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Choral identity and the slave trade in 5th century Athens.

Aaron J Beck-Schachter

Rutgers University

In this paper, I will argue that the status of the chorus in Euripides Iphigeneia among the Taurians reflected the dynamics of the 5th century slave trade between Greece and the Black Sea region. While Iphigenia is Greek, is unclear exactly who the women attending the priestess are or how they got to the Taurian Chersonesos. Each parthenos who accompanies Iphigenia is characterized as a slave (δούλα), purchased in war and undergoing heavy hardship (IT 1075–77; cf. Hall 2014; Kowalzig 2013). In the culminating aition, Athena orders that the chorus shall be returned to Attica, but their release occurs separately from Iphigenia, and is accomplished by the barbarian Thoas, not the women themselves (1475–85). Generally, the status of the chorus in the IT recalls that of a suppliant who, when present at a sanctuary, could become literally a possession of the god, and thus analogous to a valuable material dedication (Pleket 1981). A member of the chorus in Euripides’ Phoenissae declares in the context of their travel from Tyre to Thebes “I became a servant (λάτρις) of Apollo, equal to agalmata of wrought gold.” (Eur. Phoenn. 220–1). The Phoenician women are travelling to Delphi both as choice offerings (ἀκροθίνια) and servants (δούλαι) to the god. In the Ion, when Creusa is a suppliant at the altar of Delphi she is the property of the god. Just like Ion in his role as temple servant (λάτρις), she “give(s) (her) body as sacred for the god to possess.” (Eur. Ion 1285).  This type of cult service could be a joyous obligation or a burden, or both. It could presumably be incurred for a variety of reasons and for periods of varying duration (Chaniotis 2011). Such temple servants or priestesses who would be dedicated to and serve a goddess were a conspicuous features of Herodotus’ descriptions of the alien customs of foreign sanctuaries in the Black Sea region, the Near East, and Egypt. These elements, both real and imagined, were then taken up by the ethnographers and geographers who subsequently embroidered the myth of Iphigeneia and Orestes (e.g. Strab. 12.2.31–4 C557–8, Comana in Cappadocia). However, there are indications that these traditions were more than a simple bricolage of stories and legends. In the period in the late 5th century, the Black sea region was a key contributor of goods and slaves to Athens (Braund & Tsetskhladze 1989; Gavriliuk 2003) while the Attic Delia and its theoriai would have provided ample opportunity for economic and commercial activity inspired by the ancient sanctuaries of the east and relating to the possession and movement of non-citizen people. In the Hecuba, the Trojan women of the chorus refer to the festivals of Delian Artemis in direct relation to their fate as slaves (Eur. Hec. 455–74). In the IT, the chorus’ status as Greek but (apparently) non-citizen servants or hierodouloi is juxtaposed against their clearly stated desire to dance at Delos and, by extension, participate in Athenian society (IT 1096–100). This participation would likely have included their incipient status as indentured servants or sanctuary (i.e. public) slaves.

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