The history of Greece the history of racism
Greeks invent the notion of inferior races
Greek supremacy against the barbarian Europe

The vast majority of Greeks from Homer to Aristotle regarded slavery as an indisputable fact of life. Its existence at the heart of the Classical world is thus a source of considerable disquiet to those who admire Greek culture for its supposedly enlightened humanism. It is important to appreciate, however, that slavery was not an absolute condition but one that admitted many different statuses. It included at one end of the scale chattel slaves, those who in Aristotle's telling phrase had the same (6,000 drachmas) for a slave to manage his silver mines. A slave in good health probably cost the equivalent of half a year's salary. The inscription relating to the sale of confiscated property that belonged to the Mutilators of, Herms in 414 B.C. prices a Syrian male at 240 drachmas, a Thracian female at 220 drachmas, and "a little Carian boy" at 72 drachmas. Though most Athenian slaves were purchased from abroad, some were bred in captivity, as indicated by the following remark made by Ischomachos in Xenophon's, Household Management: "As a general rule, if good slaves are permitted to breed, their loyalty increases, whereas when bad slaves live together as husband and wife they are more liable to cause trouble" (9.5).
Domestic Slaves
Domestic slaves served in practically every capacity, including that of washerwoman, cook, porter, cleaner, tutor, Domestic escort, messenger, nurse, and companion. No doubt in the Slaves larger households there was some division of labor, as for instance among the female slaves in the palace of the Homeric king Alkinos, "some of whom grind the yellow grain on the millstone, while others weave the web and turn the spindle" (Odyssey 7.104f.). Whether slaves were also employed in large numbers as agricultural laborers is unclear.
On becoming a member of an Athenian household, a slave underwent an initiation ceremony similar to that which a bride underwent on first entering her new home. This was intended to place the slave under the protection of Hestia, the goddess of the hearth. The poems of Homer suggest that close ties arose between master and slave. When, for instance, Odysseus reveals himself to his faithful slaves Eumaios and Philoitios on his return to Ithaca after twenty years, they throw their arms around him and kiss him (Odyssey 21.222-25). Scenes of mistress and maid figure prominently on Athenian grave monuments, testimony to the fact that the two spent much time together in the gynaikeion, or women's quarters. In Classical Athens slaves were occasionally buried in family plots beside their masters and mistresses.
Overall the treatment of slaves varied greatly from one household to the next. Though Athenian slaves were protected by the law against violent abuse, in practice it was virtually impossible for them to lodge a complaint against their masters, since they-could not represent themselves in court. Starvation and flogging were regular punishments for bad behavior. A runaway slave was branded with a hot iron upon capture. If a slave was required to be a witness in a lawsuit, his or her testimony could be accepted only under torture.
Though we lack any account written by a slave telling us what he or she felt about his or -her condition, Aristophanes in Frogs provides us with an insight into the kind of gossip that slave owners imagined their status as "an animate or ensouled piece of property" (Politics 1253b 33), and at the other end those who lived independently and remitted a part of their income to their masters.
The Origins of Slavery
The origins of slavery are not precisely understood, but The Origins the institution was certainly in existence by the end of the of Slavery eighth century B.C. In the world evoked by the Homeric poems most slaves were obtained by piracy, kidnapping, or warfare. Odysseus' swineherd Eumaios, for instance, was captured and sold into slavery as a child. Enslavement is the fate that awaits the female members of the royal household when Troy is taken. It would also have been the fate of women and children in historical times when a besieged city fell. In seventh century B.C. Greece, slavery appears to have been widespread even among the poorest section of society. Hesiod, in Works and Days (line 405f.), is of the opinion that an ox and a bought woman are an essential part of a small farmer's holding.
