Dr David Lewis (University of Edinburgh), “A lost cargo of slaves from the fourth century BC”
Existing studies of the ancient Greek slave trade lack detailed evidence for a key link in the supply chain. The geographical origins of non-Greek slaves are well known, as are the various destinations to which they were trafficked; as yet, however, little is known about their transport by sea. This talk will argue that a key testimonium for this phase of the trade has been lying unnoticed under historians’ noses: Demosthenes 34.10, a passage that describes the shipwreck and drowning of numerous persons. These unfortunates have long been considered free persons because one of our manuscripts (followed, but for no good reason, by many modern textual editions) describes them as ‘free bodies’ (somata eleuthera). However, most manuscripts, including the most authoritative manuscript, S (cod. Parisinus 2934, 10th c AD), simply read somata, ‘bodies’, a word that can mean ‘slaves’ in ancient Greek. Numerous editors have also rejected the number (‘three hundred’) of these individuals in S, emending it to ‘thirty’, due to disbelief that an ancient merchantman could carry so many souls aboard. In this talk I will present a case that the readings in S should stand, and that this passage illustrates an episode where the shipment of a large number slaves went disastrously wrong. This grim episode, I argue, lost from modern history books due to well-meaning but unwarranted emendation, ought to be restored to the record as a particularly eye-opening example of the human cost of the ancient slave trade.
This virtual BSA Scotland Seminar, co-hosted by the British School at Athens and the University of Edinburgh, was recorded 5 May 2021.