There were some hairsplitting decisions in slavery such as between the general flow of human cargo and sub-categories such as the commercial transactions regarding eunuchs for example. But distinctions have to be drawn. The ancient world was in many respects a brutal one by modern standards. The gladiatorial shows were surely among the most repellant of its habits- as the Greeks would have agreed until they, too, were finally corrupted by the Romans- yet these is abundant evidence that gladiators were proud of their successes and that not a few free men voluntarily joined their ranks.
This, it can reasonably be argued, merely proves how deep the brutalization went. But what about the Paphlagonian names Atotas in the Athenian silver mines, who claimed descent from one of the Trojan heroes and whose tomb inscription included the boast, ” No one could match me in skill”? The skill and artistry of slaves was to be seen everywhere, for they were not used only as crude labor in fields but were employed in the potteries and textile mills, on temples and other public buildings, to perform the most delicate work. The psychology of the slave in the ancient world was obviously more complicated than mere sullen resentment, at least under “normal” conditions.
Even the slave trade had its shadings, so that it can serve as a barometer of the state of the society itself. It is no coincidence that the last century of the Roman Republic, a period in which moral and social values broke down badly, was the period of the most reckless slave hunting and of the great slave revolts. Then came the relatively quiet centuries of the early Roman Empire, followed by the long period in which ancient society itself finally dissolved.
One incident is symptomatic: when the Goths achieved a massive breakthrough into Thrace in A.D. 376, the Roman armies were badly handicapped because many of heir officers were more interested in the profits of slaving than in resisting the barbarians. But by then slavery itself was a declining institution, not because a higher morality was finally in the ascendant, but because serfdom, a different kind of unfreedom, was replacing it.
Slavery did not altogether disappear, of corse. The word “slave” itself is a meieval term that entered the languages of Europe when the Slavs became a main source of chattels, many of them sold to the Moslems across the Meditterranean. And farther ahead in the future lay the vast traffic in African slaves. Yet throughout these ups and downs in the history of the institution, the slave trader seems never to have changed significantly, either in his methods or in his ill repute in polite society.
Seneca:Associate with your slave on kindly, even on affable, terms; let him talk with you, plan with you, live with you. I know that at this point all the exquisites will cry out against me in a body; they will say: “There is nothing more debasing, more disgraceful, than this.” But these are the very persons whom I sometimes surprise kissing the hands of other men’s slaves. Do you not see even this, how our ancestors removed from masters everything invidious, and from slaves everything insulting? They called the master “father of the household,” and the slaves “members of the household,” a custom which still holds in the mane. They established a holiday on which masters and slaves should eat together, – not as the only day for this custom, but as obligatory on that day in any case. They allowed the slaves to attain honours in the household and to pronounce judgment; they held that a household was a miniature commonwealth.