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Евсеенков А.С.

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Slave (Latin: servus) — a representative of the lower class in the era of antiquity, who has practically no rights.

The slave-owning system was widespread in ancient times, it was most developed in Ancient Greece and Rome, which was facilitated by the peculiarities of morals and the effectiveness of such a model for the development of the state. For the Romans, as well as earlier for the Greeks, slaves were associated with foreigners. Other peoples were considered barbarians, people of the lowest class, created for slavery. In particular, this opinion was held by Marcus Tullius Cicero, as mentioned in his treatises.

Roman mosaic with slaves. Dougga, Tunisia. 2nd century AD
Roman mosaic with slave and master. Sousse, Tunisia. 3rd century AD
The slaves are preparing for the festival. Mosaic. Carthage. It is kept in the Louvre Museum. 2nd century AD

Slavery in Rome

The main reason for being enslaved was capture: captive citizens of other States made up the vast majority of slaves. This is evidenced by many written sources, including tombstone inscriptions. Roman slaves at the end of the 2nd century BC were mostly natives of Asia Minor, Syria, and Greece, which were recently captured by Rome. Due to the extensive conquests in this period, the peak of the development of slavery in Ancient Rome occurs. Another source of slavery was maritime piracy, which peaked in the mid-1st century AD. There was also a custom that allowed creditors to make slaves of their debtors, it was legalized by the Laws of the twelve tables in the 5th century BC. However, in the 4th century BC, the law of Petelius was adopted, which prohibited the enslavement of Roman citizens, only foreigners could become slaves. There were also exceptions to this rule, when the state subjected a citizen to maxima capitis diminutio, that is, turned him into a slave for the crimes he committed. There was another exception: if a free woman entered into a relationship with a slave and did not stop it, despite the master's three-fold decree, she also became a slave of that master.

To the sources of slavery can be added the natural growth of the unfree population due to the birth of children from slaves. Over time, a whole branch of the economy was formed, dealing with the slave trade. Slaves were imported to Rome from Africa, Spain, Gaul and other regions. Most often, slaves were brought from Bithynia, Galatia, Cappadocia and Syria. Human trafficking generated a huge income for the treasury, as the import, export and sale of slaves were taxed. For the import of a eunuch, 1/8 of its value was charged, for other slaves-1/4, and an additional tax of 2-4% was levied on the sale. The slave trade was one of the most profitable businesses, the first place in this business belonged to the Greeks, as they already had a lot of experience.

Bas-relief with a woman and her slave. Italy. 1-2 century AD
Bas-relief with a woman and her slave. Italy. 1-2 century AD
A guard with Roman slaves. Found in Izmir, Turkey. Stored in the Ashmolean Museum, England. 2-3 century AD

Social status of slaves

Although slaves had the lowest social status in Rome, their quality of life, clothing, and occupation could vary greatly. The position of a slave was influenced by its owner. Getting to a rich and kind host was a great success: such a slave could dress well and eat well, and even get an education. The way of life of such slaves could be even better than that of some free-born Romans, especially helpful slaves sometimes received expensive gifts from their masters. Often the owners used the girls for carnal pleasures. Gold found in Pompeii, near Mogherini a bracelet with the inscription "dominus ancillae suae" — "from the master to the slave", which meant an expensive gift to his concubine.

Roman gold serpentine armilla from Pompeii with the inscription "dominus ancillae suae". 1st century AD

Slaves were treated as possessions by the Romans, but that didn't mean that slaves were always treated badly. Like other property, they tried to protect the slaves so that they would not fall in value. Slaves could be raised and trained as "deposits" so that they could be resold profitably in the future. Often slaves were forced to wear special signs that testified to their slavery, they wrote the name of the owner with a request to return the slave in case of escape for a reward.

A slave collar. National Roman Museum. 3-4 century AD
Slave's sign. Roman Spain. 2nd century AD

Most of the slaves were used for farming fields, construction, as movers and miners, and for other physically demanding jobs. In such cases, they were often kept in chains to prevent them from escaping. Slaves were forbidden to serve in the army, but there was a "combat" occupation for them — gladiatorship, as you can read about in the corresponding section.

Roman document on the sale of a slave, A.D. 166.
Roman mining equipment, including slave shackles. Spain. 2nd-4th century AD
Slave Shackles, 2nd-4th centuries AD, Great Casteron


The image of a slave is one of the simplest and cheapest in the reconstruction of antiquity. However, the slaves sometimes looked quite well-groomed, especially if they were owned by rich owners.

List of possible slave kit elements:

Rab, reconstruction

Related topics

Tunic, Balteus, Sandals, Subligaculum, Armylls, Saccus, Wallet


Vasilevsky M. G., Lipovsky A. L., Turaev B. A. Rabstvo // Encyclopedia of Brockhaus and Efron : in 86 volumes (82 volumes and 4 additions). - St. Petersburg, 1890-1907.

Elnitsky L. A. The emergence and development of slavery in Rome in the VIII-III centuries BC Moscow, 1964.

Slavery in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire in the first and third centuries. Moscow, 1977.

Benjamin Constant (1767-1830) Lecture-speech (in French — discours): About freedom among the ancients in its comparison with freedom among modern people-a lecture on the concept of freedom in the Ancient world and its differences from the modern one, about this phenomenon.


Roman slaves build a wall. Fragment of a drawing on the wall. 1st century BC-2nd century AD