David M. Lewis
Twentieth-century scholarship, guided in particular by the views of M. I. Finley, saw Greece and Rome as the only true ‘slave societies’ of antiquity: slavery in the Near East was of minor economic significance. Finley also believed that the lack of a concept of ‘freedom’ in the Near East made slavery difficult to distinguish from other shades of ‘unfreedom’. This chapter shows that in the Near East the legal status of slaves and the ability to make clear status distinctions were substantively similar to the Greco-Roman situation. Through a survey of the economic contribution of slave labour to the wealth and position of elites in Israel, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, and Carthage, it is shown that the difference between the ‘classical’ and ‘non-classical’ worlds was not as pronounced as Finley thought, and that at least some of these societies (certainly Carthage) should also be considered ‘slave societies’.