on February 9, 2004
This book is a revised and extended version of the W.B. Stamford Lectures given by Dr. Peter Garnsey at Trinity College Dublin in 1995. The author examines ancient Greece and Rome and categorizes his "ideas" of slavery into two large divisions: Attitudes to slavery, and Theories of slavery. The first part, dealing with "attitudes" to slavery, range from critique to justification of the subject. The second part examines the "theories" of Aristotle, the Stoics, Theologians Philo and Paul, Church Fathers Ambrose and Augustine, and others. The author draws his conclusion from these philosophers' own writings and therefore is commended on his excellent research.
The author finds that there was no major movement for abolition in these societies, unlike antebellum America, but one should not conclude that slavery was accepted all together. The problem with this analysis is that a majority of the Roman and Greek societies do not excuse or condemn the subjection of other human beings. In reality, any abolition to slavery was kept private or generally ignored.
Slavery is not an idea but rather a judgment that we are human beings and slaves are not. One can see that our own century has witnessed the terrible consequences of dehumanizing other human beings. An opportunity to compare ancient slavery to modern slavery is completely ignored by the author and for good reason, simply because it would have required an entire different section. In conclusion, the "why" is left for us to contemplate, yet one of Garnsey's achievements is that the thought behind or concerning this matter is so clearly revealed in this book.
If you are looking for an introduction to slavery in the ancient world, do not get this book. To fully understand and use this book, one must not only be knowledgeable of the ancient world but also have a pretty good grasp of the many authors Garnsey looks at. Instead of trying to make some grand generalization about slavery in the Greco-Roman world, this book tries to look at individuals and different "schools of thought" in the ancient world. The result is a nice journey through several ancient texts. However, Garnsey does have an agenda and an opinion: slavery is bad, and even ancients questioned it. The second is true, the first is debatable especially in the ancient world.