Talk:Slavery in ancient Rome

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Article Still Needs Total Overhall[edit]

The article is getting worse! Full of nonsense and anecdotes that are unverifiable, unsupported and would in any case, if true, document the extremes of slavery. Logic dictates that, even if treated as "goods", most masters would not excessively punnish or injure a slave because it would be counterproductive. Just like most people don't smash up their furniture - because then they can't sit on it? Mu2 (talk) 00:17, 1 August 2009 (UTC)

This article seems a little confusing and doesn't truly answer any of the questions a reader may ask, namely "What was life like as a slave in ancient Rome?", "Were they well treated?", etc... All it does is give specific examples which may not reflect the reality of the time. Now I dont know much about this, but I was under the impression that slaves in Ancient Rome could live a very comfortable life, sometimes a better one than the poor freemen. Could someone with a good knowledge of this subject please edit this article in order to provide a better understanding to readers like me? Thanks. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 137.222.215.215 (talk) 18:23, 17 February 2008 (UTC)

Wow. What a supremely excellent article! I learned that the writer(s) of the article don't like slavery, and the Romans held slaves and were therefore bad. Could we cram any more "weasel words" and subtle (or not so) condemnations of slavery/Rome in here?

Here is a little issue: Treatment and experience third paragraph: ... despite age or sex (though most slaves were males). Prevalence Last paragraph: As far as slave gender goes, it was about 50/50. Males did not largely outnumber the female slaves in ancient Rome.[citation needed] Which is it? —Preceding unsigned comment added by 142.239.254.19 (talk) 14:48, 2 January 2010 (UTC)

I suspect it varied from century to century. Generally, though, there were far more female slaves than this article alleges - when the Romans vanquished a city, they killed most of the young men, and took the women, children, and elders as slaves - after, of course, a few days of repeated gang rapes of the victims. --NellieBly (talk) 01:28, 28 March 2011 (UTC)

Article Needs Total Overhaul[edit]

This article needs a total overhaul. It might even be considered for removal since:

1. Vandal struck the original comment in the #1 place. Obviously a cretin but there it is. I don't know how to revert, if that is even possible. 2. This article breaks just about every Wiki rule possible.

a. This article is about as far from neutral as one can get.

b. General statements of opinion are written as fact without citation.

c. Many of those general statements are factually incorrect. Roman slavery was very different from that pictured by the writer. In ancient Rome, slaves frequently rose to positions of power within the family, the city and the empire as a whole.

d. Statements are made and left without examples. (Example: (All)Slaves were given poor food. No examples of putative slave diets are given.)

e. No differentiation is made between personal slavery and corporate and/or punitive slavery and such differentiation is absolutely necessary to the credibility of the article.

f. Links are "forced" as if placed simply to include links. The links add little to the credibility of the article.

g. The article is incredibly biased. Any discussion of ancient slavery (to reference this article only) should be written within the context of the sociology of the referenced society in order to be neutral. Slavery in ancient times was a part of all civilizations. The concept of individual right to liberty is a modern concept totally unknown in ancient times. Therefore, the negative bias of the author is out of place in this article and should be edited out. Removing the bias would strip the article to stub length so the article should either be re-written without bias or removed.

h. The purpose of a Wiki article is to disseminate information. The information in this article is either false, missing or too obviously biased. This makes the article fail in its purpose as a Wikipedia entry.

--Tredzwater (talk) 12:42, 4 September 2008 (UTC)


What does frequently mean in the context of point c.


I agree. this article should probably get nominated for deletion.Hawkey131 (talk) 22:30, 30 November 2008 (UTC)


I added some more material, some of which does substantiate the more negative aspects of Roman slavery, but also info that indicates negative extremes were not universal, as well as the economic factors which help to understand the institution. More on the economic cause and effects of slavery could be added as well. Something to the effect of the above comment, "the concept of individual right to liberty is a modern concept totally[?] unknown in ancient times" could be worked in someplace, perhaps a section called Perspective could be helpful.Daniel1212 (talk) 19:42, 4 December 2008 (UTC)

Dishonest Claims of NPOV[edit]

The claims that the article is NPOV are dishonest. Those who believe (or affect to believe) that the article is NPOV should interpolate the positive aspects of Roman slavery into the article.

