Chapter 3. Conquerors and Serfs: Wars of Conquest and Forced Labour in Archaic Greece

Hans van Wees
In many parts of the Greek world, the typical agricultural labourer was neither a free man nor a slave, but something in between. The Greeks, for once, did not have a word for it, but we may call this status “serfdom”. [1] Such serfs are generally regarded as creatures of the Dark Age, a primitive form of unfree labour destined to be replaced by the more modern institution of chattel slavery in the archaic period. Serfs were created for the last time in mainland Greece, it is thought, when the Messenians were forced into servitude by Spartan conquest around 700 BC. Some believe that most serf populations originated when Dorian invaders subjugated the native inhabitants of Greece, from 1100 BC onwards, in which case the Messenians were exceptional in being conquered so late. Others imagine that serfs were poor, vulnerable families who had fallen into a state of bondage to rich landowners over the centuries, in which case the Messenians were exceptional in being conquered at all. [2]
A reconsideration of the evidence will show that statuses “between free men and slaves” were not a relic of the Dark Age, and that the Messenian case was far from unique. The serf populations in the Greek world known to us were indeed created by conquest, not by a process of internal differentiation—but these conquests took place in the archaic age, specifically in the period c. 750-550 BC, not in the legendary age of the Dorian migrations. [3]
The process was, as we shall see, similar in many ways to the imposition of servitude on the natives of Central and South America by their sixteenth-century Spanish conquerors, whose attitudes call to mind the Spartan ethos: “Let the dogs work and die, said these men.” [4]

1. Serfdom in three archaic empires

Even our best evidence for serfdom in early Greece is severely limited and has only reached us through the filter of classical and hellenistic historiography. Yet it is enough to show that at least three groups of serfs in the Peloponnese were created by conquest in the archaic age: Sparta’s Messenian helots, Sicyon’s “kat ô nak ê-- wearers”, and the “naked people” of Argos.

The Messenian helots

The earliest surviving account of the subjection of the Messenians appears in the near-contemporary poems of Tyrtaeus, which said that Theopompus, king of Sparta, occupied “Messene” after a twenty-year war of conquest in the time of “the fathers of our fathers” (F 5.1-6 West), probably the early seventh century. [5] As Tyrtaeus pictured it, some Messenians abandoned their homes (F.5.7-8), but those who stayed were forced to present half of their annual harvests to the Spartans, “labouring under the heavy burdens which they carry for their masters under miserable compulsion, like donkeys” (F 6), and to mourn at Spartan funerals, “both the men and their wives uttering lamentations for their masters” (F 7). [6]
The poet does not seem to have called the Messenians “helots” (heilôtai),and perhaps this label was not applied to them until later, but their status was clearly already “between free men and slaves” and as such a form of serfdom. Families (“men and their wives”) and presumably communities were left intact, but assigned to individual Spartan “masters” to whom they owed burdensome material and symbolic tributes. Forced lamentation at the death of people with whom one had “no connection or relation” (Aelian VH 6.1) was deemed particularly humiliating— it is a role played elsewhere by slave women, ostensibly mourning their master but crying “each for her own sorrows” (Iliad 19.301-2). [7]
Spartans and Messenians fought again in Tyrtaeus’ own day, and the poet’s allusion to the earlier conquest by Theopompus shows that the Spartans regarded their campaign as a war against rebellious subjects. It is possible, of course, that Theopompus’ conquests had not extended to all of Messenia, and that the Spartans were in fact engaged in further expansion. At least one ancient school of thought held that the Messenians were not finally subjected until the end of this war, c. 600 BC. [8] After their defeat, according to Pausanias, some Messenians emigrated to Sicily, while the rest were captured and “assigned to the helot class” (4.23.1), “paying tribute under compulsion as helots” (4.24.5). Many details of this story, however, are incompatible with a late seventh-century date, and if there is any truth in them at all they must derive from events in the aftermath of a Messenian revolt c. 490 BC. [9]
The flight abroad of substantial numbers of Messenians whenever a revolt was crushed would have left the Spartans with a reduced labour force, and not surprisingly the signs are that smaller-scale desertion was a constant problem. Spartan masters would surely have needed to make up for such losses by importing chattel slaves or other forms of dependent labour. A gradual intermingling of natives and others would explain why, according to Thucydides, “most”, but apparently not all, of the helots who rebelled in 464 BC were “descendants of the old Messenians who had been enslaved once” (1.101.2). It would also explain how Isocrates could claim in a piece of pro-Spartan rhetoric that the inhabitants of Messenia were not “truly Messenians” at all, but mere slaves (Archidamus 28). [10]
Along with its composition, the status of the population of Messenia is likely to have changed, even if our lacunose evidence makes it impossible to tell precisely how and when. Pausanias apparently thought that the status of “helot” was not actually imposed on the Messenians until after their final subjection, and that the serfdom imposed upon them after the initial conquest by Theopompus had not been quite the same thing. His comment that initially they had paid “no fixed tributes” (4.14.4), but a proportion of their crops, suggests that this was for him the key difference: helots did pay fixed sums of tribute. [11] This claim may be based on some knowledge of the status of Messenian helots in the archaic period, but may unfortunately equally well be based on projecting back into the past the position of late third-century Laconian helots. [12] Either way, it seems probable that agricultural tributes were not fixed once and for all in the early seventh century, but were adjusted or even completely restructured from time to time, especially in the wake of revolts.
Other changes included the abolition of compulsory mourning for Spartan masters, which was confined to royal funerals. Compulsory military service in the Spartan army as light-armed attendants may not have been obligatory from the outset, but introduced later. [13] The limited rights which Sparta’s serfs enjoyed— their masters were not allowed to sell them “across the border”, set them free, or exact more than the established tribute—may also have been formulated over time rather than granted from the start. [14] Indeed, it has been attractively suggested that a formally defined status of “helot” may not have existed until the sixth century when a series of reforms of Spartan society and politics perhaps included the imposition of the standardised position and name of “helot” on an agricultural workforce which had previously comprised a wide variety of forms of dependent labour. [15]
Whatever the changes, there can be little doubt that the Messenians experienced fundamentally the same regime from the first conquest to their liberation some three centuries later in 370 BC: a state of serfdom imposed as a result of conquest.
Not long after Messenia regained its independence, we find the first expressions of the remarkable idea that its original subjection had taken place, not under king Theopompus, but several centuries earlier, only a generation or two after the Dorian migration [16] Since we have unambiguous evidence to the contrary in the fragments of Tyrtaeus, scholars rightly reject this notion out of hand. The fact that such a legendary story of conquest could be conjured up in defiance of a clear statement by a famous contemporary poet, however, shows how powerful were the forces of mythmaking and imaginative historiography—an issue to which we shall return when investigating the allegedly even earlier origins of Sparta’s Laconian helots, the penestai of Thessaly and the serfs of Crete.

The “katônakê-wearers” of Sicyon

“There were some slaves called the katônakê-wearers among the Sicyonians, whose position was similar to the epeunaktai”, Theopompus noted in his Histories (FGrHist 115 F 176). The author of a local history of Sicyon, Menaechmus, agreed (FGrHist 131 F1). The katônakê was widely regarded as typical slave dress, “a thick woollen garment with sheepskin stitched onto it at the bottom”. [17] The epeunaktai, “by-sleepers”, as Theopompus fortunately explained later, were Laconian helots who had been allowed to marry Spartan citizen women when the Spartans had suffered heavy manpower losses in the Messenian War, and who had later been granted citizen status (F 171). The katônakê-wearers were therefore helot-like serfs, who at some point in time had been allowed to marry into citizen families and become free men. [18]
Yet another fragment of Theopompus says that “they were forced to wear the katônakê by the tyrants, so that they would not come to town” (F 311). We need not take too seriously the suggested rationale for making people wear sheepskin-trimmed cloaks. The idea that they would be too ashamed of their clothes to show themselves in public and would therefore stay on the farm was clearly inspired by the fourth- century notion that tyrants liked to keep their subjects dispersed and hard at work to stop them from plotting. What is left is the claim that Sicyon’s rural serf population was created or regulated by “the tyrants”, i.e. the Orthagorid dynasty of c. 650550 BC. Much later sources making similar claims are unfortunately muddled and confuse the tyrants of Sicyon with the tyrants of Athens, but it seems unlikely that Theopompus shared in that confusion, and there is no reason to doubt that he reported a genuine local tradition about the origins of Sicyon’s serfs. [19]
Other stories about the tyrants of Sicyon tell of their protracted war against neighbouring Pellene. Orthagoras’ rise to power was said to have been due to his successes in this war (P.Oxy. 1365.28-45). More importantly, Cleisthenes, who ruled c. 570 BC, was according to Aristotle “a warlike man” who ultimately “destroyed” the city of Pellene, “and some say that Pellene was not only enslaved by Cleisthenes … but that their captured wives and daughters were reduced to prostitution”. [20] The story seemed shocking even in antiquity (“this is most savage … not even among barbarians is this acceptable”, exclaimed Aelian, VH 6.1.4) and whatever the precise historical events behind the tradition, there was clearly more to this war than skirmishing over strips of borderland. Sicyonian expansion did not stop there: its next victims were Pellene’s neighbour Donoussa, which was destroyed, and Donoussa’s neighbour Aigeira, which according to legend used a herd of goats with torches tied to their horns to beat back the assault (Pausanias 7.26.2, 6). The conquerors held on to their new territories for only about two generations. Pellene was refounded on a new site and is known to have been organising its own games soon after the Persian Wars. [21]
It seems obvious that we should put two and two together and identify Sicyon’s serf population as the “enslaved” Pelleneans and Donoussans, subjected to Sicyon’s short-lived empire and forced to submit to humiliations of which wearing slave dress was only the least.
Supporting evidence for this identification comes from Herodotus’ initially baffling story about the reforms instigated by Cleisthenes of Sicyon (5.68):
He changed the names of the Dorian tribes, so that the Sicyonians and the Argives would not have the same ones. In doing so, he also made a great mockery of the Sicyonians, for he gave them names which derived from the words “pig” and “ass” with changed endings, with the exception of his own tribe, which he gave a name derived from his own position of power. The latter, then, were called Rulers of the People (archelaoi), but the others Swine People (hyatai), Donkey People (oneatai) and Pig People (choireatai). The Sicyonians used these names for the tribes not only while Cleisthenes ruled but for another sixty years after his death. Then, after discussion, they changed them to the usual Hylleis, Pamphyloi and Dymanates, but added a fourth which they gave a name derived from Aigialeus, son of Adrastus, and called Aigialeis.
As Herodotus tells it, the story is very odd. How could Cleisthenes give four new names to three old tribes? Why would a ruler with a reputation as a popular leader want to insult the majority of his potential supporters? Why would the Sicyonians have put up with their insulting labels for half a century after the fall of the tyranny? Who were the Aigialeis assigned to a new tribe when the rest eventually reverted to their old tribal system?
The answer to the last question provides a clue about the true nature of these reforms. We know that in Cleisthenes’ day Aigialeis, “shore-dwellers”, was what the Sicyonians called the inhabitants of Pellene, Donoussa, Aigeira and the other cities along the north coast of the Peloponnese, inhabited by people better known to us as Achaeans, who were said to be descendants of Aigialeus, just as Herodotus claimed (Alcman F 149 Page). The fourth tribe, then, evidently contained Achaeans incorporated into the Sicyonian political community. These Achaeans were surely the remnant of Pelleneans and others enslaved two generations earlier. When Pellene regained its independence, around 500 BC, the Sicyonians must have decided to admit the rest of their Achaean subjects to citizenship, probably by the gradual extension of citizen-rights to Achaeans marrying into Sicyonian families. Not until the reign of the tyrant Euphron in the 360s BC were the last remaining serfs enfranchised. [22]
With this as a starting point, we can begin to understand what had happened under Cleisthenes. When he subjected neighbouring communities, he added insult to injury by giving their defeated inhabitants shameful names—the “donkeys” reminiscent of Messenians laden with tribute like beasts of burden, the “swine” and “pigs” emblematic of extreme rusticity—just as he prescribed for them a shameful style of dress. The conquering citizens of Sicyon, on the other hand, united against their new subjects, adopted the appropriate title “leaders of the people”. This explains how there could be more names than there had been tribes, why these names were offensive, and why they continued in use long after Cleisthenes’ death yet were ultimately abolished: the system lasted for as long as the Sicyonians retained power, but was abandoned as soon as their micro-empire fell apart.
If this is right, Herodotus badly misunderstood the nature of Cleisthenes’ actions. One can see how the misunderstanding might have come about. Herodotus never mentioned Cleisthenes’ conquests, and may not have been aware of them. His information here derived largely from Athenian stories in which Cleisthenes made an occasional appearance. He thus saw events in Sicyon from an Athenian perspective and imagined that the tyrant carried out reforms similar to those of his grandson, Cleisthenes of Athens, who had introduced new names for the Athenian tribes. Both men had wanted to set their city apart from others in this way—so Herodotus guessed—but Cleisthenes of Sicyon, being a tyrant, had given his reform a characteristically tyrannical twist by imposing humiliating names on most of his fellow-citizens. [23] Stripped of this Athenocentric and anti-tyrannical interpretation, the true meaning of the story emerges: it was a record of how Sicyon won and lost its serfs. [24]

