BA Ancient History

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Slavery in the Ancient Greek World

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE34502
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
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?).



Pre/Co/Antirequisite units

No formal pre- or co-requisites, but students who have not taken Greek or Roman History course-units in their first or second year will need to have acquired at least an outline knowledge of the basic narrative particularly for the history of the Classical Greek world, i.e. 478-323 BC (for which see in particular the first item on the reading list below)


Antirequisite unit: CAHE 24501 (level 2 version of this course)




  • To explore in detail the rôle played by slavery in the ancient Greek world (broadly defined)
  • To explore in detail the origins and occupations of those who became slaves
  • To explore in detail the role and effect of factors such as manumission and resistance
  • To analyse in depth 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 in detail 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 an understanding of the rôle played by slavery in the ancient Greek world (broadly defined)
  • demonstrate an understanding of some of the major ancient and modern debates about ancient Greek slavery
  • demonstrate in-depth knowledge of a wide range of literary, epigraphic, linguistic and archaeological evidence
  • demonstrate a critical 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 a coherent argument in written and oral form
  • pose meaningful questions and make critical judgments about complex historical issues
  • assimilate and analyse large quantities of evidence
  • locate and retrieve relevant information from primary sources and secondary scholarship


Practical skills

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • make extensive and appropriate critical use of a wide range of library, electronic and online resources
  • present the results of their work in a scholarly manner, using appropriate scholarly conventions in the citing of ancient evidence and of modern scholarship
  • present a sustained and effective 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 independently 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 work in written form using appropriate scholarly conventions
  • demonstrate computer-literacy in skills such as word-processing, information retrieval using library resources, and an appropriately scholarly 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 a large amount of information that is often difficult ¿ see multiple sides of an argument ¿ synthesise an argument in a cogent and compelling fashion ¿ retrieve information from complex sources and present it in a cogent and persuasive form ¿ recognise exploitation when they see it

Assessment methods

Summative coursework essay 25%
Exam  75%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Summative coursework essay

Written feedback via TurnItIn (with option of individual discussion if wished)


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. (1980), Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology. London.

  • • 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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