Slavery in the Roman Empire

To fully understand 'The Story of Gracchus' it is essential to understand the institution of Roman slavery   
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Building on Greek and Hellenistic institutions, ancient Rome created the largest slave society in history.
There are several reasons for defining the Roman Empire as a slave society, above all in its Italian core, - but also, to varying degrees, in its subject territories.
Slaves, numbering in the millions, and widely dispersed, accounted for a large share of the total population of the Empire.
In key areas, slaves were not merely present, but supported what has been termed a ‘slave mode of production,’ a mode that rested both on a complex system of enslavement, slave trade, and slave employment in production, and on the systematic subjection of slaves to the control of their masters.
Most importantly, Rome counts as a slave society in terms of the structural location of slavery. Dominant groups, at the core of society, relied to a significant degree of slave labour to generate surplus wealth, and maintain their position of dominance.
Since the role of slavery in essential productive processes turned Rome into a ‘slave economy’ - just as the widespread domination of slaves as a primary social relationship made it a ‘slave society,’ - these two terms may be used interchangeably, especially in those areas of society where slaves and ex-slaves continuously 'enveloped' owners, and patrons, and mediated their interaction with the freeborn population.
In short, Rome was a ‘slave society’ to the extent that without slavery it would have appeared profoundly different.
(It should be noted that in 'The Story of Gracchus' most of the characters are slaves, or ex-slaves - freedmen - and even the main character, Marcus Octavianus Gracchus spends a period of his youth as a slave-boy'.)


This section of 'Reflections on Roman Tales' is an attempt to demonstrate the dependence of Roman society on slavery during the end of the Republic, and in the first period of the Empire, using examples of slave use in various areas of Roman life.
After an overview of Roman slavery, the areas of Roman life considered will also include agriculture, industry, domestic life, the state, entertainment, intellectual life, military, religion, and the use of slaves for sexual purposes.
Through these examples, it is possible to show Rome’s 'day-to-day' dependence upon slaves.
Even Romans themselves had a growing awareness of their dependence on slaves, and thus gradually changed their behaviour towards slaves, in an attempt to keep them compliant.
One specific change in behaviour was that of 'manumission', where good working slaves were freed.
(In 'The story of Gracchus' there are a number of incidents of 'manumission'.)
Rome depended upon slavery to function and to maintain its political, social, and economic hold on the Mediterranean area and beyond.


Little is known about the origins of slavery in Rome, however, it was common in ancient societies to keep slaves - an example in the classical world being Greece, before it was conquered by Rome.
The likely origin of Rome as a small village, or collection of villages, lends itself easily to early slavery.
It would not have been uncommon for even a small village to maintain a few slaves; captured from another local village, or perhaps bought through trade, however, there are a few references to slavery before the third century BC, and those speak of small-scale slavery.
Only the extremely rich could afford these slaves, and even then, they could only afford a few slaves.
With military victories and expansion, slavery grew at an incredible rate.
With victory came money, and with money came more victories, and more slaves.
In 225 B.C., there were an estimated 600,000 slaves in Roman Italy, but only 194 years later that number grew to approximately two million.
This included a growth from 15% to 35% of the total population.
These numbers reveal the extent of the institution of slavery in Roman society.
In a study of Roman tombstones, nearly three times as many inscriptions memorialised ex-slaves as freeborn citizens.
These numbers reveal an astounding number of inhabitants of Rome who were once slaves.
As the numbers of slaves rose, so did the number of occupations in which slaves were used.
Initially serving only as domestic servants, masters eventually used slaves in virtually every realm of life - from brute manual labour to the intellectual tasks of teaching and government office (in the Story of Gracchus' the teachers hired to educate Marcus - and Gnaeus Gracchus' physician were all slaves).
Roman slavery was not primarily an issue of race or ethnicity, however, slaves from abroad often looked different from their Roman masters.
In the earlier days of Rome, when the city was less diverse, light-skinned, blue-eyed slaves would stand out, and Romans might easily identify them as slaves.
Some ethnicities were used in certain slave occupations more than others, - for example, many Romans preferred Ethiopians, Egyptians, and Asiatics as personal attendants.
Few people, if any, were safe from the possibility of becoming a slave due to the many methods of enslavement.
From the very inception of slavery in Rome, freedom was not as simple as 'slave' and 'non-slave'.
There were three different social classes of freedom.
The first group was the 'ingenuus'.
These people were the freeborn who were at no point lawfully enslaved.
The second classification was the 'libertinus'.
These freedmen, while once being slaves, had gained freedom through manumission.
The last category was, of course, the 'servus' - currently and legally enslaved.
A freeborn citizen could not rightfully be a slave, excluding extenuating circumstances such as criminal activity.
Except through unusual circumstances (as in the 'Story of Gracchus' - in the case of Marcus - who was deemed to be originally 'ingenuus' and illegally enslaved), or a special commendation from the state, a freedman could not be an ingennus.
Some slave owners allowed their slaves a certain measure of freedom.
Slaves could own their own property, though this normally consisted of money.
This property was called a 'peculium' (in the 'Story of Gracchus' this would include the valuable gifts that Marcus bought for his slave-boys').
Sometimes masters paid their slaves for their services, (in the 'Story of Gracchus' Gnaeus Gracchus gave his senior slave, Petronius, a daily allowance), though this compensation was normally nominal.
While a slave’s 'peculium' technically belonged to his or her master, it was generally considered unacceptable for a master to appropriate his or her slave’s holdings.
A slave could use his or her money for nearly any purpose; two uses, however, were most common.. The first was the purchase of  a slave of his or her own.
It was possible for slaves to purchase their own slave to either do their work for them, or to do any other various tasks they wished.
The second common use for a 'peculium' was to purchase one’s own freedom.
It was not uncommon for a master to free a slave if the slave could pay the master for a replacement.
Though a slave did have certain rights, his or her status in Roman society was in most cases very low.
Society legally considered the slave little more than human 'res'.
The word 'res' can have many meanings, but it is essentially a 'thing' or an object.
He or she was, therefore, not a person but a possession.
Gaius’ commentary on the 'Lex Aquilia' in the second century BC admits, -
It therefore appears that the law places in the same category with slaves animals which are included under the head of cattle, and are kept in herds...
During the Republic, masters were not required to mark their slaves in any way in order to distinguish them from the free people of Rome.
In the late Empire, many slaves had collars to identify them, and presumably impede the possibility of escape.
Later in the Empire, some restrictions were applied to the clothing allowed a slave as well.
These restrictions included the banning of long hair and “garments made of skin” within the city of Rome.
Familial ties among slaves were an important aspect of slave life.
A slave could not technically be married; however, he or she could enter into 'contubernium', a union with no legal or civil rights.
As with most slave markets, the Roman market operated best by denying family ties, partly because buyers do not necessarily want to purchase a whole family unit, partly because slaves themselves might not be able to pay for the release of all family members at one time.
However, this being the case there is evidence that some “married” slaves were able to stay together despite the odds.
In this way, slave-owners used families to placate slaves.
It is probable that the only relationship legally validated was that of a mother and child, for it was through the mother that the child was born a slave (in the 'Story of Gracchus' this was the case with Demetrius), however, the master could still sell the child away from his or her mother at any time.
In addition to the large number of educated and skilled slaves coming in from abroad, especially Greece, less qualified slaves sometimes had the opportunity for an education (in the 'Story of Gracchus' this is the case with his personal slaves).
This education was mostly vocational.
The master or his or her slaves usually did the training with an eye towards bringing a higher price at sale or for his or her own private use.
The slave-owner could have trained his or her slave in industry, agriculture, or reading and writing.
In the first century AD, Seneca wrote of an owner having “eleven slaves taught to recite Homer, Hesiod, and the nine lyric poets by heart.”


