Slavery in Olbia Polis in the 5th – 3rd Centuries BC: Historiography, Sources, Prospects of Research

Keywords: Olbia, slavery, slave trade, historiography, Northern Black Sea region


The paper is devoted to the analysis of the source base and historiography of the study of slave relations in Pontic Olbia. The limited source base hampered the study of slavery in Olbia polis for a long time. At times, that led to forming hypotheses based on ideological, not backed by factual data, clichés, and sometimes made the researchers completely avoid issues considering Olbia social history.

In recent decades, new sources have been introduced into the scientific circulation, the most informative of which are private letters on lead plates and ceramics, the information on which enables significant intensification of the study of Olbia social history, including slave relations.

New sources have made it possible to confidently, and not hypothetically, date the spread of slavery in various spheres of the social and economic life of Olbia to the initial stages of the polis formation (the earliest known letter dated the third quarter of the 6th century BC). Just in the last third of that century, Olbia slaves also appeared on foreign markets.

Thanks to both new facts and comparative historical information, the practice of using slave labor in Olbia's agriculture can be reasonably assumed, at least, on the land plots of wealthy landowners. Participation of slaves and freedmen in trade operations is an ascertained fact. Slave labor was also quite probably used in logging.

It can also be said about various «living goods» operations, such as mortgages, loans, and sales, with slaves supplied both to home and foreign markets.

Besides analyzing the information of epigraphic and written sources, the paper outlines the directions of further research, which should be based on a comprehensive study of epigraphic and archaeological sources, taking into account theoretical achievements of contemporary historiography. This should allow trying to estimate the scale of the slave labor used in various sectors of Olbia economy and, possibly, estimating the proportion of slaves in the social structure of the polis.


Archibald, Z. (2014). Ancient Economies of the Northern Aegean: Fifth to First Centuries BC. Oxford [in English].

Avram, A. (2007). Some Thoughts about the Black Sea and the Slave Trade before the Roman Domination (6th – 1st Centuries BC). In V. Gabrielsen & J. Lund (Eds.). The Black Sea in Antiquity. Regional and Interregional Economic Exchanges (pp. 239-251). Aarhus: Aarhus University Press [in English].

Behter, A.P., Butiagin, A.M. & Dana, M. (2018). Svintsovoe pismo iz Mirmekiia [Lead Letter from Myrmekion]. Vestnik drevnei istorii, 78, 4, 931-948. doi: 10.31857/S032103910002911-5 [in Russian].

Blavatskii, V.D. (1953). Zemledelie v antichnykh gosudarstvakh Severnogo Prichernomoria [Agriculture in Antique States in Northern Black Sea Area]. Moscow [in Russian].

Blavatskii, V.D. (1954). Rabstvo i ego istochniki v antichnykh gosudarstvakh Severnogo Prichernomoria [Slavery and its sources in Antique States in Northern Black Sea Area]. Sovetskaia Arkheologia, XX, 31-56 [in Russian].

Bravo, B. (1980). Sulân: représailles et justice privée contre les étrangers dans les cités grecques: étude du vocabulaire et des institutions. Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. Classe di Lettere e Filosofia, III.10. 3, 675-691, 693-987 [in French].

Buiskikh, S.B. (2009). Khora kolonialnogo polisa v Nizhnem Pobuzhe: ot arkhaiki k ellinizmu [Chora of Colonial Polis in the Lower Bug River Region: from the Archaic to the Hellinism]. Starozhytnosti Stepovoho Prychornomoria i Krymu, XV, 227-243 [in Russian].

Carter, J.C. (2006). Discovering the Greek Countryside at Metaponto. Ann Arbor [in English].

Ceccarelli, P. (2013). Ancient Greek Letter Writing: A Cultural History (600 BC – 150 BC). Oxford [in English].

Dana, M. (2004). Lettre sur plomb d`Apatorios a Léanax. Un document archaïque d’Olbia du Pont. Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, 148, 1-14 [in French].

De Angelis, F. (2016). Archaic and classical Greek Sicily: a social and economic history. Oxford [in English].

Finley, M. (1980). Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology. New York [in English].

Gavriliuk, N.A. (1999). Istoriia ekonomiki Stepnoi Skifii VI-III vv. do n.e. [History of Economics of Steppian Scythians in VI-III BC]. Kyiv [in Russian].

Gavriljuk, N.A. (2003). The Graeco-Scythian Slave-trade in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. In P.G. Bilde, J.M. Højte & V.F. Stolba (Eds.). The Cauldron of Ariantas. Studies presented to A.N. Sčeglov on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday (pp. 75-85). Aarhus: Aarhus University Press [in English].

