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A colonus was a type of Roman peasant farmer, a serf. This designation was carried into the Medieval period for much of Europe. Coloni worked on large Roman estates called "latifundia" and could never leave. Latifundia raised sheep and other types of cattle. Traditionally, the latifundia had used slave labor, but in the third century AD, the cessation of Roman conquests induced a labor shortage, so that in some cases the land was worked by free tenant farmers. Fiscal reforms of Diocletian tied the peasants to the land, and reduced them to a serf-like status. The tenant farmers were known as coloni (singular: colonus). The coloni farmed the land and paid rent to the owner of the latifundium. Their rent usually consisted of a portion of their harvest, labor, or money.
Although technically still free, coloni could be hunted or flogged if they left the latifundium. Under Constantine, any coloni who fled the latifundium and was recovered could be kept in chains as though they were slaves. Increasing numbers of people were forced to become coloni due to the decreasing number of slaves to support the economy because of Rome's failure to win battles. Coloni became bandits and bagaudae, with Bulla Felix as a prime example, which further harmed the trade system.