Slavery was very common in ancient Greece. Some estimate that in Athens, around the fifth century, there was the equivalent of one slave to every free person in the city. Anyone with even a modest income typically owned a slave or two to help in the household or family business.
There were several ways to become a slave. Many were prisoners of war, especially women and children. Others were born into slavery. Still others might have been kidnapped from their home countries, brought to Greece, and sold at the slave market.
Treatment of slaves varied. Sparta, Thessaly, and Sicily were known for their harsh treatment of slaves. In Athens, it was difficult to determine who the slaves were. Slaves were employed in manual jobs or were household servants. Some slaves became doctors or high-level managers. Some slaves were able to earn money and eventually bought their own freedom.
Slaves had no rights. They could be mistreated, although mistreatment of a slave was a bad idea since they were a large investment for their owners; and they were not to be killed. In the silver mines at Laurion, in southeastern Attica, slaves were poorly treated. The conditions were brutal. Mine shafts were small, unsafe, and poorly ventilated. Many of the thousands of slaves who worked in the mines were injured or killed in accidents.
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