The “naked people” of Argos

Ancient lists of statuses “between free men and slaves” regularly include the gumnetes or gumnesioi, “the naked people”, of Argos. [25] They are almost certainly to be identified with a group variously called “slaves” or perioikoi, “dwellers-around”, who were temporarily granted citizen-rights in the early fifth century when thousands of Argive soldiers had been massacred by the Spartans after the battle of Sepeia. [26] According to Herodotus,
Argos was so bereft of men that their slaves [douloi] controlled all their affairs, governing and managing things, until the sons of those who had fallen [in the battle of Sepeia] reached adulthood. Then these men won back Argos for themselves and threw them out. And the slaves, having been forced out, took Tiryns in a battle. For a while they lived in harmony with one another, but then the mantis Kleandros … joined the slaves; he persuaded the slaves to attack their masters. After that there was war between them for a long time, until the Argives with difficulty won the victory. [27]
A different account was given by Aristotle, who said that the Argives “were forced to admit some of the perioikoi to citizenship” (Politics 1303a6-8), and by the local historian Socrates of Argos, who insisted that after the battle “in order to remedy the shortage of men, they made the women marry, not slaves, as Herodotus claims, but the best of the perioikoi, who were made citizens” (FGrHist 310 F 6). Aristotle used the term perioikoi to mean a subject rural population which cultivated land for its masters—in his ideal city, all farming would be done “by slaves or barbarian perioikoi” (Politics 1330a25-31)—and elsewhere we find perioikoi used as a synonym for “helots”. [28] Clearly, Herodotus’ story was simply a hostile version of the same tale: with conservative outrage and exaggeration, his sources condemned the admission of rural serfs to citizenship as a surrender of all power to mere “slaves”.
At about the same time that Sicyon lost most of its serfs and enfranchised the rest, Argos thus also enfranchised its serf population, as a result of a severe military crisis. In both cases the right to marry into citizen families was a key element of the process. In Argos, an attempt was made soon afterwards to undo the reform, leading to a civil war during which the ex-serfs based themselves in Tiryns and which ended with the destruction of Tiryns by Argos, shortly after 468 BC. Although some Tirynthians took refuge in other cities, we are told that the rest were made citizens of Argos. [29] The serfs, despite being defeated, thus ended up being re-enfranchised after all. This is why, within a few years of these events, the three Dorian tribes of Argos were joined by a fourth, the Hyrnathioi. As at Sicyon, the newly enfranchised serfs were accommodated by the creation of a new tribe just for them. [30] The name was surely chosen to suggest that the members of this tribe were a junior branch of the Argive family: whereas the Dorian tribes were named after sons of Heracles, the Hyrnathioi were named after Hyrnetho, a daughter of Argos’ founding king Temenos. [31]
What obligations the “naked people” had to their masters while they remained in subjection we do not know, except that they were somehow similar to those of helots. It does seem, however, that the serfs were allotted to individual Argive masters, judging by a dedication made by Callippus, “an Argive leader and his woikiatai”, i.e. his serfs, in the temple ofApollo Maleatas at Epidaurus between 475 and 450 BC. Callippus described himself as a “suppliant of the Epidaurians”, and the dedication may be a monument to a dramatic story of a master taking the side of his serfs and fleeing with them to Epidaurus when the Argives put down the revolt. [32]
How and when had Argos acquired its “naked people”? In the archaic period, Argos enjoyed a great reputation as a conquering state. A much-quoted Delphic oracle praised the “linen-corsleted Argives, goads of war” as the best soldiers in Greece, with the Chalcidians of Euboea second-best (Anthologia Palatina 14.73). This boast would have been acceptable only in the period between 700 and 550 BC, when the cities of Euboea had lost their former prominence, and the Spartans had not yet established their reputation for invincibility. Herodotus says that, until the Spartans ousted them, the entire east coast of the Peloponnese south of Argos “as far as Cape Malea belonged to the Argives, both the territory on the mainland and the island of Cythera and the rest of the islands” (1.82.2). This territory, or a large part of it, was known as Cynouria, and Herodotus adds that “the Cynourians are autochthonous and seem to be the only Ionians [in the Peloponnese], but they have become Dorianized as a result of being ruled by the Argives and the passage of time” (8.73.3). One of the towns in this area, Hysiae, was according to Pausanias (2.24.8) already under Argive control in 669 BC, and was still regarded as “an Argive place” in the late fifth century. [33]
To the east, all the towns in the Argolid except Mycenae are said to have been “subject” to Argos by the early fifth century (Diodorus 11.65.2). Herodotus’ account of the battle of Sepeia confirms that Tiryns and Nauplia were at the time controlled by Argos: the Spartans would not have invaded “in the area of Tiryns and Nauplia”, and the Argives would certainly not have marched out to fight a battle “near Tiryns”, if these towns had not been regarded as part of Argive territory (6.77). The fact that no city in the Argolid other than Mycenae sent troops to fight the Persians in 480 and 479 BC, although a small contingent from Tiryns, presumably rebellious serfs, joined in on the latter occasion, supports the claim that Mycenae alone remained independent. [34] There were stories about Argive military intervention in the eastern Argolid as early as the seventh century, but Tiryns at any rate was not subjected until the sixth. The oracle praising Argive valour refers to Argos as situated “between Tiryns and Arcadia”, implying that Tiryns was not yet part of Argos, and a decree issued by the demos of Tiryns c. 600 BC shows that the city was indeed still independent at that time. [35]
Finally, Pheidon, king and tyrant of Argos, was said to have “reconquered” the parts of the Peloponnese which had supposedly been allotted to his ancestor Temenos after the Dorian migration but had subsequently been lost—an unsubtle attempt to justify conquest (Ephorus FGrHist 70 F 115). Herodotus’ date for Pheidon in the early sixth century, as a slightly older contemporary of Cleisthenes of Sicyon (6.127), places him just around the time when Tiryns was presumably subjected, while the range of earlier dates attributed to Pheidon by ancient and modern scholars can in various ways be linked to earlier stages of Argive expansion. [36] However one chooses to reconstruct the chronology and extent of Argos’ conquests, there can be no doubt that the Argives subjected a number of neighbouring cities, beginning at the earliest around 700 BC, like Sparta, and at the latest in the early sixth century, like Sicyon. [37]
Once again, it seems obvious to connect Argos’ possession of a serf population with its history of conquest: the “naked people” were defeated enemies who were not massacred, sold into slavery, or expelled, but were allowed to live in their native communities, subject to the sort of demands that Sparta made on its helots. Tiryns became the base from which the serfs waged war on Argos because Tiryns was the largest and best fortified of the towns reduced to servitude. The connection is made explicitly by Herodotus when, after noting that the Cynourians “have become Dorianized as a result of being ruled by the Argives”, he adds “being Orneatai and perioikoi” (8.73.3). Despite modern attempts to explain this phrase otherwise or declare it corrupt, its natural sense, adopted by all earlier commentaries, is that the Cynourians were ruled by the Argives “because they were perioikoi”: the very term used by Aristotle and Socrates to describe the people whom Herodotus elsewhere calls “slaves”. The only problem lies in the reference to “Orneatai” as apparently yet another name for the subject population—unattested elsewhere and inexplicable, since the city of Orneai, although not far from Argos, was neither in Cynouria nor subject to Argos until 416 BC. [38] Perhaps Herodotus or a scribe mistakenly substituted “Orneatai” for “Hyrnathioi”, the obscure tribal name by which the former serfs had come to be known by Herodotus’ day.
In short, Argos acquired a serf population by means of conquest in the archaic period, but had to give it up when a shortage of manpower forced them to enfranchise at least some of the serfs. A subsequent attempt to disenfranchise them again led to protracted warfare, ending in the 460s with the “dissolution” of Tiryns, Hysiae, “and any other little settlement in the Argolid not worth mentioning” (Pausanias 8.27.1) and the complete absorption of the former serfs into the citizen community of Argos, where they were registered as members of the Hyrnathioi tribe. The Argives soon put their new manpower to the test in war, defeating their sole remaining rival in the Argolid, Mycenae, which was razed to the ground while its people were sold into chattel slavery rather than reduced to serfdom. [39]

2. Greek colonists and “barbarian” serfs

When the likes of Isocrates and Aristotle imagined Greeks living off the labour of “barbarian perioikoi”, [40] they were not merely fantasising but drawing on the experience of several Greek settlements overseas. According to Herodotus, the elite of “so-called land-sharers” (gamoroi) in Syracuse employed “slaves called Kyllyrians” who joined forces with the common people to rise up in a briefly successful revolt against the upper classes in the 480s (7.155). These must be the same people referred to as “Kallikyrians” and compared to Spartan helots in the Aristotelian Constitution of the Syracusans (F 586 Rose). We have no further details, but it seems obvious that during or after the foundation of Syracuse—traditional date 733 BC— Greek settlers reduced the native Sicilian population to servitude by force, and kept them in submission at least until the early fifth-century revolt.
Something similar happened when the Megarians founded Byzantium, c. 660 BC, since we are told by the third-century historian Phylarchus that the relationship between Byzantines and native Bithynians was the same as that between Spartans and helots (FGrHist 81 F 8).
Another century later the founding of Heraclea on the Black Sea in 559 BC created the most famous group of barbarian serfs, the Mariandynians, whose tribute payments earned them the nickname “gift-bearers” (dorophoroi). The hellenistic poet Euphorion described them as “trembling before their masters” (F 83) and they “could even be sold, but not beyond the borders” (Strabo 12.3.4; cf. Poseidonius FGrHist 87 F 8). They were compared to helots from Plato onwards and Aristotle alluded to them as an example of perioikoi cultivating the land and liable to military service—in the navy—but excluded from citizenship. [41] Just as in Sicyon, they were ultimately enfranchised in the 360s by a tyrant leading a popular uprising against the rich. Justin described in lurid detail how the tyrant, Clearchus, forced noble women to “marry their own slaves”, and how these women killed themselves—sometimes after killing their new husbands on the wedding night—rather than suffer such humiliation (16.5.1-4). His story is marked by hostile exaggeration in the manner of Herodotus’ account of “slaves taking power” in Argos, and need imply no more than that Clearchus abolished serf status and legalised marriage between ex-serfs and citizens. Intermarriage was clearly still as sensitive an issue for the elite as it had once been in Sicyon and Argos.
These three Greek settlements overseas may be the only ones where barbarian serfs are explicitly attested, but the fact that we have only a single chance reference to their existence in a city as prominent as Byzantium suggests that our evidence reveals, as Nick Fisher put it, “only a few tips of a large number of nasty icebergs” (1993: 33).
One further instance of “colonial” serfdom perhaps just breaks the surface in Herodotus’ account of Cyrene, a city which in around 570 BC, two generations after its foundation, attracted large numbers of additional settlers by promising a distribution of land at the expense of its neighbours, the native Libyans, who “were deprived of their territory and treated with great hubris by the Cyrenaeans” (4.159). This choice of words may suggest subjection rather than expulsion. In any case, when the Libyans’ resistance had been crushed, they were evidently reduced to some subordinate status, because we are told that about two decades later, c. 550 BC, they “revolted from the Cyrenaeans” (4.160). In the fighting which ensued, 7,000 Cyrenaean hoplites are said to have fallen, and the immediate response was a reform in which all settlers, old and new, were grouped into three tribes: one for “all the islanders”, one for “the Peloponnesians and Cretans”, and one for “the Theraians and the perioikoi” (4.161). It is hard to see who these perioikoi might have been if not Libyans, or why they would have been given citizenship if they had not previously already been a subject part of the community, rather than merely neighbours. [42] The most plausible scenario for these events again runs parallel to events at Sicyon and Argos: conquest creates a serf population, but eventually a major military setback leads to the loss of much conquered territory, the enfranchisement of the remaining serfs, and a tribal reform. [43]

Serfs, perioikoi and the “Dorian migration”

The forms of serfdom investigated so far were all created between the late eighth and the late sixth century BC. Of much earlier origin, some ancient authors said, were Sparta’s Laconian helots and the Thessalians’ penestai. Theopompus of Chios, proudly claiming for his home town the invention of chattel slavery, believed that the Spartans and Thessalians
formed their slave population from the Greeks who were already living in the territory which they now control—the Spartans from the Achaeans, the Thessalians from the Perrhaebians and Magnetes—and they call the enslaved “helots” and “penestai”, respectively (FGrHist 115 F122).
These conquests were part of the “Dorian migration”, which supposedly reached Thessaly 60 years after the Trojan War and Laconia 20 years later (Thucydides 12.3). Some modern scholars not only accept this story of origin but extend it to the serf populations of Crete. [44] A second feature which Sparta and the cities of Thessaly and Crete had in common was their control of subject communities which were clearly distinct from the serfs, but confusingly referred to by the same name we have seen used elsewhere for serf populations: perioikoi. The evidence for an early origin of serfdom in these three regions can easily be shown not to stand up to scrutiny, and a good case can be made that it was in fact primarily through conquests at a much later date that serfs and perioikoi were created.