I have deleted the reference to Sparta as the helots were serfs rather than chattel slaves. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 137.191.237.229 (talk) 10:57, 17 July 2012 (UTC)


NPOV[edit]

This article is clearly far from neutral. The slave is treated like a hero in this article, and weasel wording is commonplace. Just reading the first article, I can spot several examples of outrageously opinionated language. "less than persons" is a very disputable statement. What makes a "person" is an entirely philosophical question. We also have to remember that Human Rights weren't really around at this time. So they themselves did not consider the slaves as "less than persons", but rather inferior to Roman citizens. That said, the Romans had huge respect for the Greeks, and yet they persisted to take slaves from them.

All articles on Wikipedia should be written in a neutral form, no matter what the topic. We are not here to judge the Romans. There ought to be more information from there point of view. There is not a lot of fact in this article, but the anti-slavery propaganda is certainly in excess. The article is written so that the facts that are shown are presented, implicitly and explicitly, from the side of the slave.

--86.146.215.169 (talk) 19:01, 17 January 2009 (UTC)

  • Uh, no. No, it isn't. The way it is now is like saying we're not being NPOV on the article of torture, because we're focusing too much on the pain on the victim and not the mental state of the torturer.

No, NPOV isn't the problem, just the 20,000 CITATION NEEDED markers I saw halfway down the page.

Less than people or less than citizens, though, would be more appropriate. However, "What makes a person a person?" is entirely redundant as a question here, because to Romans, citizens were the highest you could be as a 'person' in the Empire. What we're talking about is that slaves weren't afforded the rights most citizens, so even though certain slaves were afforded respect due to their skills, they were inferior to Roman citizens. So while I agree with you in the case that "Less than persons" is probably improper wording, saying that this article has an excess of anti-slavery propaganda is like saying the Evolution vs Creationism article has an excess of anti-creationism propaganda. Amatsu-Mikabushi (talk) 00:13, 19 January 2010 (UTC)

"Most citizens" is a very misleading thing to say there, as most people in Roman-ruled land WEREN'T Roman citizens. As a famous example, Jesus was given a summary execution, as was St. Peter, where St. Paul, the only apostle to be a Roman citizen if I remember correctly, was given a trial. Roman citizenship was a distinct upper class, so when you say "slaves weren't afforded the rights most citizens" you're using "citizens" to mean "residents" in an anachronistic way and forgetting that in some places slaves were pretty damn close to a majority, and slaves+women+(adult) children under their father's absolute authority WERE a majority.

The perspective that most people were OK and slaves were the particular underclass is anachronistic and flawed. Rome is not the antebellum South; the institutions were extremely different. This article does not give that impression.

I have an objection to the phrase "technically slaves could not own property." What does it mean? It COULD mean:

  • Slaves had no recourse from theft of their property by their masters.
  • All of slaves' belongings were considered to belong to their masters.
  • The property rights of slaves within the household were judged by the head of said household.

Those are very different statements, and any would be much more sensible than "technically they couldn't, but they kind of could," which doesn't really even make that much sense outside of a modern legal system.

Jhartzell42 (talk) 15:59, 14 March 2013 (UTC)

Abolition[edit]

Is there any record of anyone saying that slavery should be abolished in the Roman Empire, or any of the ancient empires (not including the slaves themselves and the slave revolts) BillMasen (talk) 15:25, 9 April 2009 (UTC)

No, but for what it's worth there was some opposition to the rise of the Latifundia for completely different reasons, there is no evidence for any abolitionists before the abolitionist movement.--ScriptusSecundus (talk) 03:39, 12 April 2010 (UTC)

False. Of course there's record of people saying slavery should be abolished. Saying such a strong "no" to that is a major, major problem. "Slavery is the fruit of covetousness, of extravagance, of insatiable greediness." St. John Chrysostom. Elsewhere calls it an abomination.