The Size of Athens' Slave Population
Slaves were particularly numerous in Athens and may The Size of well have outnumbered those in any other Greek com Athens' Slave communities. Thukydides (7.27.5) claims that "more than Population 20,000," most of them manual workers, absconded to De keleia in northern Attica when it was occupied by the Spartans in 413 B.C. All other evidence is anecdotal. In Classical times the possession of at least one slave was regarded as a necessity. In a lawsuit written by Lysias the speaker states, "I have a trade but I don't earn much. I find it difficult making ends meet and I can't save enough money to buy a slave to do the work for me" (24.6). It is a mark of his meanness that Theophrastos' Tight-Fisted Man refuses to buy his wife a slave girl and instead hires one from the women's market (Characters 22.10). The majority of well-to-do Athenians probably owned two or three slaves, whereas the wealthy possessed between ten and twenty. A few, however, owned a great many more. Nikias, one of the richest men in Athens in the late fifth century B.C., owned 1,000 slaves, whom he leased out to fellow citizens at the rate of one obol per slave per day (Xenophon, Revenues 4.14). The only surviving slave census relates to Athens in the late fourth century B.C. The total, which is put at 400,000, exceeds all bounds of credibility.
The Racial Diversity of Athen's Slaves
Athenian slaves were imported from a wide variety of regions including Thrace, Scythia, Illyria, Colchis, Syria, Caria, and Lydia. Such diversity was probably fairly typical. The purchase price of a slave varied according to his or her skills and looks. Obviously an educated slave who could read and write fetched considerably more than one who was only good for menial duties. Likewise a pretty young girl cost much more than an ugly old hag. Slaves with management skills were extremely expensive. Nikias, whom we mentioned above, paid a talent
Slave A: I'm absolutely thrilled when I can curse my master behind his back.
Slave B: What about grumbling as you're going outside after being beaten? Slave A: That's great!
Slave B: What about not minding your own business?
Slave A: That's terrific!
Slave B: You're a man after my own heart. What about eavesdropping when he's having a private conversation?
Slave A: That's enough to drive me wild with delight!
Slave B: What about gossiping to your friends about what you discover? Do you like that?
Slave A: Do I like it? By Zeus, that's enough to make me wet my knickers! (lines 746-53)
Publicly Owned Slaves
The most privileged Athenian slaves were owned by the state. They included the notaries, jury clerks, coin testers, and exe cutioner. In addition, a large number of publicly owned slaves toiled as road menders. As building accounts make clear, slaves sometimes worked on building projects alongside Athe nian citizens. Athens' force of Skythian archers, who kept the peace, was also the property of the state.
Living Separately
Because Athenian citizens refused to satisfy the demand for Living wage labor in the second half of the fifth century B.C., conditions and opportunities for a limited number of slaves improved dramatically. Such slaves, who paid a commission to their owners, were described as "living separately" (ch6ris oikountes). They included the managers of shops and factories; bankers, captains of trading vessels, bailiffs, and artisans. One was a certain Pasion, who rose to be one of the wealthiest men in Athens. Pasion, who worked as a banker, was eventually granted Athenian citizenship because he gave generously to the state at a time of crisis. Overall, however, the Athenians were niggardly in freeing their slaves, even when they had served them dutifully all their life.
Industrial Slaves
The most dangerous and exhausting work performed by Industrial Athenian slaves was in the silver mines of Lavrion in south-east Attica. Inscriptions reveal that the vast majority of in dustrial slaves were barbarians. Xenophon (Memorabilia 2.5.2) informs us that the price of slaves who served in this capacity could be as low as 50 drachmas. Work in the mines continued uninterruptedly for twenty-four hours a day. From the discovery of miners' lamps containing oil, it has been estimated that shifts were ten hours in length.
Though it had its critics, the institution of slavery was never seriously challenged in the ancient world. Even philosophers such as the Cynics and Stoics, who professed to believe in the brotherhood of mankind, were muted in their opposition. In the Politics, Aristotle goes so far as to justify slavery as part of the order of existence, though he makes a distinction between what he calls slaves by nature, those born in captivity, and slaves by law, those captured in war. Aristotle proposed this distinction in response to those who regarded the very existence of slavery as "contrary to nature" (1253b1255b).
