The starkest of contrasts: an anonymous Hellenistic epigram depicting a grateful slave and his benevolent master, and an Athenian letter recounting a slave’s desperation and his master’s brutality.
Anonymous Epigram 7.179 (Greek Anthology)
Even now from under the earth, master,
I remain obedient to you.
Your kindness I haven’t forgotten:
Three times you saw me from sickness to health;
And now you’ve gone so far as to lay me
Under this sheltering stone, announcing:
Medes, a Persian.
You’ve done right by me.
For that, you’ll have willing slaves in your debt.
In 1972, excavation of the Athenian Agora turned up a unique c.4th-century-BC letter inscribed on a lead tablet: the speaker is an actual slave describing the actual conditions of bondage. (Presumably the letter was dictated to a scribe, and since it was found in a well, presumably it was never delivered.)
As in the fanciful epigram, δεσπότης (“master”) designates the man who command’s the slave’s life. But unlike the fictional δεσπότης whose kindness can never be repaid, the real δεσπότης is a man of limitless brutality.
The letter reads:
“Lesis sends a letter to Xenochles and his mother saying do not overlook that he’s dying in the forge, but come to his masters and find him something better. For I have been handed over to an entirely bad man: I’m dying from the whippings; I’m tied up; I’m horribly abused. And more, more!”
Lead tablet letter from the Athenian agora, c.4th BC. (quoted in Edward Harris, Democracy and the Rule of Law in Classical Athens, page 271)
Detail of lines 2-4 of the slave’s lead tablet letter. Reproduced from David Jordan’s “A Personal Letter Found in the Athenian Agora,” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Jan. – Mar., 2000), pp. 91-103.
“Live mercifully with your slave, even in a friendly way. Invite him to a conversation, to share your plans and to live with you. At this suggestion the whole band of elites will shout at me: “Nothing is baser or fouler than this”. These very same men I often catch kissing on the hands of other men’s slaves.
Don’t you see this, at least, how our forebears tried to erase everything insidious and every kind of insult from slaveholding? They called the master a “father of the family” and slaves “family members”, a fact that endures today in mimes. They started a festival day one which it was custom and obligation for masters to eat with their servants. They also permitted slaves to earn honors in the home and to pronounce judgments so that the home was a microcosm of the state.”
Vive cum servo clementer, comiter quoque, et in sermonem illum admitte et in consilium et in convictum. Hoc loco adclamabit mihi tota manus delicatorum: “Nihil hac re humilius, nihil turpius.” Hos ego eosdem deprehendam alienorum servorum osculantes manum. Ne illud quidem videtis, quam omnem invidiam maiores nostri dominis, omnem contumeliam servis detraxerint? Dominum patrem familiae appellaverunt, servos, quod etiam in mimis adhuc durat, familiares. Instituerunt diem festum, non quo solo cum servis domini vescerentur, sed quo utique; honores illis in domo gerere, ius dicere permiserunt et domum pusillam rem publicam esse iudicaverunt.
Just before this passage, he writes to try to encourage people to treat slaves better. Unfortunately, Seneca seems to accept slavery as a condition of human life. This is part of the point of Macrobius’ post too, that we are all ‘slaves’ to something and therefore never truly free. Yet this certainly overlooks the very real difference in agency and liberty between those who are ‘slaves’ to desire and those who are literally enslaved to another human being (or to a state).
Seneca, Moral Epistles 47.10-12
“Please remember that the person you call your slave rose from the same seeds, enjoys the same sky and equally breathes, lives and dies! You could see him just as much as a free man as a slave. Because of the slaughter in the time of Marius, fortune struck down many born to high station, taking the trail to the senate through the army—one of these it made a shepherd, another an overseer of a cottage. Despise now the fortune of a person whose place you may take even as you look down on them!
I don’t want to get involved in a big controversy and argue about the treatment of slaves toward whom we are most arrogant, cruel, and offensive. But this is the sum of my guidance: deal with your inferior the way you wish your superior would deal with you. However many times it pops in your mind to consider how much is right for you regarding your slave, let it also occur that this is permitted to your master regarding you. “But I have no master” you say. Your age is still good. Don’t you know how old Hecuba was when she began to serve, or Croesus, or Darius’ mother, or Plato and Diogenes?”
Vis tu cogitare istum, quem servum tuum vocas, ex isdem seminibus ortum eodem frui caelo, aeque spirare, aeque vivere, aeque mori! tam tu illum videre ingenuum potes quam ille te servum. Mariana clade multos splendidissime natos, senatorium per militiam auspicantes gradum, fortuna depressit, alium ex illis pastorem, alium custodem casae fecit; contemne nunc eius fortunae hominem, in quam transire, dum contemnis, potes.
