Daily life of Roman life: Slavery

Slavery had a long history in the ancient world and was practiced in Ancient Egypt and Greece, as well as Rome. Most slaves during the Roman Empire were foreigners and, unlike in modern times, Roman slavery was not based on race.
Slaves were considered property under Roman law and had no legal personhood. Unlike Roman citizens, they could be subjected to corporal punishment, sexual exploitation (prostitutes were often slaves), torture, and summary execution. The testimony of a slave could not be accepted in a court of law unless the slave was tortured—a practice based on the belief that slaves in a position to be privy to their masters' affairs would be too virtuously loyal to reveal damaging evidence unless coerced (yeah right). Over time, however, slaves gained increased legal protection, including the right to file complaints against their masters.
How did people become Roman Slaves?
People became slaves among the Romans by the following ways:

  • Prisoners of war
  • Sailors captured and sold by pirates
  • By way of punishment
  • They were born in a state of servitude. Under Roman law, the offspring of slave women assumed the status of their mothers.
  • Slaves bought outside Roman territory
  • In hard times, it was not uncommon for desperate Roman citizens to raise money by selling their children into slavery.

Roman Slaves - The Slave Auctions
Slaves taken in the field, or in the storming of cities, were sold at auction, “sub corona,” as it was called, because they wore a crown when sold; or “sub hasta,” because a spear was set up where the auctioneer stood. These were called Servi or Mancipia. Those who dealt in the slave trade were called Mangones or Venalitii: they were bound to promise for the soundness of their slaves, and not to conceal their faults. Sometimes slaves stood on revolving stands, and around each slave for sale hung a type of plaque describing his or her origin, health, character, intelligence, education, and other information relevant to purchasers. Prices varied with age and quality, with the most valuable slaves fetching prices equivalent to thousands of today's dollars. Because the Romans wanted to know exactly what they were buying, slaves were presented naked. The dealer was required to take a slave back within six months if the slave had defects that were not manifest at the sale, or make good the buyer's loss. Slaves to be sold with no guarantee were made to wear a cap at the auction.

Slaves worked in a wide range of occupations that can be roughly divided into five categories:

Domestic: Well educated slaves were valued by the Romans. they worked as tutors or teachers of their children, accountants, musicians, managers, artists, secretaries, doctors and even as cooks. The day in the life of this type of slave was infinitely better than any other slaves. Because they were highly valued they were better treated, although they were subject to the same Roman Laws and no basic human rights accorded to them. They were given clothes which were appropriate to their slave status and their roles.

Imperial or public; owned by the state worked as laborers on public buildings, bridges, road building, sewers, public baths etc. Public slaves also worked in temples and other public buildings both in Rome and in the municipalities. Most performed general, basic tasks as servants to the College of Pontiffs, magistrates, and other officials. Some well-qualified public slaves did skilled office work such as accounting and secretarial services. They were permitted to earn money for their personal use.
Because they had an opportunity to prove their merit, they could acquire a reputation and influence, and were sometimes deemed eligible for manumission. During the Republic, a public slave could be freed by a magistrate's declaration, with the prior authorization of the senate; in the Imperial era, liberty would be granted by the emperor. Municipal public slaves could be freed by the municipal council

Urban crafts and services; These worked in private household attending to every need of the masters and mistresses - cooking, cleaning, washing, gardening, serving etc. City slaves also worked in factories which produced various products

Agriculture:  Farm slaves probably lived in more healthful conditions than urban cousins. About half of all slaves in the Roman Republic and Empire worked in the countryside, the remainder in towns and cities.

Mining slaves numbering in the tens of thousands were condemned to work in the mines or quarries, where conditions were notoriously brutal. They were called Damnati in metallum ("those condemned to the mine") were convicts who lost their freedom as citizens, forfeited their property to the state, and became servi poenae, slaves as a legal penalty. Their status under the law was different from that of other slaves; they could not buy their freedom, be sold, or be set free. They were expected to live and die in the mines.

Essential labor 
Slaves worked everywhere – in private households, in mines and factories, and on farms. They also worked for city governments on engineering projects such as roads, aqueducts and buildings. As a result, they merged easily into the population. 
In fact, slaves looked so similar to Roman citizens that the Senate once considered a plan to make them wear special clothing so that they could be identified at a glance. The idea was quickly rejected because the Senate feared that, if slaves saw how many of them were working in Rome, they might be tempted to join forces and rebel (remember Spartacus).

Free at Last (barely)
Manumission is the act of a slave owner freeing his or her slaves. A freed slave was the libertus of his former master, who became his patron (patronus). The two had mutual obligations to each other within the traditional patronage network. The terms of his manumission might specify the services a libertus owed. A freedman could "network" with other patrons as well.
As a social class, former slaves were libertini. Men could vote and participate in politics, with some limitations. They could not run for office, nor be admitted to the senatorial class. The children of former slaves enjoyed the full privileges of Roman citizenship without restrictions.


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