BA Ancient History

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Slavery in the Ancient Greek World

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE24502
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Classics, Ancient History, Archaeology & Egyptology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The focus of this course is the rôle played by slavery in the ancient Greek world (broadly defined, after the manner of G. E. M. de Ste Croix, to include discussion of continuities and discontinuities across Graeco-Roman antiquity, as well as comparisons with more recent slave systems.) Slavery is a fascinating topic, which raises all sorts of questions ranging from the ideological (why did ancient writers like Aristotle find it so important to insist that slavery was a natural phenomenon, and that it operated for the benefit of the slave?) via the practical (how far can we tell where ancient slaves came from, how many of them there were, and what tasks they performed?) to the historiographical (is slavery best explained in economic terms, in which what matters is getting work done cheaply, or is the motivation for slave-ownership one of social prestige and the construction of the outsider?).


  • To explore the rôle played by slavery in the ancient Greek world (broadly defined)
  • To explore the origins and occupations of those who became slaves
  • To explore the role and effect of factors such as manumission and resistance
  • To analyse a range of historiographical and methodological questions, including the use of comparative evidence from other slave-societies as well as the interpretation of ancient sources
  • To explore the relationship between theory and practice, esp. the rôle of social codes as constructions of reality


Knowledge and understanding

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • demonstrate awareness of the rôle played by slavery in the ancient Greek world (broadly defined)
  • demonstrate awareness of some of the major ancient and modern debates about ancient Greek slavery
  • demonstrate knowledge of a range of literary, epigraphic, linguistic and archaeological evidence
  • demonstrate an understanding of the strengths and limitations of these different types of evidence


Intellectual skills

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • construct an argument in written and oral form
  • pose questions and make critical judgments about historical issues
  • assimilate and summarize evidence
  • retrieve relevant information from primary sources and secondary scholarship


Practical skills

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • make appropriate critical use of library, electronic and online resources
  • demonstrate the ability to follow appropriate scholarly conventions in the citing of ancient evidence and of modern scholarship
  • present a sustained critical argument


Transferable skills and personal qualities

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • demonstrate skills in information retrieval, such as the ability to gather, sift, synthesise and organise material from various sources (including library, electronic and online resources), and to evaluate its significance.
  • demonstrate skills in literacy, including the ability to present written work using appropriate scholarly conventions
  • demonstrate computer-literacy in skills such as word-processing, information retrieval using library resources, and the avoidance of uncritical use of the internet
  • demonstrate skills in time-management, such as the ability independently to plan their own work (including regular preparation for classes), and to submit assessments on time
  • demonstrate an ability to improve their own learning through planning, monitoring, critical reflection
  • engage in constructive critical discussion both individually and in groups


Employability skills

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to: ¿ analyse and examine information that is sometimes difficult ¿ see both sides of an argument ¿ synthesise an argument in a cogent fashion ¿ retrieve information from complex sources and present it in a cogent form ¿ recognise exploitation when they see it

Assessment methods

Coursework essay  40%
Exam 60%


Feedback methods

Summative coursework essay

Written feedback via TurnItIn (with option of coming to discuss individually)


Report of first marker (available during following semester by request from UG office)


Recommended reading

· Hunt, P. (2017), Ancient Greek and Roman Slavery. Blackwells: Hoboken & Chichester. – as a general introduction to the topic

• Rhodes, P. J. (2005), History of the Classical Greek World, 478-323 BC. Maldon & Oxford. – the best starting-point for those needing a background narrative

• Douglass, F. (1845), Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass an American slave, written by himself.

• Finley, M. I. (1981), Economy and Society in Ancient Greece, ed. R. Saller & B. Shaw. London.

• Fisher, N. R. E. (1993), Slavery in Ancient Greece. Duckworth: London. 

• Lewis, D. M. (2018), Greek Slave Systems in their Eastern Mediterranean Context, c.800-146 BC, esp. ch.1. OUP, Oxford. – an important critique of Finley’s model.

• Ste Croix, G. E. M. de (1981) The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World. Duckworth, London.



Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Stephen Todd Unit coordinator

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