Book Review of Slavery in Ancient Greece, By Yvon Garlan, 1988 It is obvious from the beginning that, Slavery in Ancient Greece, was written to the authors colleagues (Garlan).
The language, content, and style are noticeably academic and complex. The body of the text is devoted to a historical study of the different types of slavery existing within the Greek society of antiquity. The chapters are constructed to identify and define the different types of slavery and the practices associated with them. It is not until the conclusion of the book that the reader becomes aware of the authors intention to address several questions, which have apparently been hotly debated in the historic academic community. The questions being, Can Greek Antiquity be described as a slave society? and Did Greek slaves constitute a social class? (Garlan 201) By asking these questions Garlan attempts to refute the notion that ancient Greek society was either a model for Marxism, or conversely a justification of the slavery practices of the American south. Garlan presents the argument that slavery in antiquity was neither, it was just what it was, a social condition which existed within a historical time period as part of the progression of a developing society. It was a society in which aspects of a slave dependent economy and a form of class order existed, but not as defined in modern terms, which is pointed out is in the following quote.
Ancient Greece is one of the most ancient civilizations in history and some historians say it is one of the greatest. They have survived many invasions and attacks from barbarians and Persians as well. The Greeks those times were divided into city states and they don’t have any form of alliance with each other. They don’t help each other on wars they except for times that they don’t have a choice. ...
Precapitalist societies, where exploitation generally proceeds through the direct application of extra-economic constraints to economic life by various institutional means are characterized precisely by the diversity that results from the modes for appropriating the surplus to the profit of minority groups (202).
When historians ascribe the same definitions that modern western thought would give to the condition of slavery as it was in antiquity, then they have corrupted the truth of the evidence. Which is not to say that the debate should not take place but that it should take place based on the context of accurate historical fact, which Garlan clearly points out by saying, In any event, the point I would fasten upon in this debate (the scope of which far exceeds that of the present study) is that the dividing lines between ancient societies, as they are institutionally established and psychologically perceived, deserve to be taken seriously. On the other hand, it is not enough to define them in a mainly negative fashion, simply in opposition to the types of classification characteristic of capitalist societies. At the risk of being accused of empiricism or even idealism, one must also seek, however difficult the task, to understand why it was that, in ancient Greece, for example, social classification was founded upon orders and statuses, (205).
In addition the above quote seems to be admonishing fellow historians by encouraging them to stick to the facts as they are presented within the context of the time period in which they occurred and evaluate them as such.
The author was cautioning them not to ascribe to history our current morals or ideals of what is socially correct because by doing so one cannot understand the condition for what it was. Garlan states this point of view clearly when he says, It is not difficult to show that the Greek slaves did not develop a correct prematurely Leninist consciousness of their condition as an exploited group and did not take a firm action that such a consciousness would have imposed (208).
SLAVERY - AN INSTITUTION CREATING ITS OWN CULTURE Slavery was a period of great profits for Southern whites and disastrous times for black people. Being deprived from their human rights, black slaves had to find a way to maintain equilibrium between the inhumane conditions of living and their existence as human beings. In the hardships of slavery and lack of educational opportunities for the ...
Another of Garlans points seems to be that historical debates on the subject of slavery have become clouded by the personal beliefs of historians, calling into question the accuracy of the conclusions that have been made in regards to the above questions of slave society and social class systems. He points to leaders of social reform (such as Carl Marx) as having distorted the true facts of history in order to espouse and justify their particular causes. When calling into question the validity of certain historians methods and conclusions, the author defends his own point with the following statement. I feel not the slightest regret at having thereby definitively alienated two categories of readers: those who, in order to exercise it, complacently give Primary representation of it, turning it into what Voltaire might have called a hideous bogey (208).
However, as pointed out earlier none of these questions or debates are clearly presented in the body of the text.
