In ancient Sumer, kings would send bands of men out to plunder neighboring city-states in the hill country in order to acquire slaves (Moorey). In order to justify the acquisition of slaves, these kings would claim that their gods had given them victory over an inferior people. Slavery was a huge part of civilization and how the ancient near east lived (Moorey). They depended on slaves to build their empires. Deportees were chosen for their abilities and were sent away where they could make the most of their talents. Not everyone in the conquered population was chosen for deportation and families were surely separated. The supply of war captives and native born slaves at times were not sufficient enough to satisfy the demand for help in agriculture, industry, and in the households of the wealthy. Therefore, the need for importing slaves from the neighboring countries was vital to the growth of powerful city-states. Importing and exporting slaves played an important role in the country’s economy, this could be a large portion of ones income and slaves were surely not cheap. Slaves were imported and exported by private merchants who dealt in various commodities. Strictly speaking, there were no slave merchants in the Ancient Near East or a single person just buying and selling slaves.  

The demand for slaves was not large enough to call for specialization in this field of commercial activity (King). Prisoners of war, foreign slaves, and their descendants made up a huge part of the slave population in Mesopotamia (King). The bulk of the Sumerian and Akkadian slaves originally came from the ranks of the native population, which is the case for every city-states at some point in time. The slaves came from citizens who were defaulting debtors, unemployed men and women who sold themselves voluntarily into slavery, and minors who were either sold by their parents or who were forced into a position in which only slavery could save their lives (King).  Merchants who dealt in wheat, cattle, real estate, and so on would also deal in buying and selling slaves as an extra source of income (King).

As we follow evidence through history, we see that slavery was a huge advantage for any new empire to become a success and thrive. Evidence has shown us that this was a way life for nearly every country in existence. Slaves were needed for labor whether it be for farmers or building walls to the empire. Slaves were therefore very important to their success.


Above is the Standard of Ur. On the top panel, prisoners are being brought before the king . On the right side, the prisoners are naked and bleeding from their wounds. King Ur-Pabilsag stands in the center of the panel, reviewing the prisoners. Behind the king are three soldiers, each armed with spears and axes. In the rear is the royal chariot, held by the axe-armed driver. The elite warriors and charioteers all seem to be dressed in some type of animal skin or fringed leather kilts and wear cloaks over one shoulder. The common soldiers wear the polka-dotted capes, most likely meant to represent metal studs to make the cloak stronger and more protective in battle. Both classes have the same caps and or helmets.



King, Leonard William. A History of Sumer and Akkad: An Account of the Early Races of Babylonia from Prehistoric Times to the Foundation of the Babylonian Monarchy. Vol. 1. Chatto & Windus, 1923.
Moorey, Peter Roger Stuart. “The emergence of the light, horse‐drawn chariot in the Near‐East c. 2000–1500 BC.” World Archaeology 18.2 (1986): 196-215.

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