckily, two recent books do. Oligarchy works, in a word, because of institutions.

In his fascinating and insightful book Classical Greek Oligarchy, Matthew Simonton takes us back to the ancient world, where the term oligarchy was coined. One of the primary threats to oligarchy was that the oligarchs would become divided, and that one from their number would defect, take leadership of the people, and overthrow the oligarchy.

To prevent this occurrence, ancient Greek elites developed institutions and practices to keep themselves united. Among other things, they passed sumptuary laws, preventing extravagant displays of their wealth that might spark jealousy, and they used the secret ballot and consensus building practices to ensure that decisions didn’t lead to greater conflict within their cadre.

Appropriately for a scholar of the classics, Simonton focuses on these specific ancient practices in detail. But his key insight is that elites in power need solidarity if they are to stay in power. Unity might come from personal relationships, trust, voting practices, or – as is more likely in today’s meritocratic era – homogeneity in culture and values from running in the same limited circles.

While the ruling class must remain united for an oligarchy to remain in power, the people must also be divided so they cannot overthrow their oppressors. Oligarchs in ancient Greece thus used a combination of coercion and co-optation to keep democracy at bay. They gave rewards to informants and found pliable citizens to take positions in the government.

These collaborators legitimized the regime and gave oligarchs beachheads into the people. In addition, oligarchs controlled public spaces and livelihoods to prevent the people from organizing. They would expel people from town squares: a diffuse population in the countryside would be unable to protest and overthrow government as effectively as a concentrated group in the city.

They also tried to keep ordinary people dependent on individual oligarchs for their economic survival, similar to how mob bosses in the movies have paternalistic relationships in their neighborhoods. Reading Simonton’s account, it is hard not to think about how the fragmentation of our media platforms is a modern instantiation of dividing the public sphere, or how employees and workers are sometimes chilled from speaking out.

The most interesting discussion is how ancient oligarchs used information to preserve their regime. They combined secrecy in governance with selective messaging to targeted audiences, not unlike our modern spinmasters and communications consultants. They projected power through rituals and processions.

At the same time, they sought to destroy monuments that were symbols of democratic success. Instead of public works projects, dedicated in the name of the people, they relied on what we can think of as philanthropy to sustain their power. Oligarchs would fund the creation of a new building or the beautification of a public space. The result: the people would appreciate elite spending on those projects and the upper class would get their names memorialized for all time. After all, who could be against oligarchs who show such generosity?

An assistant professor of history at Arizona State University, Simonton draws heavily on insights from social science and applies them well to dissect ancient practices. But while he recognizes that ancient oligarchies were always drawn from the wealthy, a limitation of his work is that he focuses primarily on how oligarchs perpetuated their political power, not their economic power.

To understand that, we can turn to an instant classic from a few years ago, Jeffrey Winters’ Oligarchy. Winters argues that the key to oligarchy is that a set of elites have enough material resources to spend on securing their status and interests. He calls this “wealth defense”, and divides it into two categories. “Property defense” involves protecting existing property – in the old days, this meant building castles and walls, today it involves the rule of law. “Income defense” is about protecting earnings these days, that means advocating for low taxes.

The challenge in seeing how oligarchy works, Winters says, is that we don’t normally think about the realms of politics and economics as fused together. At its core, oligarchy involves concentrating economic power and using it for political purposes. Democracy is vulnerable to oligarchy because democrats focus so much on guaranteeing political equality that they overlook the indirect threat that emerges from economic inequality.

Winters argues that there are four kinds of oligarchies, each of which pursues wealth defense through different institutions. These oligarchies are categorized based on whether the oligarchs rule is personal or collective, and whether the oligarchs use coercion.

Warring oligarchies, like warlords, are personal and armed. Ruling oligarchies like the mafia are collective and armed. In the category of unarmed oligarchies, sultanistic oligarchies (like Suharto’s Indonesia) are governed through personal connections. In civil oligarchies, governance is collective and enforced through laws, rather than by arms.

With this typology behind him, Winters declares that America is already a civil oligarchy. To use the language of recent political campaigns, our oligarchs try to rig the system to defend their wealth. They focus on lowering taxes and on reducing regulations that protect workers and citizens from corporate wrongdoing.

They build a legal system that is skewed to work in their favor, so that their illegal behavior rarely gets punished. And they sustain all of this through a campaign finance and lobbying system that gives them undue influence over policy. In a civil oligarchy, these actions are sustained not at the barrel of the gun or by the word of one man, but through the rule of law.

If oligarchy works because its leaders institutionalize their power through law, media, and political rituals, what is to be done? How can democracy ever gain the upper hand? Winters notes that political power depends on economic power. This suggests that one solution is creating a more economically equal society.