Helots and perioikoi in Laconia

Theopompus’ story about the origins of Laconian helots in the Dorian migration is contradicted not only by archaeology—which finds no evidence of large-scale population movements, let alone violent incursions [45] —but also by at least three rival literary traditions.
The earliest surviving account is that of the late fifth-century historian Antiochus of Syracuse. He made the creation of Laconian helots contemporary with the subjection of Messenia: “during the Messenian War, those of the Lacedaemonians who did not join the expedition were judged slaves and named helots” (FGrHist 555 F 13). As well as a much later date, this version offers a wholly different reason for the servitude of the Laconians: far from being conquered by outsiders, they were punished for disobeying their own government. [46]
A second story comes from the late fourth-century historian Ephorus, who offered a variant of the Dorian migration story: the native population of Laconia had not been subjected by the invaders but emigrated to Ionia, allowing the Dorians to resettle the region. In the next generation, king Agis of Sparta deprived the other Laconian towns of their political rights, reducing them to the status of perioikoi. All complied, except the people of Helos. When the latter were defeated in war, they agreed to serve as slaves “on certain conditions” and thus became the first helots (FGrHist 70 F 117). Something very much like this story was in antiquity the most widely accepted account of the origins of the helots. [47]
The third rival account appears in the work of Pausanias, who unfortunately does not reveal his source. We are told that, for centuries after the Dorian migration, the invaders controlled no more than Sparta itself. Only in the course of the eighth century did they conquer the rest of Laconia, [48] and made most of its people perioikoi. Finally, in the reign of the kings who also started the first Messenian War, the Spartans reached the southern plain of Helos and conquered its native inhabitants: these were the first people to be made helots. [49]
In short, two stories treated Laconian helots as pre-Dorian Greeks subjected by conquest, either 700 BC (Pausanias) or 1100 BC (Theopompus), and the other two treated them as fellow-Dorians made subject to Sparta in punishment for disobeying legitimate orders from their king, either 700 BC (Antiochus) or 1100 BC (Ephorus). The utter incompatibility of the four stories is proof enough that our sources had no reliable information on the origins of Laconian helots or perioikoi. Specifically, the old legend of the Dorian migration, current since at least the late seventh century (Tyrtaeus F 2 West), probably did not say anything about the invaders creating helots or perioikoi, or else it would surely not have been necessary or possible to invent so many different accounts. So far as we know, Ephorus and Theopompus in the late fourth century were the first to connect the origin of helotage and the Dorian migration, and this is probably no accident of survival: the link may never have been made until the liberation of Messenia encouraged historians to establish a clear chronological distance between Messenian helots, now free, and Laconian helots, still enslaved. [50]
More significant than these stories of origin, it has been argued, is the fact that Laconian helots had no distinct ethnic identity. They were simply “helots”, whereas the Messenian serfs were regarded as both “helots” and “Messenians”— their revolt of 464 BC was for Sparta a “war against the Messenians”. [51] Some have inferred that the Laconian helots had lost their original ethnic identity and must therefore have been conquered many centuries before the Messenians were. Others would conclude that the Laconian helots had no distinct identity because they had never been a distinct community: they were the lower classes who had become dependent farmers. [52]
The lack of a distinct ethnic identity among Laconian serfs, however, does not tell us anything about the date or means of their subjection. The inhabitants of the entire Eurotas valley from Sparta in the north to Helos in the south shared an ethnic identity as Lacedaemonians from a very early date, since the region was known as Lacedaemon probably already in the Mycenaean age, and certainly by the time of Homer. [53] Laconian helots thus counted as Lacedaemonians, not because their original identity had gradually faded into that of their conquerors, but because this was their original identity. Early Iron Age Lacedaemon was presumably, as so many parts of Greece continued to be, an “ethnic” region consisting of essentially independent settlements, competing and cooperating in a variety of ways, until the Spartans succeeded in politically unifying the region under their rule. It is quite conceivable that the process of establishing Spartan control entailed the reduction of some Lacedaemonian communities to serfdom and that this occurred only a short time before the conquest of Messenia. It is even possible that the Spartans expanded southwards into Laconia and eastwards into Messenia at the same time.
Notable differences between Laconian and Messenian helots are perhaps beginning to emerge from archaeological evidence, but these still tell us nothing about their respective origins. Survey in the area of ancient Pylos has shown that Messenians here lived in villages or towns, whereas a survey of the plain near Sparta revealed few concentrated settlements, so that Laconian helots here probably lived in small groups on Spartan estates, rather than in their own communities. [54] The greater integration of the Laconian serfs might be attributed to conquest at a much earlier date, or taken to show that they were not conquered populations at all but the Spartan lower classes. Yet it is equally possible that the explanation lies in different histories rather than different origins. As the Spanish American experience shows (below, pp. 66-71), patterns of exploitation may quickly diverge after conquest, as the new rulers leave distant subjects largely to their own devices while closer to home they intervene more harshly, to the point of breaking up native communities.
More complete integration of the Laconian helots explains why they proved comparatively loyal to Sparta when a Theban army liberated Messenia in 370 BC. Thousands took up a Spartan offer of freedom in exchange for military service against the invaders, rather than rebelling and taking the Thebans’ side (Xenophon, Hellenica 6.5.28-9). The extent of their loyalty should in any case not be overestimated: they had probably rebelled on previous occasions; the Spartans would not have made their offer if they had not seriously feared another uprising; and the choice between immediate individual freedom and the hope of future collective freedom could never have been easy, even for the most rebellious helot.
In short, nothing of what we know about Laconian helots helps us determine how they became serfs. What we know about Sparta, on the other hand, strongly favours the idea that they were subjected by conquest. The eighty or more communities in Lacedaemonia and Messenia which ranked as perioikoi paid great honour to the kings of Sparta—granting them royal estates, offering royal tributes, and sending representatives to mourn at their funerals—and in military matters at least were wholly controlled by the Spartan government, which might also intervene in their internal judicial affairs. They were thus subject to all, or almost all, of the duties of citizens, but without enjoying in return the citizens’ political and social privileges. [55] A few perioikic communities were established by the Spartans themselves when they granted land to refugees from sacked allied cities, and these clearly accepted their inferior status voluntarily, in exchange for a place to live. But for the dozens of communities who already had their homes in Lacedaemonia it is difficult to see what would have induced them to accept perioikic status except force, or the threat of force. [56]
A few scraps of poetry hint that Sparta’s relation with its perioikoi in the early archaic period was indeed openly based on force. In the Odyssey, Menelaus says that he had planned to reward his loyal ally Odysseus by inviting him to leave Ithaca “with his entire people” and come to live in a new city to be built for him near Sparta, “when I have destroyed one of the surrounding cities which I myself rule” (4.169-77). The notion that a king would find space for new settlers by destroying a town already in his power makes little sense unless these towns were imagined as controlled by virtue of conquest. Similarly, when the historical Spartans granted land to refugee allies, they gave them parcels of conquered territory. [57] In this light, it may be significant that the earliest surviving reference to the Dorian migration claims only that the kings were ordained by the gods to govern the city of Sparta, not all of Lacedaemonia (Tyrtaeus F 2.12-13; cf. 4.3-4). Perhaps power over the wider region was still regarded as based on might, rather than on right, as was claimed later.
Outside Lacedaemonia, the Spartans expanded in the course of the seventh century to occupy Messenia in the west, and by the middle of the sixth century had seized Cynouria in the east, a substantial territory whose inhabitants had previously been reduced to serfdom by Argos, as we have seen. Herodotus reported that in the sixth century the Spartans had also tried to occupy all of Arcadia in the north, but had suffered a series of defeats. It would seem that this brought about a change of direction in Spartan warfare. Instead of aiming at outright conquest, the Spartans now sought to forge a network of subordinate allies, but by then “most of the Peloponnese had already been subjected by them” (Herodotus 1.68). [58]
Sparta’s history of military activity within and outside Lacedaemonia, and the fact that after conquest serfdom was imposed upon the Messenians, presumably retained for the Cynourians, and probably intended for the Arcadians, makes it difficult to escape the conclusion that Laconian serfdom was also the product of conquest. The simplest scenario would be that the Spartans in the course of expansion reduced their victims to the status of either perioikoi or helots, depending on circumstances at which we can now only guess. Alternatively, we might imagine an early stage of expansion during which Sparta’s nearest neighbours were made perioikoi, and a later stage during which more distant victims in the southern plains of the Eurotas valley, and outside Laconia, were mostly forced into serfdom.
The latter scenario would help explain why almost all the literary accounts of the origins of the Laconian helots, despite their otherwise extreme divergence, agree that the first helots were the inhabitants of Helos. [59] This is usually dismissed as a mere punning etymology deriving heilos from Helos, although even ancient grammarians felt that there was a problem with the intrusive iota. Yet it is striking, given the fondness of ancient Greek scholars for inventive etymologies, that no one ever offered a different explanation of their name, such as the obvious possibility favoured by some modern scholars of deriving helot from helein, the aorist of the verb for “to take”, “to capture”. [60] The exceptional unanimity may suggest that there was a strong tradition about the conquest of Helos. [61] The plain of Helos was “the largest and finest territory in Laconia” (Polybius 5.19.7) and indeed comprised the bulk of Laconia’s agricultural land. It seems quite possible that the Spartans first found it desirable and feasible to introduce serfdom when they conquered this prosperous farming region, just as they did in the even more prosperous plains of Messenia. [62]
Since the first archaeological evidence of settlements on the sites of Sparta and the later perioikic towns does not appear until 950 BC, Sparta’s first conquests could hardly have taken place before that time. The first serfs may have been made at any time between about 900 and 700 BC. If conquest unfolded in the two stages sketched above, the first helots will have been created nearer the end of this period. Coincidentally or otherwise, the late date offered by two traditions—perhaps widely accepted before historians began to date these events back to the Dorian migration—may not have been far wrong. [63]

Penestai and perioikoi in Thessaly

Ancient lists and lexica often cite “the penestai of the Thessalians” as a parallel to the helots. These serfs were privately owned in large numbers: Menon of Pharsalus joined a siege army in 477 BC with 200 or 300 horsemen, “his own penestai”. Like the helots and Mariandynians, they were employed as an agricultural workforce, liable to service in the army and navy, and protected from excessive exploitation by a rule which said that they could not be legally killed or “taken out of the country” by their masters. [64]
According to Theocritus’ Idylls, penestai received “monthly rations” (16.34-5). Other authors compared them with early Athenian wage labourers and, unfavourably, with Roman clients; some very late sources oddly described the penestai as “slaves working for a wage”. [65] These descriptions all suggest bonded labourers dependent on their masters for distributions of food, and perhaps later money. The hellenistic historian Archemachus, by contrast, claimed that penestai “pay their contributions” (suntaxeis) and that “many are wealthier than their own masters”. Strabo similarly speaks of penestai at Larisa paying “tributes” (phoroi). [66] Here penestai are not mere labourers but bonded tenants or sharecroppers, like Tyrtaeus’ Messenians or the “gift-giving” Mariandynians. The most likely explanation is that the category penestai covered a range of unfree statuses. Rural serfs may have paid tributes, while domestic serfs drew rations; quite possibly, the position of penestai varied from city to city. Alternatively, the discrepancy may reflect major changes over time: perhaps the serfs turned from unfree labourers into dependent farmers in the course of the classical period. [67]
It would not be surprising if over the centuries the penestai did indeed attain greater independence from their masters. They had a reputation for being particularly “difficult and full of big ideas” and are said to have “frequently attacked the Thessalians”. Although we happen to know of only one plotted revolt, repeated uprisings may eventually have won the serfs some concessions. [68] Strabo seems to imply that the penestai of Larissa were set free by Philip II of Macedon, presumably when he intervened in Thessalian civil strife in the late 340s. Philip is said to have supported the common people in these conflicts, so this might be yet another instance of a popular uprising against the elite resulting in the liberation of serfs, as in fifth-century Syracuse and fourth-century Sicyon and Heraclea. Elsewhere, penestai remained serfs until well into the hellenistic period. [69]
Theopompus’ story of origins—that the penestai were created when the Thessalians first entered the region and subjected the Perrhaebians and Magnetes native to eastern Thessaly—is usually, and plausibly, taken to refer to the time of the Dorian migration. It should be noted, however, that Strabo, who also claimed that the penestai were descended from native Perrhaebians reduced to serfdom, said that they had been conquered by their neighbours, the Lapiths, a generation or two before the Trojan War, rather than by Dorian invaders two generations after the fall of Troy. Some Perrhaebians took refuge in the mountains, but those who stayed behind became serfs (9.5.12, 19-20). Perhaps this is what Theopompus had in mind as well, or else we have two rival versions of this tradition.
Another tradition drew on the story, first found in Thucydides (1.12.3), that the Boeotians had once lived in Arne in western Thessaly, from where they were driven out by the Thessalians sixty years after the Trojan War. Others dated these events two or four generations after the fall of Troy. [70] Some added that not all Boeotians had left: some stayed behind “because they liked the country” and accepted a position of serfdom, as we are told in a fragment of Archemachus’ History of Euboea (FGrHist 424 F 1) which gives no date. This tradition flagrantly contradicted the Iliad which placed the Boeotians in Boeotia already during the Trojan War (2.494-510). Thucydides hypothesized that “a section” of the Boeotians had moved into the region long before the rest followed. Later sources had an even more ingenious explanation: the Boeotians did live in Boeotia, but were driven out to Thessaly by Pelasgian and Thracian invaders during the Trojan War, only to return again two or more generations later. [71] The most radical solution to the chronological problem appeared in the work of Pausanias Atticus, which referred to “the Boeotians who, having been defeated in Arne by Haemon, did not flee the slavery imposed upon them, but stayed until the third generation”. Haemon, father of Thessalus, ancestor of all Thessalians, dates long before the Trojan War, and this story thus claims that the Boeotians had once been serfs, but had escaped subjection, left Thessaly, and occupied Boeotia well before the Trojan War. [72]
A third strand of tradition, attested in a couple of commentaries on Aristophanes’ Wasps (1274), claims that thepenestai were neither Perrhaebians nor Boeotians but close relatives of the Thessalians: descendants of a certain Penestes, himself descended from Thessalus.
Thessalian serfs were thus credited with an even greater variety of ethnic and historical origins than Laconian helots. The notion that the penestai were a junior branch of the Thessalian family tree was probably invented only after serfdom had been abolished in Thessaly: it is very reminiscent of the revision of myth in Sicyon and Argos, where new tribal names implied that ex-serfs were descended from Aigialeus and Hyrnetho, respectively. [73] The idea that penestai were Boeotians must have developed after c. 700 BC: the poet of the Iliad made an effort to take account of migration legends in constructing the geography of Greece at the time of the Trojan War, [74] and he would not have had his Boeotia already populated by Boeotians if he had known of a story which placed the Boeotians in Thessaly at the time. This tradition may have evolved as a result of sixth-century attempts by the Thessalians to occupy Boeotia (see below), creating an awkward historiographical problem, imaginatively solved by scholars from Thucydides onwards. Finally, the claim that eastern Thessalian serfs were Perrhaebians and Magnesians is unobjectionable in itself, but the suggestion that they were subjected before the Trojan War, at the hands of the legendary Lapiths (best known for fighting Centaurs) leaves no doubt about its mythical nature. In short, we can put no more faith in these traditions than in the tales about Laconian helots.
It may nevertheless be significant that all these accounts assumed that the Thessalians acquired their slaves by conquest. So did ancient dictionary definitions of penestai, such as the one offered by Ammonius in On Similar and Different Words: “among the Thessalians, a penestes is someone enslaved through war, just like the helots among the Laconians”. [75] Since the cities of Thessaly engaged in campaigns of conquest in the archaic period, just like Sparta, Sicyon and Argos, serfs and perioikoi may well have been created in war at this time.
In the classical period, the inhabitants of the mountain ranges encircling the Thessalian plains were all deemed “subjects” of Thessaly. They included Perrhaebians, Magnetes, Achaeans of Phthia, Dolopes, and others, adding up to a very large number of communities. They were liable to provide contingents of light infantry and pay tribute “as it had been set under Scopas” when ordered to do so by the rulers of Thessaly (Xenophon Hellenica 6.1.9, 12, 19). Their obligation was thus not to individual Thessalian cities, but to the rulers of Thessaly as a whole, just as the obligations of Spartan perioikoi seem to have been primarily to the kings. Rivalry between the cities meant that at times no single ruler held power, so the Thessalian perioikoi retained greater freedom of action than their counterparts in Sparta, and counted as semi-independent states (Herodotus 7.132, 185). Still, they were subjects, and had been reduced to this status through protracted warfare, judging by Aristotle’s comment that the penestai had found it easy to revolt while their masters “were still fighting their neighbours, the Achaeans, Perrhaebians and Magnetes” (Politics 1269b6). If, as seems reasonable to assume, the regulation of tribute payments by Scopas marked the end of these wars, the perioikoi would probably not have been finally subjected until c. 600 BC. [76]
Thessalian expansion did not stop there. According to Plutarch, the Thessalians had once “ruled Greece up to Thespiae” in southern Boeotia, until defeated in battle at the fortress Keressos, c. 575 BC. They had also controlled Phocis, until thrown out by a ferocious intifada known as the “Phocian despair” in which the rebels killed their Thessalian rulers and vowed to commit mass suicide rather than surrender. The Thessalians attempted to regain control over Phocis right up to the Persian wars, suffering at least two massacres at the hands of Phocian guerillas, and ultimately bringing in the Persian army to exact an extremely violent revenge. [77]
So much for the history of collective Thessalian conquest, which perhaps began when the Thessalian cities were unified under a leader known as Aleuas the Red who institutionalised the mobilisation of Thessalian forces (Aristotle F 498 Rose). Individual Thessalian cities are likely to have engaged in campaigns of conquest against neighbours long before the region was more or less unified, and indeed to have continued waging such wars afterwards. Local wars may over the centuries have resulted in larger settlements seizing the territories of their weaker neighbours, and reducing the inhabitants to serfdom. The precise conditions would presumably have varied from place to place, but developments were sufficiently similar across the region to create in Thessaly a relatively small number of dominant cities, each surrounded by a large territory cultivated by their subject penestai.

