What do you know about Spartans? Based solely on the movie 300 (2006), one could imagine they were fearless in combat, ridiculously ripped, and dedicated to fighting against tyranny.
But, did you know Spartans owned slaves? Though much closer to being serfs, helots lived in constant fear for their lives and were obligated to farm the land of the native Spartan they were assigned to, though they were officially owned by the Spartan state.
How about ancient Romans? You surely must admire their engineering feats, such as building the magnificent Colosseum that still stands to this day. Yep, built by 100,000 slaves captured in one of many Roman conquests that will eventually lead to the weakening of the Roman republic and its demise. Simply put, territories and slaves captured by Romans were not being integrated into the society fast enough and were generally treated as tools to be discarded when their usefulness expires.
The same thing applies to Egyptians, Chinese, Aztecs and even Native Americans, who used to own whomever they could get their hands on, including blacks. The reason for such widespread acceptance of slavery was quite simple—the tribe or nation that owned more slaves was able to farm more land or mine more ore at almost no added cost.
This also served as a massive ego boost for the members of the host nation, as they now had more free time and could dedicate it to philosophy, poetry, art, and other abstract disciplines.
Slaves were sometimes held under control by the most primitive and efficient form of contraception—castration. The resulting eunuchs could be then safely employed in courts, harems, and other powerful positions without the fear of them wanting to bang princesses or queens and spawn contestants for the throne. These eunuchs were often a source of great drama and complex machinations as they fought for power.
What actually constitutes slavery is a point of heated debate among historians, since even slaves had loosely defined ranks and varying degrees of privileges. Those who were physically fit could become gladiators or bodyguards and earn fame and their keep through sheer brute strength, educated slaves could become teachers, while slaves with cooking skills would be worth their weight in gold and treated with respect.
However, a majority of slaves had no such redeeming features and was destined to do hard physical labor, extracting value from the land to maintain the existing social order. As the host nation grew, so did its appetites, which meant more and more slaves had to be captured and brought back home. Eventually, the rulers would realize that it was much easier and cheaper to simply let the slaves breed at home.
A process for freedom
Sometimes, slaves were even able to individually gain civil rights, as if they were the native occupants of the land. This process varied from era to era, but it generally didn’t bestow the full extent of civil rights on the liberated slave—while the slave was formally free, the rigid social structure forbade him from climbing up the ranks and gaining any significant influence.
Slaves that weren’t properly integrated into the host nation would eventually become its greatest enemy, as the demographic structure changed over generations. Slaves would retain their own culture, religions and habits that would gradually squeeze out the native people’s. In a great twist of ironic justice, the conqueror would ultimately become the slave to the whims of the conquered, who now made a majority of the population.
Industrial practices and advancements in science have made all slavery practices largely insignificant and unneeded in the Western civilizations. What once took 100 people to do can now be achieved by one man sitting at the controls of a single Ingersoll Rand 700JW ZRA2 jib crane. Today, legislation confirms that slavery is an “immoral and thoroughly evil practice.”
All successful civilizations employed some form of slavery—those that didn’t were quickly subdued by those that did. But they would all inevitably fall apart and leave only the ruins for the historians to study. Perhaps some day it will be possible to live in a world of true freedom. Until then, slavery in its many forms will be the norm, rather than the exception.