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Slavery in works based during Classical Antiquity


Myth Weaver
Slavery and racism are among the issues I grappled with when writing the 'Empire' series, and to a lesser extent, the 'Labyrinth' series. Those tales are set in 'Solaria,' a kind of rough mockery of the late Roman Empire, a few years after Solaria utterly crushed their demon ruled (literally) neighbor Traag after decades of brutal fighting.

Solaria is a stratified state: a teeny-tiny Aristocracy/Senatorial class at the top, a slightly Equestrian/Citizen class below that, then a huge number of 'Plebes,' 'Freemen,' and 'Commoners' below them. Beneath these are 'Bondsmen' and 'Serfs,' and at the bottom of the heap, slaves. Actual terms and status vary depending on what part of the empire you are in: in some places commoners can own property and businesses; in others they cannot. Citizens can be quite wealthy or one notch above destitute. There are some avenues of advancement: plebes, commoners, and serfs who complete a twenty-year stint in the army become citizens with a grant of land. Facing financial ruin after the Traag War, the emperor granted ALL veterans land and citizenship in lieu of coin - a move that increased the citizen/equestrian class ten-fold overnight. That is one avenue of advancement - like marriage or paying an obscene amount to an imperial governor.

The denizens of Traag are descended from the people of Agba, an ancient nation across the western ocean. Intelligent, culturally sophisticated, yet noted for their cruelty and tendency to worship demons. Physically, they tend towards corpse pale skin and black hair, making them stand out among Solarians, who have a more 'Mediterranean look' - olive skin, hair in different shades, and so on. Also noteworthy among the Solarian citizenry are the Avar, pinkish skinned folk who tend towards blond, auburn, or red hair, and migrated into the region from the north and west (fleeing Agban demon worshippers).

After the war, the surviving Traagian's were enslaved. The inhabitants of their former client nation, a sort of on-and-off Solarian vassal state, were termed 'plebians' or 'foreigners' - bottom level ranks of 'free peoples' - answerable to Solarian officials. Racism runs high here amongst Solarians - with good reason, at least to an extent.

That is the western empire. In the east we have the 'Saban's' - 'blacks' - and the goblins. The southeastern reaches of the Solarian empire use the 'estate model' - a tiny aristocracy at the top, a vague collection of merchants and artisans and officials below them, and a vast quantity of slaves laboring in fields and mines. Most of those slaves come from Saba, 'sold north' by a corrupt elite. The Solarian aristocracy long ago 'stacked the deck' where Saban's are concerned: their default status is 'slave.' They can be freed but cannot legally advance past 'plebe' to 'citizen' - meaning they don't get to own land or businesses and are subject to draconian legal penalties.

As to the goblins... well, once upon a time they ruled a fair portion of what is now Eastern Solaria. Defeated militarily long ago, they attempted to negotiate a status for themselves higher than 'slaves' - and sort of succeeded. Collectively, they are viewed as 'plebes' - though, well...


Interesting thoughts!

I touched on it in my world, briefly. Then I removed it. I, like yourself, found it perhaps complicated to develop further, nor did I particularly want to write about about the mechanics which would come with it.

The way I saw it was that people read fantasy books to get lost from the world that they're currently in. Reading about similar events in a mystical world I didn't think was necessary for my reader. However, if I were to write about it; I would likely come at it from an angle of manipulation, mind control, cursed people etc. That could be an interesting way to write about it whilst still taking you out of the current world.

Maybe you could explore that perspective!