Slavery in the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire was founded on blood when Romulus killed his brother Romus, saying:

Thus everyone who invades the walls of my city will perish.

Roman slavery was practiced in the Mediterranean basin where captives were taken.

slaveholding was  nearly universal. From the Semitic and Greek peoples that populated the East, to the Germanic and Celtic peoples in the North and West, to the Phoenicians, Africans, and Egyptians in the South.

The importance of slavery in the Roman Empire

Slavery played a significant role in Roman society. Enslaved people were in the city, the countryside, households and businesses, and ownership wasn't limited to elites

Slavery was a key foundation on which ancient Rome's power, wealth, and influence were built.

 Enslaved individuals were essential for the functioning of various economic sectors, including agriculture, mining, and manufacturing.

 They provided the labor necessary for the production of goods and services that fueled the Roman economy.

Enslaved individuals formed a significant portion of the Roman labor force.

They worked in various capacities, from working in the fields, mines, and mills as unskilled or low-skill laborers, to serving as skilled and educated slaves in roles such as artisans, chefs, domestic staff, entertainers, educators, and civil servants.

 Slavery allowed the Roman Empire to have a large and diverse workforce that contributed to its economic prosperity.

The result of the Roman interest in the military and their love for it was that they concentrated greatly on slaves, especially small wars, in clarifying their actions, the slave element is considered one of the influential elements in the history of the empire.

Slavery and social life in the Roman Empire

Under Roman civilization, class division and disparity in rights and duties were the prominent feature of Roman society.

This divided society into two classes: the supervisory class and the common class, the common class was not recognized for the rights of citizenship, and they were prevented from participating in popular assemblies,  they were also not recognized for their equality before the judiciary and before the law, as this equality was non-existent between the two classes.

Women also do not have the right to vote, nominate, or hold public office, and they were stripped of their political and civil rights at various stages of their lives. The Romans also knew the system of slavery, where the cruel and degrading treatment of slaves occurred.

Slavery was deeply ingrained in the social hierarchy of the Roman Empire. Slaves occupied the lowest rung of society, while free citizens and elites enjoyed higher status. The existence of slavery reinforced social distinctions and maintained the power dynamics within Roman society.

Just as the Roman family loses its basic prestige without slaves, just as Roman comedies cannot be written without talking about slaves.

 One distinguishing feature of Roman slavery was the possibility of manumission, which means the granting of freedom to a slave. Slaves who were freed could become Roman citizens and occupy a more privileged tier of servitude . This system provided an avenue for some slaves to improve their social status and participate more fully in Roman society.

Surviving evidence shows that enslaved people had a wide range of occupations, many carried out hard manual labour under strict supervision, but they could also perform more specialised activities with a higher degree of autonomy. Some were highly autonomous and were even responsible for other enslaved people, known as vicarii.

it's clear slavery played a significant role, acting as a vital component of Roman society and its economy. Enslaved people were ubiquitous in the city and countryside, in both households and businesses, and their ownership was not limited to the elite.


Slave trade in the Roman Empire

A Roman flask of slave

Romans also traded enslaved people across and within the borders of Roman territory. In imperial times (27 BC to AD 476), imported people could come from areas just beyond the Roman frontiers – Ireland, Scotland, Eastern European countries bordering the Rhine and Danube, the Black Sea area, the Arabian Peninsula and Africa. However, enslaved people could also come from within the borders of the Roman empire, for example from Thrace, Asia Minor and Syria. the city of Ephesus (on the coast of modern-day Turkey) was a centre for the Roman slave trade. When Roman authors do reference an enslaved person's origin, it's usually a province in the empire's borders, such as Cappadocia and Phrygia (both modern-day Turkey) or Syria.

A slavery tag of Roman Impire

Slaves were bought and sold in markets known as "slavery markets" or "slave markets." These markets were typically located in major cities and served as hubs for slave trading. Slaves were often captured in military conquests or acquired through trade with other regions. They were then transported to these markets where they were displayed for potential buyers.

The Roman Empire had a well-established system for the sale and trade of slaves. Slavery was an accepted and legal practice at the time, and owning slaves was considered a symbol of wealth and social status. Slaves were used for various purposes, such as household servants, agricultural laborers, craftsmen, and even as gladiators for entertainment purposes.

Traders had to disclose the origin (natio) of the people they were selling, indicating Romans saw certain personal characteristics, physical strength, character and behaviour, as connected to where someone was from.

Slavery in Roman law

The concept of slavery in Roman law differs from that in others from a social standpoint, which means the human being in image and form, while Roman law represents him as animals, and they have the same fate.

He does not have the right to ownership, he has no family, and he is owned by someone else. His master disposes of him, just as an owner disposes of his property. His master has the right to use him in any work, to rent him, mortgage him, sell him and give him to whomever he wants, beat him, kill him, or mutilate him.

From a social standpoint, slavery is the exploitation of a strong person by a weak person, and slavery is based on work and production.

The Roman Empire developed one of the largest and most economically and culturally integrated systems of slavery in world history. It thrived on a remarkably robust supply stream that included enslavement by birth, capture, sale from foreign and domestic sources, the reclaiming of exposed infants, and—in late antiquity—self-sale, child sale, and debt bondage. Enslavement was imposed upon people from all regions, inside and outside the empire, and was never inflicted exclusively on a particular racial or ethnic group. Those enslaved to Rome worked in agriculture, industry, service, and even knowledge production, allowing them to be the primary workforce behind the generation of elite wealth. Escape from slavery could at times involve resistance, including everything from open revolt to flight, but Roman society was also remarkably generous with manumission. This and many other features reflect a hybridity between ancient patterns of captive integration and modern habits of slave exclusion.

Although Romans accepted slavery as the norm, some people – like the poet and philosopher, Seneca – argued that slaves should at least be treated fairly.








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