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In general, mass slavery as a whole has never been practiced by Persians, and in many cases the situation and lives of semi-slaves (prisoners of war) were, in fact, better than those of the commoner.
On the whole, in the Achaemenid empire, there was only small number of slaves in relation to the number of free persons and moreover the word used to call a slave was utilized also to express general dependence. Usually, captives were prisoners of war that were recruited from those that rebelled against Achaemenid rule.
Modern historians handle the book of Herodotus with care and according to Pierre Briant: "It is hard to separate history from fairy tale in Herodotus". Herodotus has mentioned enslavement with regards to rebels of the Lydians who revolted against Achaemenid rule and captured Sardis. He has also mentioned slavery after the rebellion of Egypt in the city of Barce during the time of Cambyses and the assassination of Persian Satrap in Egypt. He also mentions the defeat of Ionians, and their allies Eretria who supported the Ionians and subsequent enslavement of the rebels and supporting population.
|“||The basis of agriculture was the labor of free farmers and tenants and in handicrafts the labor of free artisans, whose occupation was usually inherited within the family, likewise predominated. In these countries of the empire, slavery had already undergone important changes by the time of the emergence of the Persian state. Debt slavery was no longer common. The practice of pledging one’s person for debt, not to mention self-sale, had totally disappeared by the Persian period. In the case of nonpayment of a debt by the appointed deadline, the creditor could turn the children of the debtor into slaves. A creditor could arrest an insolvent debtor and confine him to debtor’s prison. However, the creditor could not sell a debtor into slavery to a third party. Usually the debtor paid off the loan by free work for the creditor, thereby retaining his freedom.||”|
According to Plutarch, there were many "slaves" in the army of the Parthian general Surena. However, the actual meaning of the term "slaves" (doûloi, servi) mentioned in this context is disputed.
Some of the laws governing the ownership and treatment of slaves can be found in the collection of laws of the Sassanid period called Matikan-e-Hazar Datastan. Principles that can be inferred from the laws include:
1) The slaves were captured foreigners who were non-Zoroastrians.
2) The ownership of the slave belonged to the man.
3) The owner had to treat the slave humanely; violence toward the slave was forbidden. In particular beating a slave woman was a crime.
5) If a slave together with his or her foreign master embraced Zoroastrianism, he or she could pay his slave price and become free.
To free a slave (irrespective of his or her faith) was considered a good deed. Slaves had some rights including keeping gifts to them and at least three days of rest in the month. The law also protected slaves, including: No one may inflict upon slaves a fatal punishment for a single crime... Not even the king himself may slay anyone on the account of one crime.
At the beginning of 19th century both white and black slaves were traded in Iran. The 1828 war with Russia put an end to the import of white slaves from the Russian Empire borderlands as it undermined the trade in Circassians and Georgians, which both Iran and neighboring Turkey had been practising for quite some time. At the same time and under various pressures the British Empire decided to curb the slave trade through the Indian Ocean. Consequently, by 1870 the trade in African slaves to Iran through the Indian Ocean had been significantly diminished. Although the diplomatic efforts of the Russians and the British did result in a decline in the trade, slavery was still common in Iran under the Qajar dynasty and it was not until the first half of twentieth century that slavery was officially abolished in Iran under Reza Shah Pahlavi.
What ultimately led to the abolition of the slave trade and the emancipation of slaves in Iran, was internal pressures for reform. On February 7, 1929 the Iranian National Parliament ratified an anti-slavery bill that outlawed the slave trade or any other claim of ownership over human beings. The bill also empowered the government to take immediate action for the emancipation of all slaves. Original text of Iranian Slavery Abolition Act of 1929 is as follows:
|“||“Single Article” – In Iran, no one shall be recognized as slave and every slave will be emancipated upon arrival at Iran`s territorial soil or waters. Every person who purchases or vends a human as slave or treats with a human in another ownership manner or acts as an intermediary in trading or transit of slaves, shall be sentenced to one to three years of correctional imprisonment.
Indication – Having been informed about or referring of someone who has been subjected to trading or treatment as a slave, every official is obligated to provide him with means of liberation, immediately, and to inform the district court for guilt’s prosecution.
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Last number(s) indicate pages:
A. Perikhanian (1983). "Iranian Society and Law". In Ehsan Yar-Shater; William Bayne Fisher; Ilya Gershevitch (eds.). The Cambridge History of Iran. 5: Institutions. Cambridge University Press. pp. 634–640. ISBN 9780521246934.
Anthony A. Lee, “Enslaved African Women in Nineteenth-Century Iran: The Life of Fezzeh Khanom of Shiraz,” Iranian Studies (May 2012).
Amir H. Mehryar, F. Mostafavi, & Homa Agha (2001-07-05). "Men and Family Planning in Iran" (PDF). The IUSSP XXIVth General Population Conference in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, August 18–24, 2001. p. 4.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)