CLA 275: Slavery in the Ancient World

Instructor: Prof. Sarah Brucia Breitenfeld: Chambers 2135,
Class Meetings: MWF 11:30am–12:20pm in Chambers 1062
Office Hours: Tuesdays 2:30 to 3:30pm and by appointment

Course Description

“Hold me, I have run away,” reads the inscription on a Roman slave collar. Slavery was a violent and pervasive part of life in the ancient Mediterranean. In this course, we will explore the institution of slavery, focusing on ancient Athens, Sparta, and Rome, but also considering civilizations such as ancient Crete, Persia, Egypt, and Carthage. What was the status of enslaved people under the law? How did gender, age, and ethnicity affect the treatment that enslaved people received and the violence they faced? How did they form relationships and articulate their identities? What influence did they have on ancient economies? How did they resist their enslavers and sometimes achieve their freedom? And what can we learn about this population from evidence largely (but not exclusively) created by their citizen enslavers?

Whenever possible, we will approach these questions from the perspective of the people who were forced to undergo the violence of slavery and we will explore strategies for accessing their experiences, including the use of comparative evidence from the Atlantic slave trade. In addition to reading ancient literary sources such as Greek legal cases and Roman comic plays, we will place particular emphasis on ancient archaeological evidence, including funerary monuments, manumission inscriptions, graffiti, and curse tablets. Finally, we will use the historical methods developed in this class to examine and reflect on the history of Davidson College, whose first seven buildings were built with bricks made by enslaved persons.

Please note that students in this course will read and discuss scenes of physical and sexual violence, including the abuse of children. The instructor encourages students with questions about this course and its challenging subject matter to contact them directly.

  • Counts toward the major in Classical Languages and Literature, the major in Classical Studies, and the minor in Classical Studies.
  • Counts toward the major and minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies.
  • Counts toward the major and the minor in History.
  • Satisfies Historical Thought requirement.
  • Satisfies Justice, Equality, and Community requirement.