The Ancient Roman Value of Slaves
Louisiana State University at Alexandria
Slaves played a crucial role in not only the construction of ancient Rome but also in the everyday lives of Rome’s citizens. Without slaves, everyday life and even government in ancient Rome would not have been the same (Brown, 2009, p. 1231). “Slavery has been used throughout history, but at no other time in history was an empire as dependent on slaves as the ancient Romans” (Bradley, 2008, p. 477). Slaves gave ancient Romans the lavish and lazy lifestyle that became stereotypical of the ancient Roman people (Temin, 2004, p. 514). Although the exact number of slaves in ancient Rome is unknown, it is known that numbers were in the millions during the height of the Roman Empire (Bradley, 2008, p. 479). It is estimated that an average wealthy Roman owned about 400 slaves in his town house alone, and that the wealthiest Romans had up to 20,000 slaves at a time (Bradley, 2008, p. 479). Even after Rome passed its days of greatness, it is thought that 25% of all people in Rome were slaves (Bradley, 2008, p. 480). Slaves came from and were bought from a variety of places but were most often prisoners of war, abandoned children, or children of slaves (Fenoaltea, 1984, p. 1232). Once a man or woman was bought, found, or born into slavery, he or she was most often a slave for life (Fenoaltea, 1984, p. 1232). Slaves could only get their freedom if they were given freedom by their owner or if they bought their own freedom. To buy freedom, a slave had to raise the same amount of money his or her owner paid for them (Fenoaltea, 1984, p. 1233). If a slave ran away, that slave would have to live the life of an outlaw with organized bands of slave hunters in every city always on the lookout for runaway slaves (Temin, 2004, p. 514). Punishment for running away was usually the branding of the letter F, for fugitive, on the slave’s forehead (Temin, 2004, p. 514). Slaves were punished mostly...
References: Bradley, K. (2008). Roman slavery: Retrospect and prospect. Canadian Journal of History, 43, 477-500.
Brown, V. (2009). Social death and political life in the study of slavery. American Historical Review, 86, 1231-1249.
Fenoaltea, S. (1984). Slavery and supervision in comparative perspective: A model. Journal of Economic History, 24, 635-668.
Temin, P. (2004). The labor market of the early roman empire. Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 34, 513-538.
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