Nolo in ingentem me locum inmittere et de usu servorum disputare, in quos superbissimi, crudelissimi, contumeliosissimi sumus. Haec tamen praecepti mei summa est: sic cum inferiore vivas, quemadmodum tecum superiorem velis vivere. Quotiens in mentem venerit, quantum tibi in servum liceat, veniat in mentem tantundem in te domino tuo licere. “At ego,” inquis, “nullum habeo dominum.” Bona aetas est; forsitan habebis. Nescis, qua aetate Hecuba servire coeperit, qua Croesus, qua Darei mater, qua Platon, qua Diogenes?
Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.11
“You see how much care comes from a slave to the highest of the gods. From whence comes such a great and vain loathing for slaves, as though they did not stem from and receive their nourishment from the same elements as you, and as though they did not draw the same breath from the same source? Would you think about those whom you call slaves – that they, born from the same seed, enjoy the same sky, and live and die just as you? They are slaves, you say? No, they are people! They are slaves, you say? No, they are fellow slaves, if you would but consider that Fortune may employ the same license against you as it does against them. You can see him free just as soon as he might see you a slave. Do you not know at what age Hecuba, Croesus, the mother of Darius, Diogenes, and even Plato himself all began to be slaves? Finally, why do we fear the name of slavery?
Sure, he’s a slave – but by compulsion, and perhaps he is a slave with a free soul. This will harm him, if you can show who is not a slave. One person may serve desire, another avarice, another ambition – all of us are slaves to hope, all of us are slaves to fear. And to be sure, there is no slavery more abject than slavery which we have chosen for ourselves. But here we trample underfoot a man lying under the yoke which Fortune has thrown upon him as though he were wretched and worthless, yet we do not allow the yoke which we have accepted for ourselves to be criticized.”
Vides, quanta de servo ad deorum summum cura pervenerit. Tibi autem unde in servos tantum et tam inane fastidium, quasi non ex isdem tibi et constent et alantur elementis eundemque spiritum ab eodem principio carpant? Vis tu cogitare eos quos ius tuum vocas isdem seminibus ortos eodem frui caelo, aeque vivere aeque mori? Servi sunt? immo homines. Servi sunt? immo conservi, si cogitaveris tantundem in utrosque licere fortunae. Tam tu illum videre liberum potes, quam ille te servum. Nescis, qua aetate Hecuba servire coeperit, qua Croesus, qua Darei mater, qua Diogenes, qua Plato ipse? Postremo quid ita nomen servitutis horremus? Servus est quidem: sed necessitate, sed fortasse libero animo servus est. Hoc illi nocebit, si ostenderis quis non sit. Alius libidini servit, alius avaritiae, alius ambitioni, omnes spei, omnes timori. Et certe nulla servitus turpior quam voluntaria. At nos iugo a fortuna inposito subiacentem tamquam miserum vilemque calcamus: quod vero nos nostris cervicibus inserimus non patimur reprehendi.
This perverse epigram in the form of a sepulchral inscription is preserved without attribution in the Greek Anthology.
7.179 (Greek Anthology)
Even now, from beneath the earth, master,
I’m steadfast in my devotion to you,
Just like in the old days.
I haven’t forgotten how you got me
Back on my feet, three times, when I was sick.
Now you’ve laid me under this sheltering
Cover, which declares: Manes, a Persian.
You did right by me, master, and for that
You’ll have slaves who are indebted to you
And who are all the more eager to serve.
Plato on the Docile Slave. For Plato the problem of slavery isn’t ethical, but practical: how to make a human being “readily accept the condition of servitude” (ῥᾷον δουλεύσειν) and become “as docile as possible” (εὐμενεστάτους)? (Laws 777d and 776d, respectively). To accomplish this, he counsels “the best strategy is to treat them properly” (εἰς δύναμιν ὅτι μάλιστα, τρέφειν δ᾽ αὐτοὺς ὀρθῶς), by which he means masters should not physically injure their slaves (Laws 777d). Plato’s assumption is that “kind” treatment would induce obedience.
