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Greek History - the status of the Helots in Sparta

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Introduction

´╗┐Chris Ford November 9, 2012 HIST 225 Recitation According to Ancient Greece, Sparta looked for solutions to its problem of needing more land to feed a growing population through conquest of its neighbors. Seizing control of nearby Laconia and the fertile plains of Messenia enabled them to accomplish just that. Sparta reduced the inhabitants of these lands to the status of helots, ?hereditary subjects of the Spartan rule? (Pomeroy 159). There were, however, significant differences between helots and the typical slaves in ancient Greece, and despite the eventual liberation of the helots, Greek slavery remained a stable institution. The helots were an enslaved group that formed the main population of Laconia and Messenia, areas under the vice grip of Sparta (Pomeroy 159). They were essentially assigned to Spartan citizens to carry out domestic work as well as labor in agriculture; effectively they economically supported the Spartan citizenry. They were required to hand over a predetermined portion of their harvest; according to a passage from Plutarch?s work in Ancient Greece, it was seventy units of produce for men, twelve for women, ...read more.

Middle

After having paid their due crop tribute to the Spartans, the helots could often make a decent living, as the lands of Laconia and Messenia were very fertile for farming (Pomeroy 161). Thucydides wrote that some helots even had their own boats (Th. 4 26.6). Helots lived in family units, and because they were not susceptible like the other slaves in Greece to having their family units dispersed through sale/trade, they could reproduce themselves (Pomeroy 162). Nowhere else in Greece was the labor of the slaves more essential to the survival of the state than in Laconia and Messenia (Pomeroy 173). Since Spartan men were off learning how to be warriors and Spartan women were busy raising strong Spartan boys, the use of slave labor was crucial in these areas because unlike the other parts of Greece with slaves, agriculture remained the sole basis of the citizens? economy in Sparta (Pomeroy 173). Perhaps the most important aspect of the enslavement of the helots, and certainly the most paramount distinction between them and their counterparts elsewhere in Greece, is the fact that their rulers, the Spartans, lived in perpetual insecurity with regards to their sheer number of helots. ...read more.

Conclusion

For they ordained that each one of them be required to wear a dogskin cap and to wrap himself in leather and to receive a stipulated number of blows every year apart from any wrongdoing so that they would never forget that they were slaves? (Fornara 13a). Though the helots in Messenia were liberated by Epaminondas, they did not inspire slave rebellion or uprising elsewhere in Greece, and the institution of Greek slavery remained stable. The reasoning for this probably rests in the fact that helots still had an identity, defined themselves as a repressed class, and always hoped to liberate themselves, whereas many other Greek slaves would not have enjoyed such a unity in common denominator, language, cause, etc. Helots had a much greater hatred for their masters than other slaves did; also, they were much greater in number so a revolt would have had a much greater chance of working than if it had been done by other Greek slaves who were more fragmented and disjointed. In addition, other Greek slaves may not have been as disenfranchised as the helots who were basically enslaved on their own homeland and in their own homes. ...read more.

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