Dependent statuses in Crete

“The perioikoi cultivate the land for the Cretans”, said Aristotle. “From all the crops and livestock which come in from the public estates and from the tributes paid by the perioikoi, one part is allocated to the gods and to common expenditures, and the rest goes to the public messes, so that everyone—women, children and men—may be fed from communal resources”. [78] Later authors tacitly corrected Aristotle’s terminology, pointing out that in Crete, as in Sparta and Thessaly, the word perioikoi referred to subject communities, not serfs. The serfs proper were generically known as “serfs” (woikeis) and “slaves” (douloi), but subdivided into the categories of publicly owned mnoia and privately owned a(m)phamiotai or klarotai, “the allotted”. [79]
Cretan serfs were often compared to helots and penestai, with whom they are said to have shared the condition that they could not legally be sold “beyond the borders” (Strabo 12.3.4). In other respects, they appear to have enjoyed greater rights than serfs elsewhere. Surviving laws show that, while the land which they worked and the houses in which they lived were owned by their masters, the serfs could own movable property, including livestock, and might gain ownership of the estate itself in the event that their masters left no heirs. Male serfs were even allowed to marry citizen women, a practice which elsewhere met with much resistance, as we have seen. [80] This relative freedom was presumably what Aristotle had in mind when he claimed that Cretans “grant their slaves all other rights of this kind and forbid them only to exercise in the gumnasia and to own weapons” (Politics 1264a21-2). Whether the klarotai were thereby also exempted from following their masters to war, in contrast to helots and penestai, is not clear, but they do seem to have been exempt from domestic service. Athenaeus tells us that house-servants in Crete were called chrusonetai, “bought with gold”, which must mean that they were chattel slaves, rather than serfs (263e).
We know very little more about the economic burdens imposed on the serfs, except that in hellenistic Lyttus “each slave [doulos] contributed an Aeginetan stater” to the common messes (Dosiadas FGrHist 458 F 2). The demand for money is noteworthy, and was probably a recent development; it is hard to tell whether this payment was required instead of, or on top of, agricultural tribute. Perioikoi, at any rate, continued to pay tribute in kind: hellenistic Praisos took 10% of Stalai’s revenues from harbour dues, fisheries and purple production, later reduced to 5%, while Gortyn demanded 10% of all Kaudos’ annual harvests (excluding vegetables), plus fixed quantities of salt and juniper berries. [81] Clearly the conditions of exploitation in Crete, as elsewhere, developed over time and varied from place to place.
Crete had its own legend of a Dorian invasion, and some scholars have sought the origins of the serfs here. As Herodotus tells the story, after the Trojan War the population of the island was nearly wiped out by famine and plague, and the people currently known as Cretans were the few survivors joined by many later immigrants (7.170-1). Late fourth-century sources specify that these immigrants came from Sparta and Argos two generations after the Dorian migration. The Spartan settlers were a group of people who had once lived in Lemnos and Imbros and were either non-Greek Pelasgians or half-Greeks of mixed Pelasgian and Athenian descent. They had moved to Sparta and settled in Amyclae for a while, but after a failed rebellion were forced to leave for Crete, settling at Lyttus (or Lyctus) and Gortyn under the leadership of the Spartan Pollis. At the same time, and also as a result of civil strife, Althaemenes led a group of “Dorians and some Pelasgians” from Argos to settle in Rhodes and at ten sites in Crete, including Knossos and Tylissos. [82]
In complete contrast to these widely-attested stories stood the lone account of the fourth-century historian Andron of Halicarnassus, according to whom “Dorians, Achaeans and Pelasgians” had migrated to Crete straight from their homeland of Doris in Thessaly, under the leadership of Tectaphos, son of Doros, son of Hellen, long before the Trojan War and even before the reign of Minos, “when Cres ruled the island” (FGrHist 10 F 16). This unusual story was clearly pure invention, designed to explain Homer’s famous description of Crete:
It has infinitely many people and ninety cities. Their languages are all different but mingled together. There are Achaeans, there are great-hearted Eteocretans, there are Cydonians, and Dorians in three groups, and noble Pelasgians (Odyssey 19.172-7).
The Eteocretans and Cydonians were regarded as aboriginal peoples, [83] but the presence in Crete of Achaeans, Pelasgians, and above all Dorians at a time before the Dorian migration posed a problem. Andron radically posited that all three groups mentioned by Homer must have moved to Crete from mainland Greece near the beginning of the island’s history.
The mainstream tradition also shows signs of having been elaborated to accommodate the evidence of Homer. The claim that Argives settled at ten sites is explicitly derived from a reference in the Iliad to “Crete of a hundred cities” (2.649): since the Odyssey spoke of only ninety, some deduced that ten cities had been destroyed in the island while the Cretan army was fighting at Troy, but Ephorus argued that the reference in the Iliad was to a later time, and that ten new cities had been founded by Althaemenes (FGrHist 70 F 146). Moreover, the link made in the Odyssey between Dorians and “noble Pelasgians” is probably responsible for the curious idea that the Argives brought along “some Pelasgians” and the even odder notion that most of the settlers from Amyclae were not actually Spartans but (half-)Pelasgians. [84]
At least part of these stories were thus later invention, and it is quite possible that they were wholly invented—created for the very purposes which they served in the classical period, when they were cited by politicians to justify intervention in Crete and used by scholars to explain the similarities between Spartan and Cretan customs. [85]
Moreover, the Cretan stories differed from the tradition about Thessaly and Sparta insofar as they did not suggest that the invaders subjected the natives by force. The hellenistic author Konon insisted that the Spartans had occupied the site of Gortyn “without meeting any resistance” and had “settled it together with the neighbouring Cretans” (FGrHist 26 F 1.36), implying the sort of peaceful coexistence also suggested by Herodotus’ story that the previous inhabitants of Crete were all but extinct when the new settlers arrived. Lyttus was an exception: it was said that the colonists here fought fierce battles against the natives and after the foundation of Lyttus “also took control of other cities”—the latter presumably the towns of perioikoi which, according to Aristotle, still retained their ancestral customs. [86]
Even if these traditions had some historical basis, then, they only explain the origins of serfs and perioikoi in Lyttus, not of the subject populations in the other cities supposedly settled by Sparta and Argos, let alone of those which existed elsewhere in Crete. [87] If klarotai were nevertheless categorically defined as “native rural serfs enslaved through war” (Athenaeus 263e), this can hardly mean a one-off Dark Age mass enslavement, but must refer to many separate, local and piecemeal reductions to serfdom which resulted from the many wars which Cretan cities fought against one another over the centuries.
Little is known about the details of Cretan military and political history before the mid-fourth century BC, but the Cretans certainly had a reputation for bellicosity to rival Sparta’s: “in Sparta and Crete the system of education and the majority of laws are largely designed with a view to war”, both observing a rigid separation between the warrior class and those who cultivated the land for them (Aristotle, Politics 1324b7-9; 1329b1-5). Archaic Cretan attitudes to war are revealed by the so-called Song of Hybrias, which boasts:
I have great wealth: a spear, a sword, and the fine leather shield which protects one’s skin. For with this I plough, with this I harvest, with this I trample the sweet wine from the vines, with this I am called master of the serfs (mnoia).
Those who dare not hold a spear, a sword, and the fine leather shield which protects one’s skin all cower at my knee and prostrate themselves, addressing me as “Master” and “Great King” (Skolion 909 Page).
This drinking song does not merely claim that warriors live off the agricultural labour of serfs and are treated with the greatest respect, but strongly implies that good fighters will make serfs of the weak. The Song of Hybrias thus affords a unique glimpse of an archaic ideology which regards the imposition of serfdom as a legitimate and admirable goal of war. It must remain uncertain when serfs first appeared in Crete, but it seems clear that serf populations continued to be created through conquest in the archaic age.

4. Serfdom and conquest: some other candidates

In the cities and regions we have considered so far, the presence of a dependent labour force “between free men and slaves” is explicitly attested by ancient evidence, and in each case we can plausibly trace its origins back to archaic—in some cases perhaps earlier—conquests. In several other areas we have either clear evidence for a serf population, but without any indication of its possible origins, or evidence for archaic wars of conquest resulting in some form of subjection without clear evidence that this entailed the imposition of serfdom. None of these cases can stand by itself, but their cumulative effect is to suggest that the archaic period saw many communities at least temporarily reduced to serf or perioikic status.

Locris and Phocis

An early fifth-century bronze plaque recording the conditions upon which colonists from the cities of Eastern Locris and from Chaleion in Western Locris are to settle in Naupactus stipulates that any magistrate who fails to uphold the regulations is to be punished with confiscation of “his kleros and his woikiatai”. This is evidently not just another way of saying “his property”, but specifically a landed estate with cultivators who are tied to it: the woikiatai are serfs. [88] Although this is our only explicit evidence, the existence of serfs in Eastern and Western Locris, and probably Phocis as well, is indirectly confirmed by Timaeus’ claim that Locrians and Phocians did not employ chattel slaves until the mid-fourth century, when the wife of Philomelos bought herself two maidservants. Previously, he said, house-servants had been hired, among the younger and poorer citizens (FGrHist 566 F 11). It would be quite remarkable if these two peoples, unlike all their neighbours, had done without any sort of unfree labour for so long. Much more probably, they did not use chattel slaves because they used serfs instead. As in Crete, serfs engaged only in agricultural labour, leaving domestic service to hired staff, and later also to chattel slaves.
A warlike tradition was certainly maintained well into the classical period by the Western Locrians at least, who lived what Thucydides described as “the ancient life” of constant raiding by land and sea, and retained the old custom of bearing arms at all times, [89] but we do not know whether their wars ever extended to the subjection of neighbouring communities.

Megarian tears

A classical story explained the proverbs “Godlike Corinth” and “Megarian tears” as follows:
The Megarians were colonists of the Corinthians and in many ways had to yield to the Corinthians on account of the might of this city. The Corinthians ordered them to do many other things, and when one of the Bacchiads died (since these were governing the city), it was compulsory for Megarian men and women to come to Corinth and join the lamentations for the dead man. Thus the Corinthians omitted no form of hubris [90]
There were other versions of the tale, recorded centuries later in proverb collections, which said that the Megarians went to Corinth to lament on only one occasion, at the death of the daughter of their king Clytius, who had married a certain Bacchius of Corinth (Zenobius 5.8), or that it was a Megarian queen who once forced her people to make lamentation at their own king’s funeral (Diogenianus 6.34; Apostolius 11.10). These later versions are easily understood as attempts to clean up the earlier story, from a Megarian point of view, by removing the stigma of once having been so humiliated by their neighbours. The original tale, however, is not so easily explained away. It was of no significance to the explanation of the expression “godlike Corinth”, which actually hinged on a confrontation between a Corinthian envoy and irate Megarians and did not need an invented period of Bacchiad domination to make sense. It also seems too elaborate to have been invented just to account for the expression “Megarian tears”, especially since a simpler explanation—that the Megarians were famous garlic growers (Zenobius 5.8; Apostolius 11.10)—lay to hand. [91]
The parallel with the obligations imposed on Sparta’s subjects suggests that during the period of Bacchiad rule, c. 750-650 BC, the Corinthians reduced their neighbours to either serf or perioikic status. Other traditions confirm that “in ancient times”, when Megara was merely a collection of villages rather than a city- state, the Corinthians were always trying to “subject the Megarians to themselves” and that unnamed “enemies”, who were surely the Corinthians, once “cut off much land”, later restored to Megarian control by Orsippus in the late eighth century. It appears, then, that Corinth did not merely exercise political pressure on a supposed “colony” but resorted to outright war in occupying all or part of the Megarid. [92]
It is hard to say whether the Megarians were temporarily reduced to perioikoi, obliged to send mourners to the funerals of Bacchiad kings, or even to the position of serfs, each family forced to weep crocodile tears at their master’s funeral—but both scenarios are possible.

