This article argues that descriptions of the Black Sea found in the Archaic poets, Herodotus, and later geographers were influenced by commercial itineraries circulated amongst Greek slave traders in the north. Drawing on an epigraphic corpus of twenty-three merchant letters from the region dating between c. 550 and 450 BCE, I contrast the travels of enslaved persons recorded in the documents with stylized descriptions found in literary accounts. This article finds that slaves took a variety of routes into—and out of—slavery, and that fear of enslavement was widely felt even among Greeks. Law courts might have been as important as “barbarian” warfare in ensnaring captives for export, and even slave traders themselves risked enslavement alongside their victims. Reconstructing the travels of individual slaves allows us to pursue a study in the spirit of what Joseph C. Miller has called the “biographical turn” in the study of slavery, privileging the experiences of the enslaved over the accounts of their masters. Although the lands around the distant Black Sea were never the leading source of slaves for Aegean cities, the wealth of primary testimony from the region puts it at the forefront in the history of slavery in ancient Greece.

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