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Scholars studying the slave population of classical Attica as well as the slave trade in the fifth and fourth-century Aegean have long realised that many if not most of the slaves in commercial circulation were imported from barbarian regions on the periphery of the Greek world. There has been some disagreement, however, on which of these regions contributed the largest share of slaves; many scholars have supposed that Thrace and the Danubian regions were the most prominent (e.g. de Ste. Croix 1981: 227; Garlan 1988: 46-7; Cartledge 1993: 153); and most studies have focused upon these regions (Finley 1962; Velkov 1964; idem. 1986; Braund & Tsetskhladze 1989; Tsetskhladze 1990; Hind 1994; Avram 2007; see Lewis 2011: 91-2). This view still commands widespread support; in a recent study of the slave supply, Braund (2011: 123) has emphasised the dominance of northern regions as suppliers of barbarian slaves. However, recent work, drawing on a wider body of evidence, has questioned this picture: Lewis (2011) demonstrates how Asia Minor and Syria were highly important slave-sources for the Athenians during the fifth and fourth centuries, and emphasizes Phrygia’s central place in the Greco-Near Eastern slave trade; Vlassopoulos (2010: 117), in a thorough study of Athenian slave names, has shown that the Phrygian ethnic ‘Manes’ is the most popular slave name attested in Classical Attica. This paper will build upon these studies and focus on Phrygia as a test-case to draw out several important observations on the nature of the slave supply and Greco-Persian relations.

Firstly, this paper will argue that the notion that warfare between Greeks and barbarians was the chief mechanism by which individuals were enslaved is misleading. Very little evidence exists for military friction between Greek settlements and Phrygia, whereas Phrygian slaves constantly appear in the literary and epigraphic record. This can only partially be explained by an absence of evidence; what is more likely is that a number of internal processes in Phrygia allowed large numbers of individuals to become available to Greek merchants; taking a closer look at the evidence in a comparative perspective, this paper will show that the large number of Phrygian slaves in the Greek world is more convincingly explained by an organised system of trade than the aggressive razzie of Greeks against barbarians; this has important implications for the nature of Persian involvement in Asia Minor.

Second, this paper will draw out some of the implications of the previous section for the relationship between Greece and the Persian Empire. Many modern studies have focused upon these relations in the spheres of culture, identity, and the construction of the ‘Other’ (e.g. Hall 1989; Cartledge 1993). This paper will take a different approach, by looking at the physical presence of Near Easterners as slaves in the Greek world and drawing out the implications of this fact for the evolution of attitudes of superiority in Athenian literature and philosophy. It will be shown that these attitudes were fostered in an environment where everyday contact between Greeks and barbarians occurred through discourse between the free and slave elements of the population. This adds nuance to our picture, which is too commonly seen only in terms of anti-barbarian triumphalism evolving in the aftermath of the failed Persian invasion of 480 BCE.


  • Avram, A. (2007) ‘Some thoughts about the Black Sea and the slave trade before the Roman domination (6th–1st Centuries BC)’, in V. Gabrielsen & J. Lund (edd.), The Black Sea in Antiquity: Regional and Interregional Economic Exchanges. Aarhus: 239–51.
  • Braund, D. (2011) ‘The slave supply in classical Greece’ in Bradley, K. & P. Cartledge (edd.) The Cambridge World History of Slavery. Volume I: The Ancient Mediterranean World. Cambridge: 112-33.
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