Aristotle on Asian Slaves. For Aristotle, non-Greeks comprise “a community of slaves, male and female alike” (ἡ κοινωνία αὐτῶν δούλης καὶ δούλου) and Greeks are their rightful masters (Politics I.1252b7-8). But Asians come in for particularly harsh judgement: “Concerning the people of Asia, although they are intelligent and capable, they lack spirit, and as a consequence they are always ruled over and enslaved (τὰ δὲ περὶ τὴν Ἀσίαν διανοητικὰ μὲν καὶ τεχνικὰ τὴν ψυχήν, ἄθυμα δέ, διόπερ ἀρχόμενα καὶ δουλεύοντα διατελεῖ [Politics VII. 1327b27-28]).
The Idealized Slave: There’s congruence between Plato’s exhortation to good treatment (his admonition against injury) and the epigram’s account of the master nursing the sick slave. Also, the epigram’s slave isn’t just docile, but ideally so. We can say that if there were two routes out of slavery, manumission and death, the master denied the slave the former, but this fictional slave denied himself the latter. Even death is not the end of his happy servitude. It’s no wonder that the grave marker identifies him as Persian–his race (γένος), according to Aristotle, marked him out for servitude. The epigram is a fantasy about servitude, and it’s as distasteful as Plato’s and Aristotle’s views.
“Then fine-cheeked Melanthô reproached him shamefully.
Dolios fathered her and Penelope raised her. She treated her like her own child and used to give her delights* [athurmata] for her heart.
But she did not have grief in her thoughts for Penelope,
But she was having sex with and feeling affection for Eurumakhos.
She was reproaching Odysseus with abusive words.
“Wretched stranger, you are completely insane—
You don’t want to go sleep in the smith’s house
Or into a lodge but instead you say so much boldly
Here among the many men. And you are not at all afraid
In your heart. Really, wine has overtaken your thoughts or else
Your mind is always the kind to babble meaningless things.
Are you so confident because you defeated the beggar Iros?
May no other better than Iros quickly arise
Who might bash your head between his two strong hands
And drive you out of the house once he drenches you with so much blood.”
Then very-clever Odysseus answered as he glared at her:
“I will quickly tell Telemachus what you are saying, bitch,
After he comes here so that he can tear you apart by the limbs.”
[athurmata] Melanthô used to get ornaments and toys, and Penelope did not deprive her of delights, but instead was doing these things to please her—it is clear, this means material for children. For athurmata are the games of children.
“Athurma: a children’s toy. Josephus writes: “[the man who] was a toy of the king and was put on display for jokes and laughter while drinking.” And elsewhere: “it is not the place of men to waste time with children’s toys” In the Epigrams: “They stripped it clean and dedicated it near the road as a fine toy.” Instead of dedication: in Cratinus’ Odysseuses: “a new-fangled delight was made.”
“What is the nature and the ability of the slave becomes clear from these things. For a person who by nature is not his own but another’s is naturally a slave. A person is another’s if he is a possession even though a person. A possession is a tool which has a use and can be traded.
Whether anyone is this kind of person by nature or not and whether it is better and just for anyone to be a slave or not or whether instead all slavery is contrary to nature are questions which should be investigated second. It is not difficult to figure this out by theorizing logically or from empirical evidence. For ruling or submitting to rule are not only necessary realities but they are also advantageous.
Some things are well-suited straight from birth to be ruled and others are suited to ruling. There are also many types of rulers and subordinates. The rule of better subjects is always better, for example being master of a person is better being master of a beast since the work which is expected from higher order creatures is greater. So, when one rules and the other is ruled, there is some labor from them together.
However so many things are put together from multiple parts and are united in one common whole, whether from continuous or separate pieces, the ruling and the ruled are clear in all. And this trait is present in living things as a result of nature…”
“But a longing for Odysseus who has gone wrecks me.
I am feel ashamed to name him, stranger, even though he is absent.
For he used to really care about me and take pains in his heart.
But I call him my older brother even though he is not here.”
Translators who contend with this passage may struggle with it because it seems odd in English to say “I feel shame to name…” someone. In fact, I don’t think I would understand this passage at all (and I still might be wrong) if it were not for my wife’s language and culture (she speaks Tamil, a language from southern India). In many cultures, naming someone by their personal name is a sign of privilege; not naming them or using an honorific is a token of respect. In Tamil, for instance, there are different names for aunts and uncles depending on whether they are older or younger than your parents.
Outside of the family, as a sign of respect, one calls older men and women aunt and uncle (or grandfather and grandmother) and family friends or cousins of close age but still older “big sister” (akka) or big brother (anna).
The passage above hinges, I think, on some kind of a token of respect. Eumaios, the swineherd, is hesitant to speak Odysseus’ name and declares that he should call him êtheion. Most translators render this as “lord”, “sir”, “master”. But the scholia give a different answer.