Slaves came from a wide variety of sources.
The primary sources of slaves, especially in the early years of Rome, were those acquired through war and conquest.
After a conflict, victors often sold the enemy captives as slaves into Roman territory.
For example, at the end of the Third Punic War in 146 BC, Scipio Africanus sold the entire Carthaginian population into slavery.
However, the Romans had not defeated all the captives coming into their territory.
In the later Roman period, 'tribal war' often resulted in the selling of defeated and captured tribes to the Romans.
The prices at the borders tended to be lower than in the heart of Rome due to this influx of slaves.
Kidnapping was also a tool of the slave trader.
Pirates took the unlucky into their custody and sold them to the highest bidder.
At times, this made travel perilous in the Mediterranean.
In the first century BC, pirates captured a young Julius Caesar, however, the pirates found him too precious to sell as a common slave.
Instead, they ransomed him for fifty talents, a decision the pirates would later regret when Caesar hunted them down and killed them.
Cilician Pirates
(In the 'Story of Gracchus' the tale opens with Marcus being 'kidnapped' by Cilician Pirates and sold into slavery - on the assumption - because of his Greek accent, that he was a Greek slave boy).
A fair amount of shipping brought slaves from slave markets outside the Roman state as well.
Slaves also came from within the territory of Rome itself, predominately from slave families.
Romans considered the child of any slave woman to be a slave, regardless of the father - (hence, in the 'Story of Gracchus', Demetrius is brought up as a slave, although his father is a Roman citizen).
Exposed children were also a source for slaves.
Though it was technically not illegal until late in the Empire, child exposure was viewed as morally suspect.
The intention in exposing a child was death, however, slavers saved some children by taking them in.
This could be a mercy, though the life gained was that of a slave.
Heads of families - pater familias - were also legally entitles to sell their children into slavery - and often did so the obtain money in order to pay their debts.
(in the 'Story of Gracchus' this is the explanation for Petronius and Aurarius becoming slaves).
Slavery could also be a punishment for criminal activities.
The slaves would most likely become mine-workers, however, some would become combatants in the arena.
Even those criminals sentenced to death would become slaves between the time of sentence and execution.
Debt could also lead to slavery.
The government gave a creditor the right to sell the debtor into slavery only if the debtor was unable to pay.
Nearly any person in the ancient world could become a slave.
Slaves who could prove their Roman citizenship had some recourse against their wrongful enslavement, however, not all were lucky enough to have the opportunity.
Slavery grew at a rapid rate in ancient Rome.
Initially, the extremely wealthy had only a few slaves, but over time, slave use was common.
During the late Republic and early Empire, slaves compromised a large number of the workforce in nearly every realm of life, and slaves even bought their own slaves to do their work.
As the use of slaves increased, Romans became more dependent on them to maintain their society and their influence in the world.

Location of the Graecostadium - Rome
In Rome itself the main slave market was situated in the area called the Graecostadium behind the Basilica Julia in the Roman Forum.
The market was huge and extremely popular with the Romans.
(in the 'Story of Gracchus', slaves to be trained as combatants in Marcus' private arena in Baiae, and slave boys to perform as dancers are bought at the Graecostadium in Rome.
Other slaves are bought in Ostia (the port of Rome).
Marcus, and later Aurarius are purchased by Terentius in Brundisium.)
The name 'Graecostadium' means 'market for Greek slaves'. Some of the first large numbers of Roman slaves came from Greece. Many Greeks were brought to Rome as slaves. Aemilius Paulus, the victor of the Battle of Pydna in Greece in 168 BC is said to have taken the profit from selling 150,000 Greeks to Rome. Trade at the Graecostadium was extremely brisk during this period.
Slave Market
adapted from a painting by Gustave Boulanger
The trade in slaves was highly lucrative.
The best slaves were to be found in the Saepta (built by Septimius Severus near the forum) which was the market and meeting place of the wealthy Romans, where the best shops were.
Slave-traders who conducted slave auctions were known in Latin as Venalitii.
The wealthy aristocrats who invested in slaves had a high social standing, but the actual Roman slave-traders, the Venalitti,  were viewed with some distrust, even likened to pimps.
As their integrity and honesty was often questioned the traders at the auctions had to guarantee that the slaves they were selling were sound and that any faults were pointed out.
Slaves were therefore normally required to be exhibited for sale naked.
The traders were under the supervision of the Aediles who ensured that their wares were sold publicly and fairly.
Aedīlis - (from aedes, "temple building") was an office of the Roman Republic. Based in Rome, the aediles were responsible for maintenance of public buildings (aedēs) and regulation of public festivals. They also had powers to enforce public order. There were two pairs of aediles: the first were the aediles plebis, and possession of this office was limited to plebeians; the other two were aediles curules, open to both plebeians and patricians, in alternating years. An aedilis curulis was classified as a magister curulis. The office of the aedilis was generally held by young men intending to follow the 'cursus honorum' to high political office, traditionally after their quaestorship but before their praetorship. It was not a compulsory part of the cursus, and hence a former quaestor could be elected to the praetorship without having held the position of aedile, however, it was an advantageous position to hold because it demonstrated the aspiring politician's commitment to public service.
Markos at the Slave Market
adapted from a painting by Jean-Leon Gerome
Slaves of great beauty and rarity were not exhibited to public gaze in the common slave market, but were shown to purchasers in private (arcana tabulata catastae).
(in the 'Story of Gracchus' Marcus buys a top quality slave-boy for Demetrius in a private purchase - arcana tabulata catastae)
If the slave had defects not shown in his guarantee, the dealer had to take him back in six months or make good the buyer's loss.
The slave auction would display groups of slaves to be sold.
The auction was conducted the same way as other goods and wares.
The traders would emphasise the features and benefits and any unique selling points at the auction. Every one might see and handle them, even if they did not wish to purchase them.
Slaves were often displayed to their best advantage on platforms or revolving stands
SLave-Boy Wearing  a  Pillei
Those brought from abroad were put on display with one foot whitened with chalk.
If a dealer was unable to offer any guarantees about the slave's abilities or attitude then the slave was made to wear a special cap called a 'pillei' on his head.
Slave-Boys at a Private Auction
The prices paid a slave auction varied considerably according to the age, skills and qualities of the slave who was being auctioned.
Slaves with valued skills or education were priced about 12 times more than slaves without skills. Female slaves, unless possessed of personal attractions, were generally cheaper than male.
Once bought, a slave was a slave for life.
Every five years, each male Roman citizen had to register in Rome for the census.
In this he had to declare his family, wife, children, slaves and riches.
A master wishing to free his slave needed only to enter him in the censor's list as a citizen (manumissio censu) and he, or she, would be free.
Once freed he or she enjoyed full citizenship, except for the right of holding public office. Registration in the census was the only way that a Roman could ensure that his identity and status as a citizen were recognised.


