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LITERARY REVIEW July 2011
s l ave res i s t ance. Slaver y and the l aw, Judaism and Christianity feature in the Roman essays.
It is a very fertile mix. Peter Hunt argues that the more Greeks took pride in their own achievements, the more they looked down on barbar ians (non-Greek speakers), tending to see them as an inferior species and therefore ‘natural’ slaves. They were unhappy with the idea of Greeks enslaving other Greeks, as Sparta had done to their neighbouring Messenians (their heilôtai, ‘helots’). Even Aristotle acknowledged the argument that someone captured by force in war did not thereby become a ‘natural’ slave.
It is good to see T E Rihll inveighing against the endlessly repeated view that ancient Athenian democracy ‘depended’ on slavery. I have never seen the slightest evidence for it. As Aristotle pointed out, the state paid the poor to participate: it would have to, with probably fewer than half the Athenians able to afford a slave. But if slaves were at the heart of Athenian life and expanded the opportunities of those families that owned them, as they were according to Mark Golden, there is no evidence that Greek slavery enabled goods to be produced more cheaply. Freemen and s l aves worked on the Parthenon at the same rates. But they were still individually a ‘troublesome property’, a constant issue for ‘middle management’, as Niall McKeown characterises it, though mass slave rebellions in the Greek world are unknown.
Sandra R Joshel points out that loyal and obedient s laves are almost a sub-genre of Roman l i terature because, presumably, they were so rare. Romans saw a paradox here: a slave might be loyal, but was it only because he was afraid to be disloyal? Roman comedy is full of tricky slaves. Thinkers like Seneca used slaves as images of subjectivity and dependence to impress on the wealthy that they too were equally dependent on luxur ies and high status. Joshel depicts poor old Pliny the Younger as an evil, paternalistic swine for being kind and thoughtful to his slaves. I wonder what they thought of him. John Bodel sees the ideology of slave ownership as far more important to a Roman than any economic considerations. Meanwhile Stoics and then Christians argued that slavery did not matter because what counted was not the physical or material condition of a person but the spiritual; besides, the stability of society and the family depended on them. The moral implications arose only much later.
The big problem, as the contributors acknowledge, is that we get only one side of the story: that of the educated classes who were all in favour of slavery, and of those who escaped slavery, made good and suddenly saw its great virtues. No slave voices survive. But what can be excavated from the evidence is considered here in a scholarly, detailed, clearly argued and thoroughly worthwhile collection of essays. ❑