The Comparative Economics of Slavery in the Greco-Roman World

Posted: 26 Feb 2008


A comparative perspective improves our understanding of the critical determinants of the large-scale use of slave labor in different sectors of historical economies, including classical Greece and the Italian heartland of the Roman empire. This paper argues that the success of chattel slavery was a function of the specific configuration of several critical variables: the character of certain kinds of economic activity, the incentive system, the normative value system of a society, and the nature of commitments required of the free population. High real wages and low slave prices precipitated the expansion of slavery in classical Greece and Republican Rome, while later periods of Roman history may have witnessed either a high-equilibrium level of slavery or its gradual erosion in the context of lower wages and higher prices.

Keywords: Greece, Rome, Comparative History, Slavery

JEL Classification: J40, J50, N30, N33, N50

Suggested Citation

Scheidel, Walter, The Comparative Economics of Slavery in the Greco-Roman World. Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics Paper No. 110504, Available at SSRN:

Walter Scheidel (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305-2145
United States

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