Roman Slavery

Roman slavery was of great importance for Rome and her empire, it was vital to both society and the economy. Slaves would have performed a number of jobs not just manual labours. Some of these jobs were highly skilled; including teachers, accountants and physicians are a few examples. Many slaves were taken from Greece to Rome to become teachers and educators. However the less skilled slaves would have worked on farms, in mines and at mills. Their life expectancy was not too high!

Slaves were considered to be property to Romans and had no legal status. If they were seen convicting a crime they would be subject to punishment. This could involve corporal punishment, torture and execution. Slaves were unable to own property; however, higher skilled slaves could earn a small amount of money, and sometimes after a considerable time of saving could buy their freedom.

Roman slavery would have been funded by, for example after the Samnite Wars there were tens of thousands of slaves taken back to Italy and Rome. The demand for slaves in Rome was constantly growing as the richer classes would want more and more slaves to work their estates, farms and mines.

Slave auctions were common throughout Rome and Italy. The slaves would be acquired by Roman slave dealers who would follow the Roman armies around the continent. After each battle the wholesalers would buy the warriors from the Roman army for a cheap price, as the army couldn't keep prisoners. The dealers would then travel back to Rome and sell their stock at a higher price. The slaves would wear a wooden plaque around their neck stating their origin, health, character and intelligence. The prices of slaves varied a lot based on age, gender, skills and experience.

Roman slaves who were owned by the state were known as a "servus publicus". They would have worked in temples and other public buildings, performing basic tasks which required little skill. These slaves were allowed to earn money for their own personal use.

There were three ways in which a slave could be informally set free. The master could send a slave a letter in which he granted the slave freedom; he could invite the slave to dinner, or he could simply declare the slave free. There were also three ways of setting a slave free formally; the first included summoning a magistrate to set a slave free. The second was through the census; the master would just enrol the slave in the next census. A master could also release slaves through his will, however reforms stated that there was a maximum amount of 100 slaves that could be released in a will.