Our understanding of slavery in the Greek world is bedevilled by both modern Christianity and Marxism. Each imposes value judgements upon the institution, and these value judgements tend to distort our investigation of its place in ancient society. Christianity deplores slavery as barbaric and inhumane. Marxist historians identify slaves with the subjected European proletariat of the nineteenth century. Friedrich Engels even went so far as to allege that the moral and political collapse of the ancient world was chiefly caused by slavery. Neither the Christian nor the Marxist viewpoint does full justice to the realities of life in the ancient world, however. Abhorrent though the institution of slavery was in many respects, it nonetheless provided some measure of economic security. Thus when Achilles wishes to convey the worst social condition imaginable, he instances that of a man who works as a day laborer, rather than that of a slave (Odyssey 11.489f.). With the exception of Spartan agriculture and Athenian silver mining, there is little evidence to suggest that the Greeks depended on slavery for what Marxists call their means of production. Overall, therefore, it remains questionable whether the achievements of Greek civilization were made possible by slavery.
The status of being a foreigner, as the Greeks understood the term does not permit any easy definition. Primarily it signified such peoples as the Persians and Egyptians, whose languages were unintelligible to the Greeks, but it could also be used of Greeks who spoke in a different dialect and with a different accent. Notable among this latter category were the Macedonians, whom many Greeks regarded as semibarbaric, as the following judgement upon Philip 11 of Macedon by the Athenian politician Demosthenes indicates:
He's so far from being a Greek or having the remotest connection with us Greeks that he doesn't even come from a country with a name that's respected. He's a rotten Macedonian and it wasn't long ago that you couldn't even buy a decent slave from Macedon. (Third Philippic 31)
Prejudice toward Greeks on the part of Greeks was not limited to those who lived on the fringes of the Greek world. The Boeotians, inhabitants of central Greece, whose credentials were impeccable, were routinely mocked for their stupidity and gluttony. Ethnicity is a fluid concept even at the best of times. When it suited their purposes, the Greeks also divided themselves into Ionians and Dorians. The distinction was emphasized at the time of the Peloponnesian War, when the Ionian Athenians fought against the Dorian Spartans. The Spartan general Brasidas even taxed the Athenians with cowardice on account of their Ionian lineage. In other periods of history the Ionian-Dorian divide carried much less weight.
"Metic," which comes from the Greek word metoikos meaning Metics "one who dwells among," denoted a foreigner with the right to live permanently in the host country of his or her choice. Classical Athens, because of her empire, wealth, and commercial importance, attracted a vast number of metics. In this she was rather unusual, as Perikles pointed out (Thukydides 2.39.1). Approximately three-fifths of the metic population lived in demes located in or around Athens, nearly one-fifth in the port of Piraeus, and the remaining fifth in dernes situated in the countryside and along the coast. At least sixty different Greek and non-Greek states are represented among their ranks, as we know from sepulchral inscriptions. In the fifth century B.c., metics perhaps accounted for as much as 10 percent of Athens' entire population, or about from 20,000 to 30,000. It should be emphasized, however, that their numbers fluctuated in line with Athens' changing fortunes and prosperity. Very likely many left before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War in 431 i3.c. Athens was not the only Greek state that encouraged the immigration of foreigners, but it was undoubtedly the one that attracted them in greatest numbers. The Spartans were notoriously xenophobic and actively discouraged foreigners from residing in their territory even on a short-term basis.
It was due to the large influx of metics around the middle of the fifth century i3.c. that Athens introduced a law debarring the offspring of a union between an Athenian citizen and a metic woman from claiming citizenship. The state also revised her citizen register at this time and struck off a number of suspected metics who were believed to be claiming citizenship under false pretenses. Though Athenians could marry metic women, metic men were subject to a fine of 1,000 drachmas-the equivalent of about three years' salary-for cohabiting with an Athenian woman. Each metic had to have an Athenian sponsor, called a prostats ,and be registered in a deme. He or she was required to pay an annual poll tax called a metoikion. Men were liable to service in the military but in the navy only in times of emergency. They were also required to undertake liturgies. Metics were not permitted to own land unless they had obtained a special grant called an enktsis. This entitled them either to purchase a home or establish a sanctuary for the worship of a foreign deity.