The problem, of course, is that if the oligarchs are in charge, it isn’t clear why they would pass policies that would reduce their wealth and make society more equal. As long as they can keep the people divided, they have little to fear from the occasional pitchfork or protest.

Indeed, some commentators have suggested that the economic equality of the late 20th century was exceptional because two world wars and a Great Depression largely wiped out the holdings of the extremely wealthy. On this story, there isn’t much we can do without a major global catastrophe.

Simonton offers another solution. He argues that democracy defeated oligarchy in ancient Greece because of “oligarchic breakdown”. Oligarchic institutions are subject to rot and collapse, as are any other kind of institution. As the oligarchs’ solidarity and practices start to break down, there is an opportunity for democracy to bring government back to the people.

In that moment, the people might unite for long enough that their protests lead to power. With all the upheaval in today’s politics, it’s hard not to think that this moment is one in which the future of the political system might be more up for grabs than it has been in generations.

The question is whether democracy will emerge from oligarchic breakdown – or whether the oligarchs will just strengthen their grasp on the levers of government.

Primary Sources

(1) Henry Clay Bruce, The New Man: Twenty-Nine Years a Slave (1895)

During the summer, in Virginia and other southern states, slaves when threatened or after punishment would escape to the woods or some other hiding place. They were then called runaways, or runaway Negroes, and when not caught would stay away from home until driven back by cold weather. Usually they would go to some other part of the state, where they were not so well known, and a few who had the moral courage would make their way to the North, and thus gain their freedom. But such cases were rare. Some, if captured and not wishing to go back to their masters, would neither give their correct name nor that of their owner and in such cases, if the master had not seen the notice of sale posted by the officers of the county wherein they were captured, and which usually gave the runaway's personal description, they were sold to the highest bidders, and their masters lost them and the county in which the capture was effected got the proceeds, less the expense of capture. A runaway often chose that course in order to get out of the hands of a hard master, thinking that he could not do worse in any event, while he might fall into the hands of a better master. Often they were bought by Negro traders for the cotton fields of the South.

(2) Advert in the Alabama Beacon (14th June, 1845)

Ranaway, on the 15th of May, from me, a negro woman named Fanny. Said woman is twenty years old is rather tall, can read and write, and so forge passes for herself. Carried away with her a pair of ear-rings, a Bible with a red cover, is very pious. She prays a great deal, and was, as supposed, contented and happy. She is as white as most white women, with straight light hair, and blue eyes, and can pass herself for a white woman. I will give five hundred dollars for her apprehension and delivery to me. She is very intelligent.

(3) Advertisement, New Orleans Commercial Bulletin (30th September, 1845)

Ten dollars reward. Ranaway from the subscribers, on the 15th of last month, the negro man Charles, about 45 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches high red complexion, has had the upper lid of his right eye torn, and a scar on his forehead speaks English only, and stutters when spoken to he had on when he left, an iron collar, the prongs of which he broke off before absconding. The above reward will be paid for the arrest of said slave.

(4) Advertisement, Richmond Whig (6th January, 1836)

$100 reward - Will be given for the apprehension of my negro Edmund Kenney. He has straight hair, and complexion so nearly white, that it is believed a stranger would suppose there was no African blood in him. He was with my boy Dick a short time since in Norfolk, and offered him for sale, and was apprehended, but escaped under pretence of being a white man. Anderson Bowles.

(5) Advertisement, Madison Journal (26th November, 1847)

James W. Hall, living on Carroway Lake, on Hoe's Bayou, in Carroll Parish, sixteen miles on the road leading from Bayou Mason to Lake Providence, is ready with a pack of dogs to hunt runaway negroes at any time. These dogs are well trained, and are known throughout the parish. My terms are five dollars per day for hunting the trails, whether the negro is caught or not. Where a twelve hours' trail is shown and the negro not taken, no charge is made. For taking a negro, twenty-five dollars, and no charge made for hunting.

(6) In August 1841 Lewis Clarke managed to escape from slavery. He recorded his thoughts in his book Narrative of the Sufferings of Lewis Clark (1845)

I saddled my pony, went into the cellar where I kept my grass seed apparatus, put my clothes into a pair of saddlebags, and them into my seed-bag, and thus equipped set sail for the North Star. What a day was that to me. This was on Saturday, in August, 1841. I wore my common clothes, and was very careful to avoid special suspicion, as I already imagined the administrator was very watchful of me. The place from which I started was about fifty miles from Lexington. The reason why I do not give the name of the place, and a more accurate location, must be obvious to any one who remembers that in the eye of the law I am yet accounted a slave, and no spot in the United States affords an asylum for the wanderer. True, I feel protected in the hearts of the many warm friends of the slave by whom I am surrounded, but this protection does not come from the laws of any one of the United States.