The “dusty feet" of Epidaurus

The citizen body was comprised of 180 men, from among whom they elected councillors called artunoi. The majority of the people lived in the countryside. They were called “dusty-feet” (konipodes) because, as one can guess, they were recognized by their dusty feet when they came up to the city (Plutarch Moralia 291de).
Although Plutarch does not say so, it is tempting to see in this mockingly-named rural population another group of serfs. [93] There may be some indirect support for this in legends which claimed that Epidaurus, not Argos, was really entitled to the inheritance of Temenos and had always championed the region’s other Dorian and Dryopian cities against Argive aggression. Most significantly, Epidaurus claimed to be the true home and final resting place of Hyrnetho, Temenos’ daughter, the notional ancestor of Argos’ serfs. [94] Couched in mythical terms, this was surely the Epidaurians’ way of expressing their ambition to take over Argos’ leading status and its subject population. Such expansionist behaviour by Epidaurus went a long way back into the archaic period. Neighbouring Aegina was at an early stage claimed as a “colony” of Epidaurus, and the Aeginetans were forced “amongst other things” to submit all their disputes to Epidaurian judges (Herodotus 5.83; 8.46), suggesting a dependent status similar to Sparta’s perioikoi.
Against this background, it would not be at all surprising if the “dusty-feet” were indeed serfs, acquired through conquest in the archaic period. Epidaurus at some point dropped one of the standard Dorian tribal names, Pamphyloi, while introducing two others, Azantiaioi and Hysminates, and it is conceivable that these tribes were created to incorporate the serfs when they were finally enfranchised, just as had happened in Sicyon and Argos. [95]

Hollow Elis and the “yokels" of Pisa

The defining feature of the history of archaic Elis was the protracted warfare between the people of “Hollow” Elis in the northwest of the region and their neighbours, the inhabitants of Pisa or Pisatis. This traditional history concentrated on the issue of who controlled the sanctuary at Olympia. The Eleans claimed that they had been in charge of Olympia and its Games from the days of the Dorian migration onwards, but that the Pisatans had repeatedly, and on occasion successfully, tried to oust them. At some point in the early sixth century, probably c. 580 BC, Elis finally regained firm control. Given that Olympia actually lay within the territory of the Pisatans, we are clearly dealing with a history written by the victors: a distorted, legitimising account of the Eleans’ conquest of Pisatis and seizure of its main sanctuary. Strabo and Pausanias both believed that the Eleans at the same time also occupied part or all of Triphylia, the region south of Pisatis, and that they everywhere “uprooted” inhabitants, “pulled down many settlements” and “exacted tributes”. [96]
Pausanias also reported a war between Elis and a coalition of Pisatans, “other perioikoi ’ and Arcadians, which was fought after the Persian Wars (5.4.7) and brought Elis enough spoils to fund the construction of the classical temple of Zeus at Olympia (5.10.2). This war must have taken place in the 470s or 460s, which fits Herodotus’ remark that “the Eleans sacked the majority” of Triphylian cities “in my time” (4.148). Elis eventually lost control of Triphylia after being defeated by the Spartans around 400 BC, while the Pisatans eventually regained their independence in an Arcadian-backed uprising in 364 BC. [97]
The towns of Triphylia, all but one of them acquired by the Eleans as “spoils of war”, were clearly tribute-paying perioikoi of the type we have found in Sparta, Thessaly and Crete. The status of the Pisatans, however, was different: the Spartans set free the perioikoi, but refused to liberate the Pisatans on the grounds that they were “yokels” (choritai), “not fit to be in charge” of the sanctuary at Olympia. [98] If the Pisatis was a particularly rustic region at the time, this was probably not because it had remained undeveloped—Strabo stresses that it had once had eight cities, most of which he names (8.3.31-2)—but because the Eleans had made it so. In other words, Elis had done much more here than impose tributes on defeated communities: direct and drastic intervention had reduced Pisatis to a thinly settled agricultural area and, quite possibly, its population to serf-like dependents.
If so, developments in early classical Elis may have run parallel to those in Argos. The synoecism of Elis in 471 BC and the synoecism of Argos at much the same time may both have been attempts to deal with rebellious subjects by integrating them into the community, in part by concentrating a greater proportion of the population in the dominant city, and in part by incorporating them into the city’s political organisation: the Pisatans formed four out of Elis’ twelve tribes. [99] As in Argos, the enfranchisement of former subjects may well have been followed immediately by renewed expansionist campaigns, leading to the further conquests in Triphylia recalled by Herodotus. Unlike Argos’ gumnetes, however, Elis’ subjects did not fully merge into the citizen-body, and finally reasserted their independence in the same decade which saw the liberation of serfs in Messenia, Sicyon and Heraclea.
Among the many obscure groups of people in ancient Greece of whom we catch an occasional glimpse, there may have been yet other serf populations—the Gergithes, perhaps, or the Ellopians or Kylikranes—but the evidence in these cases is too tenuous to inspire any confidence. [100] Even without adding to our tally, however, we have found up to a dozen cities and regions other than Sparta which employed serfs and other subject populations acquired by conquest. The Messenian helots were clearly not alone in the Greek world—nor, as we shall see, were the conquest serfs of Greece without parallel in history.

5. Helots and Indians: forced labour in a conquest society

A few hundred Spanish soldiers took only a couple of years to conquer the vast territories of Central America, with a native population of at least two million. Fifty years after the conquest, a mere 2,300 Spanish citizens and their households still ruled over about half a million Indians, scattered over a thousand settlements. Despite their overwhelming superiority in numbers, the natives—not only in Central America but also in the Caribbean, Mexico and South America—submitted to the heavy burden in tribute payments and forced labour imposed upon them by the invaders. With variations in the nature and level of exactions, the system remained in place for a century, always aggravated by gratuitous abuse from the sort of people who believed that “if water were lacking to irrigate the Spaniards’ farms, they would have to be watered with the blood of the Indians”. [101]
Conquered settlements were simply allocated to Spanish officers and soldiers by a system of grants known as encomienda, which gave the encomenderos the right to impose tribute and labour obligations on “their” Indians. The natives were legally free men, subjects of the crown, but differed from slaves only in “the manner in which they had been acquired, and not the manner in which they were used”, being “made to work for the Spaniards without pay, and … whipped and aggrieved in other ways, as if they were slaves”. [102]
Tributes took the form of levies of agricultural produce and home-made commodities. For example, the following tribute was owed to Pedro de Alvarado, the conqueror of Guatemala, personally. Each year, his Indians between them were expected to provide 500 measures of cacao beans, 100 pairs of sandals, 60 reed mats, and 60 gourds. Every fifteen days, they gave him 40 striped Indian mantles, 20 jackets, 20 loincloths, 10 chickens, 5 turkeys, 90 bushels of maize, a bushel of beans, a bushel of chili peppers, a bushel of salt, and a jug of honey. Every Friday, they presented him with 40 eggs and a basket of crabs. [103]
A source of as much deprivation as the levy itself was the obligation to carry the tribute to the encomendero’s place of residence, which required Indians to walk distances of up to a hundred miles with heavy loads. Contemporaries commented on the suffering caused:
They have been exhausted by their journeys to carry tribute every year to the Spaniards’ towns. They came a great distance … and brought with them but a little poor food. When they arrived, worn out and famished, they were made to fetch water and wood, sweep the house and stables, and take out rubbish and manure. They were kept at such labour two, three, or more days without being given food, so that they were forced to eat the food they had brought from home, if anything was left, and so had nothing for the journey home. This is still being done (Zorita [1963] 209).
A century after the conquest, another observer echoed Tyrtaeus in speaking of Indians carrying burdens “like donkeys” and noted that “in most cases they are treated harshly and are belabored and kicked and beaten, without turning against those who maltreat them”. [104]
The labour obligations imposed in addition to the tribute were no less burdensome. Pedro de Alvarado demanded “fifteen Indians to serve in the city”, and compulsory domestic service in Spanish households remained normal practice, servicio ordinario. Forced labour was also used in public works, both for major construction projects and on a routine basis: one Spanish town required 30 Indians to attend three times a week to clean the “palace”, and also demanded the services, once a week, of 46 grass-cutters, 3 wetnurses, and 6 men to clean the latrines in the city jail. [105] Finally, the natives were compelled to join military expeditions:
Yet another multitude has been killed off and continues to be killed off by being taken as carriers on conquests and expeditions, and still others to serve the soldiers … In the New Kingdom of Granada I heard many Spaniards say that one could not lose one’s way between that country and the province of Popayan because it was marked with the bones of dead men (Zorita [1963] 209-10).
On de Alvarado’s expedition to Peru, “depending on his status, a soldier could take from 2 to 8 Indians to serve him”, a figure which lends some support to Herodotus’ notorious claim that during Pausanias’ campaign at Plataea every Spartan was escorted by seven helots. [106]
The roles and treatment of Indians were thus almost identical to those of conquest serfs in ancient Greece, and whatever the legal niceties of their position, the status of both was in practice clearly “between free men and slaves”, and they long remained so despite often living at great distances from their masters and greatly outnumbering the conquerors.
In Central America a small number of conquerors were able to exploit a vast population in part because tribute and labour were being demanded by native chieftains even before the Spanish arrived. At first, the conquerors operated entirely through this traditional hierarchy, with local “lords” passing on to them the bulk of the levies. [107] The situation was not quite the same in Greece, but here too conquerors must have built on pre-conquest regimes. Where land ownership was concentrated in the hands of few and estates were largely worked by share-croppers, for example, it would have been relatively simple for conquerors to demand agricultural tribute: little would change for the cultivators, except that they handed over their produce to more distant landlords. Precisely such a regime existed in seventh-century Athens, and probably also in other parts of Greece, especially in regions with large and fertile agricultural plains, such as southern Laconia, Messenia, Thessaly or Elis. [108] A region dominated by independent family farms, by contrast, could not be exploited without drastic, structural, interventions. The nature of the pre-conquest regime was surely a key factor in deciding whether a defeated enemy was to be reduced to serfdom or suffer some other fate.
Over time, the Spanish rulers of Central America began to intervene more in the structure of Indian communities. The encomenderos not only undermined the power of native chiefs by usurping their tribute and humiliating them in front of their subjects, but increasingly by-passed the chiefs altogether, levying tribute in person or through their own agents. At the same time, the Spanish crown extended the administration of justice through its magistrates rather than the native elite. Most chiefs ended up impoverished and lapsed into the status of commoner. [109] Within decades of the conquest, moreover, the encomenderos most directly involved in managing their domains were arranging for the wholesale resettlement of Indian communities in order to concentrate the workforce nearer their agricultural estates. [110]
We have seen hints that in Greece, too, regimes of exploitation were subject to change. The limited evidence makes it impossible to trace these developments, but what happened after the Spanish conquest may provide a useful model. When a Greek city was conquered, a large section of the native elite would take refuge abroad, rather than submit to the new rulers, but some will usually have remained behind. A gradual undermining by the conquerors of local political and social structures would help explain how communities which were once stratified and politically organised could be reduced to villages with a barely differentiated population of serfs. As suggested earlier, historical changes and divergences in degrees of exploitation and intervention could also account for real social and economic differences between serf populations, as between Messenian and Laconian helots.
The single biggest problem encountered by the Spanish colonial administration was to prevent encomenderos from negating the gains of conquest through overexploitation. “The conquest of Central America and the two decades after it bear more resemblance to a large raid than to an occupation” because most conquistadores had come “to accumulate booty or wealth as rapidly as possible so that they could return to wealth and prestige in Spain” (MacLeod 1973, 47). They did not want to settle down as the master of an encomienda which demanded some care and attention in exchange for unspectacular tributes. Not only did colonising expeditions literally turn into slave raids, but many encomenderos resorted to illegally seizing their peers’ and their own tribute-paying Indians and selling them into slavery, leaving some regions virtually depopulated. The Spanish government responded with law after law prohibiting the sale of Indians. Since masters would find excuses to travel abroad with large Indian retinues, only to sell their attendants as soon as they reached a remote enough area, the law ultimately forbade them to take Indians outside their native regions at all. [111] The parallel with Greek rules against selling serfs abroad (or manumitting them—at a price) is irresistible. Rather than a “contract” made with the defeated enemy, as the sources present it, or a humanitarian measure, these restrictions were imposed by conquering communities to ensure that the greed of individual citizens did not deplete the native labour force to the point where the occupied land became impossible to exploit. [112]
The first generation of conquerors in Central America were more or less free to set their own tribute and labour requirements, and constantly quarreled amongst themselves over mutual infringements between neighbouring encomiendas. The Spanish government later acted to prevent disunity amongst the rulers and overexploitation of the ruled by imposing a “redistribution of Indians” (repartimiento), checks on labour demands and maximum tributes. It also became compulsory to pay Indians a small wage for what was nevertheless forced forced labour, a point which may throw some light on what ancient sources meant when they described penestai as “slaves working for a wage”. More generally, these developments support the claim that in Sparta excessive exploitation of serfs was punishable by a curse. [113]
One sixteenth-century observer asked the King to fix a maximum annual tribute, because
the encomenderos should receive as much tribute as suffices for a decent living, and not what is needed to gratify luxurious and extravagant taste in clothing, food, household service, and the like (Zorita [1963] 254-5).
The idea that the greed of the colonial elite which threatened the stability of Spanish rule was driven by private conspicuous consumption of wealth no doubt holds true for Greece as well. The Spartans tried to get to the root of the problem by not only limiting the amount of tribute but also restricting the display of wealth itself, imposing sumptuary restrictions precisely on “clothing, food, household service, and the like”. If Sparta managed to cling on to its helots when several neighbouring states lost their serfs, it may be in part because, by the beginning of the classical period if not earlier, the Spartans had created a notably “austere” form of the leisured lifestyle enjoyed by all Greek elites, especially in conquest states. [114]
“Attempts by a conquering group to enslave a conquered people en masse and in situ”, Orlando Patterson has observed, “were almost always disastrous failures”. He concedes that “such attempts … lasted much longer than is generally acknowledged” and that Spanish rule in the Americas was among “the most sustained and, not surprisingly, the most frightening” (1982: 110, 112). Since the system outlined here lasted only for about a century, before gradually turning into a different regime of exploitation which instead relied heavily on debt-bondage, [115] the long centuries of serfdom in Laconia, Thessaly and Crete remain remarkable.
But their persistence is certainly not inexplicable. The Spanish system ultimately “failed” not because it was impossible to control the natives, but partly because virulent diseases wiped out much of the labour force, and, even more importantly in the long run, because the surplus of cacao beans and cloth produced by the native economy did not satisfy the conquerors. The search for greater profits led to the creation of a mining industry, large agricultural estates, and vast cattle ranches—all of which operated more effectively with hired labourers and debt-bondsmen. [116] In Greece, conquerors did not spread fatal diseases and were apparently content to do little more than siphon off native produce. Without the pressures that ultimately transformed Spanish rule, there is no reason why a Greek conquest state which judiciously applied punishments and rewards, and tempered exploitation with self-restraint, could not retain control over large numbers of serfs for many centuries.