It was through their private cultic associations that metics were able to consort together and retain their distinctive identity. Many such associations also functioned as dining clubs. One of these was devoted to the worship of the Phrygian god Sabazios, an exotic deity whose nocturnal rites included ecstatic dances accompanied by the flute and kettledrum. The cult of Sabazios aroused such animosity when it was first introduced into Athens that it was the butt of humor in no fewer than four comedies by Aristophanes. In one play, Sabazios, together with other foreign deities, is booted out of Athens. In the middle of the fourth century B.C., however, the Athenians received an oracle ordering them to desist from persecuting the followers of Sabazios. This had the desired effect, and in time the Athenians themselves became worshipers of Sabazios. An inscription dated to the very end of the second century B.C. records the names of fifty-one members of the cult, no fewer than thirtysix of whom were Athenian.
Religion apart, to what extent were the Athenians tolerant of foreign influences, let alone in the business of absorbing them? We know that some Athenians affected the Spartan style of dress by wearing short cloaks and growing their hair long. In addition, the Athenians' fascination with the sophists, who were teachers of rhetoric, is often quoted as an instance of their appetite for foreign ideas. As the sophists and Spartans were Greek, however, they hardly count as foreign.
It is sometimes suggested that the Greeks more or less invented racism single-handedly by holding up their culture Barbarians as a shining example of everything that was noble and praiseworthy, while at the same time rubbishing everybody else, particularly the Persians. The truth, however, is rather more complex. Even if the Greeks considered their culture to be superior to others, that does not mean that they were out-and-out racists. Moreover, some Greeks saw much to admire in Persian culture. The historian Herodotos was so enamored of the Persians that he was dubbed philobarbaros, or "barbarian lover." Overall, the Greek attitude toward the Persians was probably a complex mixture of fascination, envy, and contempt. The notion of the barbarian was not inherent in Greek culture. There is no trace of racial prejudice against the Trojans in Homer's Iliad. In fact, the regard for civilized values on the part of the Trojans is equal, if not superior, to that of the Greeks. The word barbaroph6noi, meaning "of barbarous diction," appears only once in the Iliad, in reference to a contingent of Karians, a semi-barbarous people who fought on the side of the Greeks. Not until Aeschylus' Persians, which was produced in 472 B.c., are barbarians depicted as a stereotypical group with a homogeneous culture. This change came about as a result of the Persian invasion of Greece-an event that bred terror and loathing in the Greek population, similar in intensity to that felt toward the hated Hun by the Allies in World War I. The stereotype was also disseminated through art, notably in portrayals of the battle between the Lapiths and Centaurs, which we find on the metopes of the Parthenon. The lascivious and aggressive Centaurs stand for the Persians and the innocent and abused Lapiths for the Greeks. Depictions of this mythological encounter, in which right clearly triumphed over wrong, served to bolster Greek self-esteem and self-righteousness in the aftermath of the Persian invasion.
Precisely what the category barbarian amounted to in practical terms is difficult to determine. The most plausible origin of the word is "the people who mutter ba-ba-ba." Barbarians, in other words, were people who could not speak Greek. Non-Greek speakers were excluded from participation in the Olympic Games and from certain other religious ceremonies, such as the Eleusinian Mysteries. In time, however, barbarian also came to acquire the pejorative meaning of "ignorant, brutal, and savage."
"Typical" barbarian behavior included drinking neat wine, beer, and milk; wearing effeminate clothing; and practicing circumcision. Thukydides (1.6.1-3) was of the belief that contemporary barbarians behaved similarly to the earliest inhabitants of Greece, in that they carried weapons around with them and wore loincloths when exercising. The most despised feature of barbarian society, however, was the subjugation of its population to one man, as the following brief exchange from Aeschylus' Persians indicates. It takes place at the royal capital of Susa shortly after the Persian queen received news of her son's defeat at the battle of Salamis.
