Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In Ancient Rome, slaves addressed their masters as Dominus or Domina (male or female, respectively).

Would the slaves (or servants) of Ancient Greece have used a similar title, or would they have simply used their masters's names?

share|improve this question
Actually, just to be picky, Roman slaves would probably have addressed their masters "Ddmine", which is the vocative case for "dominus". :-) Good question anyway. –  Noldorin Nov 7 '11 at 22:00
From another question, the book questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=3797806 seems to be a good source. –  apoorv020 Nov 8 '11 at 9:36
@Noldorin youtube.com/watch?v=IIAdHEwiAy8 :) –  quant_dev Nov 9 '11 at 15:01
@quant_dev: Ahah, thank you for that! One of the best scenes from one of my favourite comedies of all time. Priceless. –  Noldorin Nov 9 '11 at 15:35
Reminds me of the good old days of GCSE Latin classes too. :-) –  Noldorin Nov 9 '11 at 15:38

3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

"A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language" By Egbert J. Bakker

The only context in which titles can have been at all common in Greek society is addresses from slaves to their masters and mistresses.

In literary representations of such addresses δέσποτα “master” and δέσποινα "mistress" frequently occur, but they are by no means the rule, and in Menander address by name is more common

Free men and women who were not a slave's own master or mistress did not receive titles or any other type of respectful address from slaves, merely names or of respectful address from slaves, merely names or γύναι (woman?) as appropriate.

share|improve this answer
I think this is probably closest to the answer. I also found corroborating information in Greek mythology, per Wikipedia. –  samiz Dec 15 '11 at 23:04

ἀνάξε (pronounced ah-NAHX-eh) is the vocative, if I've handled the accent right.

I vaguely suspect it might be ἄναξε (AH-nax-eh) - my greek is rusty.

Example (Odyssey 24.251):

οὐ μὲν ἀεργίης γε ἄναξ ἕνεκ᾽ οὔ σε κομίζει,

"It is not on account of your idleness your master does not take care of you"

share|improve this answer
Welcome to the site and nice answer indeed. –  Sardathrion Nov 24 '11 at 15:35
How do we know what the pronunciation would have been like given that Ancient Greeks didn't have the IPA or a sound recording device? –  Opt Nov 27 '11 at 21:10
ἄναξ would be closer to "king", for example Agamemnon in the Iliad is titled "ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν", which would translate to "king/leader of men/kings" or in modern terms "commander in chief". I don't think there's any reference to the word in the context of slaves using it to address their master. –  Yannis Rizos Mar 20 '12 at 5:01
Welcome to the site Onion. Great work on your first answer, but there are some points which might lead to improving your answer here. To go off what previous posters have noted there are differences between modern Greek and ancient Greek (I'm certainly not an expert on this, but I do believe the difference is quite vast). Is the reference you are using in the connotation of King? Also is the reference a modern Greek translation of the odyssey or an ancient writing (I also am not aware if there are any as I don't believe Homer wrote any of his works, although I could be wrong on this). –  BrotherJack Apr 1 '12 at 20:27

First of all, your assumption that slaves in Rome addressed their master as "domine" is not true. The language used in the household was completely different than the "silver" Latin you read in Cicero or Seneca. Vernacular Latin had large amounts of Greek slang in it and the lower in the class the person, the more slangy it got.

Words like kurios and dominus are literary words that would be not normally be used in everyday speech by a slave. The normal word in both Latin and Greek was the Greek slang Heros, which means "boss". For example, in the play "The Two Menaechmuses", Messenio, the slave, says:

edepol, ere, ne tibi suppetias temperi adveni modo!

which means:

Holy cow, boss, I saved you just in the nick of time!

If you read "Latin Forms of Address: From Plautus to Apuleius" by Eleanor Dickey it confirms my answer: slaves almost always call their master/mistress erus/era to their face. Note that "ere" is the vocative form, so that is the form that would normally be used (the Greek equivalent is the same). You will sometimes find the word in Latin dictionaries under "herus". Don't be fooled by some of these dictionaries into thinking this is an "official" Latin word, it's actually very colloquial Greek.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.