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Durham e-Theses
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Greek Slavery in a Near Eastern Context: A Comparative Study of the Legal and Economic Distinctiveness of Greek Slave Systems

LEWIS, DAVID,MARTIN (2011) Greek Slavery in a Near Eastern Context: A Comparative Study of the Legal and Economic Distinctiveness of Greek Slave Systems. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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The orthodox view of Greek slavery, developed by a number of scholars but particularly by M.I. Finley, regards the ‘classical’ civilisations of Greece and Rome as cultures in which slavery developed to a high degree, which stood in contrast to neighbouring Near Eastern societies where the institution remained undeveloped in economic terms and was not understood in the same fashion, since these societies lacked a concept of freedom.

This study provides a critical revision of this issue in two phases. The first analyses the legal nature of slave ownership in a cross-cultural perspective, and shows that the legal features of slavery are fundamentally similar in Greek and Near Eastern societies; both Greek and Near Eastern societies understood slavery in a similar fashion, and although societies of the latter kind lacked a developed cultural understanding of freedom, they understood the legal meaning of freedom and could distinguish slavery from other conditions. This undermines the Finleyan view that slavery in Greece and the Near East differed fundamentally in qualitative terms.

The second phase shows that the notion that slavery remained an undeveloped institution in the Near East is incorrect by comparing the role of slavery in Greek societies with its role in several Near Eastern societies. By analysing the role of slavery in Biblical Israel, Neo- and Persian Babylonia and in the provinces of the Persian Empire, it shows that the Finleyan model is largely misleading. Instead of a stark contrast between Greek slave societies and non-Greek societies where slavery remained undeveloped, it is shown that a great deal of similarity existed in the extent to which slave labour was utilised in the eastern Mediterranean world. This study shows that slavery cannot be identified as a feature distinguishing ‘classical’ civilisations from neighbouring societies of the ancient Near East.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Slavery Ancient Greece Israel Babylonia Persia Near East
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Classics and Ancient History, Department of
Thesis Date:2011
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:06 Dec 2011 13:32

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