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Hello and welcome to the History of India podcast. This is Series five, Episode A by the whim of the master part. They say that you can tell a lot about someone from how they treat those beneath them. And that that was true of Vertica, Vertica as a householder who lived in north India in the ancient great city of Shrivastav, and everyone liked her.
She was kind and sweet and she was ever so generous.
And you could tell that she was really genuinely sweet all the way down to the bottom of her soul because of how she treated Kali, her house slave.
Can you really be sure? I mean, maybe Vereker seemed nice because you just led an easy life.
She was rich enough to own a slave and call her only slave, did good work.
She was diligent in her slaving. One day, Carly decided to test her mistress, that morning she slept in late, she walked into the main part of the house. Why did you get up light? Her mistress asked. What happened? Nothing. Carly responded curtly. Her mistress frowned the next morning, Carly got up late again, again her mistress asked us what happened again. Carly responded Nothing. This time, her mistress wasn't silent. She cast her slave, but clearly went about the rest of her day with her usual diligence and everything seemed fine.
The third morning, Carly got up late again, again, her mistress asked her what happened again, Carly responded Nothing. Her mistress went to the door, she picked up the metal ball that slides across to keep it shut, she challenged it in her hands and raised it and started attacking Kadee, thrashing her over the head until his head was cracked and blood streamed out, clearly staggered out onto the street. And soon the story was out all across the neighborhood, sweet little Veronica.
She wasn't so sweet after all. She beat her slaves senseless just for waking up late. In this episode, we're going to get to know some slaves a bit better. I wanted to do an episode on slavery for quite a long time now.
I love working out how people lived, getting as close to them as you can. And that includes slaves. They're everywhere in the literature. They loom at the back of the law books. They hover at the fringes of stories. Once in a while. They're even the star of the story. Usually in most of history. You don't really know much about people at the bottom of society, but that's not the case with slaves. Maybe because they usually serve the rich in society.
They're quite close to the people who are who are writing records.
We know quite a lot about them. But I put off this episode on Slaves for quite a long time, mostly because of the usual combination of laziness and cowardice on my part, but there's there's a little bit more to it. Ancient Indian slavery really upset some people.
I chatted to my students and most of them just knew that they were slaves in ancient India. But sometimes people don't really like to hear that. Maybe they were told that there was no slave in ancient India. Maybe Nagus the was quoted at the magazines was this ancient Greek ambassador who actually says that there were no slaves in ancient India.
And for some people, then, the idea that there is slaves in ancient India can come across as a sort of attack on one of the things that made ancient India great. But sadly, it's not really in line with the truth. Slavery appears pretty much everywhere in the ancient world, and India is no exception. You probably shouldn't spend too long in any part of ancient or early medieval India before you bumped into a slave. I mean, it wasn't like ancient Greece or Rome where slaves were the main drivers of the economy.
Slaves didn't form. Most of the workforce are probably at any point in the history of India that we've covered so far. But there are still plenty of slaves around. And that's why they pop up in the literature, in the law books, in the biographies and the travel accounts, in the stories, if you can even read them in the Gaston's. Yet that ambassador who said there were no slaves, he also says the Indian Kings by girls from their families and other Greek, Roman, Chinese, Korean authors, they know all about Indian slaves to.
I sure the word slave wasn't used by ancient or early medieval Indians is an English word after all.
Normally they use the word Dassa, although they might use the word Chettiar or some other word. And those words, they don't exactly mean the same thing. Is the English word slave. More on that later.
But even if the idea of slave wasn't exactly what ancient Indians had in their heads, there were plenty of people back then who fit slap bang in the middle of what we would call slaves. So I'm going to follow standard practice amongst many historians of courting these guys slaves and then chatting a bit at the end about the difference between our idea of slave and the ancient idea of DUSA.
But, you know, I get it, these stories about slaves, they're they're grim. Maybe being a slave was a bit less bad in India than it was in some other places.
Maybe your average slave in India lived a life a bit better than your average slave in Greece. But these are still lies full of uncertainty, violence, drudgery and shame. If I had to be a slave anywhere, I choose to be a slave in ancient India, but I'd really, really rather not be a slave at all. If you aren't up for a bunch of stories about grim and difficult lives, then I understand that skip this episode and the next one to see you on the other side.
For me, though, these stories are fascinating. They're rare glimpses into lives that are almost hidden from view.
And actually they're not all unrelentingly bleak.
These glimpses, I promise, just occasionally the little guy ends up on top. So here's the plan, we're going to cover the period from the beginning of written history in India right up to the 10th century where the fifth season of this podcast finishes. The slavery changes a fair amount in the century after that, but will do an episode on that in a later series. We're going to cover a lot. Slaves are a big enough part of society that we've got a lot of sources about them.
