The Athenian settlements overseas during the fifth and fourth centuries BC have been much discussed, and the ancient sources give a fairly clear picture of the Athenian imperial machinery. The question of the status of local inhabitants in places where the Athenians settled, whether as colonists, cleruchs, or as private holders of lands, however, is very rarely referred to and remains to a large degree a riddle. This article tries to handle this question and suggests some possible answers. By illustrating the ways by which the Athenians acquired land abroad and by analyzing the ancient sources, including those which do not relate directly to the subject of Athenian settlements abroad, the article presents the hypothesis that these locals were used as leaseholders and hirelings on lands which had formerly belonged to them. This situation is reflected in Thucydides’ and Ps.-Xenophon’s depiction of the Athenians’ operations against other Greek poleis as ‘enslavement’.