Monday morning, bright and early, I set my face in good earnest toward the Ohio River, determined to see and tread the north bank of it, or die in the attempt. I said to myself, one of two things, freedom or death. The first night I reached Mayslick, fifty odd miles from Lexington. Just before reaching this village, I stopped to think over my situation, and determine how I would pass that night. On that night hung all my hopes. I was within twenty miles of Ohio. My horse was unable to reach the river that night. And besides, to travel and attempt to cross the river in the night, would excite suspicion. I must spend the night there. But how? At one time, I thought, I will take my pony out into the field ,and give him some corn, and sleep myself on the grass. But then the dogs will be out in the evening, and if caught under such circumstances, they will take me for a thief if not for a runaway. That will not do. So after weighing the matter all over, I made a plunge right into the heart of the village, and put up at the tavern.

After seeing my pony disposed of, I looked into the barroom, and saw some persons that I thought were from my part of the country, and would know me. I shrunk back with horror. What to do I did not know. I looked across the street, and saw the shop of a silversmith. A thought of a pair of spectacles, to hide my face, struck me. I went across the way, and began to barter for a pair of double eyed green spectacles. When I got them on, they blind-folded me, if they did not others. Every thing seemed right up in my eyes. I hobbled back to the tavern, and called for supper. This I did to avoid notice, for I felt like any thing but eating. At tea I had not learned to measure distances with my new eyes, and the first pass I made with my knife and fork at my plate, went right into my cup. This confused me still more, and, after drinking one cup of tea, I left the table, and got off to bed as soon as possible. But not a wink of sleep that night. All was confusion, dreams, anxiety and trembling.

(7) Henry Box Brown, Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown (1851)

I was well acquainted with a store-keeper in the city of Richmond, from whom I used to purchase my provisions and having formed a favourable opinion of his integrity, one day in the course of a little conversation with him, I said to him if I were free I would be able to do business such as he was doing he then told me that my occupation (a tobacconist) was a money-making one, and if I were free I had no need to change for another. I then told him my circumstances in regard to my master, having to pay him 25 dollars per month, and yet that he refused to assist me in saving my wife from being sold and taken away to the South, where I should never see her again. I told him this took place about five months ago, and I had been meditating my escape from slavery since, and asked him, as no person was near us, if he could give me any information about how I should proceed. I told him I had a little money and if he would assist me I would pay him for so doing.

The man asked me if I was not afraid to speak that way to him I said no, for I imagined he believed that every man had a right to liberty. He said I was quite right, and asked me how much money I would give him if he would assist me to get away. I told him that I had $I66 and that I would give him the half so we ultimately agreed that I should have his service in the attempt for $86. Now I only wanted to fix upon a plan. He told me of several plans by which others had managed to effect their escape, but none of them exactly suited my taste.

One day, while I was at work when the idea suddenly flashed across my mind of shutting myself up in a box, and getting myself conveyed as dry goods to a free state.

(8) Henry Box Brown Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown (1851)The next place at which we arrived was the city of Washington, where I was taken from the steam-boat, and again placed upon a waggon and carried to the depôt right side up with care but when the driver arrived at the depôt I heard him call for some person to help to take the box off the waggon, and some one answered him to the effect that he might throw it off but, says the driver, it is marked "this side up with care" so if I throw it off I might break something, the other answered him that it did not matter if he broke all that was in it, the railway company were able enough to pay for it. No sooner were these words spoken than I began to tumble from the waggon, and falling on the end where my head was, I could bear my neck give a crack, as if it had been snapped asunder and I was knocked completely insensible.

The first thing I heard after that, was some person saying, "there is no room for the box, it will have to remain and be sent through to-morrow with the luggage train but the Lord had not quite forsaken me, for in answer to my earnest prayer He so ordered affairs that I should not be left behind and I now heard a man say that the box had come with the express, and it must be sent on. I was then tumbled into the car with my head downwards again, but the car had not proceeded far before, more luggage having to be taken in, my box got shifted about and so happened to turn upon its right side and in this position I remained till I got to Philadelphia, of our arrival in which place I was informed by hearing some person say, "We are in port and at Philadelphia." My heart then leaped for joy, and I wondered if any person knew that such a box was there.

Here it may be proper to observe that the man who had promised to accompany my box failed to do what he promised but, to prevent it remaining long at the station after its arrival, he sent a telegraphic message to his friend, and I was only twenty seven hours in the box, though travelling a distance of three hundred and fifty miles.

I was now placed in the depôt amongst the other luggage, where I lay till seven o'clock at which time a waggon drove up, and I heard a person inquire for such a box as that in which I was. I was then placed on a waggon and conveyed to the house where my friend in Richmond had arranged I should be received.