And there's actually been a fair amount of stuff written about slavery by modern historians, too.
In fact, there's so much going on, so many stories, so many details that I couldn't fit it into one episode without having to cut too much off. So we're going to have two episodes. You've got the first one, this one, and we'll be hearing about how it all starts, how you become a slave in ancient India.
And we'll get to know about the lives of some of the slaves.
We'll also hear a bit about how might how you might escape from slavery, either by legitimate means or by running away.
So the whole kind of life story, the arc of being a slave. In the second episode next week, we'll delve down to some of the side alleys that this episode rushes past, we'll look at the perils of being a woman slave who look at slaves in Buddhist monasteries and we'll look at the slave trade. All right, so if I haven't managed to dissuade you yet, let's get stuck in.
So you're a slave in ancient India. How did this happen, how on earth did you end up this way? Well, maybe you were born to it if your mother was a slave, then so were you.
Probably at least if you were a woman, other people go around swearing at one another supporter. They say child of a slave girl who well, maybe for you, that famous curse was just the honest truth.
And don't go saying that you'll be OK, because your daddy is a free man, a big man somewhere, it doesn't really matter who your father was. Many a slave has a father who's free, maybe even a father in power, a treasurer, a minister, a king, someone who took advantage of a slave woman often enough.
There's a chance that there was some genuine love between your parents. There's a word for a lover of a slave woman, and we know that one of the famous authors had a slave wife, there's even a law somewhere saying that you can't marry a woman you've bought, which seems to imply that some people were treating their slave women like their wife. There's no point writing down a rule if no one's breaking it. So your parents might have loved one another.
But whoever your father was, you can't really expect to be treated as a proper child, as a a proper member of the family. Your mother was a slave, so you're a slave. You won't even be allowed to eat at the family table. Don't believe me. Well, let me tell you the story of the downfall of the Shakya clan. The shockers were powerful republic nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. Yeah, you remember right? That was where Buddha was from.
And one day the king of Kassala wanted a marriage alliance with the Sharky's, but they were in a bit of a bind that they didn't want to give away any of their proper daughters, but they had to give him something. He was a powerful king and he was living quite near by. They didn't want to upset him by refusing him.
One of the noble shark has had a solution. He had a daughter from a slave woman and the daughter was still in the house. Her name was Vosa Bachtiar. So he summoned her and asked her to dress up nicely, but the Kings ambassadors were wise to this trick.
They were under instructions to take back only a woman who is seen eating with her father to make sure that she really was a daughter, a noble born one. Somehow the has got wind of this, the slave daughter was dressed up and taken to the table, the shark here, noble man, her father was already there. He'd already dipped his hand into the food to start eating. But then almost as if it were planned, someone interrupted. They came with an urgent message.
The noble man stopped eating just as his daughter sat down and started.
He poured all of his attention into reading the message, which was pretty long. And if you watch closely, you might notice that. He had stopped eating altogether. Actually, although they were sitting side by side and she was eating, he never ate with her, his slave, his daughter. That would have been unthinkable. But the Kings ambassadors didn't watch carefully, and the slave, the daughter was taken away and married to the king of Kassala, she became the king's beloved.
It seems to have been a pretty good marriage. And she gave birth to a son, a prince.
Years later, the slave girls print this princely sum returned to the land of his mother. But he didn't receive a princely welcome. At home, he raised and treated as royalty, but here, here they knew who he was, they knew who his mother was a slave, the daughter of a slave, they refused to even greet him.
And as he left, one of the Shakya slaves herself quite low down wash the stall he had been sitting on and cursed him, a son of a slave girl. But she was overheard and and the secret came out. The story ends badly, I'm afraid, for the Sharky's, at least the prince said that if they washed his seat with milk, he would wash the seat with their blood. And he was as good as his word when he came to the throne.
He took his army and he destroyed the Shakya people. Or so the story goes. In one respect, that story is unusual, but only because the slaves and now on top, there are other stories where slaves managed to start a new life in disguise, where their former life is uncovered, their shame, they're demoted. They don't become rulers. They don't get their own back. But in other respects, the story is just entirely normal. The treatment meted out to the slave girl is exactly what you can expect if your mother is a slave.
Perhaps there's some extra natural affection for you on the part of your father, but you're not part of the family, not in the same way that a real daughter or son is.
You can leave. You can become a queen. You can give birth to a prince, but really, you're still a slave. Actually, during the period of the Marine empire that that changed for a bit in the disaster that the ancient manual of statecraft, there's a chapter with rules for slaves.
And there it says that if your mother is a slave and your father is her master, then you're free and so is your mother. And even better, you can stay at the house, your father, and and be free. And so will your uncle and all the rest of your family.
