Roman Slavery

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Slavery is an institution of the common law of peoples by which a person is put into the ownership of somebody

else, contrary to the natural order. Slavery was commonly practiced throughout all ancient history, but no other people

in history owned so many slaves and depended on them so much as the Romans. Slavery was accepted as a part of life

in ancient Rome by the slaves themselves and by the society. However, slavery was both beneficial and disastrous to

ancient Rome.

In Roman times, slaves were primarily prisoners of war. Indeed, war was "good business" because of the profits

from slavery. Entire cities were captured and sold as slaves. Others became slaves when they couldn't pay their debts;

sometimes the children of the debtors were given as slaves to cancel the debt. Criminals also became slaves to the

Roman government. Children of slaves were also slaves. Many Roman families owned a few slaves. One rich leader

named Crassus owned 20,000! The Roman emperors owned even more than that. In the Roman system of slavery, the

tasks of slaves, such as farming, businesses, and public buildings all contributed to the wealth of the Roman economy.

On the farms, slaves produced the food and other materials on which the cities depended. Some of the most

important crops produced by slaves were wheat, olives, vines and grapes which were eaten and used for making wine.

The Roman farm products such as wine, oil, tools, meat were exported to other counties. This gave Rome its

greatest source of economic wealth. Not only were the slaves working on the farms and households, they were also

involved in business, such as shops and public buildings. They were in charge of duties like shopkeeping, lending of

money, buying and selling of merchandise. While the slaves were managing the shops, the masters concentrated on

establishing new businesses which resulted in their being very successful and consequently wealthy. Slaves were not

only performing the tasks but taking control of everything for their masters and making them wealthy which also

helped the economy. Besides working on the farms and businesses, the most famous task performed by slaves in the

public buildings was working on the aqueduct systems, roads, and the arenas. Buildings were built for public use;

others were built by wealthy individuals for the community. The slaves also built bridges and roads which were very

Kendrick pg.2 important because they were built mainly to allow soldiers to move quickly in war time. However, it also encouraged

trading and helped the spread of Roman culture. "Therefore slave labor became one of Rome’s greatest sources of

economic wealth” ( Ancient Rome Online).

The good treatment of slaves in Rome was one of the positive and beneficial aspects of the slave system. For

example, some slaves were given many privileges, comforts and were treated better than most people would have

imagined. Nardo states "some masters treated their slaves with care and affection as their own children"(25). Some

slave masters showed their loyalty and how much they cared for their slaves by giving nearly complete charge of their

money and business affairs to the slaves without interfering. This led to the development of saturnalia festival.

Saturnalia was a traditional celebration like Christmas in which slaves and masters switched places. In this celebration,

the master became the slave and performed all the tasks of the slave, and the slaves did the opposite. Slaves and

masters showed loyalty to each other in many ways. "Masters participated in the Saturnalia’s festivals to show their

appreciation for the slaves’ service which led them to realize that by treating slaves with respect and...
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