A number of persons soon collected round the box after it was taken in to the house, but as I did not know what was going on I kept myself quiet. I heard a man say, "let us rap upon the box and see if he is alive" and immediately a rap ensued and a voice said, tremblingly, "Is all right within?" to which I replied - "all right." The joy of the friends was very great when they heard that I was alive they soon managed to break open the box, and then came my resurrection from the grave of slavery. I rose a freeman, but I was too weak, by reason of long confinement in that box, to be able to stand, so I immediately swooned away. After my recovery from the swoon the first thing, which arrested my attention, was the presence of a number of friends, every one seeming more anxious than another, to have an opportunity of rendering me their assistance, and of bidding me a hearty welcome to the possession of my natural rights, I had risen as it were from the dead.

(9) Moses Grandy, Life of a Slave (1843)

I am glad to say also, that numbers of my coloured brethren now escape from slavery some by purchasing their freedom, others by quitting, through many dangers and hardships, the land of bondage. The latter suffer many privations in their attempts to reach the free states. They hide themselves during the day in the woods and swamps at night they travel, crossing rivers by swimming, or by boats they may chance to meet with, and passing over hills and meadows which they do not know in these dangerous journeys they are guided by the north-star, for they only know that the land of freedom is in the north. They subsist on such wild fruit as they can gather, and as they are often very long on their way, they reach the free states almost like skeletons. On their arrival, they have no friends but such as pity those who have been in bondage, the number of which, I am happy to say, is increasing but if they can meet with a man in a broad-brimmed hat and Quaker coat, they speak to him without fear-relying on him as a friend. At each place the escaped slave inquires for an abolitionist or a Quaker, and these friends of the coloured man help them on their journey northwards, until they are out of the reach of danger.

(10) Francis Fredric, Fifty Years of Slavery (1863)

I had been flogged for going to a prayer-meeting, and, before my back was well, my master was going to whip me again. I determined, therefore, to run away. It was in the morning, just after my master had got his breakfast, I was ordered to the back of the premises to strip. My master had got the thong of raw cow's-hide when off I ran, towards the swamp.

He saw me running, and instantly called three bloodhounds, kept for the purpose, and put them on my track. I saw them coming up to me, when, turning round to them, I clapped my hands, and called them by name for I had been in the habit of feeding them. I urged them on, as if in pursuit of something else. They instantly passed me, and flew upon the cattle. I saw my master calling them off, and returning. No doubt, he perceived it was useless to pursue me, with dogs which knew me so well.

I now hurried on further, into a dismal swamp, named the Bear's Wallow and, at last, wearied and exhausted, I sat down at the foot of a tree, to rest, and think what had best be done. I knelt down, and prayed earnestly to the Almighty, to protect and direct me what to do. I rose from my knees, and looked stealthily around, afraid that the dogs and men were still in pursuit. I listened, and listened again, to the slightest sound, made by the flapping of the wings of a bird, or the rustling of the wild animals among the underwood and then proceeded further into the swamp. My path was interrupted, every now and then, by large sheets of stagnant, putrid, green-looking water, from which a most sickening, fetid smell arose the birds, in their flight, turning away from it. The snakes crawled sluggishly across the ground, for it was autumn time, when, it is said, they are surcharged with their deadly poison.

When awake in the morning, I tried to plan out some way of escape, over the Ohio River, which I knew was about thirty miles from where I was. But I could not swim and I was well aware that my master would set a watch upon every ferry or ford, and that the whole country would be put on the alert, to catch me for the planters, for self-protection, take almost as much interest in capturing another man's slaves, as they do their own.

At length, driven by hunger and desperation, I approached the edge of the swamp when I was startled by seeing a young woman ploughing. I knew her, and called her by name. She was frightened, and shocked at my appearance - worn, from hunger, almost to a skeleton and haggard, from the want of sound sleep. I begged of her to go to get me something to eat. She, at first, expressed her fears, and began to tell me of the efforts which my master was making to capture me. He had offered $500 reward - had placed a watch all along the Ohio River - had informed all the neighbouring planters, who had cautioned all their slaves not to give me any food or other assistance, and he had made it known, that, when I should be caught, he would give me a thousand lashes.

The woman went, and fetched me about two ounces of bread, of which I eat a small portion, wishing to keep the rest to eat in the swamp, husbanding it, as much as possible. When she told me that I should receive a thousand lashes, I felt horrified, and wept bitterly. The girl wept also. I had seen a slave, who had escaped to the Northern States, and, after an absence of four years, had been brought back again, and flogged, in the presence of all the slaves, assembled from the neighbouring plantations. His body was frightfully lacerated. I went to see him, two or three weeks after the flogging. When they were anointing his back, his screams were awful. He died, soon afterwards--a tall, fine young fellow, six feet high, in the prime of life, thus brutally murdered.