Pretty much, though, only if you're a man. Daughters of slave women are still slaves, it seems. In any case, it's not clear that this rule was followed for long practice for most of ancient Indian history, it seems that the children of slaves were slaves, especially if they were women.
They were sold on or kept in the house until their master died and then they were inherited by their masters, legitimate children.
So maybe you became a slave because you were born to it, but there were other ways that you might have become a slave, your parents could have sold you into slavery. That happens quite a lot in the stories. Usually it's because they have some debt they can't pay or because they're starving to death or something like that.
Now, if you're horrified by the idea that your parents might sell you into slavery, well, the ancient Indians were horrified to. There's this story in just occurs, those ancient Buddhist folktales where the Buddha in one of his former lives gives his son and daughter away into slavery. Their new master was a pretty mean guy with a pretty mean wife, and he would beat them.
And by the way, it's not just the kids who are given away into slavery. It's the wife, too. And that seems to have struck people as pretty crazy even back then. In one of the ancient Buddhist texts, there's this dialogue and and the king is asking a monk about it. He asks, well, in this story, did the wife and children, did they consent to being given away as slaves? No.
Well, then how could it have been a good thing to do? You just not allowed to give away people. You're not allowed to give away men and women.
But the monk responded that actually you can give away a man, after all, someone sells themselves into slavery when they need to pay their debts.
And anyway, a gift is OK, as long as you give it to someone who's worthy of it. Doesn't matter what the gift is. Presumably, the slave thought that there's this master who beat these children was worthy of being their master. And anyway, said the monk, the Buddha Sutta knew that the master would die soon.
I can't help but feel that some of these justifications would ring a little bit thin, three different justifications just feels worse than one.
But in any case, the point is this giving your family away into slavery seemed to people, even at the time, as a terrible thing to do. And within a century or two, the law books start to agree during the Morrigan empire, the law book said that Arian's don't sell their children into slavery. And that's the sort of thing that that foreigners that barbarians do. If an area does it, then the seller and the buyer should both be punished.
Unless, of course, your father really had to sell you to save the rest of the family and then he was obliged to buy you back when he could. So you could have been sold, you could have been born to it, but there are still other ways that you could become a slave. You could have been captured in war, for example. The first slaves in the union records seem to have been war captives, the ancient Indian word for slave is dusa roughly right.
And there are lots of theories from ancient times onwards about where the word comes from. According to one theory, which is pretty old, dusa comes from the word to finish because the slaves were always finishing up the work.
Most likely, though, is the idea that Dusa was the name of a tribe, a group living in the hills of north west India. There were two groups up there. There was a people called the Dusa people, and there was another group called the Dustier People. And the second group, the dustier, they were destroyed. But the dusa people seem to have become slaves, at least their womenfolk did.
Soon, though, the people themselves were forgotten and the idea that Dusa had any particular ethnic identity slipped away and the word simply came to mean the position in society, the being owned by someone else.
There's one more major route into slavery, maybe you became a slave, not from war or from your parents giving you up or from being born to it, maybe you gave yourself up to slavery, made yourself a slave. Perhaps it was a famine and you were a slave of the stomach. Perhaps you're in debt, you gave yourself into slavery to repay it.
Sometimes whole families of poor people gave themselves up to be slaves of the rich so they could live in a rich house and just survive.
Reasonably early on, this became a fairly separate form of slavery. Some of these kinds of slaves were called mortgage slaves, not entirely sold out, this form of slavery was usually more temporary. Depending on what kind of subclass you fell into, sometimes you just be allowed to leave the slavery when you were able to support your family again or you're allowed to leave. Once you'd repaid your debt, if you'd made yourself a slave to get food during famine, then it wasn't just enough to give like for like you couldn't give back the same amount of food you'd eaten.
You'd have to pay a bit more to cause extra food in the time of famine was extra valuable after all. But you could still get out of it.
And if you are one of these data slaves, well, the work that you would do would be different to maybe because you'd have to one day rejoin the community. Your master couldn't ask you to do the usual dirty slave work, but just in case you thought that this was going to be a form of slavery, which left you a bit of respect, some of the later ancient law books say that one who gives himself up into slavery is the worst of them all.
You can never be freed. Those are the main ways that you might have become a slave, but there are other ways to the ancient law books have lists of them, lots of ancient Indian texts, love lists.
So that's no surprise. The early lists of slaves start off pretty simple. Slaves might be born to a slave woman or made a slave by war or purchased later lists. Other types of slaves were added slaves who had accepted themselves to be a slave by the period of the Gupta empire.
