Appropriations of Spartan Helotage in British Anti‐Slavery Debates of the 1790s

Stephen Hodkinson and Edith Hall

in Ancient Slavery and Abolition

Published in print July 2011 | ISBN: 9780199574674
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728723 | DOI:

Series: Classical Presences

Appropriations of Spartan Helotage in British Anti‐Slavery Debates of the 1790s

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Spartan helotage was important in framing the early British parliamentary motions, between 1791 and 1796 for abolition of the slave trade. Helotage, particularly illustrated from the evidence of Plutarch's Lycurgus, consistently appears as the primary ancient example of the inhumanity of servitude, cited both by some of those who wanted to argue for the legitimacy of their own (allegedly more lenient) slave-holding practices and by abolitionsts. The discussion covers the non-parliamentary sources in which these ideas were promulgated and developed—journalism, sermons, school text-books -- and shows how the comparison of helotage and West Indian slavery was consistently intertwined with the comparison of helots and the Irish peasantry. The changes in approaches to the Spartan system over a relatively short space of time between the English Commonwealth and the early 19th century illustrate the complexity of the slavery arguments in the process of their legislative evolution.

Keywords: Sparta; Helot; Parliament; Britian; West India; Ireland; slavery; peasant

Chapter.  13447 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Classical History

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