National Geographic : 1946 Nov
At the Slave Market IN CLASSICAL civilization it was taken for granted that much of the labor of everyday life, including agriculture and the arts and crafts, should be performed by slaves. The Romans used the Greek island of Delos as one convenient center for a slave trade so big that some contemporary accounts, hardly credible, put the number of slaves sold under hammer there in a single day as high as 10,000. The Delos auction platform pictured here is built of planks and timbers and sheltered by an awning suspended on two long poles. Roman purchasers, some of them pro fessional dealers and others personal bidders, wander over the mottled marble pavement, examining the slaves still to be offered or bidding for those put up for sale. Although the range of types and races represented here among the seated captives is probably more varied and comprehensive than would normally be assembled at any single auction, the composition is intended to suggest the geographic extent of slave traders' activities. Asiatics were valued for their astuteness and submissive ness, blacks for their exotic appearance, Germans for their stature and strength. Most prized, however, seem always to have been the Greeks. The Roman, though he often rebelled against Danaan veneer on his native Latin traditions, thoroughly respected the Greeks' superior intelligence, lan guage, and culture. One slave might fetch considerably less than a hundred dollars in the open market, whereas another of superior quality might be sold for several thousand. High-grade dancing girls and mistresses for the wealthiest Roman houses brought excellent prices. At auction men and women alike, stripped and sold naked,were handled and examined like animals. Strict laws protected the purchaser's interests, with prescribed penalties for misrepresentation orfraud. Basically, slavery was the outcome of war, for captives must either be set to work profitably orbeput todeath to get them out of the way. The number ofcaptives taken while Rome was using herarmies for conquest and territorial expansion was enormous,thesubjection ofGreece and Macedonia alone netting,itisestimated, amillion slaves. When piracy was rampant inthe Mediterranean, great numbers of slaves were acquired from this source also. Both of these easy sources ofsupply dwindled, however, when Pompey suppressedthe pirates, and the Emperor Augustus set limits to therapid territorial expansion ofthe Roman dominions. Scenes such asthat inthe illustration became a thing of the past. Since slaves could always beset free, and the practice of manumission was widespread, and since Roman policy consistently tended towardextending rather than restricting the right of citizenship, the proportion ofslaves tofree citizens began to fall. Rome consequently had ever less and less to fear from social rebellions from beneath, such as threatened her very existence intheearlier days. Although Rome movedtoward anever-widening democ racy of economic equality, slavery was never abolished. It merged ultimately in theserfdom ofmedieval feudalism, which is responsible forthe profound class distinction which lingers in most of Europe tothis day.