Early centuries A.D., there were seven types of slave with inherited slaves and those enslaved as punishment being added. A few centuries later, there were 14 types of slave listed in the law book, and some of them are getting a little bit nesh being made a slave by the king because you gave up on being an aesthetic that actually didn't happen that much, it seems, being gambled into slavery.
This actually does seem to have happened, but probably it's in this list because it's a reference to the epic Mahabharata, where one of the central stories concerns whether someone has been gambled into slavery or not.
Actually, I just said that these are lists of how you can become a slave, but thinking about it, that that's not quite right. They aren't about how you become a slave, they talk about slaves by inheritance, slaves buy gifts, stuff like that. But you don't become a slave by being inherited. You don't become a slave by being gifted. Now, these aren't lists of how you might become a slave at all. These are lists of how you might come to own a slave.
These are manuals not for slaves, but for slave owners, which is natural enough, I suppose. I mean, the master needs the law books. A slave doesn't have that much use for them.
So you are a slave in ancient or early medieval India. What's life going to be like for you in particular, what work will you be doing? Probably the best case scenario is that you'll be a soldier, a slave. These guys seem to get the most respect. Like we said, ancient in are chock full of lists and slaves almost always get listed alongside objects and animals.
If there are any cattle, gold, slaves, fields and houses are the wealth of the household and cattle and slaves are the movable wealth, stuff like that.
But in one list, military slaves get listed not with the objects, but with the other people next to cooks and curry makers and professional wrestlers, they even get listed well before the free laborers. This is a is an upgrade from the normal, and maybe because these military slaves were powerful, they had a secure income, though actually they're still after the freeborn warrior. So it wasn't like just like being a normal warrior. You were still a slave. And anyway, not any old slave gets to become a soldier, a slave, you'll have to be a strong man, of course, and you'll also have to be born into the house.
You can trust slaves that you had purchased to be loyal, you had to have someone who is raised in your own household, your master wouldn't want to give you a weapon until he's entirely sure that you're on his side. Anyway, more likely than being a soldier slave, you're going to be working in the fields, most of the slaves working in the field seem to have been men, though women slaves work there to be plowing. You'll be reaping, you'll be thrashing, you'll be bringing in grass.
In modern times, slaves will be working alongside laborers and prisoners, sewing seeds into freshly plowed soil.
Are the slaves worked in industries, in liquor making or or weaving textiles or working in workshops?
And if you are good at your job, you might even rise to become an overseer of other slaves. You'd basically be doing the same sorts of work as free laborers did, in fact, in some of the literature's, slaves and laborers almost always appear in the same phrase, go and make sure the slaves and laborers are getting on with it.
Go in and make sure the slaves and laborers are fed, that sort of thing.
There were still a major difference between the slaves and the laborers, the laborers, the free guys, they tended to live in a house on their own, whereas the slaves just lived where the master put them and more importantly, slaves were owned.
They couldn't leave. They couldn't go where they liked. When the texts get down to talking about an individual person, they specify either that they were a slave or that they were a laborer.
And we should have a quick chat about cost while we're we're in the fields and most people working in these jobs were lower cost in ancient India should address that, the lowest of the foreigners. But being low cost and being a slave, they weren't the same thing. I mean, sure, one of the ancient lawbooks talks about the sugars being born to do the slave work of the higher costs. It says that they they can't be freed since they're innately slaves.
But this shouldn't be taken to mean that all Qataris were slaves or that all slaves were surahs. According to one historian, this passage in the law book is just a desperate attempt at redefining the existing categories to fit into the caste framework.
The lawbook just didn't come close to matching the reality, it was imposing its own categories on a world which didn't fit them.
Actually, though, I lean towards the idea of another historian who says that we're probably just misinterpreting the Sanskrit words in that part of the law book, but either way, the idea that all in only lower caste people were slaves, that's just wrong.
Later, in the same law book, we find the tacit admission that higher cost people could be slaves, too. And the rest of our sources confirm it. No matter whether you are high, cost or low, you could be a slave. In fact, you could even be the slave of a schudrich yourself. So what have we covered, we've talked about being a military slave, nice, nice, but unlikely. We've talked about being a slave in the field.
The other major possibility is that you'd be a house slave owned by reasonably well-off family. Most of the house slaves seem to have been women, but by no means all of them.
And of course, in the House, there's a lots of different kinds of jobs to do, you could do the work that the other servants did, carrying water from the well, pouring baths, cutting vegetables, preparing food.
Now, even then, your life would probably be considerably harder than a servant. Take Poona, for example. She was a slave who is asked to pound rice and they gave her a lot of rice to pound.
