Slavery and Forced Labor in Early China and the Roman World

12 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2013

Date Written: March 30, 2013


The use of coerced labor in the form of chattel slavery in the private sector has long been regarded as one of the defining characteristics of some of the best-known economies of the ancient Mediterranean. It may even have been critical in producing the surplus that sustained the ruling class. In early China, by contrast, forced labor (often by convicts) appears to have been concentrated in the public sector. This paper is a first attempt to study these systems comparatively in order to investigate whether these differences were genuine and significant, and whether they can be related to observed outcomes in terms of economic and socio-political development.

Keywords: slavery, forced labor, penal servitude, Ancient Rome, Early China, comparative slavery

JEL Classification: N30, N33, N35, P52

Suggested Citation

Scheidel, Walter, Slavery and Forced Labor in Early China and the Roman World (March 30, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Walter Scheidel (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305-2145
United States

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