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Top 10 interesting facts about Slavery in ancient Rome

Slavery in ancient Rome played an important role in society and the economy. Besides manual labor, slaves performed many domestic services, and might be employed at highly skilled jobs and professions.

Now before going further deep into this topic we have to clear about the definition of a slave in ancient Rome.

Top 10 interesting facts

  1. Roman slaves-their accurate definition?

 They were people who were frequently captured in battle and sent back to Rome to be sold. However, abandoned children could also be brought up as slaves. The law also stated that fathers could sell their older children if they were in need of money. A wealthy Roman would buy a slave in a market place. Young males with a trade could fetch quite a sum of money simply because they had a trade and their age meant that they could last for quite a number of years and, as such, represented value for money. Someone who was a cook by trade could be very expensive.

  1. A Slave once bought was a slave for life!

Once bought, a slave was a slave for life. A slave could only get their freedom if they were given it by their owner or if they bought their freedom. To buy your freedom, you had to raise the same sum of money that your master had paid for you – a virtually impossible task. Young children were sometimes killed by their parents rather than let them become slaves. Accountants and physicians were often slaves. Greek slaves in particular might be highly educated. Unskilled slaves or those sentenced to slavery as punishment, worked on farms, in mines, and at mills. Their living conditions were brutal, and their lives short. Slavery was deep rooted into the society culture of Rome.

  1. Slavery had a great impact over Daily life in ancient Rome:

Daily life in ancient Rome and slavery went hand in hand. Family had had a very solid social position since the beginnings of Rome. The Roman family was organized as a patriarchy – it means that the whole authority rested in father’s hands. The usual family consisted of father, mother, single daughters and those, who were married but still lived with their parents and siblings, unmarried and married sons with their wives and children, and slaves. Father’s authority ranged over all members of family; in remote past he could even decide about children’s life and death (if he found neonate child illegitimate, he could not accept it and order to ditch it). It is interesting that the son, even if he was married or came of age, was unable to have own estate. He couldn’t inherit and own till the time when the father died. In relation to the slaves’ parente’s authority was absolute: he could sell, kill, leave or set them free.

  1.  Slavery became an imperial part of Ancient Rome history:

It is very rich and vivid. As the Roman empire expanded, slavery grew and became a vital part of the imperial economy. When Caesar conquered Alesia, over a quarter of a million Gauls were enslaved. Slaves, particularly war captives, were economically more profitable than paid labor and were readily available, at least while the empire was expanding. At the empire’s peak, slaves accounted for 25-40% of the population of Italy, i.e. about 2-3 million slaves in Italy alone. Estimates for the whole Roman empire vary hugely between 10-18 million.

  1. Huge number of Slaves which affected economy on a large scale!

A wealthy landowner might acquire huge numbers of slaves to run his estates and businesses. The owner of Chedworth Villa owned 400 slaves who lived in slave barracks on site. Some ultra-wealthy people owned up to 20,000 slaves who did everything. Even the simplest jobs such as getting dressed or bathing required the help of slaves. The number of slaves made the poorest of the free working population redundant and created a mob of unemployed which had to be fed and constantly distracted – bread and circuses – if social strife was to be avoided.

  1. How were Slaves treated?

Slaves had no legal status; Slaves were treated as property, ‘tools with the power of speech’. A master’s power over a slave was absolute. Life as a slave depended on the type of work the slave did and whether they lived in the city or the country. Life as a gladiator or in the mines was especially hard and dangerous. Farm slaves did better while household slaves, particularly if they worked for a wealthy family, might live in conditions that would have been the envy of the working poor. Slaves could become well-off in their own right and employ their own slaves.

  1. Marriages between Slaves:

 Marriage between slaves was possible but had no legal force. The children of a slave couple belonged to the slave owner and could be sold any time.

In the later empire, conditions nominally improved with the advent of Christianity and new laws, but these changes were routinely ignored and many priests continued keeping slaves. Domestic slaves might raise enough money to buy their freedom or might be granted their freedom through a process known as manumission. This was not an act of generosity so much as a way of reducing costs as the master no longer had to pay to feed and support them. Freed slaves were called liberty formed a separate class in Roman society. Most ex-slaves remained attached to their household and continued to work for their former master. Some grew rich and influential although they did not enjoy the same status as citizens. Besides slavery being a hot topic in Rome civilization, Rome was also famous for its architecture and art.

  1. Slavery accounted for a large proportion of labor in Roman Architecture:

Roman architecture continued the legacy left by the earlier architects of the Greek world, and the Roman respect for this tradition and their particular reverence for the established architectural orders, especially the Corinthian, is evident in many of their large public buildings. However, the Romans were also great innovators and they quickly adopted new construction techniques, used new materials, and uniquely combined existing techniques with creative design to produce a whole range of new architectural structures such as the basilica, triumphal arch, monumental aqueduct, amphitheater, granary building, and residential housing block. Many of these innovations were a response to the changing practical needs of Roman society, and these projects were all backed by a state apparatus which funded, organized, and spread them around the Roman world, guaranteeing their permanence so that many of these great edifices survive to the present day.

  1. Slavery played a significant role in shaping Roman art and culture:

Roman art is a very broad topic, spanning almost 1,000 years and three continents, from Europe into Africa and Asia. The first Roman art can be dated back to 509 B.C.E., with the legendary founding of the Roman Republic, and lasted until 330 C.E. (or much longer, if you include Byzantine art). Roman art also encompasses a broad spectrum of media including marble, painting, mosaic, gems, silver and bronze work, and terracottas, just to name a few. The city of Rome was a melting pot, and the Romans had no qualms about adapting artistic influences from the other Mediterranean cultures that surrounded and preceded them. For this reason it is common to see Greek, Etruscan and Egyptian influences throughout Roman art. This is not to say that all of Roman art is derivative, though, and one of the challenges for specialists is to define what “Roman” is about Roman art.

  1. Ancient Roman facts and how slavery played a pivotal role!

The Roman writer Seneca believed that masters should treat their slaves well as a well treated slave would work better for a good master rather than just doing enough begrudgingly for someone who treated their slaves badly. Seneca did not believe that masters and their families should expect their slaves to watch them eat at a banquet when many had only had access to poor food.

Conclusion :

The entire ancient Roman Timeline was built on the exploitation of one part of the population to provide for the other part. Regarded as no more than a commodity, any good treatment a slave received was largely only to preserve their value as a worker and as an asset in the case of future sale. No doubt, some slave owners were more generous than others and there was, in a few cases, the possibility of earning one’s freedom but the harsh day-to-day reality of the vast majority of Roman slaves was certainly an unenviable one. Thus slavery in ancient Rome was something disturbing but at the same time it was needed in the system to promote the uprising of Roman culture and empire.


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