She was at it all day. She worked continuously into the dark of the night. There was so much to do that when she finally stopped, her arms were glistening in sweat and she was unable to go to sleep because of the discomfort. Everyone around her had gone to sleep long ago, the only people around were a few monks, torches held aloft, a glowing line in the distance, going home after a night of meditation and teaching. But unless you are a debtor slave, you'd also do jobs that were too dirty for servants.
Taking out the leftover food, taking out the rubbish, the human excrement. You'd have a lot of personal hygiene jobs, too, and not your own person, of course, your masters person, as soon as he comes in the door. You got to be there ready to wash his feet. And you got a clean private parts. You got a massage. Lims J. Your master would call you with a word that is used pretty much only to call slave girls.
Come rub my feet and you'd come because that was your job. A fairly large part of life for a lot of young women, slaves was being used sexually and. More on that grim subject in the next episode. There was some ritual work for you to do occasionally, though, sometimes in the ritual, your role was a little bit humiliating. Suppose someone was going to be stripped of their upper class status, they'd done something impure. You were involved is the object which would symbolize their impurity.
You'd go to the garbage dump and get a dirty pot. You'd fill it with water from a slave woman. Then you'd turn to face the south and you'd tip the pot over saying I deprive so-and-so of water. Then he'd come and touch you to make his outcast status complete. For many household slaves, a lot of the job was going around town on chores, especially if you served a young, well-to-do woman who wouldn't want to be stepping out of the house too much, you'd be going and fetching things for her.
And no matter what you are doing, you almost certainly got no salary. There are actually provisions in one of the books for you to maybe earn some money. It's a little unclear, a bit like the slaves in Rome did. Maybe you are even allowed to get a job on the side and and keep enough to save up in one day, buy your freedom. But actually, the vast majority of the law books are clear in the stories. Back them up.
Slaves could not own property. Neither could children or wives, but slaves were actually especially not to be trusted when it came to property.
Suppose you're out and about in town, you're doing some chore for your master and you go and do a deal with someone on your master's behalf. Of course, they would check and double check that you had permission to be there. If it turned out that you were doing a deal behind your master's back, you'd get punished. Of course, that would be pretty severe, but so would they.
They'd get punished, too. So there's always this little bit of extra suspicion just to make your job a little bit more difficult.
How the law was sometimes on your side, sometimes made your day a little bit less harsh than it might have otherwise been, especially during the period of the Maurin empire, when the emperor himself had asked Masters to be kind to their slaves. And the law book went some way to trying to enforce this.
Even in later centuries, your master wasn't allowed to beat you on the head.
They were only allowed to beat you on the back and so forth.
And when your master fasted, he wasn't supposed to force you to fast to keep on feeding you.
There are some more detailed protections for slaves to spare food might be brought to you as a slave from the students of a nearby teacher, they had to take that food and give it either to a slave or a child. Sometimes these legal protections, though, might feel less about protecting you as a human being and more about protecting you as a piece of someone else's property. For example, if you're pregnant and. You must not actually allowed to sell you unless he pays to have arrangements for the delivery.
The lawbooks have a complicated, shifting tangle of protections and duties for slaves. When your day's work was done, you'd sit down to eat the dreaded slave food. Unless your master was extraordinarily kind, it would be brown or rice gruel made from broken rice, maybe with a few leftovers in there to. You might be given some alcoholic beverages if they had gone bad already, although your owner might just give it to the pigs instead, and that was likely the best stuff you'd get if you were eating slave fare.
By the way, this this food that slaves had the slave fair, it wasn't just for slaves. Laborers also ate it, but it was apparently pretty horrible. There are tales of slaves trying to escape more or less because they hated this food. And take Cattolica, for example.
Cattolica was the slave boy working in the House of the Treasurer, and he had a pretty good life for a slave. At least he was a secretary. He'd been fairly well educated.
He could read and write. He knew a few crafts and he was helping out the treasurer in the office.
But as we hear from more recent slaves, part of the horror of slavery is the deep insecurity. Even if there's no immediate discomfort, everything good could be taken away from you in a second just because your masters in a bad mood. And Kataoka knew this fear, too. He knew that in a moment he could be beaten and branded and giving nothing to eat but that dreaded slave food, if he so much as offended someone in a higher position than him.
The law back that up. He could be beaten and it could all be taken away. He didn't like it, so he planned an escape. He wrote a letter saying, this is the Treasurer's son. Please accept him as your new son in law, married him to your daughter.
He sealed it up with the Treasurer SEAL, and he went off to another town and he presented himself and he said, here's a letter from my father.
What are the rich townsfolk there read the letter and Julie married his daughter to this guy. He was, after all, his new in-laws thought, a pretty good match, a guy from a wealthy family. And so Cattolica lived a new life as the son of a treasurer in a different town. He changed his name, of course, to something a bit less slave like, but he managed to live the life of a spoiled rich boy brat. They would bring him clothes as gifts and he sniffed at them, he said no to provincial back in the city, we would be used to wearing stuff that's more cosmopolitan, this trash.