6. Conclusion: Helots in context

Sparta’s conquest of Messenia was no anomaly, but merely the most spectacular and best attested instance of a form of imperialism characteristic of archaic Greece. In large parts of northern Greece (Thessaly, Locris and Phocis), most of the Peloponnese (Sicyon, Argos, Corinth, Epidaurus and Elis, as well as Sparta and Messenia), all of Crete, and parts of the colonial world (Syracuse, Byzantium, Heraclea, and Cyrene) communities succeeded in reducing their Greek or barbarian neighbours to the status of serfs or perioikoi. The earliest datable conquests of this type were made by Corinth and Syracuse in the eighth century BC, which is perhaps also when Sparta conquered Laconia and Argos began subjecting its neighbours. In none of the other areas need expansion have begun earlier. The latest datable wars which resulted in the creation of serfs fell in the decades 580-560 BC, when Sicyon, Elis and Heraclea first established their power. At the very same time Argos probably entered a new phase of conquest, the Thessalians reached the limits of their expansion, and the Spartans tried but failed to do to Arcadia what they had done to Messenia.
The subjects of Corinth, Cyrene and Sicyon reasserted their independence after no more than two generations, and the early decades of the fifth century marked a turning point as serf populations revolted all over the Greek world. Sicyon lost most of its katônakê -wearers around 500 BC; Argos struggled with its gumnetes from the 490s to the 460s; the kullurioi of Syracuse rebelled in the 480s; the “yokels” of Pisatis tried to escape Elean control in the 470s or 460s. It was also “not long” before 480 BC that the Phocians fought their life-or-death struggle for independence against the Thessalians. The helot revolts which Sparta faced in 490 and 464 BC thus formed part of a broader historical pattern. [117] But Sparta differed from others in its response. The other Peloponnesian states ended up enfranchising their serfs, and Argos and Elis turned their newly enhanced manpower to further wars of conquest—which now no longer led to the creation of serfs. Sparta, by contrast, forced its helots and perioikoi back into subjection and drew back from aggressive warfare, let alone territorial expansion.
Another wave of liberations occurred a century later, in the years 370-364 BC, when outside intervention set free the Messenians and Pisatans, while popular uprisings led by tyrants led to the emancipation of the Mariandynians and probably the remnant of Sicyon’s serfs, all in quick succession. The spread of chattel slavery in Locris and Phocis, and the apparent liberation ofpenestai at Larissa by Philip II, in the course of the next two decades suggest a wider historical trend against the exploitation of serf labour. Again Sparta was part of these developments, and again it went against the flow by tenaciously hanging on to its remaining serfs, albeit at the cost of manumitting several thousand Laconian helots.
One may wonder why, if conquest serfdom was widespread in archaic Greece, it is so poorly attested that scholars have been virtually unaware of it. The reasons are simple. First, ancient authors took slaves and serfs very much for granted and often barely mentioned them. [118] Secondly, for most of the states which employed serfs we have very little evidence of any kind, let alone evidence for their use of unfree labour; conversely, we only know as much as we do about the conquest of Messenia because we are relatively well informed about Sparta in general. Thirdly, many forms of serfdom were already a thing of the past by the mid-fifth century when we first have contemporary historical sources; by the late fourth century, when the likes of Aristotle, Theopompus and Ephorus were writing, there were hardly any serf populations left in Greece except in Laconia, Thessaly and Crete. Classical authors thus had very little evidence to go on even if they did deign to write about serfs. Fourthly, these authors obscured what little historical evidence there might have been about the origins of the few remaining serf populations by appealing to, or indeed inventing, legends about migrations which had taken place just before or after the Trojan War.
These problems with the sources are compounded by a disinclination among scholars to see wars of conquest and widespread serfdom in archaic Greece, because these phenomena do not fit current models of archaic warfare and the exploitation of labour, respectively.
The common modern perception of archaic Greek warfare is that it was “agonal”, that is to say, highly ritualised and restricted, aiming for minor territorial gains at best, not at the wholesale subjection of neighbouring states. [119] I would argue that this is too narrow a notion of warfare in archaic Greece. The evidence presented here shows clearly that wars of conquest did occur, and we must accordingly broaden our picture of war in the archaic Greek world to encompass a variety of forms ranging from restricted combat with limited objectives to all-out campaigns aimed at the subjection or destruction of the enemy. [120]
Current orthodoxy on the history of unfree labour in archaic Greece, derived from the model developed by Moses Finley, holds that forms of dependent labour “between free men and slaves” were a relic of the Dark Age, and, so far from still being created in the archaic age, were abolished in all the more progressive parts of Greece from c. 600 BC onwards, when their place was taken by chattel slavery. [121] This model rests almost entirely on a priori assumptions rather than evidence, and although the assumptions are plausible enough in themselves, I would suggest that they are disproved by the cumulative weight of evidence assembled here, tenuous as most individual pieces may be. What we find instead is not a development from primitive serfdom to developed chattel slavery, but the simultaneous spread of conquest serfdom and chattel slavery throughout the archaic period.
This process was no doubt driven by the greed of the Greek upper classes. [122] The archaic elite reduced their share-croppers, hired labourers, debtors and clients to abject poverty, which meant that when they turned to war as a means of further self-enrichment, their impoverished fellow-citizens would be only too happy to join them, in the hope of alleviating their own lot. Depending on the circumstances, such campaigns might result in the acquisition of either land, or chattel slaves, or land with a serf labour force attached. In archaic Greece all these options were open, and serfdom was by no means an uncommon fate for a defeated enemy. It was only in the classical period—in the early fifth century in some areas, the mid-fourth century in others, and not until later still in Laconia, Thessaly and Crete—that serfdom began to disappear by stages and chattel slavery prevailed. [123]


