Baring the Aegis: Hellenismos
Hellenismos, otherwise known as Greek Reconstructionist Paganism, is the traditional, polytheistic religion of ancient Greece, reconstructed in and adapted to the modern world. It's a vibrant religion which can draw on a surprising amount of ancient sources. Baring the Aegis blogger Elani Temperance blogs about her experiences within this Tradition.
Slavery in ancient Greece
A few days ago, I got into an interesting discussion with PaganSquare founder Anne about Hellenismos in general and slavery in particular. The discussion focussed on what should and should not be part of Recon practice and slavery, obviously, was one of the things we both thought had no place in it. I realized, though, that not everyone may know what slavery entailed in ancient Greece and the many difference there are between the ancient Greek form of slavery and the modern history version of the same practice.
With that out of the way, indulge me as I paint a picture of slavery in ancient Hellas. First, its prudent to describe the life of ancient Greek slaves, as slaves, too, could acquire rank and even slaves of their own. The word 'slave' wasn't known in ancient Hellas, in fact, the first mention of the word dates back to the seventh century C.E.. A Greek slave was called a doûlos (δούλος), which would translate best as a 'servant' or 'serf'. In ancient Greece, doûlos were the working class. They were teachers, farmers, shop owners, herders, doctors, city militia, cleaners, etc. Because many performed a public service, they had a house of their own as well as a salary. Household serfs were called oikétês (οἰκέτης) and lived in the house of their master who was called a kyrios (κύριος). The female head of the household was charged with teaching--and keeping order amongst--the household serfs.
Criminals and unplaceable serfs were sent to work in the mills, mines, or as ship crew members. This was back breaking and dangerous work and comes closes to the image of slavery we have today. Women and sons of vanquished foes were often unfortunate enough to end up in one of the many brothels. Although many serfs worked in the mills, mines, and brothels, even more worked as artisans in the cities, in factories or for a household, where their work was appreciated and friendships with free citizens could even form.
- They might have been born into slavery as the child of a slave
- They might have been captured during war time
- They might have been captured by pirates or bandits; if the ransom was not paid, they were sold
- They might have been orphans, found and taken in
- They might have been unable to pay of a loan, thus becoming enslaved to their creditor
- They might have been sold into slavery by their family who needed money
- They might have been kidnapped and consequentially sold into slavery
Once a household serf was bought in a democratic city state, he or she was brought to the house and courted like one would a newly-wed wife. This often happened with gifts of nuts and fruits. There was a ceremony in which the oikétês was placed under the protection of Hestia. They were then trained and put to work under the supervision of the matron of the household. Female serfs often bonded tightly to their matron, as they accompanied her everywhere she went and they were often sounding boards to her problems. Serfs were allowed to keep their own religious traditions intact as long as they also worshipped the Theoi. They celebrated festivals with the members of the household and were allowed to partake in sacrefices. They were even allowed to initiate into the Eleusinian Mysteries. In Athens, oikétês enjoyed great freedom and many artisans were indistinguishable from citizens. Visitors often complained of this because no serf would step out of their way to let them pass.
Of course, serfs were lower in standing than citizens. They could not enter the Gymnasium or the Public Assembly. They could not use their own names, but were assigned names by their master. These were often names that indicated their enslaved nature like Dromon, Geta, Manes or Xanthias. They were not allowed to represent themselves in court, get married or enjoy a regular household life. Slaves were allowed to give testimony in court but they were always tortured to get the information out of them, even if they would tell their story willingly. If a serf managed to buy their freedom in Athens, they were seen as metics; resident aliens. Their former Kyrios became their patron and would still represent them in legal affairs. Metics also had other limitations but that is food for another post.
This post is becoming entirely too long so I am going to end it here. This is but a small introduction into the lives of slaves in ancient Greece and I will most certainly revisit it at a later date. I had promised to express the modern Hellenic views on this kind of slavery, however, and so I will.
As I put forth in the aforementioned discussion with Anne; Hellenismos strives to re-create the religion of the ancient Greeks, not the society of the ancient Greeks. Of course, these were very much linked and sorting out which issues can be let go of without damaging the core of religious practice, is an ongoing struggle. Hellenismos is not standardized and there isn't a central body to make these decisions for its followers. That said; slavery in ancient Greece was a tool to push forth the democracy. Because serfs executed the undesirable tasks, citizens could focus on politics, art and philosophy.
Nowadays, society is layered enough without the 'need' for slavery; those who wish to pursue theology, philosophy, politics or art can make a career out of it. There was no slavery for the sake of slavery in ancient Hellas, so we can say that in modern day, we have outgrown the practice. There would be absolutely no need to bring it back now. This even goes for house serfs; we can now hire cooks, cleaners, nannies, etc. We no longer buy their lives, we buy their time. The system has evolved and the word 'slavery' has no place in it anymore.
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