Under Feet of Clay
Slavery and the institution surrounding it is a common and foundational feature of the world of Calopius. From freedom-loving Periandropolis to the monarchy of Pittacae and everywhere in between, slaves are kept, sold, exchanged, freed, and created. Slavery has a very complex set of laws surrounding it, reflecting the complicated attitudes Calopenes have toward the subject. No one in Calopene history has ever been truly abolitionist, even the ancient satirist Aristophanes, who famously penned the following exchange in one of his most famous comedies:
Praxagora: I want all to have a share of everything and all property to be in common; there will no longer be either rich or poor; I shall begin by making land, money, everything that is private property, common to all.
Blepyrus: But who will till the soil?
Praxagora: Why, the slaves.
It is commonly known that philosophers in particular struggle with the institution of slavery. Without the slaves to till the land, raise crops, move goods, and serve as scribes, society as it is known now collapses entirely. The Calopene economy is dependent on these sources of free labor.
Laws regarding Slaves and Slavery
Slaves occupy a strange status in the law, as simultaneously people and property. In most respects, they are treated as perpetual children. They are able to make decisions, though most burden is placed on the master for legal repercussions. Masters have the right to punish slaves with beatings and whippings, just as they would punish a child. Slaves acting against their master’s wishes are usually regarded more as animals than people, and are often killed for their insubordination. Slaves have regulated dress they are expected to maintain, and are often branded on the shoulder or bear forehead tattoos marking them as property. Their most distinctive marker is a belt of plain rope, and often a plain silver stud in the right ear.
The sale of slaves is considered necessary but unpleasant by most Calopenes, so is usually conducted in an isolated corner of the central marketplace, or on a dock. The sale of a free person is a crime punishable by death under all Calopene law, though it is difficult to prove that any person once sold is actually freeborn. Magical traces are among the only recourse available to the wrongly enslaved. On the slave markets, fighting age men are usually the most prized, usually by the owners of gladiatorial arenas or training houses or those seeking laborers. After this, young boys or girls in their late teens are preferred, as youthful men can still be trained for specialized tasks like household management, construction, or scribal work, while women starting at age sixteen can be expected to bear children to enrich the number of slaves in the house. It is considered distasteful to sell slaves under the age of nine, though exceptions are made for orphans or the liquidation of an estate. Most slaves will serve only one or two masters in their lifetimes, as slaves are seen as valuable property to be kept whenever possible. In instances of famine or economic hardship, however, slaves are the first to starve.
Slaves and Literacy
Calopenes will often defend slavery by citing the number of slaves who can read and write, a gift granted to them by benevolent masters willing to train the young at personal cost. That said, less than 10% of slaves are literate, with most who can read or write serving as scribes for masters who wish to dictate their thoughts and not stain their hands with ink or tire it by pressing into wax. Slaves who can read and write among household workers are more common, with almost no field workers being literate. However, there have been discovered instances of slaves who are literate passing on their abilities in secret to other slaves, often earning reprisal for their trouble. This can range from a few days of harder tasks to blinding the offending slave. In general, slaves who are literate are more likely to seek a means of freedom, as their options increase dramatically.
Becoming a Slave
There are three ways one can become a slave. First and most simple is to be born to a slave. In most cities, it is your father’s status that determines your place. A free man who sires a child with a slave can choose to acknowledge the child as his, raising them as a freeborn heir, or to deny parentage and give the child over as a slave. In many cases, runaway slaves hope to prove they are actually the child of a free citizen, in hopes of a late-life adoption. Such arrangements are the subject of many comedies. Most slaves in Calopius are born as such, particularly in Pittacae.
For those born free, the most common way to become a slave is poverty. In the absence of a livable wage, a man can sell any members of his household or himself into servitude to a wealthy patron. As a slave, they will be fed, have some legal protections, and generally families are kept together. Sometimes a head of household will sell himself into slavery as a gladiator on a shorter arrangement, usually predicated on their share of winnings in the arena.
The last means by which one may become a slave is by being captured on the battlefield. When cities go to war, whenever possible prisoners are taken to be pressed into servitude. These unwilling slaves are usually given the harshest work, such as mining, breaking ground for new fields, or digging wells. This class of slave has fewer protections under the law, and are assumed hostile at all times. As such, they are worked to exhaustion on a daily basis to prevent them from rising up against their masters, and specially trusted slaves serve as Overseers that watch and manage other slaves. Overseers are given the master’s authority to punish rebellious slaves, and usually only watches one to three slaves at a time. A slave granted the authority of an Overseer is often well-compensated, and is likely to be freed within a few years for their loyal service.