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[ back ] 1. “Serf” and “serfdom” are used here, not in any of their technical senses, but merely as a convenient shorthand to denote a slave-like status which does not entail outright chattel slavery.
[ back ] 2. Dorian conquest: e.g. Lotze 1959: 69-77; Murray 1993: 153; cf. section 3, below. A process of internal subjection was assumed as the norm by Moses Finley, who placed helots and other groups “between free men and slaves” in the same bracket as debt-bondsmen, clients, and coloni, labelling all of these as “the half-free within” (1964: 128-130), an “internal [labour] force” (1973: 66-70). Finley left room for “force of arms” as a means of creating a “half-way type” of unfree labour (1973: 66), no doubt with Messenian helots and colonial serf populations in mind, but his argument requires that conquest was the exception. He stressed the contrast between exploitation of an internal labour force, which created a “spectrum of statuses”, and exploitation of an externally acquired labour force (chattel slaves), which created a sharp polarization of free and unfree (e.g. 1959: 98; 1964: 132): this contrast would have been fatally undermined if “internal” labour forces had in fact often been subjected outsiders as well. Ian Morris adopted Finley’s model (while applying it to earlier historical developments: 1987: esp. 187, 196); other scholars nod towards Finley’s approach—and are sceptical about the historicity of the Dorian conquest—but end up merely suspending judgment: e.g. Austin and Vidal-Naquet 1977: 65, 86; Snodgrass 1980: 87-91 (esp. p. 89: “rightly or wrongly”); Garlan 1988: 95-96 (“whichever of the two solutions is favoured”).
[ back ] 3. This chapter adopts several of the important new ideas about the history of Messenian helotage recently developed by Nino Luraghi (and summarised by him in this volume), but also takes issue with some of his ideas, above all his contention that “in Greek history, there is not a single case of a city being conquered and its citizens being kept there as slaves of the conquerors” (2002: 237) and indeed that “mass enslavement of an indigenous population is an inherently unlikely explanation” for the origins of serfdom (this volume, p. 109; cf. 2002: 236).
[ back ] 4. So Alonso de Zorita in his Brief and Summary Relation of the Lords of New Spain, c. 1570 (1963: 217218). Orlando Patterson singled out the Spanish conquest of the Americas as a rare modern example of enslavement “en masse and in situ” (1982: 110, 113).
[ back ] 5. The most convincing chronology of the Messenian Wars is established by Parker 1993.
[ back ] 6. Luraghi (this volume, pp. 114-5; cf. 2002: 235-6) notes that FF 6 and 7 do not name the Messenians and might refer to some other “dependent labour force”; he also points out that the only explicit statement in Tyrtaeus about the inhabitants of “Messene” (which, Luraghi points out, may not have meant the entire region later known as Messenia) is that they left their land. While this is true, we should give some weight to the fact that Pausanias (4.14.1-5) and his probable source Myron of Priene, who knew the whole poem, thought that FF 6 and 7 did refer to Messenians. It is, moreover, highly likely that FF 5, 6 and 7 were closely linked in the original text: in F 5.7, the people who leave their farmlands are introduced with the words hoi men, which suggests that they are the first half of a contrasting pair, indicated by the common men … de construction (used by Tyrtaeus in FF 4.3-5, 10.29, 11.5-6 and 1114, 23.8-10 West). If so, the poem will have continued by introducing (with the words hoi de) a second group of inhabitants of “Messene”, who did not flee, but stayed behind and accepted servitude, a status then colourfully described in FF 6 and 7 (cf. Hodkinson, this volume, p. 256).
[ back ] 7. For the label “helots”, see below. Individual masters: Hodkinson 2000: 113-116; Luraghi, this volume, p. 114: “people held in a relation of personal dependence, rather than a submitted community”. Forced lamentation for individual masters is to be distinguished from the duty to mourn at royal funerals mentioned by Herodotus (6.58), although Pausanias conflates the two by explaining “masters” as “kings and other officials” (4.14.4; cf. Hodkinson 2000: 237-238; Ducat 1990: 60). The perception of forced mourning as particularly “slavish” led Herodotus to stress that in Sparta even representatives of (free) citizen families and (free) perioikic communities mourned at royal funerals “under compulsion”, a custom paralleled only among (slavish) barbarians; that (unfree) helots were also compelled to do so was unremarkable to him and he mentions this only in passing. For the same reason, Aelian stressed that the Spartans imposed the duty to lament on “free” Messenian women, i.e. women who had been free until the moment of conquest: one should not infer that Aelian thought that the Messenians remained free even after their defeat (contra Luraghi 2002: 236).
[ back ] 8. Plutarch Moralia 194b and Aelian VH 13.42, with the discussion of this date in Parker 1993.
[ back ] 9. Attested only by Plato Laws 692d, 698e, but see esp. Shaw 1999: 275-276, and Hunt 1998: 28-31.
[ back ] 10. Another wave of emigration occurred a generation later, c. 460 BC, when defeated Messenian rebels left to settle in Naupactus (Thucydides 1.103.1-3); a Spartan treaty with Tegea forbidding the allies to harbour Messenians may reveal early worries about a draining away of manpower (Aristotle F 592 Rose; for its interpretation and possible dates, see Braun 1994, and Hall, this volume, pp. 151-2). The importation of chattel slaves and other dependents is plausibly suggested by Luraghi. The prominence and persistence of tomb cult in Messenia, noted in this volume by Hall, p. 160, and Hodkinson, p. 274, does suggest a general continuity of habitation, and indeed, as Hall attractively suggests, an attempt by the native population to identify themselves as “Achaeans”.
[ back ] 11. As pointed out by Luraghi 2002: 236 with n. 25 (“it must be the sharecropping arrangement that made this condition … different from Helotry”), and this volume, p. 131, noting the contrast between Pausanias 4.14.4-5 and 4.23.2, 24.5. Cf. Kiechle 1959: 57-62.
[ back ] 12. Pausanias' source here was the third-century author Myron of Priene (4.6.2), whose understanding of the position of helots may well have been based primarily on the Laconian helots of his own day (FGrHist 106 FF 1-2). The fixed tribute obligations of the latter are described by Plutarch Lycurgus 8.4, 24.3 and Moralia 239e (with the discussion in Hodkinson 2000: 89, 125-126).
[ back ] 13. Funerals: Hodkinson 2000: 264 n.5 (see also n. 7 above). Military service: the 35,000 helots mobilised by Sparta in 479 BC must have included Messenians (Herodotus 9.28-9).
[ back ] 14. No sale or manumission: Ephorus FGrHist 70 F 117. No excess tribute: Plutarch Moralia 239e. See Ducat 1990: 57-59, and Hodkinson 2000: 117-118, 126. The “curse” laid on the overexploitative might well have applied when rents were proportional rather than a fixed share: see below, p. 70.
[ back ] 15. So Luraghi 2002: 233-234, 240-241; for another reconstruction of changes in Messenian helot status, see Figueira, this volume, pp. 220-7.
[ back ] 16. Isocrates Archidamus 22-3, claimed that the Spartans “acquired the territory after besieging the Messenians” in the first generation after the Dorian migration; Ephorus dated the “enslavement” of the Messenians another generation or more later, but still well before the war won by Theopompus (FGrHist 70 F 116, with Diodorus 15.66.2-3 and Nicolaus of Damascus FGrHist 90 F 31, 34).
[ back ] 17. Aristophanes Lysistrata 1150-6; Ecclesiazusae 724. Description: Pollux 7.68.
[ back ] 18. The point of the comparison between them and epeunaktai cannot be simply that they were slaves who had become citizens: if that is what Theopompus was trying to say, he could have said so, or at least picked a less arcane comparison, such as the Spartan neodamodeis.
[ back ] 19. Pollux 7.68 says that the katônakê became compulsory dress “in Sicyon under the tyrants and in Athens under the Peisistratids”. The idea that this happened in Athens as well surely derived from an over-literal reading of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata 1150-6, which speaks metaphorically of Athenians wearing the slave’s katônakê under the tyrants but the free man’s cloak after their liberation. Once this parallel had been drawn, others were invented: instead of katonakophoroi Sicyon’s serfs are called korynephoroi in various lists (Pollux 3.83; Stephanus of Byzantium s.v. Chios; Etymologicum Gudianum s.v. Heilotai), on the analogy with Peisistratus’ body-guard of that name (cf. Whitehead 1981; Lotze 1985 = Lotze 2000: 57-68). Theopompus’ fragments as they stand are free from this muddle, and the mix-up is likely to be the result of several centuries of further speculation, compilation, and epitomizing.
[ back ] 20. Aristotle Politics 1315b17 (“warlike man”) and as cited in POxy. 1241, col.iii.2-12 (on Pellene).
[ back ] 21. Zenobius 1.57. Games: Pindar Olympian 7.86, 9.98, 13.109; Nemean 10.44 (468-464 BC).
[ back ] 22. Xenophon Hellenica 7.3.8, as convincingly explained by Cartledge 1980: 209-211. Theopompus’ use of epeunaktai as an analogy also suggests that not all serfs were emancipated at once, and that rights of intermarriage played a key role. Compare also the serfs of Argos and Heraclea, below.
[ back ] 23. See Ducat’s excellent analysis (1976) of the biases which shaped Herodotus’ version of this story and his suggestion that it originally referred to the naming of Sicyon’s serfs; but cf. n. 24 below.
[ back ] 24. Contra Ducat 1976, who assumes that this serf population was created, not by conquest, but by a process of internal differentiation which was formalised by Cleisthenes. This interpretation leaves unanswered the questions of why a “popular” tyrant (Aristotle Politics 1315b18) would want to antagonise his own (potential) supporters, and who the Aigialeis might have been. I would reject the theory that Cleisthenes championed the non-Doric element of the Sicyonian population, and that his power rested on exploiting “ethnic” tensions (Andrewes 1956: 58-61).
[ back ] 25. Lists, as cited in n.19 above, plus Eustathius, on Dionysius Periegesis 533.
[ back ] 26. So e.g. Tomlinson 1972: 68, 73-75, 99; Vidal-Naquet 1986: 210. I see no basis for Lotze’s argument (1959: 54; cf. 1971; adopted by Snodgrass 1980: 89; Morris 1987: 187) that the “naked people” might have been serfs once but were free citizens by the beginning of the archaic period.
[ back ] 27. Herodotus 6.83. Diodorus 10.26 and Pausanias 2.20.8 uses the term oiketai, which could simply mean “slaves”, but could also refer more specifically to serfs: see below, at n.78.
[ back ] 28. Isocrates 4.131 proposes to make the barbarians perioikoi of Greece, whereas in Ep. 3.5 he proposes to make the barbarians helots of the Greeks (as noted by Ste. Croix 1981: 160). Cretan serf populations are also called perioikoi by Aristotle, see below at n.78.
[ back ] 29. Tiryns was still independent in 479 BC (Herodotus 6.83; 9.28, 31) and in 468 BC when there was an Olympic victor from Tiryns (P.Oxy 222). Tirynthians made citizens after destruction of city: Pausanias 2.25.7 (their major cult statue was also taken by Argos and placed in the Heraion, Pausanias 2.17.5). Tirynthians fleeing: Herodotus 7.137; cf. Ephorus FGrHist 70 F 56 (to Halieis); Strabo 8.6.11 (to Epidaurus, confirmed by inscription discussed below).
[ back ] 30. Stephanus of Byzantium Ethnikon s.v. Dymanes, lists the three Dorian tribes and says “the Hyrnethia was added to these, according to Ephoros” (FGrHist 70 F 15). Hyrnathioi are first attested in two inscriptions of c. 460-450: IG4.517 (LSAG 164-165, 170 no. 32 = Nomima I.86) and Pierart 1992: 235 (Nomima I.65). Also in IG 4.487-488 (and 600-602, of Roman imperial date). Hyrnathioi did not yet exist (or have citizen rights) c. 575-550 BC, when Argive magistrates were numbered in multiples of three, implying three tribes only: IG IV.614; SEG XI.314 (LSAG 156-158, 168 nos. 7-8; Nomima I.87, 88). The parallel with Sicyon is noted by Lotze 1971: 104 = 2000: 79.
[ back ] 31. For Hyrnetho, see below, with n. 94.
[ back ] 32. LSAG 444F, 445 = Nomima II.28: “Callippus, suppliant/ son of Eucles/ of the Epidaurians/ from Apollo/Pythius, an Argive/ leader [archos] and serfs”. See Lambrinoudakis 1980: 57-59.
[ back ] 33. Thucydides 5.83.2. The date of Argos’ battle against the Spartans at Hysiae is probably not reliable: for a radical re-dating, see Shaw 1999.
[ back ] 34. Herodotus 7.202; 9.28.4. A Mycenaean decree from c. 525 BC also implies that the city was still independent (IG IV.493 = Nomima I.101); cf. Hall 1995: 610-611.
[ back ] 35. Decree: SEG 30.380 = Nomima I.78. Its significance, and the implications of the oracle, are noted by Hall 1995: 587; contra e.g. Tomlinson 1972: 77-78. Van Effenterre’s suggestion (Nomima I, p. 296) that the decree should be down-dated and interpreted as the product of a carnivalesque, topsy-turvy regime instituted during the revolt of the “slaves” is imaginative, but hardly very plausible. Argos is said to have destroyed Asine at the end of the First Messenian War (Pausanias 2.36.5; 3.7.4; 4.14.3) and Nauplia after the Messenian Revolt (Pausanias 4.24.4, 27.8, 35.2) after which Argos took Nauplia’s place in the Calaurian amphictyony (Strabo 8.6.14): in each case, according to tradition, the settlement was destroyed and its population driven out, rather than reduced to serfdom..
[ back ] 36. Ephorus placed Pheidon tenth in line from Temenos, which put the subjection of the Argolid in the early eighth century, but his inclination to date conquests early is evident from his treatment of the helots in Messenia (above) and Laconia (below). On the ancient trend to date Pheidon (and others) ever further back in time, and the corollary that Herodotus’ date is more reliable than the others, see Drews 1983; cf. Koiv 2001. Pheidon was linked with seventh-century Argive expansion by Andrewes 1956: 39-42.
[ back ] 37. Jonathan Hall’s demonstration (1995) from archaeological evidence that the Argive Heraion was not fully under Argive control until c. 450 BC fits very well with the fact that Mycenae was not conquered (and destroyed) by Argos until c. 460 BC. His claim that Tiryns and the eastern Argolid were not subjected until then either seems harder to maintain, in view of the literary evidence.
[ back ] 38. Orneai was an independent ally of Argos in 418 (Thucydides 5.66.2, 72.4) and once fought independently against Sicyon (Pausanias 10.18.4; Plutarch Moralia 401d), but was destroyed by Argos in 416 (Thucydides 6.7) which rules out the idea that Orneai was one of Argos’ earliest conquests and gave a collective name to all perioikoi acquired later (so Rawlinson 1880; Stein 1881; Macan 1908; and How and Wells 1928, ad loc., all following the interpretation of K.O. Muller in Die Dorier—non vidi). Orneai lay some distance to the northwest of Argos, while Cynouria lay to the south, which rules out the idea that Herodotus, as an afterthought to his sentence, was simply explaining where the Cynourians lived: “they are the people of Orneai and their neighbours” (Larsen 1936: col. 822; Gschnitzer 1958: 79 n.23). Masaracchia 1990, ad loc., declares the passage corrupt (and the Penguin translation of the Histories simply omits it).
[ back ] 39. The war against Mycenae is described in some detail by Diodorus 11.65.1-5; cf. Strabo 8.6.19. Diodorus lists the war under Olympiad 78 (468 BC), but also says that it happened shortly after the Messenian revolt which began in 464 (11.65.3), which would make better sense: the Argives first end the war with their former serfs before they attack their old, independent rival. That Pausanias lumps the destruction of Mycenae together with the dissolution of the subject towns proves nothing about the chronology or nature of these wars; he also includes the destruction of Orneai, which happened much later (8.27.1); cf. the chronologically mixed list in Strabo (8.6.11).
[ back ] 40. See above, p. 42, with n. 29.
[ back ] 41. Plato Laws 777c; Aristotle Politics 1327b12-15; cf. Athenaeus 263ce (for Euphorion, Poseidonius, and Callistratus FGrHist 348 F 4); Pollux 3.83; Pausanias Atticus K9, 33, with Ducat 1990: 33.
[ back ] 42. Contra Shipley 1997: 218.
[ back ] 43. For other possible cases, where the evidence seems to me insufficient, see n. 100, below.
[ back ] 44. So e.g. Willetts (1955: 47) who envisages a Dorian League invading Crete c. 1200 BC, but not establishing its overall dominance until about 800 BC (pp. viii, 231). There is uncertainty about the details of Theopompus’ story: he elsewhere (F 13) seems to imply that not all Laconians but only the people of Helos were native Achaeans (below, p. 49), and it is conceivable that he imagined that the enslavement of the Perrhaebians had taken place even before the Trojan war (below, pp. 53-4).
[ back ] 45. E.g. Snodgrass 2001: 296-323; Osborne 1996: 33-37; Hall 1997: 114-128.
[ back ] 46. For detailed discussion, see Luraghi, this volume, pp. 115-7; despite his reservations, it does appear from the phrase “they were named helots” that Antiochus was referring to the first creation of this status (as argued by Vidal-Naquet 1986: 177, and Ducat 1990: 7-8, 67).
[ back ] 47. It is worth stressing the implication of Ephorus’ account, as summarised by Strabo (8.5.4), that the Laconian helots were mostly Dorians (contra Luraghi, this volume, p. 125): after the native Achaeans had left the country, the whole of Laconia, including Helos, was divided up amongst those who had taken part in the conquest, i.e. Dorians; their relatively small numbers, however, were filled out by accepting “volunteers from abroad as fellow-settlers”. The popularity of Ephorus’ account, or something similar, is attested by Plutarch, who said that “most” authors attributed the subjection of Helos to Soos, Agis’ co-ruler (Lycurgus 2.1); Plutarch elsewhere recounted an episode from a war against helots set at the same early date (just before the foundation of Melos: Moralia 247ad; cf. Polyaenus 7.49). On Ephorus’ notion of a “contract of servitude”, see Ducat 1990: 70-76.