Cattolica especially sniffed at the food tasteless Pappe, take it away. And this started to annoy his new wife, as it would. By and by, Kathak is old, master came looking for him. And Kataoka heard that he was on the way. He tried to come up with a plan to avoid being found out, he told everyone about the incredible deference that up to his parents.
He was an extremely good boy with extremely good manners.
He would never dare eat with his father like the young kids of today did. No, no, no. He would serve his father food and he would rush out to meet his father and wash his feet. And so when the master, the treasurer came to town, Cattolica rushed out with a bowl of water and started washing his master's feet, and as he did so, he talked to him, begging him not to expose him. And he was lucky, right?
Other boys in similar stories were dragged back into slavery, but this time his master was kind, or so the text implies his master agreed not to expose Cattolica.
But later on, his master met the new daughter in law, the wife of Cattolica, and she mentioned her frustrations. He said. He's a nice guy, but he's just so fussy and its food is the worst that no matter what food I bring him, he'll find some problem with it. The master told her that he had a solution every time he gets fussy. Simply say the word cattolica. That night, she started to serve Kittyhawk food, as she usually did, and and he started to complain about it, as he usually did.
So she said the magic word Cattolica. And the words sent shivers down his spine. His old name, his slave name, she must have found out who he really was. Then in there, he stopped his grumbling and from that day forth, he ate up whatever was offered without complaint. In my other job, the one that I actually get paid for, I think a fair amount about how moral revolutions happen, how we come to change our moral standards.
And one of the big examples is slavery, the standard story goes that people in the ancient world didn't think slavery was a bad thing. After all, they lived with it happily and there weren't really many major abolition movements. And actually, I think there are a couple of things which are suspicious about this standard story. First, it underestimates our human ability to learn to live with things that we know deep down are wrong. And second, Hachey, there is evidence that people in the ancient world for the slavery was bad or at least that the life of a slave was a bad one.
I mean, sure, there's no argument for the abolition of slavery that you can find in ancient Indian texts, that thought just doesn't seem to occur to people. But still, the evidence is that back then, people thought that the life of a slave was a bad one. And you get glimpses of this. You get a little glimpse of it in the fact that there are these protections for the slave. There are these rules which try to ensure that masters weren't too cruel.
There are more concrete things to do in one place, a slave owner actually admits that he has his wealth only because his slaves work in the fields and that really he should give his money to them. But there's another part of life which makes it clear that I think that people thought of slavery as a bad thing, and that is in freeing slaves, freeing slaves was a morally excellent thing to do. It was the kind of thing that really upright, righteous people did.
And that really doesn't make much sense unless, you know, deep down that slavery is bad. Anyway, whether you buy my argument or not, let's chat about how to get yourself out of slavery. If you're a debt slave, then it's pretty straightforward, just pay off your debts and you're free to go. If you're any other type of slave, well, you've basically got three options first, run away. Second, start a slave rebellion, or third, somehow get your master to release you.
Now, running away is always the stuff that happens in the romantic stories, maybe because it's exciting, but it's not necessarily a good option. If you were caught, you'd be punished pretty severely. The best that you could hope for was a beating. The rules said that if you ever try to run away, that was it. You could never hope to be freed now. Actually, even Detta slaves tried to run away sometimes, and if they were caught, they were reduced down to the level of normal slaves.
What about getting your master to free you then? Well, in principle, your master could free you any time they liked. Towards the end of the ancient period, there was even a little ceremony involved.
The master would wash your head and then declare you a free man, but you couldn't really expect it to happen. In the normal run of things, you can even expect to be freed when your master eventually died. Slaves in India seem to have largely been inherited. Even if you were the only slave in the household and your master had several sons, well, you just were inherited by all of them.
You had to work in all of their households.
Sometimes if your master went off to become a holy man, then he had free you before he went.
Sometimes you could win your freedom by doing something truly exceptional. Saving your master's life typically won you your freedom. That's even in some of the law books. In some of the stories, just getting your master in a really good mood was enough. One slave was freed because she noticed that the son of the house had returned after a long time.
Pretty sweet. What about the other option, slave rebellion? Well. That was pretty much unheard of when it happened fairly often in ancient Rome and Greece, but it happened almost not at all in ancient India. There is a story about the slaves of the Sharky's there, the republic, remember that we mentioned at the beginning. The one nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. They were a sort of quasi democracy and they owned slaves. But it wasn't the individual Shakya Nobles owned slaves.
