** slavery in ancient civilizations Mesopotamia

Slavery in Ancient Civilizations: Mesopotamia

Figure 1.--This relief is a vety early depiction of slavery, apparently war captives. We have not been able to identify the stelle yet, but it appears to be Akkadian, Akkad was the are of Mesopotamia up the Tigris Eurprates grom the early Simmericn city states. Sargon the Great of Akkad with his army created the world's first empire. The stelle probably dates to the third millennium BC.

Slavery was an accepted institution in all major civilizations emerging in Mesopotamia. Actual information is, however, is very limited. Mesopotamia spans millenia and many different states and socities. Few details of the institution, however, are available. Historians believe that slavery as a major institution probably occurred with the development of agriculture about 10,000 BC. This of course occurred in Mesopotamia. Agriculture required a labor force and thus a way of profitably utilzing slaves. Only imited numbers of slaves could be used by nomads. The supervision and control of slaves was was a problem for nomads. Escape would have been reatively easy. This changed with settled life and agriculture. Slaves became more valuavle. Very little is known about slavery in the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia. Archeologists have found scattered refeences to slavery in Sumeria, Assyria, and Babalonia, mostly from remanents of legal codes which have survived. While these early codes do not sound very fair to us today as justice was to a large degree affected by social status. The very fact that there were laws limiting the owners absolute authority did provide a degree of lgal protection to slaves. very few details are available about slavery in Mesopotamia in general, let alone specially about individual states. There seem to be three ways in which people were enslaved: war captives (civiian and military), crime, and debts. Historiams debate which was the most imprtant, but we know of little solid evidence. In looking at the legal codes (Hammurabi's Code wa just the most elaborate) one can not help but be struck by the attention given to commercial issues and debt. This suugests to us that debt slavery was the primary source of slaves. Given the high rates of interest prevailing, it was rather easy to fall into debt. A father might sell a child or been forced himself into slavery. Both farmners and mnerchants often had to birrow to fimance operations. And a crop failure or loss of a caravan could spell fisaster. There is, however, little actual data. We also suspect that this varoed over time and among the different civilzations. There coulkd have been a pulse of slavery after a war. And we might expect the highly Asyrians to have taken many slaves as war booty. That said, the Assyrians before their imperial period were an imprtant commercial society. Historians disagree as to the importance of slavery in the different societies of Mesopotamia. In general it does not seem as wide spread as in later classical civilizations. The earliest known written references to slavery come from the city states of Sumer where information on the legal codes have been found dating to the 4th millennium BC. The Sumerian had a cuneiform symbol for slave, suggesting 'foreign' which indicates that slaves were not from the Sumerian city states, but outsiders--at least at this eraly point of writing. There are also multiple references to slavery in the Babylonian code of Hammurabi (about 1750 BC) which provide the most detailed view of slavery in Mesopotamia. Slaves under the code had the status of property or merchandise. Slaves did, however, have rights. Slaves were permitted to own property, conduct business, and even marry free women. Manumission was allowed through both self-purchase or adoption by the owner. The legal penalties for free persons and slaves were very different. No where is that more apparent than the rewards and penalties for surgeons operating on free persons or slaves.And there is the added complication is that in Babylon, there were not only free peopland slaves, but also a third class--commomers. While they are menbtioned in the Babylonian codes. not one has yet found what just how they different from free individuals and slaves. Some authors suggest that free individuals often had ties with the nobility, suggesting that they were not totally free. Commoners may have been totally independent of the nobility.


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Created: 3:26 AM 11/24/2015
Last updated: 3:26 AM 11/24/2015