Roman Slaves

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  • Created by: MaaB
  • Created on: 11-06-16 13:59

Household Slaves

  • If Roman citizens had less than 3 slaves, it was seen as a sign of poverty.
  • A senator in Nero's time had 400 slaves in his town house alone.
  • Well-run homes had slaves to: cook, clean, serve food, garden, supervise fires.
  • Epitaph shows 55 jobs slaves could do: barber, butler, cook, hairdresser, ancilla (handmaid), wet-nurse/nursery attendant, teacher, secretary, seamstress, accountant, and physician.
  • Female slaves spent a lot of time preparing her mistress' hair and make-up.
  • Greek slaves would often become paidagogos.
  • When Roman families entertained, slaves ensured food and drink were ready.
  • Guests accompanied home by slaves with a flaming torch to ensure their safety.
  • The benefits of household slaves was that their jobs were not too unpleasant.
  • Cooks were often welcome to leftovers.
  • Household slaves developed close relationship with families they served.
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Agriculture And Industry

  • Slaves worked on their master's latifundia (farm/estates managed by slaves) and could expect little to no relaxation with varying degrees of power.
  • Foremen, responsible for running latifundias for senators, were often slaves.
  • Slaves (in tens of thousands) worked in mines/quarries, in brutal conditions.
  • "Damnati in metallum" (those condemned to the mine) were convicts.
  • They had to forfeit their property to the state and become slaves.
  • They couldn't buy their freedom, be sold, or be set free.
  • Some industries based on slave labour e.g. the famous Arretine pottery.
  • Many craftsmen had won or bought their freedom, or descended from freedmen.
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  • About half the gladiators who fought in Roman arenas were slaves, though the most skilled were often free volunteers.
  • However, gladiators, being trained warriors and having access to weapons, were potentially the most dangerous slaves.
  • Spartacus, who led the slave rebellion of 73-71BC, was a rebel gladiator.
  • They were guarded closely.
  • But they could be richly rewarded if they fought well so they could work towards buying their freedom or they would die.
  • They were fed well to ensure they were strong for their fights.
  • Successful gladiators were occasionally rewarded with freedom.
  • They were given a rudis (wooden sword) to symbolise their freedom, and many went on to train other gladiators.
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  • Rome dared not underestimate the potential strength of the slave population.
  • For every five free men, there were three slaves. This was a dangerously high proportion.
  • In 73-71BC, Spartacus, a gladiator slave, had destroyed seven armies with his slave army.
  • Callousness and cruelty had led to open rebellion so the manner in which slaves were treated is more complex.
  • Several emperors began to grant more rights to slaves as the empire grew.
  • Claudius announced that if a slave was abandoned by his master, he became free.
  • Nero granted slaves the right to complain against their masters in a court of law.
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Household Slaves' Treatment

  • There are reports of abuse of slaves by Romans but there is little to indicate how widespread such harsh treatment was.
  • Cato the Elder was recorded expelling his old slaves from his house.
  • On the other hand, good masters looked after a good slave as an equally good replacement might be hard to acquire.
  • There is also evidence that some Roman families provided healthcare for their slaves.
  • A good cook was highly prized, as entertaining was very important to Rome's elite and rich families tried to outdo each other when banquets were held.
  • The Roman writer Seneca believed that masters should treat their slaves well as well-treated slave would work better for a good master rather than just doing enough for someone who treated their slaves badly.
  • Seneca did not believe that masters and their families should expect their slaves to watch them eat at a banquet when many only had access to poor food.
  • "The result is that slaves who cannot talk before his master's face, talk about him behind his back. It is this sort of treatment which makes people say, 'You've as many enemies as you've slaves.' They are not our enemies when we get them; we make them so" (Seneca)
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Agriculture And Industry Slaves' Treatment

  • Slaves in mines were often badly treated as they were usually criminals being punished.
  • Those who had no trade/skill were almost certainly less well looked after as they were easier and cheaper to replace and many ended up working on the latifundia.
  • Slaves working on farms were often beaten or whipped.
  • However, some Romans thought this wasn't the best way to get the most from a slave.
  • M. Terrentius Varro, a Roman scholar, advised: "an estate owner should make his foreman more enthusiastic by giving him rewards, and taking care to allow him to have some property of his own, and a wife from among the other slaves. In this way, a slave foreman becomes more reliable."
  • This is why slaves were often allowed to keep a peculium (wage) and could buy his freedom
  • Foreman, who organised other slaves, would often be allowed to make use of the buildings as he saw fit.
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