(11) Moses Roper made several attempts trying to escape from his master. He wrote about the punishment he received in Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper (1838)

Mr. Gooch then obtained the assistance of another slave-holder, and tied me up in his blacksmith's shop, and gave me fifty lashes with a cow-hide. He then put a long chain, weighing twenty-five pounds, round my neck, and sent me into a field, into which he followed me with the cow-hide, intending to set his slaves to flog me again.

He then chained me down in a log-pen with a 40 lb. chain, and made me lie on the damp earth all night. In the morning after his breakfast he came to me, and without giving me any breakfast, tied me to a large heavy barrow, which is usually drawn by a horse, and made me drag it to the cotton field for the horse to use in the field. Thus, the reader will see, that it was of no possible use to my master to make me drag it to the field, and not through it his cruelty went so far as actually to make me the slave of his horse, and thus to degrade me.

Mr. Gooch had a female slave about eighteen years old, who also had been a domestic slave, and through not being able to fulfill her task, had run away which slave he was at this time punishing for that offence. On the third day, he chained me to this female slave, with a large chain of 40 lbs. weight round the neck. It was most harrowing to my feelings thus to be chained to a young female slave, for whom I would rather have suffered a hundred lashes than she should have been thus treated. He kept me chained to her during the week, and repeatedly flogged us both while thus chained together, and forced us to keep up with the other slaves, although retarded by the heavy weight of the log-chain.

(12) Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave (1853)

In about three-fourths of an hour several of the slaves shouted and made signs for me to run. Presently, looking up the bayou, I saw Tibeats and two others on horse-back, coming at a fast gait, followed by a troop of dogs. There were as many as eight or ten. Distant as I was, I knew them. They belonged on the adjoining plantation. The dogs used on Bayou Boeuf for hunting slaves are a kind of blood-hound, but a far more savage breed than is found in the Northern States. They will attack a negro, at their master's bidding, and cling to him as the common bull-dog will cling to a four footed animal. Frequently their loud bay is heard in the swamps, and then there is speculation as to what point the runaway will be overhauled - the same as a New York hunter stops to listen to the hounds coursing along the hillsides, and suggests to his companion that the fox will be taken at such a place. I never knew a slave escaping with his life from Bayou Bouef. One reason is, they are not allowed to learn the art of swimming, and are incapable of crossing the most inconsiderable stream. In their flight they can go in no direction but a little way without coming to a bayou, when the inevitable alternative is presented, of being drowned or overtaken by the dogs. In youth I had practiced in the clear streams that flow through my native district, until I had become an expert swimmer, and felt at home in the watery element.

I stood upon the fence until the dogs had reached the cotton press. In an instant more, their long, savage yells announced they were on my track. Leaping down from my position, I ran towards the swamp. Fear gave me strength, and I exerted it to the utmost. Every few moments I could hear the yelpings of the dogs. They were gaining upon me. Every howl was nearer and nearer. Each moment I expected they would spring upon my back&mdashexpected to feel their long teeth sinking into my flesh. There were so many of them, I knew they would tear me to pieces, that they would worry me, at once, to death. I gasped for breath - gasped forth a half-uttered, choking prayer to the Almighty to save me - to give me strength to reach some wide, deep bayou where I could throw them off the track, or sink into its waters. Presently I reached a thick palmetto bottom. As I fled through them they made a loud rustling noise, not loud enough, however, to drown the voices of the dogs.

Continuing my course due south, as nearly as I can judge, I came at length to water just over shoe. The hounds at that moment could not have been five rods behind me. I could hear them crashing and plunging through the palmettoes, their loud, eager yells making the whole swamp clamorous with the sound. Hope revived a little as I reached the water. If it were only deeper, they might loose the scent, and thus disconcerted, afford me the opportunity of evading them. Luckily, it grew deeper the farther I proceeded - now over my ankles - now half-way to my knees - now sinking a moment to my waist, and then emerging presently into more shallow places. The dogs had not gained upon me since I struck the water. Evidently they were confused. Now their savage intonations grew more and more distant, assuring me that I was leaving them. Finally I stopped to listen, but the long howl came booming on the air again, telling me I was not yet safe. From bog to bog, where I had stepped, they could still keep upon the track, though impeded by the water. At length, to my great joy, I came to a wide bayou, and plunging in, had soon stemmed its sluggish current to the other side. There, certainly, the dogs would be confounded - the current carrying down the stream all traces of that slight, mysterious scent, which enables the quick-smelling hound to follow in the track of the fugitive.

