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.


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