Choice of slavery institutions in Ancient Greece: Athenian chattels and Spartan helots

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The ancient Greek city-states were slave societies, but the institutions of slavery differed across them. The slaves of democratic Athens were foreigners bought as chattels labouring in agriculture, craftsmanship, banking, mining, and domestic services and were often given some limited freedoms and extra pay. On the contrary, the helots, the slaves of oligarchic Sparta, were indigenous of the lands they cultivated for their masters and were treated harshly. The study offers an economic explanation of the different slavery systems. Modelling the slaveholder as a profit maximiser, it attributes the different systems to differences in the probabilities of the slaves running away or revolting, the dependence of output on effort-intensive or care-intensive production technology, which depends on the fertility of the soil and affects whether the slave is treated kindly instead of harshly, and the cost of guarding slaves under different regimes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Institutional Economics
Early online date19 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 19 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Millennium Economics Ltd.


  • Ancient Greece
  • care-intensive and effort-intensive production;
  • chattel slaves
  • helots
  • slavery
  • care-intensive and effort-intensive production


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