After crossing this bayou the water became so deep I could not run. I was now in what I afterwards learned was the "Great Pacoudrie Swamp." It was filled with immense trees - the sycamore, the gum, the cotton wood and cypress, and extends, I am informed, to the shore of the Calcasieu river. For thirty or forty miles it is without inhabitants, save wild beasts - the bear, the wild-cat, the tiger, and great slimy reptiles, that are crawling through it everywhere. Long before I reached the bayou, in fact, from the time I struck the water until I emerged from the swamp on my return, these reptiles surrounded me. I saw hundreds of moccasin snakes. Every log and bog - every trunk of a fallen tree, over which I was compelled to step or climb, was alive with them. They crawled away at my approach, but sometimes in my haste, I almost placed my hand or foot upon them. They are poisonous serpents - their bite more fatal than the rattlesnake's. Besides, I had lost one shoe, the sole having come entirely off, leaving the upper only dangling to my ankle.

I saw also many alligators, great and small, lying in the water, or on pieces of floodwood. The noise I made usually startled them, when they moved off and plunged into the deepest places. Sometimes, however, I would come directly upon a monster before observing it. In such cases, I would start back, run a short way round, and in that manner shun them. Straight forward, they will run a short distance rapidly, but do not possess the power of turning. In a crooked race, there is no difficulty in evading them.

About two o'clock in the afternoon, I heard the last of the hounds. Probably they did not cross the bayou. Wet and weary, but relieved from the sense of instant peril, I continued on, more cautious and afraid, however, of the snakes and alligators than I had been in the earlier portion of my flight. Now, before stepping into a muddy pool, I would strike the water with a stick. If the waters moved, I would go around it, if not, would venture through.

At length the sun went down, and gradually night's trailing mantle shrouded the great swamp in darkness. Still I staggered on, fearing every instant I should feel the dreadful sting of the moccasin, or be crushed within the jaws of some disturbed alligator. The dread of them now almost equaled the fear of the pursuing hounds. The moon arose after a time, its mild light creeping through the overspreading branches, loaded with long, pendent moss. I kept traveling forwards until after midnight, hoping all the while that I would soon emerge into some less desolate and dangerous region. But the water grew deeper and the walking more difficult than ever. I perceived it would be impossible to proceed much farther, and knew not, moreover, what hands I might fall into, should I succeed in reaching a human habitation. Not provided with a pass, any white man would be at liberty to arrest me, and place me in prison until such time as my master should "prove property, pay charges, and take me away." I was an estray, and if so unfortunate as to meet a law-abiding citizen of Louisiana, he would deem it his duty to his neighbor, perhaps, to put me forthwith in the pound. Really, it was difficult to determine which I had most reason to fear - dogs, alligators or men!

After midnight, however, I came to a halt. Imagination cannot picture the dreariness of the scene. The swamp was resonant with the quacking of innumerable ducks! Since the foundation of the earth, in all probability, a human footstep had never before so far penetrated the recesses of the swamp. It was not silent now - silent to a degree that rendered it oppressive, - as it was when the sun was shining in the heavens. My midnight intrusion had awakened the feathered tribes, which seemed to throng the morass in hundreds of thousands, and their garrulous throats poured forth such multitudinous sounds - there was such a fluttering of wings - such sullen plunges in the water all around me&mdashthat I was affrighted and appalled. All the fowls of the air, and all the creeping things of the earth appeared to have assembled together in that particular place, for the purpose of filling it with clamor and confusion. Not by human dwellings - not in crowded cities alone, are the sights and sounds of life. The wildest places of the earth are full of them. Even in the heart of that dismal swamp, God had provided a refuge and a dwelling place for millions of living things.

The moon had now risen above the trees, when I resolved upon a new project. Thus far I had endeavored to travel as nearly south as possible. Turning about I proceeded in a north-west direction, my object being to strike the Pine Woods in the vicinity of Master Ford's. Once within the shadow of his protection, I felt I would be comparatively safe.

My clothes were in tatters, my hands, face, and body covered with scratches, received from the sharp knots of fallen trees, and in climbing over piles of brush and floodwood. My bare foot was full of thorns. I was besmeared with muck and mud, and the green slime that had collected on the surface of the dead water, in which I had been immersed to the neck many times during the day and night. Hour after hour, and tiresome indeed had they become, I continued to plod along on my north-west course. The water began to grow less deep, and the ground more firm under my feet. At last I reached the Pacoudrie, the same wide bayou I had swam while "outward bound." I swam it again, and shortly after thought I heard a cock crow, but the sound was faint, and it might have been a mockery of the ear. The water receded from my advancing footsteps - now I had left the bogs behind me - now - now I was on dry land that gradually ascended to the plain, and I knew I was somewhere in the "Great Pine Woods."