Gavriliuk, N.A. (2013). Ekonomika Stepnoi Skifii VI-III vv. do n.e. [Economy of Steppe Scythia in VI-III centuries BC]. Kyiv [in Russian].

Hanson, V.D. (1999). The Other Greeks. The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization. Berkeley-Los Angelos-London [in English].

Hind, J. (1994). The trade in Getic Slaves and the Silver Coins of Istria. Thracia Pontica, 5, 153-158 [in English].

Jameson, M.H. (1994). Class in the ancient Greek countryside. In Doukellis, P.N. & Mendoni, L.G. (Eds.). Structures Rurales Et Sociétés Antiques: Actes Du Colloque de Corfou, 14-16 Mai 1992 (pp. 55-63). Presses Univ. Franche-Comté [in English].

Jameson, M.H. (2002). Attic Eschatia. In Ancient history matters: studies presented to Jens Erik Skydsgaard on His 70th Birthday (pp. 63-68). L'Erma di Bretschneider [in English].

Kallistov, D.P. (1968). Rabstvo v Severnom Prichernomore V-III vv. do n.e. [Slavery in Northern Black Sea Area]. In Rabstvo na periferii antichnogo mira (pp. 193-221). Leningrad: Nauka [in Russian].

Kotsevalov, A. (1955). Antichnaia istoriia i kultura Severnogo Prichernomoria v sovetskom nauchnom issledovanii [Antique history and culture in Soviet scientific research]. Münich. [in Russian].

Kotsevalov, A. (1956). Antichnoe rabstvo v sovetskoi literature [Antique Slavery in Soviet literature]. Münich. [in Russian].

Kryzhickii, S.D., Buiskikh, S.B., Burakov, A.V. & Otreshko, V.M. (1989). Selskaia okruga Olvii [Rural countryside of Olbia]. Кyiv: Naukova Dumka [in Russian].

Kryzhickii, S.D., Buiskikh, S.B. & Otreshko, V.M. (1990). Antichnye poseleniia Nizhnego Pobuzhia (arkheologicheskaia karta) [Antique Settlements in Lower Bug Region (Archaeological Map)]. Kyiv [in Russian].

Leipunska, N.O. (1991). Stanovlennia antychnoho sposobu vyrobnytstva u Nyzhniomu Pobuzhzhi (za arkheolohichnymy danymy) [Formation of the Antique Method of Production in the Lower Bug Area (by the archeological data)]. Arkheolohiia, 3, 76-86 [in Ukrainian].

Lentsman, Ya.A. (1963). Rabstvo v mikenskoi i gomerovskoi Gretsii [Slavery in Mycenaean and Homeric Greece]. Moscow [in Russian].

Lewis, D. (2011). Near Eastern slaves in Classical Attica and the slave trade with Persian territories. The Classical Quarterly, 61, 1, 91-113. doi: 10.1017/S0009838810000480 [in English].

Lewis, D. (2016). The Market for Slaves in the Fifth- and Fourth-Century Aegean: Achaemenid Anatolia as a Case Study. In Woolmer, M., Lewis, D., Harris, E.M. (Eds.) The Ancient Greek Economy. Markets, Households and City-States (pp. 316-336). Cambridge University Press [in English].

Lewis, D. (2018). Greek Slave Systems in their Eastern Mediterranean Context, c. 800-146 BC. Oxford [in English].

Marchenko, K.K. (1985). Oikety dekreta v chest Protogena (IPE, I2, 32). K voprosu o zavisimosti naseleniia Olvii ellinisticheskogo vremeni [Oiketes of Protogen’s Decree (IPE, I2, 32). To the Question of Dependence of Olbian Population in Hellenistic time]. Prichernomore v epohu ellinizma, 242-256 [in Russian].

Marchenko, K.K. (2005). Greki i varvary Severo-Zapadnogo Prichernomoria skifskoi epokhi [Greeks and Barbarians in North-Western Black Sea Region in Scythian era]. In Marchenko, K.K. (Ed.). Greki i varvary Severnogo Prichernomoria v skifskuiu epokhu (pp. 129-136). Sankt-Peterburg: Aleteia [in Russian].

