Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology
In this study of slavery in ancient Greece and Italy, Sir Moses Finley discusses how slave societies came into being and considers, the moral, social, and economic underpinnings that allowed them to prosper.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
As the work of today's most influential and innovative classical historian, any new offering by Cambridge's (American-born) Moses Finley is an event. And this short book - combative, erudite, and up-to-date - meets every expectation. Arguing that discussions of ancient slavery have always tended to be colored by current morality, Finley takes the view that what is at issue is not "slavery" as such, but ancient slavery as it was understood by, and functioned for, the ancients. He locates the critical origins of ancient slavery in the need for cheap labor which arose in Athens when Solon's reforms dissociated citizenship from subservience to others, thereby drying up the Athenian labor pool. Thus, paradoxically, slavery and democracy were bound up together in their origins. Tracing the history of slavery through Greece and Rome, Finley substantiates the labor function of slaves, which increased with Roman large-scale agriculture. The "decline" of slavery presents a more difficult problem because of the proliferation of juridical terms in the late Roman period to cover various forms of subservience. But while slaves gradually became associated with the land they worked (akin to feudal serfs), Finley argues that slavery continued to be important to the total economy until the epoch of Charlemagne; and that ancient slavery did not directly issue into feudal relations. The import of this argument is that no general theory of stages is possible; ancient slavery occupies a unique status from which it can be compared to other forms of forced labor, but not subsumed under a general category of "slavery." Like all great scholars, Finley knows what counts as evidence, how to present it, and how to make informed guesses when the evidence is insufficient. That, together with a lively style, makes this indispensable for anyone with an interest in ancient history. (Kirkus Reviews)