Slavery in the Roman Empire | Roman Slaves, History, Facts

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Slavery was a significant aspect of Roman society, as it was in many other ancient societies. The majority of the labor and toil that went into creating and maintaining the Roman Empire was done by slaves.

Did they have a lot of slaves?

Slaves made up a sizable portion of the population of Rome and Italy. Between 20% and 30% of the population were slaves, though historians are unsure of the precise number. Up to one-third of Rome’s population was a slave during the early days of the Roman Empire.

How did a person end up as a slave?

Most slaves were captured during wartime. Slaves were frequently taken as the Roman Empire extended into new territories. Other slaves were purchased from slave traffickers and pirates who had brought foreign captives to Rome.

Slaves’ offspring also grew up to be slaves. Criminals were occasionally sold into slavery. Some individuals even sold themselves as slaves to pay off their debts.

What tasks did slaves perform?

Throughout the empire, slaves performed a wide range of tasks. Some slaves toiled arduously in the mines or on a farm in ancient Rome. Other slaves performed sophisticated work in fields like accountancy or education. The slave’s prior education and work history typically determined the sort of labor.

Slaves could be classified as either public or private. The Roman government owned servi publici, or public slaves. They might labor for a government official, on public construction projects, or in the mines of the emperor. Servi privati, or private slaves, belonged to an individual. They held jobs as domestic helpers, farm laborers, and artisans.

Were they treated well?

It was up to the owner how they handled their slaves. While others were treated almost like family, some slaves were probably abused and worked to death. Slaves were often seen as precious possessions, thus it made sense to treat them well. If slaves put in a lot of effort, their owners might occasionally pay them.

Were Slaves set free?

Yes, owners would occasionally “manumission” their slaves to freedom. Slaves occasionally had the option to buy their own freedom. Slaves who had been emancipated were known as freedmen or freedwomen. Despite being free, they were nevertheless considered a “freed slave.” Roman citizens who had been freed from slavery might vote but not occupy public office.

Slave Uprisings

Throughout Rome’s history, the slaves organized and rebelled on several occasions. The “Servile Wars” were three significant uprisings. The Third Servile War, which was led by the gladiator Spartacus, is arguably the most well-known of them.

Interesting Information on Roman Slavery

Children of liberated slaves were eligible to run for office.

Roman law declared it unlawful to aid a fugitive slave. Runaways who were caught were subjected to harsh punishment and occasionally executed as a lesson to the other slaves.

The Emperor Pertinax was a freedman’s son. However, he was only the emperor for a short period of time before being killed.

Roles between masters and slaves were frequently swapped during the Roman celebration of Saturnalia. Sometimes the masters treated the slaves as equals and served them a lavish feast.