Slaves and Schools - West Asian People
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West Asian People

All of the cultures of West Asia, from the Jews in the west to the Persians in the east, from the Sumerians at the beginning of our period to the Turks at the end, included slaves. Various laws, which changed in different periods, regulated the treatment of slaves, but slavery was everywhere an accepted, normal part of life. None of the religions popular in West Asia spoke out against slavery: not the Jews, not the Zoroastrians, not the Christians, and not Islam. In addition to working as servants, a lot of slaves worked in mines or factories or in the fields, farming.

For the earlier part of the history of West Asia, children seem to have stayed with their parents, or, as in many nomadic societies, to have been sent out with the sheep at quite young ages. When Alexander and the Greeks conquered West Asia in the 300s BC, however, the Greeks established schools in all the cities, called gymnasia. After this, some of the richer, city-dwelling West Asian boys and girls went to school and learned to read and write. Not long afterward, the Jews also established schools where boys (but not girls) could learn about the Bible and Jewish law. Under Roman rule, small private schools were very common in the cities near the Mediterranean coast, though we don't know as much about Parthian schools. When the Islamic empire was established, in the 600s AD, it too was accompanied by a lot of religious schools in mosques, which taught boys (but not girls) to memorize the Quran and learn to live by its laws.

Bibliography and further reading about West Asian people:

Find Out About Mesopotamia: What Life Was Like in Ancient Sumer, Babylon and Assyria, by Lorna Oakes (2004).

Ancient Mesopotamians, by Elena Gambino (2000). For kids, retellings ofMesopotamian stories and lots of context.

Ancient Egyptians and Their Neighbors: An Activity Guide, by Marian Broida (1999). Not just Egypt! Includes activities for kids about the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Hittites, and the Nubians.Everyday Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, by Jean Bottero and others (2001). Translated from French.

Life in the Ancient Near East: 3100-332 B.C.E., by Daniel Snell (1998).

West Asian Slaves
West Asian Women
Ancient West Asia
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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