Schol. BQHV ad Hom. Od. 14.147
BQ. “But I call him elder…” I do not call Odysseus ‘master’ but big brother because of his loving-care for me. For to êtheie is the address of a younger [brother] to an older.”
H. “This is one part of the speech [?]. But it clearly means older brother”
ἓν μέρος λόγου ἐστί· δηλοῖ δὲ τὸν πρεσβύτερον ἀδελφόν. H.
êtheion: Older brother, really amazing.
ἠθεῖον, πρεσβύτερον ἀδελφὸν, θαυμαστὸν ἄγαν. V.
The sociolinguistic apparatus that conveys the full force of Eumaios’ feeling here is not fully present in English. But even just translating this as “brother” would make sense since, earlier, Eumaios claims that he would not even mourn his parents as much as he would Odysseus.
(This is a little disturbing from the perspective of how a slave defers to the master, but it works out even better for Eumaios’ view of his position in the ‘family’ since later he says that he was raised with Odysseus’ sister Ktimene).
Although Odysseus has recently–and frequently–told similarly long and detailed stories, the scholia do not suspect them because they think Odysseus is lying. But Eumaios, who speaks mimetically, vividly and effectively, is doubted for his power of memory.
Homer, Odyssey 15.389–484
Then the swineherd, marshal of men, responded:
“Friend, since you have asked me and inquired truly of these things,
Listen now in silence and take some pleasure and drink your wine
While you sit there. These nights are endless. There is time for sleep And there is time to take pleasure in listening. It is not at all necessary For you to sleep before it is time. Even a lot of sleep can be a burden.
Let whoever of the rest the heart and spirit moves
Go out and sleep. For as soon as the down shows itself
Let him eat and follow the master’s swine.
As we two drink and dine in this shelter Let us take pleasure as we recall one another’s terrible pains. For a man finds pleasure even in pains later on After he has suffered so very many and survived many too.
I will tell you this because you asked me and inquired.
There is an island called Suriê, if you have heard of it,
Above Ortygia, where the rays of the sun rise.
It is not too filled, but it is a good place
Well stocked with cows, sheep, with much wine and grain too.
Poverty never curses the people there, nor does any other
Hateful sickness fall upon the wretched mortals,
But when the race of humans grow old in the city
Apollo silverbow comes with Artemis
And kills them with his gentle arrows.
There are two cities there and everything is divided between them.
My father used to rule both of them as king
Ktêsios the son of Ormenos, a man equal to the immortal gods.
The ship-famous Phaeacians used to to frequent there
Pirates, bringing countless treasures in their black ships.
There was a Phoenician woman in my father’s house
Beautiful and broad and skilled in wondrous works.
The devious Phoenicians were corrupting her.
First, one of them joined her for sex while she was washing clothes
Near the swift ship—these things mix up the thoughts
For the female sex even when one of them is work-focused.
He then asked her who she was and where she was from
And she immediately told him about the high-roofed home of my father.
“I claim to be from Sidon of much-bronze,
And I am the daughter of Arubas, a wealthy man.
Taphian pirates kidnapped me one day
As I was returned from the country, and they forced me to come here
To the house of this man. And he paid a great price.”
The man who had sex with her in secret responded,
“Would you want to go back home again now with us
So that you might see the high-roofed home of you father and mother
And them too? For they are still there and are reputedly wealthy.”
And the woman then answered him in turn,
“I wish that this would happen, if you would be willing, sailors,
To swear an oath to take me home unharmed.”
So she said, and all of them swore an oath as she requested.
And once they swore and completed the oath,
The woman spoke among them again and answered with a plan.
“Be quiet now. Don’t let anyone address me with words
Should any one of your companions happen to meet me
In the street or near the stream so that no one might go to the house
And speak to the old man who might suspect something and bind me
In strong bonds. But plan for this destruction yourselves.
Keep this plan in your thoughts and earn the pay for your travels.
But whenever the ship is indeed full of its material,
Let a message come to me swiftly in the house.
And I will bring gold, as much as is ready-to-hand,
And I will add another passage-fee which I may wish to give.
For I care for the child of this nobleman in his home.
This child is clever indeed, and he is always following me outside.
I would bring him to the ship because he will earn for you
A great price when you take him to some foreign people.”
So she spoke and then left to the beautiful home.
They remained there among us for the rest of the year
As they sold the martial in their cavernous ship.