Habitation and Chronology of Crete

Archaeological evidence testifies to the island's habitation since the 7th millennium BC After the 5th millennium BC we find the first evidence of hand-made ceramic pottery which marks the beginning of the civilization Evans, the famed archaeologist who excavated Knossos, named "Minoan" after the legendary king Minos.

Evans divided the Minoan civilization into three eras on the basis of the stylistic changes of the pottery. His comparative chronology included an Early (3000-2100 BC), a Middle (2100-1500 BC), and a Late Minoan period (1500-1100 BC). Since this chronology posed several problems in studying the culture, professor N. Platon has developed a chronology based on the palaces' destruction and reconstruction. He divided Minoan Crete into Prepalatial (2600-1900 BC), Protopalatial (1900-1700 BC), Neopalatial (1700-1400 BC), and Postpalatial (1400-1150 BC).

We do not have much information about the very early Minoans before 2600 BC. We have seen the development of several minor settlements near the coast, and the beginning of burials in tholos tombs, as well as in caves around the island.

Prepalatial Minoan Crete (2600-1900 BC)

Neolithic life in ancient Crete consisted of major settlements at Myrtos and Mochlos. During this period the Minoans had contact with Egypt, Asia Minor, and Syria with whom they traded for copper, tin, ivory, and gold.

The archaeological evidence reveals a decentralized culture with no powerful landlords and no centralized authority. The palaces of this period are focused around communities, and circular tholos tombs were the major architectural structures of the time. The manner by which the dead were buried in these tombs indicate a society without hierarchical structure. The tholos tombs were used for centuries by entire villages, or clans and older corpses and offerings were placed aside to make room for a new burial. Older bones were removed from the tomb and placed in bone chambers outside the tholos structure. Most of the tholos tombs were circular while in Palekastro and Mochlos they were of a rectangular in shape with a flat roof.

Protopalatial Minoan Crete (1900-1700 BC)

The protopalatial era began with social upheaval, external dangers, and migrations from mainland Greece and Asia Minor. During this time the Minoans began establishing colonies at Thera, Rodos, Melos, and Kithira.

Around 2000 BC a new political system was established with authority concentrated around a central figure - a king. The first large palaces were founded and acted as centers for their respective communities, while at the same time they developed a bureaucratic administration which permeated Minoan society. Distinctions between the classes forged a social hierarchy and divided the people into nobles, peasants, and perhaps slaves.

After its tumultuous beginning, this was a peaceful and prosperous period for the Minoans who continued to trade with Egypt and the Middle East, while they constructed a paved road network to connect the major cultural centers. This period also marks the development of some settlements outside the palaces, and the end of the extensive use of tholos tombs.

The palaces of the period were destroyed in 1700 BC by forces unknown to us . Speculation blames the destruction either on a powerful earthquake, or on outside invaders.

Despite the abrupt destruction of the palaces however, Minoan civilization continued to flourish.

Neopalatial Minoan Crete (1700-1400 BC)

The destroyed palaces were quickly rebuilt on the ruins to form even more spectacular structures. This is the time when Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, and Zakros were built, along side many smaller palaces which stretched along the Cretan landscape.

Small towns developed near the palaces and the dead were buried in pithoi and larnakes, along rock-cut chambers and above-ground tholos tombs.

For the first time smaller residencies that we call villas appeared in the rural landscape, and were modeled after the large palaces with storage facilities, worship, and workshops. They appear to be lesser centers of power away from the palaces, and homes for affluent landlords.

During this period we see evidence of administrative and economic unity throughout the island, and Minoan Crete reach its zenith. Women played a powerful role in society, and the gold artifacts, seals, and spears speak of a very affluent upper class. The paved road network was vastly expanded to connect most major Minoan palaces and towns, and we have evidence of extensive trade activity.

In the beginning of this era, Minoan culture dominates the Aegean islands and expands into the Peloponnese. We see its strong influence in the Argolis area during the Mycenaean time of grave circles, and in the southern Peloponnese, especially around Pylos.

The Minoan culture's fusion with the Helladic (mainland Greek) traditions of the time eventually morphed into the Mycenaean civilization, which in turn challenged the Minoan supremacy in the Aegean.

For the first time, late in the Neopalatial period, the powerful fleet of the Minoans encountered competition from an emerging power from mainland Greece: the Mycenaeans whose influence began permeating Minoan Crete itself. Life on the island became more militaristic as evident by the large number of weapons which we find for the first time in royal tombs.

The affluence of the culture during this period is evident in the frescoes found in the Cretan palaces and in Thera, Melos, Kea, and Rodos.