[ back ] 48. Pausanias 3.2.5 and 3.7.3; 3.2.6 (with 19.6, 22.6) and 3.7.4.
[ back ] 49. Pausanias 3.2.7, 3.20.6 and 3.7.5.
[ back ] 50. In parallel with the development of a story about a very early conquest of Messenia (above, p. 37).
[ back ] 51. “War against Messenians”, rather than “helots”: Herodotus 9.35, 64; Thucydides 1.101.2. This is not to say, of course, that Messenians’ sense of identity simply remained intact throughout the period of their subjection: it was clearly contested and developed in a variety of ways: see esp. Figueira 1999.
[ back ] 52. Early conquest: e.g. Cartledge 2002: 83-84. Lower class origins are implied by Luraghi 2002: 240241, and those who argue for a general process of internal differentiation (cf. n. 2, above).
[ back ] 53. Mycenaean Lacedaemon: Hall 2000: 85. Homer: Iliad 2.581-90; Odyssey 3.326, 4.1, 21.13.
[ back ] 54. For estate management in Laconia and Messenia, see Hodkinson, this volume, esp. pp. 225-6, 2639 for his interpretation of survey findings; cf. Luraghi 2002: 231-232.
[ back ] 55. Royal estates: Xenophon Spartan Constitution 15.3. Tribute: [Plato] Alcibiades I 123a; Strabo 8.5.4 (and perhaps Hesychius s.v. kalame), despite the scepticism of Cartledge 2002: 155. Mourning: see n. 7 above. On perioikic status, see further Shipley 1997: 201-216.
[ back ] 56. See e.g. Hall 2000: 83-85; Cartledge 2002: 84-86. Land grants to allies, see below, n. 57.
[ back ] 57. Pausanias 4.14.3 (Asine), 24.4 (Nauplia); Thucydides 2.27 (Aegina). The parallel explains the Odyssey passage, which has puzzled some commentators, who have unnecessarily suggested that the verb exalapazein, “destroy”, here uniquely means “to empty” or “to evacuate” (e.g. West 1988, ad loc.).
[ back ] 58. Herodotus 1.82 (Cynouria) and 1.66 (Arcadia), with e.g. Cartledge 2002: 118-123.
[ back ] 59. For Pausanias, Helos was still inhabited by pre-Dorian natives (3.2.7) when it was destroyed by the Spartans, and its inhabitants were “the first to be called Helots, after what they really were”, i.e. inhabitants of Helos (3.20.6); similarly Ephorus FGrHist 70 F 117 (“the Heleioi, who held Helos”) and Theopompus FGrHist 115 F 13 (“the Heleatai who used to live in a place called Helos in Laconia”). Hellanicus FGrHist 4 F 188 and “many” others (Harpocration s.v. heiloteuein) said that the helots were “the first to be defeated of those who lived in the city Helos”. Only Antiochus’ version, in the brief paraphrase that survives, does not refer to Helos, though it is conceivable that in the full version the people of Helos were named as the Lacedaemonians who refused to serve against Messenia. (If so, we would have to conclude that Antiochus did not regard them as the fathers of the Partheniai, whose story follows immediately, or that Antiochus, like Polybius [12.6b] but unlike others, regarded the Partheniai as sons of helots: see Ogden 1997: 73-74, contra Nafissi 1999: 254255; Luraghi, this volume, pp. 115-6).
[ back ] 60. Modern etymology: e.g. Cartledge 2002: 83. For ancient discussions, see Ducat 1990: 9-10, noting that “curiously this etymology remains implicit”.
[ back ] 61. Even if the conquest was historical, the explanation of the name “helot” built on it was surely false.
[ back ] 62. Contra Vidal-Naquet 1986: 178 (an “absurd story”). The Helos plain: Hodkinson 2000: 138-140.
[ back ] 63. Neither Antiochus nor Pausanias had any reason to invent a late date. The creation of helots is of no relevance to the story about the Partheniai which Antiochus tells. The date adopted by Pausanias forced him to assume that the Dorian migration originally reached Sparta but not the rest of Laconia, and in effect resumed four centuries later, which is curious in itself and clashes with the legend that in the Dorian migration the whole of Laconia had fallen to the kings of Sparta. If these authors nevertheless stuck with their date, perhaps they did so because it was supported by a strong tradition.
[ back ] 64. Ducat 1994: 75-86; Menon’s penestai: Demosthenes 13.23; 23.199; cf. Ducat 1994: 24-29, 71-72. Private ownership: also Theocritus Idylls 16. 34-35; Euripides Phrixos F 830 Nauck2. Military service also: Xenophon Hellenica 6.1.11 (Ducat 1994: 62-63); IG IX 2, 234, lines 1-3 (late third century BC; Ducat 1994: 107-113). Restriction of masters’ power: Strabo 12.3.4; Archemachus FGrHist 424 F 1; Photius and Suda s.v. penestai (= Pausanias Atticus). On the possibility of manumission, see Ducat 1994: 72-73.
[ back ] 65. Rations: see Ducat 1994: 46-48, citing Hesiod Works & Days 766-767. Labourers, clients: Dionysius of Halicarnassus 2.9; cf. Euripides F 830 N2 (latris). “Waged slaves”: scholia on Aristophanes Wasps 1274; Etymologicum Gudianum s.v. heilotes. See also Ducat 1994: 17-18, 30-36, 71-72.
[ back ] 66. Archemachus FGrHist 424 F 1; Strabo 9.5.19-20 (where the word penestai is not used, but they are clearly meant; see also n. 69 below). Archemachus’ account is apologetic in tone and could perhaps be dismissed as an idealising misrepresentation of the position of the penestai (see Ducat 1994: 14-16), but Strabo’s comment cannot be explained away on those grounds.
[ back ] 67. Theocritus is probably drawing on the poetry of Simonides (Ducat 1994: 46-48), and may reflect an archaic situation; Strabo and Archemachus may have projected back a later situation.
[ back ] 68. Quotations: Aristotle Politics 1264a35, 1269a37; cf. Plato Laws 776cd, 777c. Plotted revolt in 406: Xenophon Hellenica 2.3.36 (Ducat [1994: 103-104] is surely too sceptical when he suggests that this episode may have been the only basis for claims that the penestai were particularly rebellious).
[ back ] 69. Strabo 9.5.19, claiming that tributes were levied “until Philip took power”, presumably referring to his interventions in the late 340s (see e.g. Hammond 1994: 118-119). Polyaenus 4.2.19 claims that Philip tended to intervene on the side of “the people”. See Ducat 1994: 107-113, on enfranchisement of penestai in the second century BC in Pharsalus.
[ back ] 70. Two generations: Strabo 9.2.3; cf. 9.2.5, 29. Four generations: Diodorus 19.53.7-8.
[ back ] 71. Strabo 9.2.3, 25, 29; Diodorus 19.53.7-8.
[ back ] 72. Pausanias Atticus n 16 (p. 204 Erbse) (= Photius and Suda s.v. penestai). For Haemon, see Strabo 9.5.23. Discussion in Ducat 1994: 38-40; cf. 93-98. I would reject his suggestion that the details of this version are garbled and can be dismissed as mere mistakes. For penestai as Boeotians, see also Polyaenus 1.12; cf. Philocrates FGrHist 601 F 2.
[ back ] 73. It may be significant that the commentaries note that “this system of penestai had been dissolved and afterwards they called poor men and labourers penestai”; Ducat (1994: 17-20), however, argues that this idea was an invention by the scholiasts, based on a misunderstanding of Aristophanes’ joke.
[ back ] 74. As noted by Andrewes 1971: 34; see further van Wees 1999a: 14-15 = 2002: 108-110.
[ back ] 75. Ammonius 386, p. 100 Nickau. Cf. Athenaeus 264a: “those who are not slaves by birth, but were taken in war”; Suda s.v. penestai: “those who had been defeated in the war and served and became the slaves of the victors”; also Theopompus FGrHist 115 F 122b: “free men who serve as slaves”.
[ back ] 76. The best-known Scopas was the exceptionally rich patron of Simonides, in the late sixth century (Simonides FF 4, 32 Diehl; Athenaeus 438c; Plutarch Moralia 527c; Cato Maior 18; Cicero, De Oratore 2.86.352). His grandfather is referred to as “the old Scopas” (Athenaeus ibid.; Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 11.2.14), which means that he, too, was well-known for something: this must have been the victories in war implied, and the consequent regulation of tribute referred to, by Xenophon.
[ back ] 77. Boeotia: Plutarch On the Malice of Herodotus 33; Life of Camillus 19.2; cf. Pausanias 9.14.2. The battle of Keressos was linked to the battle of Leuctra in various ways, and clearly had a similar historical significance in Boeotian eyes, so it is not unlikely that the fairly precise date given in the second passage—“more than 200 years before” Leuctra, i.e. c. 575 BC—was remembered in local tradition. That Plutarch in the first passage dates the same event to “a short while” before the Persian Wars is no obstacle to accepting this date: it suited Plutarch’s rhetorical and polemical point to play down the chronological distance, and in the long view of an author writing six centuries after the war, another century earlier may well have seemed “a short while”. Wars with Phocis: Plutarch Moralia 244ae; Herodotus 8.27-28; Pausanias 10.1.3, 10-11; Polyaenus 6.18.2, 8.65; Polybius 16.32. For the nature and chronology of archaic Thessalian expansion, see Helly 1995; Ellinger 1993; Ducat 1973.
[ back ] 78. Politics 1272a1, 18-22; cf. 1271a29; the term perioikoi is used also at 1271b31, 1272b19; that many cities all over Crete have their own perioikoi is made clear at 1269b3.
[ back ] 79. See Sosicrates FGrHist 461 F 4 and Dosiadas FGrHist 458 F 3, cited with other passages at Athenaeus 263f-264a. The term klarotai is attested in Ephorus FGrHist70 F 29 and Aristotle F 586 Rose; mnoia occurs in an archaic poem (see below); woikeus and doulos are used in inscribed Cretan laws, esp. the Gortyn Code. For a recent discussion of the terminology, see Link 2001, who shows that woikeus and doulos are used as synonyms, and questions the validity of the distinction between private and public slaves made by our (late) sources.
[ back ] 80. See Willetts 1955: 49-51, for the evidence from the Gortyn Code and other laws.
[ back ] 81. Chaniotis 1996: 160-168 and texts 64 (early 3rd century) and 69 (late third/early second century).
[ back ] 82. See Aristotle Politics 1271b25-33; Ephorus FGrHist 70 F 117-18, 146, 149; Konon FGrHist 26 F 1.36, 1.47; Nicolaus of Damascus FGrHist 90 F 28; Plutarch Moralia 247bf, 296bd. Spartan traditions: Malkin 1994: 76-80; Argive colonies: Graham 1964: 154-165.
[ back ] 83. Strabo 10.4.6; implicit already in Herodotus 7.170 where the only remaining groups of Cretan natives are from Praisos (Eteocretans) and Polichna (Cydonians).
[ back ] 84. This last conceit was evidently developed by adapting a story told by Herodotus about a different group of half-Pelasgians, who came from Lemnos, settled in Sparta—on Mount Taygetus this time— and left after a failed rebellion to settle abroad, some colonising Thera under Spartan leadership, others migrating to Triphylia (4.145-8); cf. Malkin 1994: 73-85, who argues for its historicity.
[ back ] 85. Malkin (1994: 79-80) argues that they do refer to historical colonisations; but his eighth century date rests on the assumption that the helots who feature in these stories are Messenians (pp. 77-78): in fact they are Laconian helots and the date is shortly after the Dorian migration (see above, n. 47).
[ back ] 86. Plutarch Moralia 247ef (a story about the class of funerary experts called “cremators”, katakautai, allegedly formed to deal with the many casualties) and 296bd; Aristotle Politics 1271b25-33.
[ back ] 87. Ephorus FGrHist 70 F 149 already pointed out that Cretan cities which were not “colonies” of Sparta nevertheless had the same institutions; he also explicitly spoke of serfs at Cydonia (F 29); see above, nn. 78-79, for the presence of serfs in all parts of Crete.
[ back ] 88. Tod no. 24; for translation see Graham 1964: 226-228; Fornara 1983: 47-49. For woikiatai as serfs, see e.g. Vidal-Naquet 1986: 212; compare also the Argive inscription cited above, n. 32.
[ back ] 89. Thucydides 1.5.1-6.2; on bearing arms see van Wees 1998. A mid-fifth century treaty between two West Locrian cities attempts to control mutual raiding: Tod I, no. 34; see Fornara 1983: 87-88.
[ back ] 90. The story is attributed to Demon (FGrHist 327 F 19), but may go back to Ephorus (FGrHist 70 F 19). For further details of the sources and their variants, see Salmon 1972: 197-198.
[ back ] 91. John Salmon took the opposite view, arguing that “Zenobius … has circumstantial detail [i.e. the name Clytius, ‘famous’ ?] which is not likely to have been invented” and that “Demon has written a garbled version of the tradition preserved by Zenobius” (1972: 198), but this seems less plausible.
[ back ] 92. As suggested by Hammond 1954: 97. Early Corinthian imperialism: Plutarch Moralia 295BC; land “cut off” and restored by Orsippus: IG VII.52 (Orsippus was credited with an Olympic victory in 720 BC). Plutarch’s list of Megarian villages suggests that the Perachora region, later part of Corinthian territory (e.g. Xenophon Hellenica 4.5.1-5), was once part of Megara, and Strabo (8.6.22) said the same about Crommyon. Archaeology has uncovered many Corinthian-made artefacts in Perachora and Corinthian-style burials in Crommyon in the eighth century, but that does not tell us who was in control: Megara at the time used “only orthodox Corinthian ware” and its burial customs are unknown (Coldstream 1977: 86, 172), so that we cannot tell whether the graves and artefacts came from Corinth or Megara (contra Salmon 1972, 1984: 48).
[ back ] 93. So Garlan 1988: 95, 99; Fisher 1993: 33.
[ back ] 94. Pausanias 2.19.1, 2.23.3, 2.28.3, 2.29.5; Nicolaus of Damascus FGrHist 90 F 30.
[ back ] 95. New tribal names: IG 42.1.28 (146 BC), 96, 102-103, 106, 108. See Jones 1987: 107-111.
[ back ] 96. Strabo 8.3.30 = Ephorus FGrHist 70 F 115 (cf. Strabo 8.3.2 and 33), mentioning tribute and dating the final conquest to after the Second Messenian War. Pausanias 6.22.2-4 (cf. 5.6.4, 5.8.5, 5.16.5-6), giving a date not long after 588; the first appointment of two Elean presidents to run the Games in 580 (5.9.4) suggests a similar date; Eusebius (Chronica I 194ff Schone) has Pisatan control end in 572. The payment of tribute (of one talent) by one of the towns is confirmed by Thucydides 5.31.2-4.
[ back ] 97. Xenophon Hellenica 3.2.23-31 (Triphylia), 7.4.28-9; Pausanias 5.9.6, 6.4.2, 6.8.3, 6.22.3 (Pisatis).
[ back ] 98. Hellenica 3.2.31 and 3.2.23 for perioikoi as “spoils of war”. Cf. Roy 1997: 291-292.
[ back ] 99. Synoecism: Diodorus Siculus 11.54.1; Strabo 8.3.2; cf. Moggi 1976: 157-66. The loss of Pisatis in 364 led directly to a reduction of the number of Elean tribes from 12 to 8 (Pausanias 5.9.6), so by this date, at any rate, the Pisatans belonged to the tribes, and probably simply formed four distinct tribes. For a discussion of the synoecism and its effect on Elis’ subjects, see Roy 1997: esp. 286-289.
[ back ] 100. Gergithes of Miletus: Garlan 1988: 105 (but Gorman 2001: 102-107, is rightly sceptical). Ellopians of Euboea: Asheri 1975: n.28 (tentatively). Kylikranes of Trachis: Asheri 1975; Ducat 1994: 108-109.
[ back ] 101. So a Spanish colonial judge, quoted in Zorita 1963: 217. For the population figures, see the statistics in Sherman 1979: 3-8, 347-370.
[ back ] 102. Quotations from Kramer 1994: 3, and Sherman 1979: 321 (cf. p. 85; and at p. 136 a contemporary is cited for the judgment that “the encomienda Indians … were no better off than slaves”).
[ back ] 103. Kramer 1994: 247; cf. p. 221.
[ back ] 104. Sherman 1979: 337-338; cf. 92-93. Further abuses: Zorita 1963: 213-215.
[ back ] 105. Lutz 1994: 22-23; cf. Kramer 1994: 220-221 and 247 (Alvarado); Sherman 1979: 85-128, 191-259, and 305-313 on the services demanded from Indian women in particular.
[ back ] 106. Sherman 1979: 59, 106; cf. Herodotus 9.28-29.
[ back ] 107. Kramer 1994: 210-218; Sherman 1979: 85-86, 263-275.
[ back ] 108. On archaic Greek regimes of landownership, see van Wees 1999b, 1999c: 2-6; Link 1991.
[ back ] 109. Sherman 1969: 263-303, esp. 276-277; cf. Kramer 1994: 210.
[ back ] 110. MacLeod 1973: 121-122; Lutz 1994: 20-22; Kramer 1994: 213-216.
[ back ] 111. Sherman 1979: 39-63, esp. 47-48; MacLeod 1973: 47, 50-56; Zorita 1963: 202.
[ back ] 112. On the “contract of servitude” in the sources, see Ducat 1990: 70-76, 1994: 72, who points out that in fact such measures are vital to any system which does not have an external supply of labour.
[ back ] 113. Conflict among conquerors: Kramer 1994: 201, 213-216; Sherman 1979: 43. Government controls: Sherman 1979: 9-12, 88-89, 129-188. Repartimiento: Sherman 1979: 191-259. Curse: see above, n.14.
[ back ] 114. For reassessments of the evidence usually taken to show that the Spartan culture of “austerity” was established by the mid-sixth century, see Hodkinson 1998 (dedications) and Powell 1998 (iconography), who show that the transformation may well have taken place significantly later.
[ back ] 115. The change was gradual, so there is room for debate as to how long the forced labour system lasted, but Sherman (1979: 12, 337-338) sees its essentials still in place in 1630s, i.e. more than a century after the first conquests in mainland Central America in 1523.
[ back ] 116. MacLeod 1973: 124-128 (Central America); Keith 1976: 130-136 (Peru); Frank 1979: 4-7 (Mexico).
[ back ] 117. For these revolts, see above, at nn. 9-10.
[ back ] 118. See Hunt 1998.
[ back ] 119. See esp. Hanson 1995, 1998: 202-205, 2000; Ober 1985, 1996; Pritchett 1974: 147-189; Detienne 1968: 123.
[ back ] 120. See several important studies by Peter Krentz (1997, 2000, 2002); also van Wees, forthcoming.
[ back ] 121. See Finley 1959: 114-115, 1960: 149, 1964: 132, 1965: 166, 1973: 70, 1980: 146, 1982: 271-273; he is followed by, for instance, Snodgrass 1980: 87-95; Vidal-Naquet 1986: 163-164; Garlan 1988: 39-40; Manville 1991: 132-133; Garnsey 1996: 4; more cautiously also by Ducat 1990: 78; Fisher 1993: 15-21. Even scholars who fundamentally disagree with Finley’s approach and concepts have tended to accept the essentials of his model (Ste. Croix 1981: 141-142; Cartledge 1988: 36). I am aware of only one recent challenge to Finley’s ideas: Rihll 1996.
[ back ] 122. So also Luraghi 2002: 240-241, and cf. Link 1991.
[ back ] 123. Earlier incarnations of this paper were delivered at the Harvard conference, the Triennial meeting in Oxford and at research seminars in London and Oxford. The response from organisers and participants on each occasion has had a profound influence on the argument and shape of this final version, and I am grateful to all concerned, notably to Simon Corcoran, Jonathan Hall, Rebecca Flemming and, above all, Nino Luraghi for their particularly detailed and insightful comments.