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Roman Slaves

 

Who were slaves?

Slaves were mainly prisoners captured in battle. They came from any country in the Roman Empire including Britain.

In a letter to Atticus a friend, Roman orator Cicero wrote:

"It's also become clear that there isn't an ounce of silver in the island [Britain] nor any prospect of booty except slaves."

Slaves could be men, women, boys or girls.

If a slave married and had children, the children would automatically become slaves.

How could a wealthy Roman get a slave?

Slaves were sold at a slave market. A letter found from Roman London indicates that there was a slave market in the city.

How much did a slave cost?

The price of a slave depended on what they could do for their masters. A slave with a talent, skill or trade was more expensive especially if they could cook. Young men also cost more as they could work for their masters longer than an older slave.

How many slaves were there?

No-one is sure how many slaves existed in the Roman Empire.

How many slaves did a family have?

A wealthy Roman might have between 400 and 500 slaves.

What was life like for a slave?

Life was very hard for many slaves. In Roman law they were seen as property of their master. Slaves had no rights, they could be treated as good or as badly as their masters wished.

Some slaves were treated brutally, whilst others led a good life with masters who looked after them well.

What was a typical day for a slave like?

A slave’s day began very early in the morning, often before sunrise. There were many jobs to do around the house but often the first job was to fire up the hypocaust if the weather was cold.

A slave's job around the house included:

  • helping dress the family
  • drying them after they have bathed
  • cleaning a villa
  • lavare i vestiti
  • preparing the day’s meals
  • serving food and drink

What jobs did slaves do outside the home?

The hardest job for slaves was working down mines to mine silver, lead, tin and gold for their masters. It was back breaking and often a slave down the mine would not get to see sunlight for months at a time.

Slaves living in the countryside worked on farms.

Some slave who had a particular skill worked for example as weavers, accountants or tutor for their masters children.

Could a slave be set free?

Many slaves were very fortunate to be freed after about thirty years of service. A person who was once a slave was called a 'freedman' or 'freewoman'.

How could a slave get his/her freedom?

A slave could only get their freedom if they were given it by their master or if they bought their freedom. The cost of freedom was same sum of money that their master had paid for them – a virtually impossible task as slaves did not earn money.

 


 
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