The importance of the farm in Roman history, both economically and ideologically, cannot be understated.
Romans considered the farmer the backbone of Roman society.
Cato wrote in the second century BC that “when they [the early Romans] would praise a worthy man their praise took this form: ‘good husbandman,’ ‘good farmer’; one so praised was thought to have received the greatest commendation.”
He also stated, “It is from the farming class that the bravest men and sturdiest soldiers come, their calling is most highly respected.”
Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella  (4 – c. 70 AD) was the most important writer on agriculture of the Roman empire. Little is known of his life. He was probably born in Gades, Hispania Baetica (modern Cádiz), possibly of Roman parents. After a career in the army (he was tribune in Syria in 35), he took up farming. His 'Res Rustica' in twelve volumes has been completely preserved and forms an important source on Roman agriculture, together with the works of Cato the Elder and Varro, both of which he occasionally cites. A smaller book on trees, 'De Arboribus', is usually attributed to him.
Columnella, in the first century AD, called agriculture the “own sister to wisdom.”
It is not a coincidence that one of Rome’s earliest heroes was Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus. Cincinnatus was a lowly farmer of only “four acres” who led his people to defeat an invading army of Sabines in the fifth century BC. 37
Despite Rome’s elevated view of the farmer, the use of slave labour eventually displaced most of these farmers to the extent that the majority of Roman farm-owners were little more than absentee landlords.
A law limited farmers to owning no more than five hundred acres.
The rich, however, bypassed this in the second century BC by gobbling up large parcels of land that were designated public.
As time passed, these rich families began to assume that this long appropriated land was by all right theirs.
Tiberius Gracchus, a newly elected tribune in 133 BC, attempted to reverse this trend, and redistribute the land back into the hands of small citizen farmers.
To push through his legislation, Tiberius extended his power to the legal limit and beyond.
This tactic led to his death at the hands of a mob of political officers in 132 BC.
Ten years later his brother Gaius secured the tribunate, and was able to push through the redistribution, but the results were limited and did not last long.
The rich expelled as many as one and a half million small farmers from their land by purchase or force in the seventy-two years between 80 and 8 BC.
In the same time period, the percentage of free rural peoples dropped by an alarming 29 percent.
These large farms were able to change the face of Roman agriculture.
A surplus market economy emerged from the subsistence farming of earlier eras.
This resulted in the displaced small farmers relocated to urban Rome, becoming dependent on the free bread and corn provided by the state.
Agricultural Slaves
adapted from a scene from the movie 'Barrabas'
A massive influx of slaves, many captured and imported as war prisoners, replaced the free labourers, forcing them to join the urban poor (plebs).
During the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire, large landowners preferred slave labour to free labour for several reasons.
Aristocrats who owned slaves gained status.
Since all soldiers were citizens, free labourers could have been called away at a moment’s notice, perhaps never to return.
It then became more practical for the landowners to use slaves who could not be used for military service.
Even though slaves were not inexpensive and required upkeep, they were still far more economical than free labor.
The constant pay for wage labourers was a continuous draw on the landowner's budget and slaves could be a renewable resource, to some degree, if encouraged or allowed to breed.
The wage for a free labourer not only supported that labourer, but his family as well.
A slave needed only shelter and food for him or herself.
With constant warfare and, therefore, constant influx of prisoners of war and booty, rich Romans could afford the expense of buying slaves.
Masters could also force slaves to work longer hours and during holidays.
A slave was also the perfect choice for highly specialised skills.
It was a much better investment to train a slave with a guaranteed time of service (barring incident or accident), than to spend the money to train a free labourer, who might have chosen to leave at anytime for other employment or military service.
Vilicus - During the end of the Republic and beginning of the Empire, slaves on the farm could work a myriad of jobs, but none more important than the vilicus.
This slave steward, or overseer, was the manager of the entire farm.
Most owners of farms, preoccupied by the hustle and bustle of Roman politics, lived in Rome or villas by the sea (in the 'Story of Gracchus', Gnaeus Gracchus lives in a huge seaside villa, but has numerous farms, both in Italy and Greece.)
Given the importance of his task, several contemporary sources spoke of the duties and qualities that one should look for in a vilicus.
A vilicus was to carry out any and all of his master’s orders, as well as keep the slave workers busy and provide for their needs.
He would offer no sacrifices excepting those his master ordered.
The overseer was to settle any arguments among the slaves and punish any guilty slave.
He was responsible for collecting any outstanding loans, and could not lend anything unless directed by his master with whom he was to review the farm’s accounts frequently.
Top priorities for a vilicus were keeping the farming equipment in good repair, and keeping the slave clothing properly maintained so they may work any day, regardless of weather.
Masters often required that he always be present on the farm property to ensure that all the necessary work was finished.
The vilicus’ ability to perform all the duties on the farm in the presence of his fellow slaves, helped to keep his charges accountable in both the speed and quality of their work.
Masters often gave the vilicus a wife in order to keep him from becoming intimate with anyone else inside, or outside, the farm (a precaution that was often unsuccessful)
The overseer was the first to rise in the morning and the last to go to sleep after settling the day’s accounts.
Cato believed the vilicus was to maintain the feast days and make sure not to hire the same day labourers for more than one day.
Observing no personal business, the overseer could not draw upon any slave for his own personal use; neither could he use his master’s food stores.
He was also to consider his master’s friends (freedmen) as his own and shelter no guest but his master’s freedmen and family.
In order for the vilicus to perform his multitude of tasks well, Columella in the first century AD, and Cato in the second century BC, expounded on the qualities they believed were of the utmost importance.
Columella believed a vilicus should not be from or have any association with urban areas except for that which he needed for supplying the farm, as he will surely be infected with the laziness and tendency towards coarse entertainments that city life breeds.
Instead, Columella preferred that he be from farmer stock, so he would be well acquainted with the rigours of farm life.
Strong and healthy, the vilicus for Columella could not be too young, too old, or too attractive, and he must be skilled in the operations of a farm.
Of course, a person like Marcus, (in the 'Story of Gracchus'), when he became Dominus - master), would probably never meet the vilicus on any of his farms, as this would the the responsibility of his freedmen - (such as Terentius.)
'Procurator' - If the owner possessed more than one farm, he might employ a 'Procurator'.
His job would be to oversee all the different farms and report to the Dominus.
There were, of course, various slaves to deal with the day-to-day function of the farm, cookers, cleaners, as well as those to serve the owner when he was there.
The jobs of the manual labourers depended greatly upon the focus of the farm, whether wheat, vines, or livestock.
Gardeners kept the grounds around the villa clean and pruned in case of the master’s arrival.
Alongside the permanent slave staff, the vilicus brought day labourers in at certain times of the year. During planting and harvesting season, a farm may have needed more work than its slave numbers could accomplish.
The number of slaves on the farm could dictate the treatment of slaves on the farm.
A vilica could not be too cruel since his charges could revolt, nor could he be to gentle as he was answerable to his master.
A slave on a farm was often out from the eyes of his master, and therefore would be less likely to receive his freedom and get special treatment.
Roman agriculture was dependent on the slave work force at the end of the Republic and beginning of the Empire.
Farm owners used slaves to work the entire spectrum of farm work.
Slaves planted the crops and ploughed the fields. the work and kept the books, maintained the grounds, cooked, cleaned.
Rome was dependent upon the slave to provide the daily labour necessary to produce the local agricultural supplies that helped keep Rome fed.


Industry in Rome dates back to the early days of the monarchy.
The second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, attempted to unify the two tribes, the Sabines and the Romans, in the seventh century BC by dividing them into eight guilds: musicians, goldsmiths, carpenters, dyers, shoemakers, skinners, braziers, and potters.
He also created a ninth guild, which collected all other skilled craftsmen.
This division became the blueprint of industry throughout the history of Rome.
Nearly every craft or industry had a guild or was part of a guild.
Electing their own officers, often for five-year terms, these 'Collegia' solved their own disputes.
They were mainly for the worship of gods that could be particularly advantageous to their careers.
Each guild celebrated its festivals individually, accompanied by music, parades, and brightly coloured decorations.
Though individuals were not required to join a 'collegia', guild members would undermine non-members with vandalism and disruption to their business.
Slaves could hold membership in the 'Collegia Tenuiorum', a catchall guild with no particular power.
The markets of ancient Rome took three basic forms.
Trade - these were normally associated with harbour towns where captains of trade ships would simply unload their ships and sell their wares at a harbour “wholesale market.”
Small business owners would often come here to buy raw material for use or foreign wares for sale. The second form of market was the shop, which was intimately connected with the first.
Often similar shops gathered in the same area, which would then carry the name of that business.
The city marketplace was the third type of market.
In Rome the marketplace was located just off the Forum.
In the first century BC, Julius Caesar built his section to solve the crowding of the Forum.
Augustus (first century BC to the first century AD), and Nero (first century AD), eventually expanded the market.
The market held virtually everything a Roman citizen could desire.
As the city expanded, money and taxes from the provinces flooded into Rome.
With increasing wealth as the Empire expanded, Romans gave into luxury, which lead to a massively unbalanced trade.
Imports far outweighed the exports of Rome, and this was true for the rest of Italy.
Wine was the chief export, along with some iron and bronze items and, for a short period, olive oil.
Romans exported many other products, though their impact on the market was negligible, therefore, local products comprised a much smaller percentage of the market in comparison with imported commodities.
With Rome’s newfound taste for luxury during the end of the Republic and beginning of the Empire, Romans looked more and more towards slaves to provide the labour necessary for the production and trade of products.
The use of slaves in trade between the second century BC and the second century AD was extensive.
More often slaves were used to load and unload boats and in warehouses to move products.
The most labour-intensive use of slaves was towing ships and barges.
When traders did not use oxen, slaves could be found on paths besides canals and rivers pulling ships and barges upstream on foot by ropes.
The use of slaves in the rest of industry was extensive.
Slaves fell into one of two categories - skilled or unskilled.
Slaves did the majority of the work in most factories.
For example, the famous Arrentine pottery in the late BCs and early ADs bore stamps upon them.
These included both the stamp of the factory and the stamp of the mould maker.
All of the surviving pottery has the name of slaves as the mould maker.
If the craftsmen were slaves, it is likely that the majority of manual labour employed were also slaves.
Masters also trained unskilled slaves in certain occupations advantageous to their master.
In the first century BC, Marcus Licinius Crassus as many as five hundred slaves in a period of eight years.
Crassus used these slaves to rebuild buildings that he had purchased cheaply after fire engulfed them.
Some masters allowed their slaves to set up a business of their own.
The slave’s master would invest a certain sum of money to start up the business.
The masters gave their slaves a certain amount of freedom, and the slaves did not work under the direct supervision of their masters.
There were several different ways the owner could reap the benefits of his investment.
The slave would pay his or her owner a set amount of money every year, or only retain a percentage of the profits.
A more generous master could just require a repayment of the initial capital invested.
Such a move by a master could be quite beneficial.
If he kept his slave under his control, he would gain a profitable business, and get free services in the business speciality.
If he at some point freed his slave, he would of course keep the free service, plus he would garner the prestige and honour as his former slave became a member of his 'client' base.
His master’s help in setting him up with a livelihood would perhaps increase the loyalty of the former slave.
One long-term problem with industrial dependence on slavery was the lack of innovation.
Romans did not need time and labour saving inventions if they did not have to pay wages to freemen.
The lack of this innovation also stunted the growth of new products.
This of course did not allow industry to grow beyond a certain limit.
Perhaps if Rome had been more open to the progress of industry, it would have been able to reverse the unacceptable balance of trade.
The sweat of slaves oiled Roman industry and trade during the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire.
Factories depended upon slaves to create the products they manufactured.
The markets depended upon slaves to work the shops, some even running their own businesses.
Even the massive importation of products was dependent upon slaves as slave labour transported these items to the Roman markets.
Without the daily labour of slaves, Roman industry would have found it impossible to function, much less making a profit.