No, no. They owned a whole bunch of slaves as a whole bunch of people corporately, all the freemen together, owning all of the slaves. Well, one day the slaves got together and decided they were going to get their own back. So they escaped and they raped the three women. There's another story, this one is about particularly cruel mistress, and when she goes to bathe in the Ganga, her slaves go with her to help her.
But when a storm comes in, they deliberately let her get washed away.
And. That's pretty much it for slave rebellions, probably they just didn't happen that much. I mean, maybe because there were just fewer slaves around and about in ancient Greece and Rome, you got an awful lot of slaves.
In some places. Most people are slaves.
Rebellions easier. It just didn't work that way in ancient India. In fact, if the ancient Indian stories are anything to go by, you're better off hoping that God himself comes down and sets you free.
That was more likely to happen than successfully overthrowing your master.
Time for a bit of a chat about the idea of slavery in ancient and early medieval India. If you're not particularly interested in concepts and words, then feel free to skip ahead five minutes. There's a pretty cool poem by a slave woman from ancient India at the end of this. So ancient Indians, of course, didn't have the word slave, they had the word D'Urso or some variant of it and. As I mentioned at the start of the episode, I followed the practice that most current historians working in the universities follow.
I use the word slave, but we do need to chat about the fact that Dusa isn't exactly the same thing as slave.
It's not quite the right word. I mean, that's only to be expected, of course, almost no word in Sanskrit means exactly the same thing is, as a word, an English translation just doesn't work like that. And there is a gap between Gaza and slave. I mean, for one thing, Dosages covers a really broad range of lives. You got people who are Das's, who are Das's only for a little while and others who are Das's for life, you've got people who Das's who have legal protection.
You've got those who don't. You got people who are Das's, who have their own home, who have a family, who are even able to inherit. And you have a bunch of others who aren't.
You have Das's, you can buy their way to freedom, maybe even have a job on the side and some of their own property. And you got other Das's who can't.
So that is tremendously broad range of lifestyles covered by the word dusa and the word that is actually used in a way which we don't really use the word slave. It's used, for example, as the end of a name normally attached to a God, for example, the famous author, Kali Dasa, slave of Dassa. That would be translated, I suppose. But really, it's just an expression of humility, an expression of devotion. So there's a much broader range of lives covered by the word Dassa than you'd think of when you think of slaves and in ancient Rome or Greece or in the transatlantic slave trade.
And the word dusa is used in ways that the word slave just isn't really used. And actually, dusa is occasionally used in a way that's narrower than the English word slave to only mean household slave. So there's this gap between. What dusa means and what slave means, but that's not focus so closely on this that these little cracks start to feel like they're miles wide. Dusa doesn't mean exactly the same as the word slave, but the two aren't miles apart.
It's about as good as most translations of Sanskrit words we use. The basic idea is the same. According to the United Nations, the word slave means that there's an element of ownership of control over another's life, coercion and the restriction of movement, and by the fact that someone is not free to leave or change employer. And that's actually eerily similar to one of the ancient definitions of DUSA. It's from a Buddhist text that says that Hadassah is one who is not a master of himself, who depends on another, who cannot go where he likes the same core ideas are there with and Dassa ownership, restriction of movement and pretty much every example of of someone being a dusa we can find in the text fits into this definition.
They'd all be slaves according to the Buddhist definition, and that pretty much all be slaves, according to the United Nations.
And anyway, the word slave in English has a lot of different uses, provided you don't restrict your attention to the really rather exceptional cases of ancient Greece, the height of the Roman Empire and the transatlantic slave trade, I think of slaves in in Europe during the Middle Ages, for example, just like dusa religion in Europe talked about being a slave of God without making you a slave in the normal sense.
And just like Ducey's, there were slaves there who owned slaves for a fixed term, just like Darcis. They were slaves who had legal protections, just like Ducey's. They were slaves. You could have family connections, could even live in a house with their own de facto wife. Just like Darcis, slaves could earn a wage and buy freedom.
Now, even in Rome, that was that was pretty typical. But still, you are owned. Still you a property rented or bought, you are not your own. And that's what made you a slave. Although. Just to complicate even more, there's actually a debate about whether we should probably call these guys in medieval Europe slaves to. The academic debate rages on between historians of different places and periods. If I seem a little impatient with this debate, I think it feels to me like it's just wordplay.
I don't really see how it helps us understand anything about life in ancient or early medieval India. Academics are bookish people. They like words and even more than that, they like writing words about words.
But if you're trying to understand what life was actually like in ancient India. Sometimes the words can be a bit of a distraction. I'm going to I'm going to rant for a couple of minutes, please do skip over if you find this annoying. I've got a suggestion of how we think about this stuff. And that is why don't we try asking why someone is using a word.
