I have talked about slavery in ancient Hellas quite a bit on my blog. You an read the masterpost, if you will, here. 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 Hellenic slave was called a doûlos (δούλος), which would translate best as a 'servant' or 'serf'.  In ancient Hellas, doûlos were the working class. They were teachers, farmers, shop owners, herders, doctors, city militia, cleaners, etc. 

In democratic city states, the doûlos were protected by law and their masters were urged to care for them and treat them as fellow human beings. If a serf felt they were being mistreated by their master, they could seek asylum in a temple and request a new master. Murdering a doûlos was an equally severe crime as the murder of a free man. No servant could be executed on a whim; a court ruling was required. For a serf to be executed there should be a special reason imposed to the court. Any slave could buy his freedom for a certain amount of money and the state itself sometimes freed its serfs on their own accord. 

Of course, this all sounds a bit too positive. These conditions were prevalent in democratic city states but outside of those, life was hard for serfs. In Sparta, for example, serfs could be executed at will and were worked hard. Revolts happened on occasion. Punishment was prevalent, even in the democratic city states, and lashings were common place. Even if that wasn't the case, a huge portion of serfs were 'barbarian' men, women and children who had been kidnapped from their homes in non-Hellenic territories or who had lived for centuries on the land that the Hellens overtook.

Still, slavery was an ideal condition for some people in ancient Hellas. Poverty and diseases were so prevalent in those days that people preferred to be slaves to wealthy people so that they could survive those hardships. This gave them a level of economic security in that poverty-stricken world. Were all the slaves treated in the same manner? Here are three classifications of slaves.

Domestic Slaves

Domestic slaves in ancient Hellas would do everything around the house, including cooking, gardening, cleaning, washing, reading, writing, taking care of babies, and the sick. They also escorted their masters, carried and delivered messages, acted as travel companions, and did pretty much anything that has to be done at home. Since the slaves were regarded as a breathing piece of property, the quality of their lives just depended on their luck. If they were lucky enough to be acquired by a kind and humane master or mistress, they would perhaps be treated as a family member, of course, with strict limits. The slave would be incorporated into the family through a special ceremony. It was similar to the ceremony for a newborn baby to be incorporated into the family. These domestic slaves were likely to strengthen their ties with their masters or mistresses. If the slave took care of the children as a female nurse or a male paidagôgos, they were more likely to develop such ties. Interestingly, the words pedagogue and pedagogy come from the Greek word paidagôgos, which means a slave working as a tutor.

One such close relationship is portrayed in the Odyssey. We see this in the relationship between Odysseus and his nurse, Eurycleia. They were so close that when Odysseus returned from Ithaca disguised as a beggar, she notices the scar on his thigh. She is particularly trusted by Odysseus and his family because she was a freeborn, and was captured and sold by pirates.

Although there were many cases in which the masters were not totally satisfied with the services of their slaves, they were likely to win the hearts of their masters or mistresses. This was especially true if they had been with them from childhood as their nurses or tutors. Another sign that indicated the slaves were parts of the family was that they were buried in the family plots.

Despite all these close relationships, the owner was free to abuse his slave physically or sexually. Also, if the slave was too old or weak to fulfill their duties, the owner was at liberty to throw them out. At the time of economic crisis or famine, slaves would lose their rations, but otherwise, domestic servants were mostly paid well and their livelihood was secured.

Agricultural Slaves

The size of this slave workforce is much disputed. In Athens, the number depended on the number of peasant proprietors and large landowners. Peasant farmers were more likely to hire seasonal workers than having slaves for the job because the former were considerably cheaper.

The status, comfort, and security of the agricultural slaves were not the same as that of the domestic slaves. That’s because the agricultural slaves had limited contact with their master and couldn’t develop personal relationships with them. If they fell sick, they could be killed because they were not worthy anymore. Although there are no clear clues, it is speculated that the agricultural slaves were restrained in leg irons at night, like those who worked for the Romans.

Other Types of Slaves

In addition to domestic and agricultural slaves, there was a class of slaves called chôris oikountes, or those living separately. They did not live with their masters and worked as managers of shops and factories, bankers, captains of trading ships, bailiffs, artisans, and so on. This class of slaves existed because the Greeks did not like to work for other people. These slaves were considerably free and independent and worked on behalf of their masters on commission.

The dêmosioi, or the public ones, was another class of slaves in ancient Hellas. These slaves were owned by the state. Notaries, coin testers, jury clerks, and public executioners belonged to this class of slaves. Their jobs were generally considered demeaning. Road menders or masons also belonged to this group.

The industrial workers in ancient Hellas were also slaves. Their condition was the worst of the lot. They worked in mines or quarries, like Egyptian slaves. The working conditions were so adverse that some of them died because they had to work 24/7 non-stop.