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date: 01 October 2023

Slavery in Pharaonic and Hellenistic Egyptlocked

Slavery in Pharaonic and Hellenistic Egyptlocked

  • Antonio LoprienoAntonio LoprienoUnibas


Many forms of coercion to labor and restriction of individual freedom existed throughout Egyptian history. Literary texts present figures of slaves, called ḥm (“laborer”) or bȝk (“servant”). The documentary evidence is historically multifaceted: during the Old Kingdom (c.2700–2200 bce), very large segments of the population were drawn to compulsory work, exemptions being reserved for religious service, while foreign prisoners of war were explicitly enslaved (sqr-ᶜnḫ). Together with the emergence of new social elites, the Middle Kingdom (c.2100–1700 bce) displays a more distinct consciousness of the difference between free people at a lower social level (nḏs), servants (ḥm, bȝk), conscripts (ḥsb), and fugitives (tšj), whereas true slavery continued to be limited to foreign prisoners. In the New Kingdom (c.1550–1050 bce), large-scale foreign slavery derived from military campaigns, while a locally owned or rented servitude became economically indispensable. During this period, the adoption of a slave was a common practice, leading to “free” status (nmḥj). During the 1st millennium bce, references to slavery become rare and are superseded by various forms of voluntary servitude caused by economic dearth or religious self-commitment. Slavery in the legal, hereditary sense of the term unfolded during the Hellenistic and Roman Period (332 bce–395 ce) and derived from military campaigns, purchase in the slave market, or the enslavement of debtors.


  • Slavery and Slave Trade

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