For example, if you've got a slave owner in the United States in know back in the Civil War period, and they say, hey, the the factory workers in the north, they're the real slaves, what that slave owner is doing is claiming that there's nothing especially morally wrong about the way they treat Africans on their plantations.
And that slave owner is lying. When a modern American says 80 Irish indentured labourers, they were the first slaves in America, as they sometimes do, well, what they're doing is they're claiming that indentured labor was just as morally wrong as as the African American slave trade.
That's much more innocent, I think. But I also think it's just obviously wrong.
When a historian talks about slavery in medieval England, they're not trying to say any of that stuff, they're not trying to say that these guys were treated just as bad as Africans in the slave trade.
No, they're simply saying that there were some people who are owned by other people who had little or no control over their lives. And if that's what they mean. That's right. What about slavery in ancient India? Well. Just ask the same question, suppose a historian says there weren't slaves in ancient India. They were Das's, which is a bit different. Well, why are they saying that? If they're just trying to make the point that that doesn't as a concept is just not exactly the same as slave if they're just being precise?
Well, then they're right. If they're trying to make the point that the system of slavery in India wasn't the same as the system of slavery in Greece, then they're right. If they're trying to say that no one was treated in this morally horrific manner, then they're wrong.
To my mind, that's a bit of a shame to pretend that these terrible things didn't happen, right. You can't make India greater by pretending that everyone in the history of India was a good person.
Bad things happened. I just wonder, though, if all of this really helps us understand what it was like to be a slave or a dusa in ancient India. Anyway, enough of the modern stuff, let's get our focus back onto those people in ancient early medieval India. We've seen a bit of how they live their lives.
Now we get to hear from one of the ducey's, one of the slaves themselves. Every week we read something from the original sources, and this week there's an obvious choice, almost all of the voices that we get to hear from in ancient history, in early medieval history, is the voice of someone from the top of society. Either it's some king's inscription or it's some well-to-do householder or some monk or some scholar writing a book.
Very rarely do we get to hear voices from elsewhere. And we have the voice of a slave woman which has come down to us.
Her name is Ponoka. She was the slave of a Brahmin. But later on she became a famous Buddhist nun and she wrote a poem. And the poem is about a discussion between her and her master on the topic of cold baths. And it goes like this.
Monica, I am a water carrier, cold, always going down to the water from fear of my mistress's beatings, harassed by their anger and words. But you, Robin, what do you fear?
That you're always going down to the water with shivering limbs feeling great cold last Ponoka.
Surely, you know, you're asking, wondering skillfull karma and warding off evil. Whoever young or old does evil karma is through water pollution from evil karma set free wenneker.
Who taught you this?
The ignorant to the ignorant one through water pollution is from evil karma set free. In that case they'd all go to heaven. All the frogs, turtles, serpents, crocodiles and anything else that lives in the water. Sheep, butchers, pork, butchers, fishermen, trappers, thieves, executioners and any other evildoers would, through water pollution from evil karma, be set free if these rivers could carry off the evil karma you've done in the past that Carrefour merit as well.
And then to be completely left out, whatever it is that you fear, they always go down to the water. Don't do it. Don't let the cold hurt your skin.
I've been following the miserable path. Good lady. And now you've brought me back to the Noble. I give you this robe for water absolution. Konarka, let the road be yours, I don't need it if you're afraid of pain, if you dislike pain, then don't do any evil karma in open in secret. But if you do or will do any evil karma, you'll gain no freedom from pain, even if you fly up and carry away.
If you're afraid of pain, if you dislike pain, go to the awakened one for refuge, go to the Dharma and songa take on the precepts that will lead to your liberation master.
I go to the awakened one for refuge. I go to the Dharma in the sangha. I take on the precepts that will lead to my liberation. Before I was a kinsman to Brahma. Now, truly a Brahmin, I'm a three knowledged man. Consumate in knowledge. Safe, washtenaw, clean.
There you go. As you can tell, a bit of Buddhist propaganda, I'm not sure that I'm entirely persuaded by the arguments myself, but it's good to hear The Voice of a slave probably is the voice of a slave woman.
It's good to hear her talk a bit about her slavery. Could also hear the way that she would talk with her master. Surprisingly forthright and and pushy, not cowed at all. I don't know whether that was unusual. But it's a glimpse into something that you just don't hear anywhere else. I hope you've enjoyed the episode, maybe enjoyed isn't quite the right word, I hope it's been interesting. If you have been enjoying the podcast, please consider donating to my wife's charity, The Snail to Patrick Memorial Fund.
There are details of that on the website. There's a link to that in the description. Where you are right now, I hope that you're doing well and until next week, take care.