Domestic life in ancient Rome was an important aspect of the Roman lifestyle.
Roman Insulae
Though the father, and to some degree the mother held the power in the house, during the end of the Republic and beginning of the Empire, they became more dependent upon slave labour to keep the home functioning.
There were essentially two types of residences in urban Rome.
The insulae was an apartment building that housed many families.
The numerous poor normally lived in this type of accommodation in Rome.
'Domus Gracchii' - 'Palatium'
The other type of accommodation was the 'domus' (town house).
(in the 'Story of Gracchus' the 'Domus' where Marcus resided is decidedly atypical, as it is in fact, a 'palatium' - a palace surrounded by gardens).
The affluent of Rome, be they nobility or wealthy merchants, used these single-family homes. Romans divided their homes into two sections.
They built the rear area around a central garden or open area.
Medium Size Roman Domus
The gardens would help to keep the Romans in touch with their agrarian heritage in the otherwise urban environment.
This would be the core of the house where the family had their private rooms.
The staff performed the usual household duties here as well.
The front area around the atrium allowed for a private open space that was otherwise missing in the crowded city.
Romans designed this area with the guest in mind.
It would serve to welcome visitors and display the owner’s wealth.
From the outside of the home, little could be seen.
As the rooms faced inwards towards the central courtyard, the outside was a windowless wall, with perhaps just one doorway.
The organisation of the family in the household was extremely hierarchical.
The father of the house was the ultimate power within the home.
Marcus as  Pater Familias
The head of the family was the 'pater familias' - the eldest male in the family.
His authority extended to all his progeny regardless of their marital status, age, and where they lived.
The only exceptions to this were his daughters.
If they were married, then they were transferred to the domain of their in- laws power.
As long as the 'pater familia' lived, his sons were dependent upon him for approval of all their actions, economic, political, and personal.
At a child’s birth, the mother or a slave placed the child on the ground before the father.
Acceptance of a Child
If father accepted the child by symbolically picking it up, it was fed and reared.
If he did not, then the child would either starve to death or be tossed out to die of exposure and perhaps be picked up by a stranger for whatever purpose he or she saw fit. as the child grew.
Equally, a father could “kill, mutilate, expel, or sell into slavery” his children regardless of their age.
The wife, though technically under the complete control of her husband, did have some rights and duties.
There was not one single type of marriage.
Some husbands allowed their wife more independence than others.
The husband shared the responsibility of running the household with his wife, however, often he left her to run it as business otherwise occupied him.
The wife was not kept isolated but could sit and discuss affairs with her husband, share a meal, and entertain with him.
She would, of course, have to deffer to her husband in matters of dispute.
The role of the wife or 'matron' was elevated in Roman society, in ideal, if not always in practice.
When she left the house dressed in her 'stola matronalis', people stepped to the side and made way for her and her always present escort.
The household was not just the home of the family; it almost always housed slaves as well.
It is thought that the domestic realm was the largest user of slaves during the end of the Republic and beginning of the Empire.
Slaves were also common in the homes of the (relatively small)  middle class, and occasionally even some of the lower class (plebs).
The treatment of domestic slaves often depended on the position the slave held, as slaves could occupy various levels of domestic importance.
One account speaks of a slave ordered thrown to lampreys for having broken a dish.
It was not uncommon for slave’s tongues to be cut out.
All slaves were under the power of the master and his family, though often the 'matrona' saw to the daily affairs of the house.
Markos' Cublicum
They were at the constant disposal of their masters.
The slaves lived in small cublicum (bedrooms) with the rather rudimentary furniture of a thin mat to sleep on (sometimes a bed for more senior slaves) and a blanket.
many slave were housed in large dormitories - often sleeping many to a bed - or simply on the floor.

Markos' (Marcus) cublicum (in 'The Story of Gracchus'), when he was a slave, was exceptionally large and luxurious, as he was favoured by his fabulously wealthy master.

During the end of the Republic and beginning of the Empire, a select number of trusted slaves occupied the top of the slave power structure.
The slave-owner gave the 'procurator' (steward) the power to manage business outside the home, including buying supplies.
Nicander - Atriensis at the Domus
Gracchii in 'The Story of Gracchus'
Terentius -  Atriensis at the Villa Auream
and later High Steward of the House of Gracchus
The 'dispensator' controlled the supplies and their storage.
The 'atriensis' (major-domo) was the manager of the house, and also maintained the discipline of the slaves and kept the home quiet.
Each slave usually performed only one specific function.
With this differentiation of responsibility, it is easy to see how large numbers of slaves could be used in the home.
Near the end of the first century AD, Pliny the Younger had as many as 500 slaves.

Glykon - Door Slave at the
Villa Auream
During the same period, C. Caelius Isodorus, however, had 4,116 slaves, though it should not be assumed that these numbers were normal.
Domestic slaves could hold any number of specialised jobs during this period: front door watchmen, foot washers, hairdressers, pages, and litter bearers.
There were even slaves used to help their master remember names - (in the 'Story of Graccus', Marcus uses his senior freedman Terentius - see above - for this delicate task, not trusting it to a slave).
Slave-Boy Dancer
There were also entertainers such as dancers and musicians.
Slaves also performed naked erotic displays at banquets and feasts for the 'amusement' and titillation of patrician guests.
In the residences of the exceptionally wealthy, male slaves were also, on occasions, required to stage private gladiatorial performances and also displays of wrestling and boxing.
Often some of the slaves did not survive these displays.
Slave Wrestlers Performing at a Banquet

Such deadly performances takes place in Chaper IX and Chapter X in 'The Story of gracchus',  in the Villa Auream, and also at the Domus Gracchii when Marcus visits Rome for the first time

Others slaves were personal assistants, secretaries, letter writers, (in the Story of Gracchus Quintus is a secretary to Marcus and Philipos is secretary to Terentius), accountants, and managers.
Agathon - Physician to Marcus
Large households sometimes kept tutors and doctors, (in the 'Story of Gracchus' Marcus keeps a Greek tutor Aristarchos, and a Latin tutor Lucius, and a Greek doctor, Agathon), and readers.
Cooks, dairymen, bakers, fire boys, pantry keepers, caterers, tasters, table wipers, carvers, and waiters helped fill out the kitchen and dining room staff.
The cleaning staff included curtain hangers, sweepers, hall keepers, silver plate cleaners, and gold plate cleaners, among others.
There were even slaves whose only job was to attend the toilets in the house.
These are but a few of the slave jobs for which we have literary evidence, and we should consider the number of positions that have not survived or been mentioned.
There was little that a wealthy Roman would have had to do for himself in his own house.
Even however, the less wealthy homes used slaves.
These slaves tended to be less specialised.
During the late Republic and early Empire the use of slaves became a public show of affluence, thus increasing a family’s prestige.