Queen: Who is their leader? Who commands their army?
Chorus: They declare themselves to be the slaves of no-one and to serve no-one.
Queen: How then can they withstand an enemy invasion?
Chorus: Well enough to destroy King Dareios' large and powerful army. (lines 241-44)
Despite the highly negative view of barbarian culture that many Greeks held, there is no evidence to suggest that barbarians were unwelcome or subjected to mistreatment if they traveled to Greece. On the contrary, they figure prominently among Athens' metic population in the fourth century. The Sidonians, who were Phoenicians, actually enjoyed a privileged status that was not extended to other metics: they were exempted from the metic tax and other financial burdens.
Ultimate Monstrosity
The outermost reaches of geographical knowledge were thought to be inhabited by monstrous races, descriptions of whom were brought back by travelers. They include the Astomoi or Mouthless Ones, who have holes in their faces instead of mouths; the Skiapods or Shadowfeet, a one-legged people who lie on their backs shading their heads from the sun with a single huge foot; and the Kynokephaloi or Dogheads, who communicate by barking.
No figure quite so succinctly epitomizes the horror of the foreign, however, as the Cyclops Polyphemos, whom Odysseus encounters in Book 9 of the Odyssey. Solitary, monstrous in size, possessing a single eye in the center of his forehead, stupid, contemptuous toward the gods, hostile toward strangers, . -rnorant of seafaring and agriculture, Polyphemos is everything that the Greeks despised. Who could fail to be repulsed by the description of the regurgitated pieces of human flesh that surface at the comers of his giant maw, as he sleeps off a dinner that consisted of Odysseus' companions? And who could fail to applaud when Odysseus blinds his single eye with a stake, before escaping from the cave by grabbing onto the belly of Polyphemos' favorite ram?
This interpretation nonetheless ignores one or two important details that are less than complimentary to the hero. In the first place, the encounter with the Cyclops could have been avoided altogether if Odysseus had listened to his companions, instead of being guided by his own insatiable curiosity. It was his curiosity that prompted him to wait for the Cyclops in his cave, and this in turn led to the deaths of several of his companions. Again, after he escaped, it was his irrepressible ego that caused him to reveal his name to the Cyclops, enabling the Cyclops to curse him in the name of his father Poseidon and delay Odysseus'homecoming by many years. In short, the encounter leaves us with the distinct Impression that a canny Greek is by no means intellectually light-years ahead of an ignorant and uneducated Cyclops. Already in Homer's day, the category "barbarian" was problematic.
Spartan society was unique in that the needs of the family were wholly subordinated to the requirements of the state. It was a militaristic society, whose primary objective from the seventh century B.C, onward was to foster a high degree of conformity and discipline. It therefore differed radically from Athenian society, to which it is unflatteringly contrasted in Perikles' Funeral Speech (Thukydides 2.37-39). Perikles' view notwithstanding, there were a good many Greeks who admired the Spartan system. Xenophon (Constitution of the Spartans 10.4), for instance, an Athenian who was born a generation later than Perikles, has this to say about it: "The state of Sparta with good reason outshines all other states in virtue, since she alone has made the attainment of a high standard of nobility a public duty" (line 10.4).
It would be extremely difficult to write a detailed account of Spartan daily life, since its people have left behind so few traces of themselves. Most of what we know about their society comes from philosophers and historians, and they were hardly concerned with the practicalities of daily life. What is beyond dispute, however, is that Sparta was extremely conservative, as we know from the fact that its constitution remained unchanged for hundreds of years. Virtually from birth onward, the obligation to the state overrode any duty to self or family. Appropriately, therefore, the only two types of Spartans who were accorded the distinction of being honored with tombstones that recorded their names were soldiers who died in battle and women who died in labor.