Jhartzell42 (talk) 16:02, 14 March 2013 (UTC)


technically there was a transformation under Diocletian (introduction of a proto form of Serfdom) ,ie institution of Colonato. --Ftgdm (talk) 09:25, 26 June 2010 (UTC)

Still not up to standards, what about Imperial Slaves?[edit]

I happen to know the story about Hadrian and his slave's eye for example, it is a short enough story that if mentioned it must be told in an article, and yes it is true he stabbed his slaves eye in a fit of rage, which he was then very sorry for and he went to see the slave and offered him anything he desired. The slave asked for his eye back. I don't aprove of white washing slavery, but all articles on this subject should treat the cultures the same way. Leaving Imperial Slaves out of an article on slavery in the Roman Empire is like leaving the Republic out of a history of Rome from 500-44 BC, the imperial slaves had very high importance. Furthermore since other cultures get something of a white wash on slave conditions does Rome deserve one? The literary evidence does include threat of the whip, but it also includes people who sold themselves into slavery in order to become freed and have their children become citizens.--ScriptusSecundus (talk) 03:51, 12 April 2010 (UTC)

==What standards? extraordinary dishonesty and vandalism by critics. why is a citation demanded for the claim that "The proposed agrarian reforms of 133 BC would have broken up the inefficient slave plantations, with which the elite in their conservatism and privilege could not agree" The reforms referred to are those of Tiberius Gracchus and the claim is a matter of established historical fact. Why has this been tagged citation needed. No citation is needed. The fact that it slaves were obliged to have sex when instructed is also a fact (referred to for example in Musonius). The lack of legal personality meant that rape was punishable only if the slave of another free person was injured during the rape. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 137.191.237.229 (talk) 10:50, 17 July 2012 (UTC)

Maybe it's "citation needed" because it needs a citation :-). Historical facts still need citations.

Jhartzell42 (talk) 16:04, 14 March 2013 (UTC)

Jewish slave traders[edit]

Article cites the Jewish Encyclopedia as a source for the statement that Jews were the primary slave traders in the Roman Empire. I am a layman on this subject but I've never read anything to that effect, and in any case the Roman empire was far too large and varied (and the Jewish nation too small) for this statement to be literally correct throughout the Roman empire's lifetime. All I can find onlin in "Jewish Encyclopedia" is a mention here: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=849&letter=S&search= which relates to Jewish handling of non-Christian slaves in the period of Late Antiquity. As currently stated it's misleading at best. Find a better citation or remove it. Rob Burbidge (talk) 10:44, 28 December 2010 (UTC)

All groups in the Roman Empire traded in slaves, if the only source for Jews dominating it is Jewish Encyclopedia however I would edit that. Not only is the Jewish Encyclopedia not appearing to support the citation, the army was the chief purveyor of slaves, even in peace time there would have been much fighting. Pirates and individual commercial enterprise also trafficked in slaves, but I don't know of any slave monopolies granted in the Roman Empire. That is just my personal opinion however.ScriptusSecundus (talk) 02:23, 3 February 2011 (UTC)

I've removed the sentence about slave trading being the main source of income for Roman Jews, as it is unsubstantiated with a citation and (personal opinion) feels vaguely anti-Semitic. I have no doubt that there must have been Jewish slave traders, just as there were Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Gaullish slave traders, but I think any assertion that slave traders were "mainly" Jewish requires some level of proof. Rob Burbidge (talk) 22:50, 19 May 2011 (UTC)

You'd think there was no sex in the Roman Empire[edit]

I suspect that the origin of this article (the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica) is behind the lack of detail about sexual slavery in ancient Rome. It's a well-known fact supported by many reliable sources that sexual slavery was an integral part of slavery for house slaves: any male member of the family could take sexual advantage of any slave regardless of sex or age. (Free women who were caught having had sex with a slave, on the other hand, could lose their freedom.) Have frequent contributors to this article considered adding information about this? It seems rather strange that the article is devoid of what was one of the main "uses" of house slaves - as sex objects. --NellieBly (talk) 01:25, 28 March 2011 (UTC)