In the early Empire, the Emperor created perhaps the greatest addition to the government, the public services.
Under these services, the government instituted ambitious building programs, and safety in the city became feasible.
The development of these public services was done with the use of slaves.
There was a 'Cura Aquarum', an organisation dedicated to the preservation of the aqueduct system.
During the Republic, private citizens under contract maintained this organisation, however, this changed when the current contractor Marcus Agrippa died in 33 BC.
Agrippa used his own slaves for this purpose and willed these slaves to Augustus at his death. turn, left these slaves to the people of Rome.
From that time forward, the government used slaves to maintain the aqueducts.
It consisted of as many as 700 public slaves, and “slaves of Caesar”.
 Romans had to guard their city against the ever-present threat of fire.
Romans were even encouraged to have water at hand in their house in preparation of a house fire. Augustus organised a professional fire department in 22 BC and used this group of public slaves until he reformed the department in both 6 BC and 6 AD when he began to use free citizens.
These free citizens were comprised of mostly freedmen and some of the lower classes.
It was from this initial slave group that the policing organisation was born as well.
The government did not use slaves in this way later, but the public slaves still worked the jails.
At the beginning of the empire, the government started a flurry of public building projects.
While many of the workers were freemen, slaves and animals still did the heaviest work.
Despite the fact that most of the workers were freemen, the building projects were still dependent on slave labour.
The government used brick factories staffed by large numbers of slaves in the building projects.
There were a myriad of brick making factories with as many as 50 slaves turning out bricks in each factory.
Slaves Working in a Mine
adapted from a scene from the movie 'Barrabas'
Slaves were also vital to Rome’s ability to mine vital minerals and metals.
Mining was a large employer of state, or public, slaves during the late Republic and early Empire. These excavators of gold and silver did not have a long life expectancy due to hard work and poor conditions, including lack of air circulation.
Mining needed a high volume of workers resulting in legislation in Rome aimed at keeping the numbers of slave miners low in Italy, though not in the rest of the empire, out of fear of a slave rebellion.
Criminals were often condemned to work as slaves in the mines as a punishment.
Slaves Rowing in a Naval Galley
Image adapted from a still from the TV production of 'Ben Hur'
Roman War Galley
Another form of enslavement, as a punishment, was for condemned criminals to be sentenced to row at the oars in the galleys of the Roman Navy.
One of the most interesting uses of slaves was in the functioning of the government.
Though the slaves could not hold magisterial positions, it was not unusual to see them filling in the lower positions.
The Republican government used slaves as clerks, cashiers, accountants, watchmen, heralds, beadles, janitors, etc.
The state itself became dependent on the daily labour of slaves during the end of the Republic and beginning of the Empire.
For a time, slaves protected the city from the threat of fire.
They ran the jails and, as we have seen, worked the mines, and served the Roman War Fleet.
Slaves also supplied the labour that made the massive public building projects possible.
Perhaps even more importantly, they stocked the bureaucracy with the heavy workload, low prestige jobs.
Without slaves, the paper trail necessary for Roman government would have slowed if not stopped altogether.


Mythological Re-enactment
Shows and spectacles in ancient Rome were much more than a way to while away an afternoon, as they played an integral part in the functioning of Roman society.
From early in the Republic, the state provided the Games to honour the Gods.
Ludi - (Games) normally consisted of different contests such as gladiatorial fights, wrestling and boxing, wild beast hunts, and chariot races - but also episodes of drama, mythological re-enactments, choral singing, mime (dance) and recitations.


Slave Working in a Roman Bath

Another mainstay of Roman society and its amusements during this period was the public baths.
There were numerous public baths in Rome, not to mention the myriad of private baths.
The cost of public baths must have been enormous as the personnel heated palatial rooms and huge quantities of water with wood from outside the city.
Both slaves and freedmen staffed these baths, and slave labour was essential to maintain the grounds and serve the bathers as masseurs, anointers, delapidators, and perfumers in the baths.



In addition to bathing, banquets (Cena), while limited to the rich, became more than just a meal, but a social engagement with great luxuries.
Gracchus at a Banquet with his 'Cup Bearer'
Slave Boy Serving Wine at a Banquet
adapted from a painting by Frederick Lord Leighton
The guests and master would recline at large tables and eat their way through numerous sumptuous courses.
Banquets usually began in the late afternoon - after the guests had relaxed by bathing, and often continued well into the night.
There are reference to as many as twenty-two courses at a single meal.
Slaves served food and drink, and their role was to make sure that no plate went empty, and no goblet remained unfilled.
The master of the house would often have a personal 'cup-bearer', - usually the most attractive slave-boy in the household.
(in  the Story of Gracchus, when Marcus was still a slave-boy he took the role of 'cup-bearer' to Gnaeus Gracchus at banquets - see above)
Slaves served food and drink, but they also entertained the diners as well.
Entertainments during banquets could include musicians, singers, dancers, jugglers, acrobats, erotic displays - and even wrestlers and gladiators (see above).


The gladiators seem to capture the attention of the modern reader more than anything else in ancient Rome.
Etruscan Tomb Painting of Naked Gladiators
The origins of the gladiatorial contests were staged slave combat from Etruscan  funerals (see left), or from human sacrifices at the funerals in Campania.
Gladiators came from a wide variety of places during the late Republic and early Empire.
Trainers recruited some, and some were down on their luck sons of well-known families.
The vast majority of performers in the arena, however, were prisoners of war and criminals who were sold and sentenced to slavery.
The training of gladiators in Rome was both a public and private affair.
Four public schools for training were set up in Rome at state expense during the empire, while a myriad of private businessmen trained gladiators for hire.
These 'combatants' were constantly reminded of this fact as their career began with an oath “to suffer death by fire, in chains, or by the sword without protest.”
The life of a gladiator was decidedly monotonous.
They trained every day to keep their bodies at top fitness and to master their chosen weapon.
They lived in small cells.
Any misconduct, whether active or passive, earned a severe whipping.
They ate their food communally.
Gladiator Killed in the Arena
Dead Gladiator
Living, training, and eating together created a sense of camaraderie undermined only by the fact that they could kill each other the next day.
A defeated, but still living, fighter might appeal to the crowd for mercy.
If denied mercy, a gladiator’s opponent would kill him with no hesitation.
Despite these severe drawbacks, a successful gladiator had a few benefits.
He could earn his freedom, or be rewarded with expensive gifts or money, however, it should be noted that 'slave-gladiators' (the vast majority) had no actual right to money or gifts that they received as all property and monies were legaly owned by their master (Dominus).
A gladiator's name would often appear in the streets either in graffiti praising his skill or on the lips of adoring (and usually plebeian and teenage) fans.
Roman Mosaic of Naked Gladiators Fighting
The most well known gladiator to history (although there is no record of him ever appearing in the arena !) was Spartacus.
A Thracian in the Roman army, Spartacus deserted, and was captured.
In Capua in 73 BC, Spartacus led other gladiators to break out of a gladiatorial school.
They had accumulated as many as 90,000 runaway slaves before Crassus defeated them in 71 BC.
This, more than anything, showed the potential power of slaves in the heart of the Roman Italy.
Animal hunts were also a popular form of entertainment in the Ludi during this period.
These battles pitted animals with humans.
Slave-Gladiator Disembowelled in the Arena
Usually the men would be criminals (noxii) or lower class gladiators.
The fights between noxii, posing as 'gladiators', would often be little more than executions.
The most popular type of combat involved professional gladiators - who were usually slaves.
Pancratium Wrestling
Slaves were also used for displays in the arena of wrestling (usually the pancratium - a brutal Roman version of the Greek Pankration) and boxing.
Such displays were particularly popular in the south of Italy, where there was a large Greek descended population.
Chariot races were particularly popular.
These races featured a number of chariots pulled by two to four horses.
They would race for seven spatial, or laps, for close to six miles.
The drivers were normally slaves or freedmen of a lower class.
Charioteers were hired out by one of several racing factions named for the colour of the racer’s tunic. There were the red, the white, the blue, the green, the purple, and the gold.
The races could be deadly as the drivers had their leather reins wrapped around them.
In the event of a crash, they would have to cut the reins or risk having the horses drag them to their death.

for more information about 'real gladiators' go to:


The theatre was another popular form of entertainment during the end of the Republic and beginning of the Empire.
Contrary to most current practice - theatrical performances usually took place in the afternoon.
It was not uncommon for actors to be slaves specifically trained in the dramatic art.
Several names of slave actors were recorded including Antiphon and Panurgus.
The origins of Roman theatre lay with the Etruscans.
The earliest reference to acting in Rome is in 364 BC
It was during this time that Etruscan actors were imported to appease the gods in hopes of ending a plague that was devastating the city.
Initially, plays were little more that dance recitals with a story line or singing, and had no dialogue.
The actors performed with action alone.
It was not until the Greek influence that stage shows reached the classical form.
There were several forms of theatre in Rome - comedy and tragedy were the highest forms.
The classical Mime was a collection of short performances “akin to vaudeville.”
Pantomimes were dance pieces usually built on myths and legends.
It can be seen, therefore, that entertainment in Rome during the late Republic and early Empire was almost entirely dependent upon slaves.


