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This is a simplified view of the history of ancient civilizations, instilled by Marxism and Soviet historiography.�
A deeper study of ancient civilizations indicates that slaves have always made up a tiny percentage of society, especially in the countries of the ancient East. But even in classical Rome, where slaves were relatively plentiful, they did not constitute the majority of the population. If only because the slaves did not pay taxes and did not serve in the army. And the power of the Roman Empire was based on taxpayers and soldiers, but not on servants and laborers, which mainly included slaves.�
If we take such ancient Eastern powers as Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, Babylon, ancient Persia of the Achaemenid or Parthian kings, then the percentage of the slave population there was much lower than in the Arab caliphate, which no one considers to be slave-owning formations.
As has been said in many answers, the existence of slaves does not necessarily mean that states were slaveholding in the sense that people owned by other people made a major contribution to the economy. In fact, many ideas about the ancient world, which, in particular, were guided by the Marxists when creating the “five-member” – no more than a historical construct, a transfer of the current situation to antiquity. In reality, it is more likely that Early Modern and nineteenth-century societies are truly slaveholding.
Let's take a typical example associated with Rome: a crab… sorry, galley slave. In whose hands? That's right, the Venetian ones. In Venice, the slave trade lasted until the end of the XVIII century, and slaves rowed on galleys. Why is that? First, Serenissima was a good place to build galleys – by the conveyor method, dozens and sometimes hundreds of them a year. Second, Serenissima wasn't very crowded. So that was the only option. By the way, it was the ability to build galleys well that became one of the most important reasons for the decline of Venice – they did not want to, and, due to the shallow water of the lagoon, they could not really switch to building ships that met the spirit of the time.
What about Greece and Rome? And there, rowing was almost always a well-paid profession. Especially on warships, where the outcome of the battle depended on the professionalism and dedication of all the crew members. In Sparta, for example, during the Peloponnesian War, Helots first got the opportunity to become rowers, and for them it was a social elevator, if not equalizing, then very close to the status of a full-fledged Spartan.
In historical novels about Rome, we constantly read that slaves were brought to Rome from everywhere, because of which the Romans became lazy and abandoned the craft, and in general began to consider physical labor shameful. According to modern estimates, slaves actually made up up to a quarter of the population of the Apennine Peninsula. But only his. Yes, there were places in the empire where slave labor was used intensively – for example, in the mines. But in general, the number of slaves in the provinces did not exceed a few percent.(UPD: on large plantations in Asia Minor, the number of slaves is estimated at 20% maximum) Yes, the Roman aristocracy disdained work, which they wrote about, which has come down to us in written sources. But even in the Eternal City itself, free people continued to pursue all possible professions. Moreover, on their funerary monuments, the citizens of Rome liked to emphasize their professional affiliation-whether they were a baker, miller or potter. There were professional associations, such as workshops.
At the same time, in the same Egypt, the breadbasket of the empire, the peasants remained free – although, it would seem, the plantations were practically there, and there would be slaves to keep.
Moreover, before the reforms of Caracalla in the early third century, when all the free inhabitants of the empire received Roman citizenship (as a result of which they had to pay more taxes), a freedman in principle had more rights than just a free man, plus he could enlist the patronage of a former master. For enterprising people, selling themselves into slavery could be the beginning of a career.
Which communities were really based on slave labor? In principle, we can name one epoch-the XVII-XIX centuries-and two regions. First, there are plantations in the Americas. Black slaves accounted for up to a quarter of the population in the southern United States, and even more in the Caribbean. There it was economically-not morally! – justified. Tobacco, coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane are tropical plants. Harnessing the Indians was difficult – they quickly died out from diseases introduced by Europeans. Europeans, in turn, died from the tropical ones. Black slaves endured both of them at some cost. And the price was good – until the beginning of the XIX century, when Britain, under the influence of humanistic sentiments and to the detriment of even its own economic interests, put an end to the transportation of slaves across the Atlantic. At the same time, slaves have greatly increased in price, and their use has been rationalized. Young and healthy people began to receive medical care, and one of the first mentions of the concept of “man-hour” appears in the southern states.
The second region is Russia. And this is an example of an extremely slave-owning society, on a scale that history simply did not know. Four – fifths of the population are slaves.
“Wait! “they'll tell me. “Serfs!” Guys, the European serf had not only duties, but also rights. They couldn't just run him off the ground – in the case of English enclosures, a man was technically free, even if only to die a tramp. They couldn't sell it. They could not just deprive the property – he owned it (formally, with the same fencing, a person could not pay a high rent). They could not force them to marry / marry according to the lord's choice – and thus prevent them from getting a higher status or going to another seigneur (although, of course, they tried – one German peasant woman was chained up by her seigneur-bishop even for this, but she still married according to her choice). A person could go to the city, get the rights of a citizen, and no longer be a serf. By the end of the eighteenth century, serfdom in Europe had virtually disappeared on its own, and its abolition with the French revolution and von Stein's reforms in Prussia was more likely to emphasize the status quo. Well, I won't tell you about Russia, everyone went to school. The economic benefits of slavery in Russia have always been questionable, but that is “historically” the case.
So the idea that the slave – owning system is a necessary stage in the development of social relations between the primitive and the feudal is a construct created by Marxists on the basis of an understanding of history at the end of the century before last, which by and large has long been refuted by historical science.
P.S. In principle, there is a third region – the Arab world. The rate at which slaves were brought from black Africa was generally lower than that of European countries, but the process lasted much longer, so historians estimate that the total number of slaves brought to North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula exceeds the number brought to America many times over. In Morocco, a significant part of the population continues to be slaves to this day, despite the fact that slavery is formally prohibited. It should be noted that the capture of black slaves was perceived as a special favor to them. After all, in this way, the unfortunate savages had a great opportunity to comprehend and accept Islam, even without an Internet chat.
Because it became profitable to have slaves: people learned to produce more than they consumed themselves. Up to this point, captured enemies were usually simply killed or sacrificed. And only women of childbearing age, used as wives or concubines, were left alive. The immorality of slavery was only considered by society as a whole after the use of wage labor became more profitable.�
By the way, the existence of the institution of slavery does not mean that society is based on it. For example, in Ancient Egypt, slaves were rather a marginal phenomenon. The pyramids were built mainly not by slaves, but by the Egyptians themselves – artisans and peasants. In the case of the peasants, labor was to some extent forced, but they were not slaves. And the peasants were engaged in agriculture for their own sake.
Because survival at the expense of someone else's labor is also survival. The human task at all times is survival. Only the methods change. In the future, the current labor system may change, and the old system will be perceived as one of the stages of slave ownership, which it is in fact, because when we sign an employment contract, the employer becomes the owner of the employee for the period of working hours.