Since the Roman Empire lasted several centuries, I think it's fair that some sex was involved (pardon the attempt at humour). It's certainly plausible that masters had sexual relations with slaves. I suggest you provide a reliable source or two and go ahead and add the material (be bold!). I'll take issue that the "main" use of house slaves was as sex objects though. To be blunt, except in the most debauched of circumstances you can only have a certain level of sexual at any one time, and someone still has to clean the atrium. Rob Burbidge (talk) 22:45, 19 May 2011 (UTC)

sorry, laughing a little at the word 'plausible' not plausible, definite! The sheer number of guys who freed female slaves just to marry them is suggestive enough, but then there are the family epitaphs which show children - some of which suggest one child was born into slavery whilst the other was born after marriage! — Preceding unsigned comment added by 129.215.149.98 (talk) 20:03, 25 November 2012 (UTC)

Manumission or the Act of Freeing a Slave[edit]

I am reading an excellent book named 'Slavery and Serfdom in the Middle Ages. Now, the title may throw you off a bit, but the book is actually selected papers by Marc Bloch, a French scholar born in 1886, and was killed by the Nazis serving the French Resistance (sorry - had to put that in - he seemed like such an amazing person).

Back on topic! Bloch discusses the manumission of Roman slaves in the paper, How and Why Ancient Slaver Came to an End. On page 16 he clarifies that manumission or freeing of slaves was very rare and that their offspring were still considered property of the owner that freed them.

I'll quote the text:

It could happen that the master, in making a free man of his slave, discharged him forever from obligation to him. He opened to him, as certain acts put it, the four ways of the world. This case was rare. Neither the Roman nor the Germanic tradition was favorable to it. In Rome, not only did the offspring of the freed man have to wait until two generation had passed before having access to the rights of a citizen; the practice of the slave owners ordinarily kept them dependent on the author of the manumission and his successor, nearly indefinitely.

Here is the full citation: Bloch, Marc (year unknown). How and Why Ancient Slavery Came to an End. (Ed.) Beer, In Beer, William R. (1975). Slavery and Serfdom in the Middle Ages. (pp. 276). The Regents of the University of California. ISBN: 0-520-02767-6 Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 79-123627

The book is out of print, but it is a wealth of knowledge. It gives great detail on how economics and religion brought changed slavery from the Roman Empire to the High Middle Ages. Slavery was by no means gone with the fall of Rome, as we in America would certainly know, yet Bloch documents how slavery gave way to serfdom and the church (any religion; Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, you name it) continued to support slavery while at the same time preaching men should be free. They all found a way to justify within their religious texts the subjugation of others.

I hope this helps! — Preceding unsigned comment added by 50.132.5.85 (talk) 00:50, 13 June 2012 (UTC)

Thanks, and I really appreciate your interest. The problem is that one of the main statements is incorrect. The son of a freedman was a citizen. The poet Horace is an example. However, what I find is that it's easy to overestimate how much "freedom" any ordinary person enjoys, compared to the rich and powerful. Although the Wikipedia article is pretty mediocre, Rome was full of various levels of dependency and interdependency among the supposed "free." See Patronage in ancient Rome and Social class in ancient Rome. Neither is an adequate article, but they point to what "dependency" means in a Roman context. Also see paterfamilias; in some sense, even the most well-born man wasn't fully "free" until his father died. (But quite right about justifying subjugation in general.) Thanks for your interest! Cynwolfe (talk) 01:39, 13 June 2012 (UTC)

Thank you for the response and other citations. However, I'm confused by your interpretation of Bloch's 'statement' as you put it. Bloch is not stating the exact opposite. The freed slave was NOT a citizen. I suggest reading the article, since I can't quote the entire text. You are absolutely correct, that Rome was full of various levels of dependency. Or perhaps a more accurate term would be 'various levels of inclusion (citizenship is more accurate, but a confusing term given today's connotations). A citizen had full legal rights, and there were various levels of freemen - not included as citizens and without full legal rights or privileges - and of course slaves. This is by no means an exhaustive or complete delineation of class levels of Roman society. I think the article does a fair job of describing some of these levels. In terms of the Roman familial structure context, you are correct that it was far more complex than our modern structure in terms of what members had certain freedoms at specific ages.

The only issue I had, and I think Bloch's citation helps clarify, is the statement this article makes about the children of former slaves. In this article it states:

"The children of former slaves enjoyed the full privileges of Roman citizenship without restrictions."

It is a minor clarification that Bloch's research proves otherwise and I thought you would appreciate knowing this fact and possibly enjoy reading his research.