The most common end to slavery is, sadly, death. Shy of this, though, there are two ways a slave can earn the status of a freedman, whose children will be full citizens. Freedmen are made when they purchase themselves with their meager wages, or when they are adopted into a family, usually the owner’s. Because this free-status for children only applies to those children born after the slave is freed, most often a slave is freed when they are elderly citizens, too old to effectively work in the house or field any longer, conveniently also too old to likely sire many, if any children. According to law in all cities but Pittacae, slaves must earn a small wage, usually once copper per week. Should a slave ever have enough legally earned money to repay their master the cost of their own purchase, that slave has freed themselves, without necessary adoption. This mechanism of freedom, while possible, is nearly never exercised, as masters have great control over the wages of their slaves and can ensure they will always come up short.
There are no shortage of stories of slaves trying to trick their way out of their service, or escape to a new place where they can insist the are a freedman. The recurring trope in literature of the lazy but cunning slave reinforces this notion. As a general rule, most slaves desire freedom to some extent; they recognize they lack rights that others have, and most do not believe the philosophers who tell them that they are inherently inferior, born with a certain servile quality that ensures their position. However, most slaves would prefer to earn their freedom legally, a process that almost always takes nearly their whole lives.
The Peculiar Institution of Pittacae
Slavery in Pittacae is abnormally harsh by Calopene standards, at least among the Helots. Serving as an economic slave in Pittacae technically earns you the title of indentured, as slave is reserved solely for the Helots. This massive body of slave laborers is shared among all the Cathedras of the city, and these slave laborers see to massive farms that produce the wheat and grapes of the city. With Freemen of the city not require to grow their own food, Pittacae is able to support a professional soldiery and more craftsmen per free man than any other city. They mock Periandropolis for sending goatherds and plow-pushers to fight a war, but there is a dark side to this freedom for the freemen and nobles. Pittacans have four times in their history put down the starting sparks of a Helot revolt, as slaves organized into ramshackle armies to try to carve out a plot of their own land. Each time the revolt lasted less than two weeks before the slaves were put down brutally by the Pittacans, who know that fear is the greatest tool in maintaining their lifestyle. After each uprising, great shows of public executions of the rebels, their families, their co-conspirators, and even slaves who had no part in it other than expressing sympathy for the rebels were tortured, maimed, and executed. Pittacan nobles rarely see the more brutal side of this themselves, dispatching the dirtier elements of the work to their free client families, and maintaining the best and most loyal slaves as house slaves in their manors.
How Common is Slavery?
Maintaining a slave is expensive, and because landownership is more valuable to most, they would rather sell a slave than their plot of dirt. As such, all slave owners are those who own and maintain property. Subsistence farmers almost never have slaves, unless they inherited one. Instead, they will hire out slaves from richer neighbors to assist with particular tasks as needed. Those who make enough money to sell their crops at market, generally with at least a 100 gp yearly profit are the most likely to purchase and keep a slave. This style of slave ownership is most common in Periandropolis, Biasophoros, and Dikethaleos. More extensive farms require greater concentrations of wealth, as seen with the noble houses of Pittacae or the theocracy of Chilones, whose priests maintain a strict law that slaves will not be bought or sold on the island’s soil, and as such restrict the sales to the piers over the water. The church of Thantadeus is the technical owner of the hundreds of slaves that maintain the apiaries, orchards, vineyards, and fields of the island. Cleobonomos and Solonos tend to land between these two, with Solonos in particular having a thriving market for economic slaves whose contracts can be bought and sold to new masters relatively frequently. Each time the contract sells for more, the freedom-cost of the slave goes down in proportion, as the slave has proven greater value than the initial purchase, and great value is desired in citizens. Cleobonomos most often sees wealthy families sponsoring families of slaves to maintain small farm estates outside the bustling city, with these families maintaining, and using the houses for themselves, unless the masters come calling. Most merchants who can afford to keep a country home in this way, and having such a cottage to retire to or bring a business partner to share wine is a mark of status. Many Cleobonomians would rather be in deep economic debt than give up their estate, as in this city more than most, appearances are everything.
Household Slave (Common) – 50 gp
Hard Labor Slave (Common) – 100 gp
Slave with Special Training (most often as a scribe) – 150 gp
Gladiator Slave – 250 gp, plus cost of gear