Odrin, O.V. (2010). Adaptatsiia tekhnolohii zemlerobstva hretskykh kolonistiv do ekolohichnykh umov Pivnichnoho Prychornomoria naprykintsi VII – VI st. do n.e.: postanovka problemy [Adaptation of agricultural technology of the Greek colonists to the ecological conditions of the Northern Black Sea Region (the end of the VII-VI centuries BC): Statement of the problem]. In: Ukraina kriz viky: Zbirnyk naukovykh prats na poshanu akademika NAN Ukrainy profesora Valeriia Smoliia (pp. 99-114). Kyiv: Instytut istorii Ukrainy NAN Ukrainy [in Ukrainian].

Odrin, O. (2018). Rabska pratsia u silskomu hospodarstvi Olviiskoho polisa: do postanovky problemy [Slave Labor in the Agriculture of the Olbia Police: to the Problem]. Ukrainskyi istorychnyi zhurnal, 3, 4-22 [in Ukrainian].

Otreshko, V.M. (1982). Z istorii Olviiskoho polisa [From the history of the Olbia Polis]. Arkheolohiia, 41, 34-46 [in Ukrainian].

Rusiaieva, A.S. & Vinogradov, Yu.G. (1991). Lyst zhertsia z Hilei [Letter of the Priest from Hylaie]. In Tolochko, P.P. & Murzin, V.Y. (Eds.) Zoloto stepu. Arkheolohiia Ukrainy (pp. 201-202). Kyiv-Shlezvih [in Ukrainian].

Rusiaeva, A.S. (1999). Naselenie Olvii [Population of Olbia]. In Kryzhickii, S.D., Rusiaeva, A.S., Krapivina, V.V., Skrzhinskaia, M.V. & Anokhin, V.A. Olviia. Antichnoe gosudarstvo v Severnom Prichernomore (pp. 391-471). Kiev: Institut arkheologii NAN Ukrainy [in Russian].

Saprykin, S.Yu. & Fedoseev, N.F. (2010). Fragment khoziaistvennogo pisma na svince iz Pantikapeia [A Fragment of Economic letter on lead from Panticapaeum]. Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1, 50-58 [in Russian].

Shishova, I.A. (1968). Rabstvo na Khiose [Slavery on Chios]. In Kallistov D.P. (Ed.) Rabstvo na periferii antichnogo mira (pp. 149-192). Leningrad: Nauka [in Russian].

Vinogradov, Yu.G. (1971). Drevneishee grecheskoe pismo s ostrova Berezan [The Earliest Greek Letter from Berezan Island]. Vestnik drevnei istorii, 4, 74-100 [in Russian].

Vinogradov, Ju.G. (1981). Olbia. Geschichte einer altgriechischen Stadt am Schwarzen Meer. Konstanz [in German].

Vinogradov, Yu.G. (1989). Politicheskaia istoriia Olviiskogo polisa [Political history of the Olbia Polis]. Moscow [in Russian].

Vinogradov, Yu.G. (1997). Pismo s gorgippiiskikh nadelov [A Letter from Gorgippean Rural Estates]. In Alekseeva E.M. Antichnyi gorod Gorgippiia (pp. 544-545). Moskva [in Russian].

Vinogradov, Ju.G. (1997). A Letter from Gorgippean Rural Estates. Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia, 4.3, 232-244 [in English].

Vinogradov, Ju.G. (1998). The Greek Colonisation of the Black Sea Region in the Light of Private Lead Letters. In Gocha R. Tsetskhladze, Vanessa B. Gorman (Eds.) The Greek Colonisation of the Black Sea Area. Historical Interpretation of Archaeology (pp. 153-178). Franz Steiner Verlag [in English].

Vlassopoulos, K. (2016). Finley’s Slavery. Jew, D., Osborne, R. and Scott, M. (Eds.) M. I. Finley: An Ancient Historian and his Impact. 76-99 [in English].

Westermann, W.L. (1955). The Slave Systems of Greek and Roman Antiquity. Philadelphia [in English].

Wilson, J.-P. (1997-98). The «illiterate trader»? Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 42, 29-56 [in English].

Zavoikina, N.V., Pavlichenko, N.A. (2016). Pismo na svintsovoi plastine iz Patreia [The letter on the lead plate from Patraaeum]. In: V.D. Kuznetsov, A.A. Zavoikin (Eds.) Fanagoriia. Rezultaty arheologicheskih issledovanii, T. 4 (pp. 230-249). Moskva [in Russian].

Zhebelev, S.A. (1938). Poslednii Perisad i skifskoe vosstanie na Bospore. Vestnik drevnei istorii, 3, 43-71 [in Russian].

How to Cite
OdrinO. (2019). Slavery in Olbia Polis in the 5th – 3rd Centuries BC: Historiography, Sources, Prospects of Research. Eminak: Scientific Quarterly Journal, (1(25), 93-106.