In general, I am impressed on the articles accuracy regarding freed slaves. It is succinct and well written, easily accessible and imparts a great deal of information on the life of a roman slave. Thanks for your efforts!


 — Preceding unsigned comment added by 50.132.5.85 (talk) 14:53, 13 June 2012 (UTC) 
Actually, see Gnaeus Flavius (jurist). He was the son of a freedman, and held elected public office. Some forms of Roman citizenship did not grant the right to vote and hold office, but the son of a freedman was not prevented from doing so. And this was in 305 BC—from the time of the Social Wars onward, citizenship becomes increasingly capacious. Cynwolfe (talk) 20:56, 3 July 2012 (UTC)

--- If a child was born prior to the parent's manumission they remained a slave, freeing a parent did not obligate you to free the child, even if the child was a small infant. Children born after manumission were instant citizens. Perhaps this is where the confusion comes in. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 129.215.149.96 (talk) 20:07, 25 November 2012 (UTC)

That seems a good and careful distinction. It would be interesting to know whether it was considered proper (though not an obligation) to free the child as well, since the Romans came to dislike the idea that the children of citizens might be enslaved. In some cases, it seems that if a master freed a male slave who had a union with a slave woman (not legally recognized as marriage), he might free her as well, so they could be married. But again this would depend on the temperament of the master, and whether you were "lucky" enough not to be owned by someone who was arbitrarily cruel. I'm afraid I'm about to go off on a socially relevant tirade about Wal-Mart employees, who frequently complain to me about feeling chained to their checkout stations when I offer sympathies about how tired or patently ill they look, and who are now forced to work on holidays, so I will fall silent. Cynwolfe (talk) 22:00, 25 November 2012 (UTC)

There are many grave monuments of various types which make it clear that the deceased were married and freed of the same master. There are also some which show family units, freed of the same master. One in particular, i believe it was an ash chest of the Ince Blundell collection gives an impression that the mother was a freed slave of the father, that the elder son was born a slave, then presumably freed with his mother, but the younger son was born free. Unfortunately as more or less all evidence of such relationships come from funerary art it is nigh impossible to tell if it was considered 'proper' to also free the children, or if it was simply something nice owners did. It was probably dependent entirely on the circumstances surrounding the manumission, (for marriage, for kindness, out of respect, because the slave had earned enough to pay their way out) the age of the child (it seems unlikely full grown adult children would be freed by obligation but is relatively likely that otherwise useless infants would be - but at what point this change occurs is hard to judge) From a clarity of article point of view it's probably best not to go into it. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 188.221.73.75 (talk) 01:29, 2 December 2012 (UTC)


Actually whilst we're on the subject i think the emancipation section needs some work - it lacks references and i'm pretty sure its got the specifics of Augustus' decree a bit wrong! — Preceding unsigned comment added by 188.221.73.75 (talk) 01:32, 2 December 2012 (UTC)

All interesting points. I too find the inscriptions of liberti and libertae (other kinds in addition to epitaphs too) full of human interest. We have a category for that over at Commons that you might want to browse if you haven't already: see Commons:Category:Liberti and libertae in Ancient Roman inscriptions. I'm often touched by the hidden family stories when I come upon these. Cynwolfe (talk) 02:00, 2 December 2012 (UTC)

After the empire[edit]

There is nothing in this article that details what happened to the slave population after the fall of the empire. --J intela (talk) 15:47, 13 December 2012 (UTC)

The relation of the institution of slavery to the decline of the Empire is an excellent question to raise. It would be interesting to know more about this and to have something in the article. Hope someone has the time and inclination to contribute on this topic, but I'll try to keep the question in mind in case I stumble on something. Cynwolfe (talk) 17:18, 13 December 2012 (UTC)

I agree, there is much to learn about the how slavery contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire.Cbowsie (talk) 17:52, 17 May 2013 (UTC)

Identical wording[edit]

I noticed that alot of the wording in "Auctions and sales" is the same as http://www.roman-colosseum.info/roman-life/slave-auction.htm Just F.Y.I. 2602:306:CE93:EA40:86A6:C8FF:FE3C:1243 (talk) 05:09, 25 January 2013 (UTC)