Ancient Mesopotamia Slavery

The institution of slavery was as old as the human race itself. We know that slavery was prevalent in many of the ancient civilisations. Also in Mesopotamia, slavery was an accepted practice. It is from legal codes and other written sources that the information on Mesopotamian slavery can be obtained.

The Sumerian had a cuneiform symbol for slave, suggesting “foreign” which indicates that slaves were not from the Sumerian city states, but outsiders. Even in the Babylonian code of Hammurabi, there are references about slavery.

The origin of the practice of slavery in Mesopotamia may be traced to the development of agriculture. Agriculture apparently required a large amount of labour force. Construction was almost inevitable and this necessitated the need for manual labourers. Slaves were also used as concubines. War was not uncommon. Mostly, war captives or prisoners of war turned as slaves.

The concept was that the non slaves were superior people and the slaves inferior. Therefore, it was necessary that the latter should be controlled by the former. In the Mesopotamian social structure, slaves were at the bottom of the hierarchy. A male slave was called a mountain boy and a female slave, a mountain girl.

Slaves were regarded as a commodity which could be bought and sold. They did not have rights which the normal citizens possessed. They did not receive any wages, instead were offered shelter to live. They worked for the upper classes, the king, the priests and the wealthy.

There are numerous records showing the selling and buying of slaves. They also refer to the amount or the price of a slave.