The Spartan home was hardly a home in our sense of the Upbringing word, since children spent most of their time with their peers. Even the first years of a boy's life were not completely free of discipline, as Plutarch informs us: "Spartan nurses taught Spartan babies to avoid any fussiness in their diet, not to be afraid of the dark, not to cry or scream, and not to throw any other kind of tantrum" (Life of Lykourgos 16.3).
From the age of six onward boys were removed from the care of their parents and subjected to a tough system of state education known as the agg, or training. The aim of the agg, which had something of the character of a Victorian boarding school, was to instill obedience, discipline, and resourcefulness. It probably had the further consequence of turning the child first into a brat, then into a bully. Boys were divided into packs and placed under the general control of an educational director known as a paidonomos. The boys were whipped for minor offenses and never given enough food in order to encourage them to thieve. Plutarch describes the process as follows:
Learning how to read and write was not considered important. Mainly their education consisted in learning how to carry out orders, how to test themselves to the limits of their endurance, and how to succeed at wrestling. So their training got tougher and tougher as they got older. Their heads were close-shaved, and they learnt how to march barefoot and go naked when training. (Life of Lykourgos 16.6)
The courage that this kind of training was designed to produce is indicated by the well-known story of a boy who was apprehended with a stolen fox under his cloak. Rather than admit his crime to his captors and undergo the humiliation of punishment, the boy vehemently denied the charge. His courage cost him his life because the fox gnawed through his entrails while he was being interrogated. Although physically weak babies were exposed at birth there must have been a number of perfectly fit and healthy children who were bullied mercilessly and who found this brutal system quite intolerable.
When a youth reached the age of sixteen (or possibly eighteen), he became a member of the krypteia. This, as its name from the Greek verb krypt, meaning "conceal," indicates, was a kind of secret police force. Its purpose was to intimidate the subjected helot population. During this period he lived out in the wilds and had to fend for himself.
At the age of twenty a youth's education came to an end and he graduated to the eirnes, a word of uncertain etymology. He was now liable for military service, though he did not yet possess full rights of citizenship. Even now, however, he was still required to lead a communal life, eating with his peers and sleeping in army barracks. Only occasionally would he be allowed to sleep with his wife. Even on his wedding night a Spartan bridegroom was permitted to spend only a short time with his bride; he was required to return to his army barracks before dawn.
On reaching thirty a Spartan finally became a full citizen, or homoios, which means "Peer." He now enjoyed something resembling a home life, though he was still required to take a number of his meals away from home. Qualification for Spartan citizenship, in fact, depended on membership in a syssition, or dining club. Each syssitos, or member of a syssition, made a monthly contribution to his dining club. He would not only regularly dine and relax in the company of his fellow syssitoi, but also fight alongside them in time of war. The size of a syssition is not known. Plutarch (Life of Lykourgos 12) suggests that the number was as low as fifteen, but modem estimates put it much higher, perhaps as high as three hundred. Only when he attained sixty was a Spartan finally released from military obligations, though, like many other retired servicemen, he probably continued to feel as much at home in the army as he did at home.
Although Spartan home life was extremely restricted, women actually enjoyed more freedom than their counterparts in many other parts of the Greek world. Girls were allowed to mix freely with boys. They also underwent an intensive physical training program, which included discus and javelin throwing, and wrestling. The purpose of this training program was to ensure that they became fit breeders of Spartan babies. The extreme value that was put on child rearing in Spartan society is indicated by the fact that wives could be "loaned" to an interested third party with the agreement of the husband, presumably in order to exploit their fecundity in cases where the husband was elderly or infertile. Another unique feature of Spartan society is that women were permitted to own their own property.