This leads the reader to conclude that the authors intent, in part, is to challenge colleagues and perhaps students to develop their own conclusions about the credibility of historians that have perhaps twisted the facts to match with their own personal ideologies. It is not until the conclusion of the book that a reader with a cursory knowledge of Greek history becomes truly aware of what it is that Garlan is answering. Throughout the text the author sets out to create an objective study of slavery in antiquity. The study is conducted with the author relying on a variety of sources. Primary sources included writers of the day ranging from Homer to Plato, anthropological documentation, and archaeological evidence. Secondary sources included a number of as current historians works. are used. Examples of this are evidenced throughout the text by way of footnotes, in-text citations, and in the bibliography.
By employing these methods Garlan appears to be attempting to conduct an accurate and objective study. The definitions and descriptions of the different types of slavery and the practices of such seem consistent with that presented by other sources. For example, the term and definition of Chattel Slavery as described in other sources consulted (such as Garlands Daily Life of the Ancient Greeks) is consistent with those described by Garlan (Garland).
The debate over the economic advantages of slavery in the South has raged ever since the first slaves began working in the cotton fields of the Southern States. Initially, the wealth of the New World was in the form of raw materials and agricultural goods such as cotton, sugar, and tobacco. Slavery, without a doubt, had its profitable aspects prior to the Civil War. However, this postulation began ...
Plenty of evidence exists to support Garlans descriptions of the different types of slavery in both Greek society as a whole and the different practices within individual city-states. Are these differences evidence to support the belief that slavery in antiquity had a class structure of its own? Or, was slavery just part of the already existing order? What Garlan does within the text, is present evidence that distinctions existed. For example slaves could be slaves of the state rather than being owned (Chattel) by one person.
These types of distinctions are what others refer to as the class system within slavery. It is clear that different types of slaves were treated differently depending on their status within the social structure of society. This idea is clearly stated here, The most privileged Athenian slaves were owned by the state (Garland, 72).
Athenian slaves sometimes even lived apart from their owners. Robert Garland, in Daily Life of the Ancient Greeks, describes the situation of these slaves: Because Athenian citizens refused to satisfy the demand for wage labor in the second half of the fifth century BC, the conditions and opportunities of a limited number of slaves improved dramatically. Such slaves, who paid a commission to their owner, were described as living separately (choris oikountes)(Garland, 72).
These examples lend credibility to Garlan as a reliable researcher. Garlans choice to remain neutral throughout the book is also evidence that he is attempting to present historical fact and not to espouse a certain ideology or political point of view.
This is refreshing in the light of what others have done with the same evidence, not just in the case of Greek history but in the study of history across the board. The most difficult and tedious task in reading this book has to do with the writing itself. The sentences are long and convoluted, some encompassing a whole paragraph, making it necessary to read each one several times in order to understand what is being said. This problem may have occurred in the translation of the work (see Bibliography) rather than because of the writing style of the author. Nonetheless the task to the reader is to painstakingly decipher each paragraph. Does Yvon Garlan successfully make his argument? Was Greek slavery a social condition, which existed as an undisputed way of life? Certainly there is substantial evidence to support him in this viewpoint.
Although slavery spread in the Americas for more than 300 years, it was not without occurrence and cost. As was true of the preceding 100 years, slavery did not increase without resistance. Neither Indians nor Africans willingly accepted such state of matters, and throughout slavery's continuation, there was a significant number of attacks, revolts, and rebellions that caused huge anxiety and ...
What is decidedly absent from all sources are any first person accounts as to how the slaves themselves saw their condition. Truly the answer to this goes far beyond the scope of knowledge of a first time student of Greek history. The book does appear to contain accurate information on the actual topic of Slavery in Ancient Greece, thereby accomplishing at least, that part of the authors goal. Garlan, Yvon. Slavery in Ancient Greece. Trans. Lloyd, Janet.
Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988. Garland, Robert. The Daily Life of the Ancient Greeks. Daily Life though history. Ed. Greenwood Press. 1st ed.
Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998.