Roman Slaves

Slavery was an important part of Roman society and culture. Rich Romans depended on their slaves to maintain their luxurious lifestyle. Slaves in Rome were used for domestic help, manual labor, and gladiator fighting. Educated slaves were employed as physicians, teachers, and poets.

In the 1st century BC, up to 40 percent of Italy’s population was slaves. Most of them were prisoners captured during the wars and brought to Rome. Slave traders sold these slaves in open auctions or private sales.

Romans recruited slaves from all regions without any regard for race. Most of these slaves came from Thrace, Gallia, Carthage, Britain, Syria, North Africa, and Germanic tribes. Abandoned children were also enslaved. Fathers could sell their adult children into slavery.

Roman law declared slaves as the personal property of their masters. Slave had no legal rights. They were not allowed to vote, hold a political office, or claim any legal rights.

Some masters treated their slaves harshly. However, towards the later period of imperial Rome, reforms improved the conditions of slaves and they gained many rights. Roman slaves could own property and in the later years of the Roman Empire, could even file a complaint against their masters. A master could free a slave in return for services rendered, or slaves could buy their freedom from their own earnings. However, most of the slaves were not allowed to keep money and the instances of slaves buying their freedom were very rare. Children born to slaves were also considered the property of their masters, just like their parents. Children born to freed slaves were free with the full rights of a Roman citizen.

A domestic slave was expected to wake early to begin the household chores. Unskilled slaves worked in mines, mills, and fields. Their living conditions were poor and many of them died early. Condemned criminals and slaves punished for any offense were also sent to work in mines.

Some slaves were bought by owners of gladiator schools, where they trained to become gladiators and fight in the popular gladiator games. Rich Romans might own hundreds of slaves who performed different duties. A typical Roman Emperor had close to 20,000 slaves at his service.

Former enemy soldiers also served as slaves. leading to slave rebellions.

Source: Roman Slaves
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