Spartan Helots
When the Spartans conquered Lakonia and Messenia, they re duced the entire population to servile status. Known as heiltai, Helots or helots, a word that is probably connected with a verb meaning "to capture," Spartan slaves were required to till the land and pay half their produce to their masters, who were thus freed to discharge their military duties. We have no means of estimating the size of the helot population, but it almost certainly outnumbered that of the citizen body. Such was the animosity felt toward the helots that the Spartan ephors annually declared war on them. Helots had no political or legal rights and could be executed without trial. They could be freed only by a decision of the Spartan assembly. Their condition was so wretched that the poet Tyrtaios describes them as "asses worn down with great burdens." They were the property of the state and assigned by it to individual citizens, who did not have the right to dispose of them. Since, perhaps uniquely among slave populations, they were allowed to propagate without restriction, helots were racially homogeneous. For this reason the Spartans were constantly fearful of helot revolts and took extreme measures to safeguard against them, as this chilling incident reported by Thukydides indicates.
On one occasion [in 424 B.C.] the Spartans issued a proclamation to their helots offering freedom to those who judged themselves to have shown the most bravery in war. Their purpose was to make test of them, since they believed that those who came forward first to claim their freedom would also be the ones who were most likely to give them trouble. Two thousand were selected. They were crowned and did the rounds of the temples, thinking that they had been liberated. Not long afterwards, however, the Spartans eliminated them. To this day nobody knows exactly how any of them perished. (4.80.3-5)
The Economy
The majority of Spartans seem to have been content to lead lives of the utmost frugality and simplicity. They had virtually no means of acquiring wealth, since the Spartan economy was wholly agrarian. Though we do not know whether every citizen possessed a klros or holding assigned to him by the state at birth, most of the population were no doubt at the same point in the economic scale. When abroad and off the leash, however, Spartan generals were as greedy as the rest. A common, though no doubt occasionally trumped up, charge leveled against them was that of accepting bribes from the enemy.
Sparta was not the only polis that put a premium on military discipline, but it was the one that did so to an extreme degree. Since the lives of all its members were dominated by warfare, there can have been little time for relaxation and pleasure. How the Spartans occupied themselves when they were not either exercising or fighting remains a mystery. Perhaps they were simply too exhausted to bother. From the sixth century B.C. onward, they had little interest in cultivating the arts. Clearly the pursuit of happiness was not a recognized Spartan ideal. The austerity of their lifestyle gives us our word "Spartan." Hardly surprisingly, the Spartans also had a reputation for extreme economy in the use of language, and the term "laconic" derives from the Spartan aversion to long speeches. In the hands of the Spartans, however, brevity could be put to good effect. When Philip II of Macedon sent the Spartans a letter threatening to raze Sparta if he captured the city, the ephors are said to have sent him back just one word in reply: "if".

The consequences of Greek forms of racism
If one is looking for racism in antiquity, one has to define the terms with some care. The Greeks didnt invent but extend the notion of racism. The essence of Greek discrimination is that it regards Greeks as superior which might without contradiction encompass positive feelings about a Hellenic group to which common admirable characteristics might be attributed and considered unalterable by reason of hereditary or other determinism.
In the Greek definition barbaroi, one misses what might have been thought an essential element in racism, namely, the irrational and usually violent hostility directed at individuals or groups, who typically become victims of the dominant group in ways that go well beyond the realm of attitude.
But Greek subliminal racism does not appeal to skin color as a determining factor, but its definition passes over the sort of oppression, racially based or not it presents Greek views on the impact of the environment on peoples, inheritance of acquired characteristics, and purity of descent and autochthony, with sections on modern eugenics.
Tracing a divine ancestry Greek mythology was racist from the outset. Those who have not made a systematic search for these themes in classical texts will almost surely be surprised at their pervasiveness and at the ease with which some of the best Greek minds in antiquity were seduced into such stereotypical thinking.
One must take seriously the Athenian claim to be autochthonous not as historical truth, but as a significant element in Athenian self-understanding and self-projection. Athenian and Spartan societies were the first form of government based on organized racism.
Many statements made in antiquity by Aristotle, Thucydides, Plato, lesser figures like Strabo and Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and various Roman authors from Cicero to Tacitus, explicitly assert that because barbaroi were naturally inferior, they were suitable to be conquered and enslaved.
