Roman Slaves: A Brief Analysis

Ancient Rome

“As many enemies as there are slaves.”Spartacus

Slavery was a common occurrence during the time of Ancient Rome. They resided at the lowest component of the ladder of Roman society.

Men and women were enslaved from all ages. Moreover, so were their families, including their children. Many slaves were prisoners and innocent bystanders from battles that the Romans fought.

There was more to the life of a slave than just serving the wealthy.

Aspects of Roman society have addressed by slavery. Though the topic has not been in detail.

This is a brief analysis of the average life of a slave during Roman times.

Who had Slaves?
Wealthy Roman families were entitled to slaves to handle the running of the household.

Slaves were often soldiers from other armies who were captured during battle. Their families were also taken into slavery with them.

These slaves were taken back to Rome and sold into slavery by slave traders.

There was more than one way to become a slave.

When people didn’t pay their taxes, landowners could be taken into slavery. If the potential slave had children, they were often sold to a wealthy neighbour.

How were Slaves Treated?
There was a somewhat mixed reaction when it comes to slaves. The majority of the time, they resided at the bottom of the food chain of the society’s ladder.

Many slave traders thought that slaves were objects and could be disposed of. Killed even.

However, slave masters who bought the slaves treated some of them with high esteem. With this said, some of the masters took some slaves as lovers while their wives were forced to look on.

If a slave ran away, they were forced to return to their master. They were then and have a placard placed around their necks. These placards had information about the slave so that people knew where they came from.

If the information was incorrect, the slave buyer who sold the slave to the master could be taken to court.

What the Slaves did within the Household
Slaves had different tasks within the household.

Some did the domestic chores. They were often busy tending to the master’s horses and the other animals.

Some were favoured by the master and would serve as body slaves. They also served as nannies to the household’s children.

Female slaves often served as maidservants for the mistress of the house. They also wove cloth for making clothing.

Some masters took a more intimate approach towards their slaves. Many female slaves bore their master’s children. Regrettably, the masters were unable to adopt nor claim these children as their own. Though, laws did approve of them freeing the child from slavery if they chose to do so.

Depending on the size of the household and how wealthy they, were. Some families had over a hundred slaves within their household staff.

Where Slaves resided on the ladder of society
Slaves were not always favoured. They were at the bottom of the social ladder that made up society.

Even though some slave master took a liking to some of their slaves, not all were equal. All slaves received gold for their work, but never enough to regain their own freedom.

In conclusion, most slaves never regained their freedom.

What happened to the Children of Slaves?
Children were just as affected by slavery as the adults of their social group.

If a child was born into slavery, then by default they became a slave from the moment of their birth.

As already stated, it was not unheard of for female slaves have children with their masters. Many masters had legitimate children with their wives. Their illegitimate slave children could be freed. However, the children weren’t acknowledged as the children of the master.

Most children were not willing participants in the slave trade.

If a female slave was pregnant with a disabled child, the foetus could be aborted. It was difficult to tell if the child would be disabled, prior to birth.

The birth of a disabled child was a ‘misfortune’ to the Romans. These children were often left outside in the elements to die.

The reason for such an act was because the Romans thought it was meaningless to have a ’burden’.

Where did Women stand in the Slave Market?
Always a necessary part of any Roman household, the female slave was one of the most important house.

Conversely, female slaves suffered at the hands of their masters. These men sometimes considered their female slaves as nothing more than sexual playthings.

Some female slaves had brothel owners as masters and served them as prostitutes.

Why Slaves tended to rebel
While most slaves accepted their fate, some decided to fight back. In other words, they rebelled against their masters.

Statistics show that at least one-third of Rome’s population were slaves.

Slave masters abused their slaves in any way they saw fit. Ways they did this included sexual and indecent abuse and physical and mental abuse. This was one of the many reasons why slaves rebelled.

There was a popular choice for slave rebellion was to run away. However, this did not always work. Slaves often hatched their escape in advance so that there was more time to evade their masters.

The trader would disclose whether the run away had escaped before.

Sometime during the fourth century AD, masters had to use more humane method. This was in a vain attempt to make the escape attempts by slaves decline. This was also the period where placards (collars) came into play.

Archaeologists have found remains of slaves who died wearing a collar around their necks. Once they were clean, many of these tags were taken to museums in North Africa and Europe and put on display.

In conclusion, slaves had it rough. They endured so much in their lives and they deserved better than what they had. With that said, we can thank them for helping build society to what it has become.


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