During the end of the Republic and beginning of the Empire, prostitution in Rome relied heavily on slaves - both male and female.
Prostitution of one’s slave was indeed a source of good money for the slave’s owner.
An individual was considered a prostitute when they had sex for money, and even when they “openly prostitutes themselves without doing so for money.”
It was also unfortunate that once an  individual ceased to sell their body, they was still “branded with infamy... for the disgrace is not removed.”
Slave traders raised many exposed babies for this type of work.
A  Lupanari (Brothel) offering both Boys and Girls
adapted from the TV Series 'Rome'
in reality all the prostitutes would be displayed naked
(see below)
It would only require the finder of the baby to raise the child (using it for slave labour) until the child reached an acceptable age, and then the child would be sold to a brothel, or more likely ownership would be retained and the slave would be licensed out independently.
Prostitution centred in taverns, inns, bathhouses, but most often brothels.
Most brothels offered girls and boys, although some specialized in only one sex.
A 'Leno', or procurer, headed these brothels.
Prostitutes in a Leno's brothel lived a very closed life, confined  to the house, where they ate meals together and were otherwise socially isolated from the outside world.
Their “transactions” would take place in a small cell, above whose door hung a plaque telling the price and specialities of the occupant.
The 'leno' handled and kept all the money and lorded over his charges often in a “cruel and coercive manner,” meeting only the prostitute’s basic needs.
Boy prostitutes on Show in a Roman Lupanari (Brothel)
(in the 'Story of Gracchus' Petronius and Servius attend a brothel attached to an upmarket bath-house, and spend the afternoon with four boy-prostitutes).
A necessary note on the lives of slaves is that of sexual availability.
A master had total sexual rights over his slaves regardless of his marital status.
This, of course, refers to both male and female slaves.
The master was not the only person who had sexual rights to his slaves, but it extended to those to whom the master gave permission, be they friends or family.
Some masters charged male slaves for sexual encounters with their female slaves, thus, creating an in-home brothel.
It reveals the Roman attitude towards slaves that the sexual taking of another’s slave was not a crime against the slave, but an unlawful use of another’s property.


To a certain extent all slaves could find themselves in the position of being a prostitute (particularly younger slaves).
This was most likely to be the situation that effected domestic slaves - as they would have a close association with their master.
Sexuality, it should be understood,  was a "core feature" of Roman slavery.
Because slaves were regarded as 'property' under Roman law, an owner could use them for sex or hire them out to sexually 'service' other people.
The letters of Cicero have suggested that he had a long-term sexual relationship with his male slave Tiro.
The Roman 'paterfamilias' (father of the house) was an absolute master, and he exercised a power outside any control of society and the state.
In this situation there was no reason why he should he refrain having sexual relations his houseboys, or female slaves.
But this form of sexual release held little erotic cachet for many slave owners.
In describing the ideal partner in 'pederasty' (sex with boys), Martial prefers a slave-boy who "acts more like a free man than his master," that is, one who can frame the affair as a stimulating game of courtship.
Apollonian Ephebe
One particular class of male slave was the the 'puer delicatus' - a handsome slave-boy, chosen by his master for his boyish beauty.
Unlike the freeborn Greek eromenos ("beloved"), who was protected by social custom, the Roman 'delicatus' was in a vulnerable position.
The "coercive and exploitative" relationship (as we now would see such a situation) between the Roman master and the 'delicatus', who might be prepubescent, can be characterized in some cases as 'pedophilia' (sexual activity with minors), in contrast to Greek paiderasteia (sexual activity with boys).
Of course, in Rome there was no 'age of consent' and even among the upper classes girls and boys, who we would describe as 'children' could be legally married.
Pueri  Delicatus
Very attractive slave- boys were sometimes castrated in an effort to preserve youthful qualities; the emperor Nero had a 'puer' (boy) named Sporus, whom he castrated and 'married'.
A somewhat more mature version of the 'puer delicatus' was the Emperor Hadrian's 'Antinous', who mysteriously died before he reached maturity.
Pueri (boys) might be idealized in poetry.
The beauty of the Pueri was measured by 'Apollonian' standards, - not too muscular, with smooth, pale skin, and absolutely no body-hair, with relatively small (uncircumcised) genitalia, but with beautiful hair, if possible fair in colour.
The mythological type of the 'delicatus' was represented by Ganymede, the Trojan youth abducted by Jove (Greek Zeus) to be his divine companion and cup-bearer.
Silver 'Penis Cage'
(In Chapter VIII of 'The Story of Gracchus', Markos is given the title of 'cup-bearer' by Gracchus).

A slave's sexuality was closely controlled, and normally slaves were no permitted to engage in sexual activity without their master's permission or knowledge.
In the 'Story of Gracchus', Terentius instructs the Greek physician, Agathon, to fit Markos with  a silver 'penis cage', in order to prevent him for engaging in penetrative or oral sex, or even masturbating.
This device, however, is regularly removed so that Markos can have sex with another slave, Cleon, who has been specially selected to 'service' him at regular intervals.
Slaves had no right to legal marriage (conubium), though they could, with permission, live together as husband and wife (contubernales).
An owner usually restricted the heterosexual activities of his male slaves to females he also owned; any children born from these unions added to his wealth.
Cato, at a time when Rome's large-scale slave economy was still in early development, thought it good practice to monitor his slaves' sex lives, and required male slaves to pay a fee for access to their fellow slaves.
Despite the external controls and restrictions placed on a slave's sexuality, Roman art and literature perversely often portray slaves as lascivious, voyeuristic, and even sexually knowing.


Interestingly, at the root of this virile 'master morality' was the Greco-Roman concept of sexuality.
It is essential to note that Roman society was 'patriarchal' and 'phallocentric', and 'masculinity' was premised on a capacity for governing oneself, and others of lower status, not only in war and politics, but also in sexual relations.
The 'Warren' Cup
'Virtus', "virtue", was an active masculine ideal of self-discipline, related to the Latin word for "man", 'vir'.
It should also be noted that sexual attitudes and behaviours in ancient Roman culture differ markedly from those in later Western societies.
Roman religion promoted sexuality as an aspect of prosperity for the state - prostitution, both male and female, was legal, public, and widespread - and what we today would consider to be 'pornographic' art was featured among the art collections in respectable upper-class households.
It was considered natural and unremarkable for men to be sexually attracted to teen-aged boys and girls - and pederasty was condoned as long as the younger male partner was a slave - and not a freeborn Roman.
"Homosexual" and "heterosexual" did not form a part of Roman thinking about sexuality, particularly as no Latin words for these concepts exist.
Master and Slave
Master and Slave
No moral censure was directed at the man who enjoyed sex acts with either females or males of inferior status (slaves), as long as his behaviours did nor infringed on the rights and prerogatives of his masculine peers.
Most significantly, Roman attitudes towards sexuality were grounded in the terms 'penetrator' and 'penetrated'.
Male Roman citizens were, by definition, expected to take on the role of 'penetrator, and never be 'penetrated'.
Roman ideals of masculinity were thus premised on taking an 'active role' that was the prime directive of masculine sexual behaviour, as well as political, economic and cultural behaviours for the Roman male citizen.
The impetus toward action might express itself most intensely in an ideal of 'dominance', that reflects the hierarchy of Roman patriarchal society, and the aggression that was responsible for the creation of the Empire.
Penetrator-Penetrated -  Binary Model
The "conquest mentality" was part of a "cult of virility" that particularly shaped Roman 'male on male' practices.
It is no accident that one of the most common slang terms for the penis was 'gladius' - the name given to the Roman sword carried by legionaries, and used by gladiators, and male sexual activity was seen as essentially aggressive.
Roman male sexuality should therefore be seen in terms of a "penetrator-penetrated" binary model; that is, the proper way for a Roman male to seek sexual gratification was to insert his penis in his partner.
Allowing himself to be penetrated threatened his liberty as a free citizen, as well as his sexual integrity.
It was expected, and socially acceptable for a freeborn Roman man to want sex with both female and male partners, as long as he took the 'dominating' role.


