Hiding in plain sight? The enigma of the linguistic remains of prehistoric slavery

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The present chapter discusses the linguistic evidence for slaves and slavery in Proto-Indo-European, with the Latin lexicon as its point of departure. Slavery, as such, has proven to be quite an elusive field of investigation. Archaeologists in particular have been perplexed to find that, even in historical periods for which literary sources richly document slavery as a vital institution, the archaeological evidence is meager and ambiguous. In a sense, slaves are as invisible to archaeologists as they were anonymous and socially nonexistent in the societies that they helped build and maintain. One of the keys to the archaeologist’s problem is that, being possessions themselves, slaves tend not to own anything, and, given that they are not legitimate members of society, they are not likely to receive elaborate burials – to the extent that they are buried at all. However, there are other scenarios in which the material wealth of slaves was in fact similar to that of lower-class free individuals, rendering it impossible to tell the classes of free and unfree workers apart. For overviews of the complexities of slavery in the field of archaeology, see, for instance, Marshall (2016: 69) and Morris (2018).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Indo-European puzzle revisited : Integrating archaeology, genetics, and linguistics
EditorsEske Willerslev, Guus Kroonen, Kristian Kristiansen
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication date2023
ISBN (Print)9781009261746
ISBN (Electronic) 9781009261753
Publication statusPublished - 2023

ID: 347309196