Ancient Roman Slaves

During the Roman era, the Roman slave markets were filled with slaves acquired from warfare. Captives were brought to Rome as war prizes or were traded for money. However, this made an important impact on the Roman economy.

Apart from hard labour, slaves carrried out so many domestic chores, and some were employed into professional businesses which included the accounting and medical practices.

Most slaves from ancient greece happened to be educated, and the uneducated ones or those punished by being sentenced to slavery, did hard labour on farms, mills and mines.

They lived through hardship and this led to short life span of slaves.

The ancient Romans saw slaves as assets as they had no legal identity. They underwent several punishments of which slaves were sex workers and were sexually molested, brutally totured, and executed without mercy.

As years rolled by, slaves were legally protected and were given the right to file several disputes against their superiors.


  • “ Saturnalia” was the name given to a national holiday celebrated by the ancient Romans. It signifies the day which a change in status occured  between slaves and masters where slaves also enjoyed luxurious banquets which were usually prepared for the elites.
  • It was a crime under the Roman law to render mercy or help to slaves who were  on the run from their masters. Whenever these runaway slaves were caught, they were severely punished and sometimes executed to serve as deterrent to erring slaves.
  • Sometimes, slaves acquired freedom from their masters and this was popularly called Slaves also acquired freedom themselves by reaching a particular term given by their masters. Slaves who gained freedom were referred to as freed women or men.
  • There were 2 main categories of slaves; they were private and public slaves. The public slaves were properties of the Roman government. Public bulding construction projects were assigned to them and projects owned by the government workers were also given to work on. They were popularly known as “Servi public”while the private slaves on the other hand belong to certain individuals. They were mostly in charge of domestic jobs like household services, craft works, and farm labor.
  • A certain percentage of the total population of Italy and Rome happened to be slaves. Histriograghers couldn’t give a precise estimate of the percentage, but was considered to range from 20-30% of the total population. At the early stages of the Roman Empire, the slaves in Rome were ⅓ of the total Roman population.
  • A huge number of slaves were soldiers of Rome’s long time enemies who were captivated during wars, as a result, few slaves revolt occured which were numbered to be 3. The first slave revolt occurred in (135-132 BC), the second slave revolt occured in (104-100 BC) and was considered as the most famous slave revolt while the third slave revolt took place in 73-71 BC of which Spartacus a thracian gladiator took the leading role.
  • Slaves escaped from the watch of their masters and this was a frequent occurrence among the slave masters. Slave catchers who were very good at hunting down runaway slaves were hired,and when these slave were caught, they were brought back to their masters in exchange for a prize. The slave hunters were called
  • During the ancient Roman times, slave ownership was common among the Roman sitizens regardless of their social or financial class. The lower class Roman citizens possessed at least one slave while the wealthy ones owned numerous number of slaves. It is in history that a very wealthy Roman famously known as “ Gaius Caecilius Isidorus” owned 4,166 slaves till his death.


  • Question: What does Manumission mean?
    Answer: it was known as an act of slave masters granting their slaves freedom. 
  • Question: What were the  2 major categories of slaves?
    Answer: The private and public slaves.
  • Question: When did the first slave revolt occur?
    Answer: it occurred between 135 -132 BC
  • Question: What method did the ancient Roman slave masters use to acquire their runaway slaves?
    Answer: Thy hired slave catchers that were very good at capturing runaway slaves.