The Romans lived in constant fear of slave revolts.
To varying degrees throughout Roman history, the existence of a pool of inexpensive labour in the form of slaves was an important factor in the economy.
Slaves were acquired for the Roman workforce through a variety of means, including purchase from foreign merchants, and the enslavement of foreign populations through military conquest.
With Rome's heavy involvement in wars of conquest in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, tens if not hundreds of thousands of slaves at a time were imported into the Roman economy from various European and Mediterranean acquisitions.
While there was limited use for slaves as servants, craftsmen, and personal attendants, vast numbers of slaves worked in mines and on the agricultural lands of Sicily and southern Italy.
In the Empire, though, the heterogeneous nature of the slave population worked against a strong sense of solidarity, slave revolts did occur, and were severely punished.
The most famous slave rebellion was led by Spartacus in Roman Italy, culminating in the the Third Servile War.
Crucifixion of the Followers of Spartacus
This war resulted in the 6,000 surviving rebel slaves being crucified along the main roads leading into Rome.
This was the third in a series of unrelated 'Servile Wars' fought by slaves to the Romans.
The First Servile War of 135–132 BC was an unsuccessful slave rebellion against the Roman Republic.
The war was prompted by slave revolts in Enna on the island of Sicily.
It was led by Eunus, a former slave claiming to be a prophet, and Cleon, a Cilician (from present-day Turkey) who became Eunus's military commander.
After some minor battles won by the slaves, a larger Roman army arrived in Sicily and defeated the rebels.
The Second Servile War was an unsuccessful slave uprising against the Roman Republic on the island of Sicily.
The war lasted from 104 BC until 100 BC.
The Roman consul Manius Aquillius quelled the revolt only after great effort.
This Second War was fuelled by the same slave abuse in Sicily and Southern Italy that had ignited the First Servile War.
The Third Servile War began in 73 BC, with the escape of around 70 slave-gladiators from a gladiator school in Capua; they easily defeated the small Roman force sent to recapture them.
Within two years, they had been joined by some 120,000 men, women and children; the able-bodied adults of this band were a surprisingly effective armed force that repeatedly showed they could withstand or defeat the Roman military.
The slaves wandered throughout Italia, raiding estates and towns with relative impunity, sometimes dividing their forces into separate but allied bands under the guidance of several leaders, including  Spartacus.
Significantly, Appian and Florus describe the revolt as a 'civil war', in which the slaves intended to capture the city of Rome itself.
The Third Servile War had significant and far-reaching effects on Rome's broader history, as Pompey and Crassus exploited their successes to further their political careers.
The Romans never forgot the horrors of the Servile Wars, and did everything possible to maintain their slave population in a state of repression.
Roman law viewed slaves not as persons, but as 'chattels' - objects that could be owned.
During the period of our story, slaves could legally be physically punished, mutilated, and even killed by their masters.


It appears that the freeing, or manumitting, of slaves was as extensive as the practice of slavery itself.
A study of the means and methods of manumission may reveal much about the place of slaves and slavery in Rome.
Looking at the development and changes in manumission throughout the history of Rome, it is apparent that Rome became increasingly aware of its dependence on slaves.
Rome countered this dependence by attempting to keep its slaves compliant by increasing the methods of manumission.
Slaves would be less likely to perform slowly or rebel if they held the hope of one day gaining their freedom.
The Monarchy of Rome lasted from 753 to 510 BC.
Historians know little about slavery during the Monarchical period.
This is simply due to a lack of surviving documentation.
The true origin of slavery and manumission in Rome is unknown, however, since slavery was a common institution throughout the ancient world, it seems quite possible that its origin lies in the very birth of Rome.
In the first century BC, Dionysius of Halicarnassus provided a certain amount of information.
He attributed manumission of slaves to the king Servius Tullius who reigned in Rome from 578-535 BC.
Dionysius, however, does refer to the institution of slavery before the reign of Servius Tullius.
He wrote that Romulus himself allowed fathers to sell their sons into slavery.
Thus, though the origins of slavery in Rome are unknown, it had developed into a firmly established institution by the time of the Republic.
The Republic ran roughly from 510 to 27 BC.
The first form This form was of manumission under the Republic was 'censu', perhaps one of the oldest ways of manumission in Rome.
The difficulty for slaves was that the government only performed the 'censu' in the city of Rome itself.
Rome took a census every five years.
The government conducted the census in order to regulate the citizenry in terms of taxes and military service.
For the census, citizens had to appear before the Censor who recorded their names.
Owners used this system to their advantage to manumit their slaves.
The owner brought his or her  slave to the census.
The slave then professed ('professio') him or herself to be a citizen, censu profitebantur.
Once the Censor had the master’s consent ('iussum'), he would then inscribe the slave’s name on the list of citizens.
Thus, the slave became a free citizen and gained his freedom
Testamento was the most popular form of manumission, and for good reason.
In this form, the master granted freedom in his 'testamentum in comitiis calatis', or will.
There were, however, some restrictions with this form.
The slave had to be the property of the will maker both at the time of the writing of the will and at the master’s death.
The master could also apply conditions to the slave’s freedom.
This most likely involved either a job that the slave could hold, or some social function that the slave had to perform for the family of the deceased.
This was understandably the most popular form of manumission.
This allowed a master to keep his most trusted and productive slaves for his entire life.
He was also able to keep his slaves loyal by giving them the hope that he might free them upon his death.
Perhaps the most important reason a master freed his slaves in this way was the memory that he would leave behind.
Since Roman society was a 'shame culture' rather than a 'guilt culture' , the face that a Roman citizen showed to the public was the most important social and political mechanism he had.
A 'shame culture' is a society in which the 'shame' placed upon one by the society holds a greater weight. In a 'guilt' culture, the shame that one holds against oneself holds a greater weight.
By freeing his slaves upon his death, the master guaranteed that the last action he took would leave an impression of generosity and benevolence.
Moreover, he left a group of 'freedmen' who remained loyal to his family long after his death.
The last formal mode of manumission was 'vindicta'.
This form was a variation of the process called 'causa liberali's.
In 'causa liberalis', the government freed an unlawfully enslaved man.
Masters later used this system to manumit legitimate slaves.
It appears that the magistrate who officiated the procedure was fully aware that the claim of unlawful slavery was fraudulent.
However, he allowed the claim to stand.
Upon the transfer of freedom, the magistrate (often a lictor) tapped the slave on the shoulder with his official staff.
While this legally freed the slave, a symbolic act would often follow.
The owner of the slave grasped his slave’s hand, and then turned his slave around to symbolise the turning over of a new leaf.
This allowed him to shed his slave life and enter into his new life as a freed man.
Along with these three formal methods of manumission, several informal processes existed. One such form was inter amicos.
This was a simple statement from a master to his slave that the slave was among friends (inter amicos) essentially meaning that they were now peers.
Another form was that of 'per epistolam', a simple letter declaring the slave’s freedom.
The master wrote this letter, and then presented it to his slave.
The government could also manumit public slaves.
Officials could give freedom to any slave who performed his or her task with distinction.
A short survey of manumission through the Republic reveals more details about the use of manumission.
The government first taxed the freeing of a slave in 357 BC.
When Hannibal entered Italy around 216 BC, Romans feared a march on their capital.
They then freed 8,000 slaves in order to have more men to fight.
Sulla, in the late Republic, freed 10,000 men in order to increase his own political influence.
When a famine fell upon Rome in the first century BC, the government passed an edict that levied a tax on slaves in the attempt to gain enough money to import grain.
When Sextus Pompeius was in need of oarsmen, he freed 20,000 men.
The act of formally adopting a slave as a son (apud acta) was another mode of manumission.
This of course required both documentation and at least one witness.
The ceremonial destruction of the papers of slavery or handing over of these papers to the slave was another form of manumission.
Again, the government required witnesses.
At least one mode remained informal.
A slave gained his freedom by wearing the “cap of liberty” on at least one of two occasions.
The first was the wake, where he would stand next to his master’s body.
The second required the slave’s participation in the funeral procession.
If a slave felt his or her master treated him or her cruelly, he or she could escape to the main square and seek asylum under the statue of the Emperor.
The authorities would then investigate the matter, and they could manumit the slave if the accusations were true.
While the same forms of manumission were available to women, there was at least one form that was available only to women.
This mode involved the marriage of a slave woman to a freeman.
This of course was only the case if the slave woman’s master gave his permission for the marriage.
If the master’s permission was not given, not only would she remain a slave, but the marriage itself would be nullified.
As Roman politicians used the practice of law to garner a reputation in the public eye, the laws governing slavery were not simple.
For every law or institution, there were a myriad of special caveats.
For instance, a slave used as collateral in a contract or loan could not be manumitted.
This was the case regardless of the owner’s ability to replace the slave in the contract with another slave or with money
 If a slave was owned by more than one person, or by a company, he or she could not be freed except by the consent of all owners.
When one owner attempted to free the slave, his property rights were forfeit and the slave passed into the exclusive ownership of all other stakeholders.
A recently divorced woman was a rather interesting exception.
A woman was unable to manumit or sell any slaves within sixty days of the termination of the marriage.
This was in order to keep track of potential witnesses in cases of adultery.
This law however, did not take into account the promise of freedom that the wife might offer for the slave’s protection (perjury) from her affair.
The government could revoke a manumission if it was found that the master had been forced to free his or her slave.
It seems likely that this law was a response to the chants of the crowd to free a gladiator after a particularly satisfying win.
A slave could not free his or her own personal slave without the permission of his master.
Slaves and manumission played a varied role in the Empire.
In year 4 AD, the Lex Aelia Sentia limited the right to citizenship of some manumitted slaves.
During the first century AD, ex-slaves held many high level positions in the central government.
In the early Empire, a person’s will could free only a certain number of slaves due to a restriction by the Emperor Augustus (Octavian).
There are a number of reasons for freeing a slave.
When a master freed his slave, he did not severe ties with his slave.
Instead, the slave became a client of his master.
This relationship was one of dependence and honour.
The patron expected support from his freed slave in political matters, while the client expected help from his patron through the granting of favours (often financial).
A master might free his slave in order to build up his client base, and therefore shore up more political and social support.
There is also the matter of social reputation to consider.
A master might manumit his slave or slaves in order to appear more magnanimous to the community at large.
Since Rome was, as previously stated, a 'shame culture' rather than a 'guilt culture', this motivation should not be overlooked.
The master might also wish to flaunt his affluence through manumission.
Though slavery was a huge aspect of Roman culture, slaves were not cheap.
For a master to free a slave with no compensation, he would essentially be burning money; something only the rich could afford to do.
However, when a slave had grown old beyond his ability to be of any use, an owner might manumit him simply to be free of the burden.
Manumission might also be a form of reward.
A master could free a slave who had proven him or herself as loyal and efficient through exceptional service.
It appears that it was common for masters to promise freedom to their slaves for their devoted service.
Manumission was extensive in Rome.
There were a myriad of forms and reasons for manumitting a slave.
It is through looking at slavery and manumission that one can see both the morality and sense of humanity that the Romans held.
The 'evolution' of manumission serves as a map to the development of slavery in Rome.
As Romans became more aware of their dependence on slaves, their attitude towards their slaves changed.
The methods of manumission became more varied and lax.
The increase of slave manumission can be seen as a mechanism to keep their slaves happy and hopeful.
If the slaves rebelled, not only would this cause a massive conflict, but also the absence of these labourers would cause many if not all of Rome’s societal institutions to fail.


