The Price of Slaves in Ancient Greece

Slavery was pretty normal in Ancient Greece and almost nobody questioned the institution of slavery. But did that mean that slaves were cheap and everybody could afford slaves in ancient Greece?

The average slave in ancient Greece did cost approximately 175 drachmas. Just for comparison, a family could survive on 175 drachmas for about one year. So in modern-day currency, a slave in ancient Greece did cost about as much as a new mid-size car costs today.

Ok, let`s take a closer look at the price of slaves and also look at the ancient Greek currency system and the prices for some commodity goods to get a better idea of the value of 175 drachmas.

The Coins of Ancient Greece – obol, drachma, mina & talent

Since ancient Greece was not one state but consisted of more than 1,000 independent city-states the value of money and the measurements varied. So for the sake of simplicity, I decided to only present the currency and the coinage of Athens at the time of the Persian Wars.

The Coins of Ancient Greece – obol, drachma, mina & talent

6 obols1 drachma
100 drachmas1 mina
60 minae1 Athenian talent (56,88 lbs of silver)
The Coins of Ancient Greece – obol, drachma, mina & talent

So 6 obols were the equivalent of 1 drachma. And 100 drachma was the equivalent of 1 mina while 60 minae were the equivalent of 1 talent (56,88 lbs / 25,8 kg of silver).

Just for comparison:

In the 5th century BC, after the Greco-Persian Wars were over, Athens earned 400 talents (22822,25 lbs / 10,352 kg of silver) from the Delian League.

The Delian League was an alliance of Greek city-states around the Aegean Sea that stood under the leadership of Athens and was originally founded to continue the fight against the Persians after the end of the Persian invasion of Greece in 479 BC. But over time the Delian League turned into an Athenian tool for expanding the power of Athens and the members had to pay more and more tributes to Athens. The mentioned 400 talents (22822,25 lbs of silver) were the annual tribute to Athens.

Ok, so these numbers are certainly impressive. But let`s look at the price of some commodity goods and services in Ancient Greece to get a better idea of how expensive slaves were in ancient Greece.

Prices & Salaries in Ancient Greece

In the following, I will list a couple of prices for daily goods and services in Ancient Greece. Please note that prices, just like today, could fluctuate. So the listed prices are useful to give some orientation, but please don`t see them as valid for all of Greece throughout all of Antiquity.

Prices and Salaries in Ancient Greece in the 5th Century BC

1 loaf of bread1 obol
Daily pay of an unskilled worker3 obols
The standard rate for a prostitute3 obols
Daily pay of a Hoplite1 drachma
Daily pay of a skilled worker2 drachmas
Daily pay of a sculptorUp to 6 drachmas
Daily pay of a doctorUp to 6 drachmas
1 pair of normal shoes8 drachmas
1 average slave175 drachmas
1 average house1,000 drachmas
Prices and Salaries in Ancient Greece in the 5th Century BC

Now it might come as a surprise to you that a Hoplite earned less than a skilled worker. But remember, participating in war was the duty of every citizen of a Greek city-state. So the Hoplites weren`t professional soldiers but basically militiamen who had to provide their own armament and provisions. The 1 drachma a Hoplite was paid per day was less of a payment and more like a state subsidy to the costs of going to war!

So a house in Athens in the year 500 BC did cost approximately 1000 drachmas while a loaf of bread did only cost 1 obol. An unskilled worker could earn 3 obols per day, while a doctor in Athens in the 5th century BC could earn up to 6 drachmas (36 obols) per day.

But what did that mean for the availability of slaves? Could everybody in ancient Greece afford a slave?

How Expensive Were Slaves in Ancient Greece?

Slaves were certainly not cheap when we consider that one slave did cost approximately 175 drachmas. That was about the same amount of money that an ancient Greek family needed to survive for one year! Today that would probably be the equivalent of a brand-new mid-size car.

So definitely not everybody in ancient Greece could afford slaves since the average slave did cost as much as one family needed to survive for one year (approximately 175 drachmas)

Yet the price of slaves fluctuated strongly. Ancient Greek warfare often meant the enslavement of the population of defeated cities so wars could decrease the price of slaves quite drastically.

The same can also be said for Roman times. But that is a story for another time. Here you can find out more about the price of slaves in ancient Rome as well as a list of the prices of daily goods and services in ancient Rome.

Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.

Until next time

Yours truly

Luke Reitzer


Herodotus: The Histories.*

Leonhard Schumacher: Sklaverei in der Antike: Alltag und Schicksal der Unfreien.*

Hans Volkmann: Die Massenversklavungen der Einwohner eroberter Städte in der hellenistisch-römischen Zeit.


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