But when the hollow ship was packed up to leave,
They sent a messenger who informed the woman.
A very clever man came to the house of my father
Bringing a golden necklace worked out with amber bits.
The slave-women in the hall and my mistress mother went
To touch the necklace with their hands and see it with their eyes
As they discussed the price. He nodded to her in silence.
And once he nodded he returned to the hollow ship.
And she took my hand and led me from the house outside.
In the front part of the house she found cups and platters
From the men who dine there and attend my father.
They went to the council place and the opinion of the people,
So she quickly hind three tankards under her bosom
And left. And I followed without a care in my mind.
The sun set and all the roads were in shadows.
We went to the famous harbor in a hurry,
And there was the salt-swift ship of the Phoenician men.
They disembarked then and went sailing over the watery ways,
After they put the two of us on board. And Zeus sent a favorable wind.
We were sailing for six nights and days.
But when Kronos’ son Zeus brought the seventh day
Artemis the archer killed that woman
And she thudded into the cargo hold like a diving sea gull.
And they threw her out to be food for the seals and fish.
But I remained still, filled with pain in my heart.
The wind and the water carried them to Ithaca
Where Laertes purchased me among his possessions.
Thus I saw this land here with my own eyes.”
Pliny describes an attack by slaves with little empathy and comes to a dehumanizing conclusion. Here is some excellent advice on how to teach and write about slavery from P. Gabrielle Foreman (@profgabrielle). I have not followed all of the advice in the translation in an effort to convey Pliny’s tone.
Pliny the Younger, Letters, 3.14
“This terrible news deserves more than just a letter: Lucius Macedo, a former praetor has been overcome by his own slaves. He was an arrogant and harsh slave owner, one who remembered too little—or maybe too much—that his own father was enslaved. He was bathing in his Formian villa. Suddenly, the slaves stood around him. One attacked his throat; another beat his face; others struck his chest, gut, and—foul to report—they also struck his genitals.
When they believed he was dead, they left him to lie out cooking on the pavement just to see if he was alive or not. Whether he was conscious or not or just pretending not to be, he stayed there without moving, making them confident that he was completely dead. At that point he was taken out as if he were overcome by the heat. His more faithful slaves took him as his concubines rushed around with screaming and wailing. He was revived by such voices and perhaps the cooler place, and then seemed to believe it was safe to show he was alive with a glance of the eyes or some movement of the body.
The slaves fled and a great number of them have been caught while the others are being actively sought. Macedo himself was resuscitated for a few days and only with great labor. But he did not die without the comfort of vengeance, since he lived with the punishment meted out as if they had murdered him. You see here how many dangers and insults we are exposed to. There is no one who can feel safe just because he is gentle or restrained: slave owners are murdered not because of reason but because of an inclination toward crime.”
1 Rem atrocem nec tantum epistula dignam Larcius Macedo vir praetorius a servis suis passus est, superbus alioqui dominus et saevus, et qui servisse patrem suum parum, immo nimium meminisset. 2 Lavabatur in villa Formiana. Repente eum servi circumsistunt. Alius fauces invadit, alius os verberat, alius pectus et ventrem, atque etiam (foedum dictu) verenda contundit; et cum exanimem putarent, abiciunt in fervens pavimentum, ut experirentur an viveret. Ille sive quia non sentiebat, sive quia se non sentire simulabat, immobilis et extentus fidem 3 peractae mortis implevit. Tum demum quasi aestu solutus effertur; excipiunt servi fideliores, concubinae cum ululatu et clamore concurrunt. Ita et vocibus excitatus et recreatus loci frigore sublatis oculis agitatoque corpore vivere se (et iam tutum erat) confitetur.
Diffugiunt servi; quorum magna pars comprehensa est, ceteri requiruntur. Ipse paucis diebus aegre focilatus non sine ultionis solacio decessit 5ita vivus vindicatus, ut occisi solent. Vides quot periculis quot contumeliis quot ludibriis simus obnoxii; nec est quod quisquam possit esse securus, quia sit remissus et mitis; non enim iudicio domini sed scelere perimuntur.
Thanks to @wophugus for bringing up this passage when discussing Dani Bostick’s essay on Slave Auctions and the Junior Classical League
Here’s another Letter from Pliny to show how his causal discussion of purchasing an enslaved person:
Pliny, Letters 1.21: To Plinius Paternus
“I place the highest value on the judgment of your mind and eyes, not just because—and don’t primp about this—it is great, but because it is as full of insight as mine is!