Many would say that slavery, as an institution, degrades both the slave and the master, and it was probably no different in Rome.
Slaves were degraded legally to the status of 'res', or a 'thing'.
To be listed alongside beasts in personal accounts and law records was to become not just a thing but sub-human.
Crucifixion of a Runaway Slave
On the other side, many Romans as well were degraded as they often revealed their more base behaviours.
Slaves could be beaten, branded, hung, and maimed for the smallest mistake, be it theirs or happen-stance.
In extreme cases a runaway slave, on being recapture, could be crucified.
Not all masters were so vicious, yet there was little to save a slave if he were.
Only the slave’s monetary worth protected him or her from a cruel master.
This behaviour in many cases debased the slave owners as well as the slave.
This, however, should be understood as a modern projection on an ancient society, but even Seneca states that some Roman masters punished for absurd reasons.
The effect of the degrading view of slaves does not end with morality.
When one looks down upon the person, he or she looks down upon the position that person holds.
No proper free man would want a job that he viewed as only fit for a slave.
In this way, the Romans became dependent upon slaves to do the jobs that they would not do.
Those wage-workers who would even do the job would demand a higher wage in compensation; surely more than it would have cost to have a slave perform it in the first place.
With a lack of experience in these occupations, Romans would lose the skills to accomplish the tasks, thus becoming even more dependent on slave labour.
During the late Republic and early Empire, the Romans grew accustomed to luxury, and this led to further dependence upon slaves as the Roman citizens laziness increased.
Puer Delicatus
Though the extravagance of Trimalchio’s ('Satyricon') dinner party is satire, it reflects well the behaviours and attitudes that were present in Rome - (and it should also be remembered that the wealthy Trimalchio was originally his master's 'puer delicatus' - catamite or boy sex-slave, before being freed).
There was little a wealthy Roman had to do for him or herself if he had the capital to buy someone to do it for him.
This dependence upon slaves between the second century BC and the second century AD showed itself in the use of slaves in all the areas of Roman life.
In agriculture, they provided the manual labour as well as the organisation and leadership.
This provided Rome with a certain amount of food and economy.
Slaves became even more important in later Rome, as the rich pushed the rural poor off their lands into the city, where they would eventually lose their skill for agricultural work.
During this period, slaves worked the factories, again as both the physical labour and the administration, which supplied Rome with products and economy.
They were also the proverbial 'grease' that 'lubricated' the trade of Rome.
They brought in the much needed grain and supplies, and the much sought after luxury items from the rest of the world.
Slaves ran many of the shops and services that kept Rome’s economy functioning.
In the home, slaves performed nearly every task when financially possible.
They cooked, cleaned, entertained, guarded, and even attended their masters in the bathroom.
In the richest homes, families used slaves so extensively that each slave usually had only one highly specialised job.
This resulted in a huge number of slaves in the households of the wealthy.
The state grew dependent on slaves during the late Republic and early Empire.
They maintained the city’s water supply and, for a time, were both the fire department and police force.
If not for these services, the city would have ground to a halt.
They mined the gold and silver that augmented the taxes in the treasury.
They provided the muscle that, quite literally, built the city of Rome.
Slaves were used in a myriad of positions in the governmental machinery.
Slaves were vital to the entertainment of Rome.
They performed on the stages that brought culture to the masses.
They staffed the popular baths.
The popular 'Ludi' (Games) were  impossible without slaves.
They were the ones who died in the wrestling matches, hunts, and gladiatorial combats in the arena.
If not for slaves, Rome would not have been educated in the philosophies and knowledge of the Greeks - Marcus, in the 'Story of Gracchus' has a Greek tutor, Aristarchos.
Slave tutors taught the Romans about Greek culture and literature, as well as the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Slave doctors healed the sick - the physician to the house of Gracchus was a Greek slave - Agathon.
The slave often took over public and private financial management.
When Rome was in peril, the slaves stood by their masters to protect the city.
They served soldiers as 'batmen' and armour bearers.
In many religious festivals, slaves performed an important function.
Slave women spun the wool, and wove the clothes of Rome.
They were sexually available for whatever their masters needed.
As both male and female prostitutes, they introduced many Roman youths into sexual life.
They even fed and nurtured the Roman children from their own breast.
During the late Republic and early Empire, slaves did all the things that the Romans would or could not do.
They were the fuel that ran Rome, from the microcosm of the Roman household, to the macrocosm of the Roman state.
The dependence of Rome on the slave during this period simply cannot be overstated.
Rome became aware of its dependence.
Seemingly unable to change course, the city instead attempted to appease its slaves with glimpses of hope in order to keep the wheels of its civilisation turning.

The institution of slavery had a corrosive effect on Roman culture and society.
The Romans were not initially a slave owning culture; (unlike the Greeks - whom we like to fantasize were lovers of liberty and democracy).
In fact, according to the legendary accounts of the origins of the Roman state, the rulers of Rome were keen to be 'inclusive' with regard to the various groups that they conquered (for example the Sabines and the Etruscans)
It was only when their conquests spread beyond the confines of 'Italia', that defeated enemies became slaves, (mainly Carthaginians and Greeks at first).
Gradually the Roman people became almost totally reliant on the slaves that they acquired through conquest.
One of the most pernicious effects of slavery was the perversion and warping of the economy, and disruption of Roman politics.
As slaves became more and more numerous, the ordinary 'plebs' - the Roman 'working class' - were no longer required, and became an unemployed and politically unstable 'underclass'.
As slaves didn't buy goods in any quantity, and unemployed 'plebs' didn't buy many goods either, the result was a distorted manufacturing base, dedicated to the support of the military and the government, and providing ridiculously expensive goods for the remarkably small patrician class (see the Preface and scroll down to 'Rich and Poor').
And in a society where there was no 'mass-media', it was the slaves who provided the entertainment, whether it be the 'entertainment' in the arena, - music, dancing, drama or sport  - (and sometimes all of these were present in the amphitheatre) - or other forms of entertainment in the theatre, or at banquets in wealthy patrician homes.
And of course, almost all prostitutes - male and female - were slaves.
Present day objections to slavery are mainly based on the way that slavery invalidates what we believe are 'human rights', but for the Romans there were only the 'rights of the citizen', and slaves were not citizens - in fact, legally slaves were not even people, but rather things - possessions.

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