This has been a subject ignored and less attractive to later European cultures, relishing on Greek antiquity perhaps in part because, in the ancient view, the ancestors of most of the populations of Europe were themselves counted among the barbaroi who deserved to be slaves.

Brutes and Animals
Greeks held the assertion that some foreign peoples are bestial, savage, and even cannibalistic by nature - absolute markers not merely of inferiority but of utter depravity, meriting not subjugation but annihilation.
Therefore Greek unsettling juxtaposition of quotes and their drive of Helot (native inhabitants of Sparta) extermination do not differ in essence from the worst deeds of holocaust or Serb ethnic cleansing.
The most poisonous modern instances (e.g. Americans vs. African-Americans and Indians, Nazis vs. Jews and Slavs, Slavs vs. Albanians) have involved accusations which were never leveled to the Greeks who practiced mass murder in antiquity.
All those fears and suppression and the kinds of interactions that took place between Greco-Roman culture played a powerful role in later forms of racism in Europe.
Greek notorious ideas and pandemic of racism reached finally Rome. From the beginning the Roman Empire was a conglomerate of people hardly related by common language or divine ancestry. After the appreciation of Greek supremacy several curious permutations could be surveyed in Rome of the idea that foreigners were degraded beings who deserved to be conquered and enslaved. The first is that if sufficient numbers of these non-Roman outsiders are brought to the city, even as slaves, they will corrupt Roman culture with their (eastern) luxuries and immoral barbarian ways: Vincendo victi sumus (Plin. N.H. 24.5.5, referring to Greek medicine), itself an apparent allusion to Horaces famous Graecia capta line (Epist. 2.1.156).
Athenian painful racism has actually been repeatedly copied and perfected by European cultures. Athenian criteria of citizenship doesn't differ from the American standards of naturalization process.
The Greek paranoia regarding the native pre-Greek population in Sparta draws similar conclusions about the threat posed to traditional American culture by unchecked development of native Indians. Greek xenophobia is not different from the American laws to prevent immigration from non-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant parts of the planet. In both cases, highly selective and subjective choices regarding evidence merely confirm the xenophobic prejudices that underlie such statements.
A second permutation reverses the first: if the newly-conquered peoples are not from effete eastern regions but the battle-hardened northern and western parts of Europe, then the introduction of the luxuries and comforts of civilized society will cause their tough character to soften - and perhaps even make otherwise recalcitrant and rebellious tribes more willing to tolerate the Roman yoke.
Greek prejudice stemmed from their total ignorance with regard to other European neighbors. There was in antiquity no unitary, diachronically-stable entity called e.g. Galli or Germani, only the dozens or hundreds of tribes lumped together by those generic terms. In all too many instances, Greeks lacked sufficient information about the self-definition of these groups (especially in their own languages) and the degree to which they would have accepted such blanket expressions, which by mere use create an affiliation that may oversimplify or misrepresent what they perceived as reality. Greeks failed to find out that the qualities universally ascribed to a generic entity like the Germans were not in fact shared equally or at all by some of the tribes routinely placed within that category.
Greek paranoia was translated as Roman attitudes toward the Jews. Typically, much stronger feelings of xenophobia are aroused when an established population comes to realize that a sizable group of aliens has come into their midst, bringing all their potentially threatening foreign ideas and customs. This matters because, unlike e.g. the Parthians and the Germans, who were rarely encountered in and around Rome itself, there seems to have been a noticeable Jewish community in the city from the late Republic through the Empire and, as happens all too often, increased familiarity with the practices of a different culture did not lead to unanimous approval.
Greek ideas pressured Romans to concentrate on the details of this complicated and frequently adversarial relationship with the Jews. Romans were appalled from the ritual of circumcision. Accusations of human sacrifice and cannibalism increased Roman antipathy toward Jewish culture which made them focused on their alleged antisocial separateness and certain peculiarities in their religion. Yet Roman antipathy to the Jews, in spite of its often forceful expression, is not racist compared to the extermination policy of Sparta against native Helots.