All jokes aside, I think the slaves whom I would buy at your advice look pretty good, but whether they are worthwhile remains to be seen: When it comes to a slave’s worth, it is better judged by the ears than the eyes. Goodbye!”
Plinius Plinio Paterno Suo S.
Ut animi tui iudicio sic oculorum plurimum tribuo, non quia multum (ne tibi placeas) sed quia tantum quantum ego sapis; quamquam hoc quoque multum est. Omissis iocis credo decentes esse servos, qui sunt empti mihi ex consilio tuo. Superest ut frugi sint, quod de venalibus melius auribus quam oculis iudicatur. Vale.
In her introduction to the Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood notes that two lingering questions from the Odyssey inspired her– (1) the ancient question of what Penelope was up to (during Odysseus’ absence and in the Odyssey itself where many have seen her toying with the suitors, recognizing Odysseus ahead of time, etc. and (2) the brutal savagery of the slaughter of the handmaids who allegedly gave comfort to the suitors. The epic implies, I think, that Odysseus is tyrannical with his mutilation of Melanthios, but its presentation of the hanging of the maids is far more ambiguous and challenging to explain/defend/contextualize for students (or for myself). In preparation for a lecture on the Odyssey and the Penelopiad, I revisit this passage.
Homer Odyssey, 22.446-73
“So he spoke and all the women came in close together,
Wailing terribly, shedding growing tears.
First, they were carrying out the corpses of the dead men,
and they put them out under the portico of the walled courtyard
stacking them against one another. Odysseus himself commanded
as he oversaw them—they carried out the bodies under force too.
Then, they cleaned off the chairs and the preciously beautiful trays
With water and much-worn sponges.
Meanwhile Telemachus, the cowherd and the swineherd
were scraping up the close-fit floors of the home
with hoes—the maids were carrying the remnants to the ground outside.
Then, when they had restored the whole house to order,
They led the women out of the well-roofed hall,
Halfway between the roof and the courtyard’s perfect wall,
Closing them in a narrow space were there was no escape.
Among them, learned Telemachus began to speak.
“May I not rip the life away from these women with a clean death,
These women who poured insults on my head and my mother
These women who were stretching out next to the suitors”
So he spoke. After attaching a ship’s cable to a pillar he bound it around
The dome of the house and stretched it up high
so that no one could be able to touch the ground with feet.
Just as when either thin-winged thrushes or doves
step into a snare which has been set in a thicket,
as they look for a resting plate, a hateful bed receives them—
Just so the women held their heads in a line, and nooses
fell around every neck so that they would die most pitiably.
They were gasping, struggling with their feet a little bit, but not for very long.”
“It is clear from the words uttered that the father ordered one thing but the son ordered another. For since it seems that a clean death is from a sword, and an unclean one is hanging, as is clear from the Nekyia, he thought it was right that unclean women should not have a clean death, since they were not clean themselves nor did they leave their masters clean of insults.”
Thanks to Dimitri Nakassis for sending me this passage
“Thirteen hundred peltasts, Thracian swordsmen from the Dii tribe, also came to Athens the same summer. They were supposed to have traveled to Sicily with Demosthenes. Because they were rather late, the Athenians decided to send them back to Thrace where they came from. For it seemed too expense to retain them for the Decelean War since they each were earning a drachma a day.
Since Decelea was first invested by the whole enemy army in that summer and later was held by the garrisons coming from different cities coming in turn to ravage the land, it was causing great harm to the Athenians. Indeed, this undermined Athenian affairs first by loss of property and then by the death of men.
Previous attacks were brief and did not keep the Athenians from deriving benefit from their land the rest of the time. But once they were continually invested in Attica and they were sometimes attacking in force and at other times using a single garrison attacking the country and pillaging to supply itself. The Spartan king Agis was also present and he was no slacker in prosecuting the war.
The Athenians were greatly harmed; they were deprived of their whole land. More than twenty thousand slaves freed themselves and a great number of these were craftspeople. All of the sheep and pack animals perished. And the Athenian horses, because the cavalry was deploying every day to attack Decelea and guard the land, either went lame because of working on rocky ground or they were wounded.
It would be edifying to write a history of the Peloponnesian War from the perspective of the slaves on either side. At the very least, a selection of all the passages which mentioned slavery and enslaved peoples would change the way we think of the war.
Note from Charles F. Smith on perseus.edu
πλέονἢδύομυριάδες : Boeckh, P. E. p. 55, reckons the number of slaves in Athens in the most flourishing period at 365,000, so that the number here given does not seem incredible.