The end of this flourishing culture came with the destruction of most of the palaces and villas of the country side in the middle of the 15 century, and with the destruction of Knossos in 1375. During this late period there is evidence in tablets inscribed in Linear B language that the Mycenaeans controlled the entire island, while many Minoan sites were abandoned for a long time.

We cannot be certain of the causes for this sudden interruption of the Minoan civilization. However scholars have pointed to invasion of outside forces, or to the colossal eruption of the Thera volcano as likely causes.

Postpalatial Period (1400-1150 BC)

With the destruction of Knossos the power in the Aegean shifts to Mycenae. While both Knossos and Phaistos remain active centers of influence, they do not act as the central authority of the island any longer. During the postpalatial period the western part of Crete flourishes. Several important settlements developed around Kasteli and Chania, while Minoan religion begins to exhibit influences from the Greek mainland.

An examination of the changes in Minoan society during this period reveals that most likely Mycenae controlled Crete. During this period, Helladic god names such as Zeus begin to appear in tablets, new shapes develop in pottery, and vaulted tholos tombs appear for the first time. The tablets of Linear B which were unearthed during excavations provide the more concrete evidence of this theory.

Sub-Minoan Crete (1150-1100 BC)

Around 1150 BC the Dorians destroyed the Mycenaean civilization in the Peloponnese and by 1100 BC they reached Crete.

This period marks the assimilation of all remaining Minoan elements of Crete into the new Hellenic culture. This new culture eventually transformed into the Classical Greek civilization which had its center in Athens.

Doric Crete

Under Doric dominance, Crete social structure shifted from monarchy to aristocracy, and Archaic culture and art permeates the island. The old Minoan traditions remain influential, and the Spartan legislator Lykourgos studied the Cretan legal system before he created the laws that governed the Lakedemonian state.

Knossos, Arkades, Dreros, Cortyn, Lato, and Lyktos become the most important centers of the island which continues to trade with Cyprus, Syria, and the Aegean.

The art of Doric Crete exhibits orientalizing trends even during the "Geometric" period, possibly due to the islands proximity and close commercial ties with the East.

The islands isolation prevented it from being an important player in the events which forged history during the classical and hellenistic eras, and eventually its culture declined and became a Roman province in 67 BC.

Slavery Timeline 1400-1500

This page contains a detailed timeline of the main historical, literary, and cultural events connected with slavery, abolition, and emancipation in the British Isles between 1400 and 1500. Given Britain's limited role in this period, it mainly includes references to the most significant events taking place outside of the British zone of influence (in the fifteenth century that was most of the world) as well as some key events in the history of European exploration and colonisation.

While there is plenty of detail in this timeline, it is of course impossible to record every event related to slavery in this period. The following selection is thus intended to provide an overview of the topic only. If there is something I have left out that you think should be included, please let me know.

Click on a date in the list below, or scroll down the page, for information. Links are given to pages on this website only. For my sources and for further reading, look at the page Further Reading: Slavery, Abolition, and Emancipation.

1400 | 1425 | 1450 | 1475 | 1500 | 1501-1600 | 1601-1700 | 1701-1800 | 1801-1900 | 1901-2003

Before 1400: Slavery had existed in Europe from classical times and did not disappear with the collapse of the Roman Empire. Slaves remained common in Europe throughout the early medieval period. However, slavery of the classical type became increasingly uncommon in Northern Europe and, by the 11th and 12th centuries, had been effectively abolished in the north. Nevertheless, forms of unfree labour, such as villeinage and serfdom, persisted in the north well into the early modern period.

In southern and eastern Europe, classical-style slavery remained a normal part of society and economy for longer. Trade across the Mediterranean and the Atlantic seaboard meant that African slaves began to be brought to Italy, Spain, Southern France, and Portugal well before the discovery of the New World in 1492.

From about the eighth century onwards, an Arab-run slave trade also flourished, with much of this activity taking place in East Africa, Arabia, and the Indian Ocean. In addition, many African societies themselves had forms of slavery, although these differed considerably, both from one another and from the European and Arabic forms.

Although various forms of unfree labour were prevalent in Europe throughout its history, historians refer to 'chattel slavery', in which slaves are commodities to be bought and sold, rather than domestic servants or agricultural workers tied to the land. Chattel slavery is the characteristic form of slavery in the modern world, and this chronology is concerned primarily with this form.

Did they use money or how did they buy things?

Greek traders did most of their business the way traders do today, without handling coins. They used written letters of credit, like today’s paper checks, or like writing a letter to your bank, to pay their bills. Bankers in each city wrote letters back and forth figuring out who owed how much to whom.

Paper money and letters of credit

Quatr.us Study Guides also has more detailed articles about the Greek economy in the Archaic period, the Classical period, and the Hellenistic period.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about the economy of ancient Greece? Let us know in the comments!