percentage of popluation as slaves in ancient states/nations/tribes

#1
In which ancient society was there the highest percentage of population as slaves ? How high does the percentage of slaves need to be within a society for it to be considered a true "slave society" (think 1840s Alabama) rather than a society with slaves? Also how detrimental would slavery be in times of emergencies like a war, especially in a society where chattel slavery was common.
 
Nov 2010
7,648
Cornwall
#2
Something tells me you are in the mindset of 1840s Alabama to be honest. Whereas slavery is a very ancient custom from many previous societies and not necessarily operating in anything like the same way.

In Visigothic/post-Roman Spain, most of the countryside land was sort of divvied up into different owners, some old hispano-Roman but largely by this time Visigothic. Very roughly - Each land had farms and crops or livestock. Each land (finca) had people who lived on it, families, large numbers (The Bishop of Toledo left 600 'slaves' in his will). These slaves worked the lands, they got housed, they got fed, they married, they had children. Many went to war as part of the owners; contingent when called by the king. They could actually be made 'free men' - but if they left the finca they couldn't take any money, or any family etc.

It was a bonkers system and obviously all fell to bits in the end. But the situation is that their living was their pay so to speak - generation after generation. And they weren't chained to metal balls breaking rocks.

Percentage? Lots I guess
!
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,084
Dispargum
#3
Depends on the definition of slave. Are serfs slaves? In different parts and times of Medieval Europe 70 or 80% of the population may have been serfs. These societies got along fine. Serfdom could actually be seen as a source of security in an otherwise insecure world.

At its peak the Roman Empire may have had 30% or more of its population as slaves. There were occasional slave revolts.
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,621
#5
I would define slave society when the wealth of the elite depends upon slavery. Many societies had slaves but most of the time they were actually quite cheap aside from exceptional circumstances and used more often as gifts and attitudes were far more lax about slave becoming free or having some social mobility. When slaves became property and collateral in debts or a form of capital and had no social mobility (to protect their owners wealth) then accumulating slaves usually became quite important to the elite classes economic prosperity since like most forms of wealth- slaves were held in the highest numbers by the richest people in any given slave society.

There have been only a dozen or so true slave societies under that definition even if the majority of human civilization has had 'slaves' often that term was a bit open to interpretation and while many tribes treated slaves horribly it wasn't law and they were still seen as people- just very worthless people but the children of a slave weren't necessarily born as slaves though they still had some stigma being raised by the tribe made them part of the tribe.

It seems when people become property there are some different attitudes that develop as ensuring the property is protected and controlled and seen as an investment where every generation born is already assigned a monetary value is more important than considering how to treat captured people (which was the main way slaves were acquired in low civilized societies).

Numbers are hard to come by but at their height the Roman Italy seems to have had around 30% of its population as slaves while a couple of states in the Confederacy had more than 50% of the population as slaves. Mississipi and South Carolina had more slaves than free citizen while Georgia and Lousiana were almost half and half.
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,084
Dispargum
#7
well even in medieval Europe wasn't there a separation in between slave and serf?
Yes, there was a separation between serf and slave and both did exist at the same time. But their definition of slave is not necessarily our definition. Your definition of slave is determined by why the question in the OP matters to you. For instance, if you are interested in slave revolts, in Medieval Europe from time to time there were peasant revolts. These peasant revolts had many of the same effects as slave revolts, requiring the kings and nobles to expend resources in their suppression. So maybe you want to count serfs as slaves or maybe you don't. It's up to you.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,084
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#8
would the wealth of the elite depend on slaves in the Roman Empire?
At times, yes. Roman patricians were banned by law from investing their wealth in any activity other than land. Roman elites usually owned multiple estates. From the late Republic, if not earlier, until well into the imperial era, these estates were worked by slaves. At some point during the middle or late imperial era Roman landowners began replacing their slaves with rent paying tenants. Later these tenants were legally bound to the soil and this was the beginning of Medieval serfdom. But in the earlier stage, when the land was worked by slaves, Roman estates resembled American ante bellum plantations.
 
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pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,277
#10
At times, yes. Roman patricians were banned by law from investing their wealth in any activity other than land. Roman elites usually owned multiple estates. From the late Republic, if not earlier, until well into the imperial era, these estates were worked by slaves. At some point during the middle or late imperial era Roman landowners began replacing their slaves with rent paying tenants. Later these tenants were legally bound to the soil and this was the beginning of Medieval serfdom. But in the earlier stage, when the land was worked by slaves, Roman estates resembled American ante bellum plantations.
Well they might have been from other investments but they normally invested in all sorts of things anyway. I gather it was on the whole mostly ignored.