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An ergastulum (plural: ergastula) was a Roman building used to hold in chains dangerous slaves, or to punish other slaves.[1] The ergastulum was usually subsurface, built as a deep, roofed pit - large enough to allow the slaves to work within it and containing narrow spaces in which they slept. They were common structures on all slave-using farms (latifundium).[2] The etymology is disputed between two possible Greek roots 'ergasterios' (workshop) and 'ergastylos' (pillar to which slaves were tethered).

The ergastulum was made illegal during the reign of Hadrian.

The term is also used to describe any small Roman prison.


  1. ^ Christopher Francese (2007). Ancient Rome in So Many Words. Hippocrene Books. pp. 170–. ISBN 978-0-7818-1153-8. 
  2. ^ Annalisa Marzano (2007). Roman Villas in Central Italy: A Social and Economic History. BRILL. pp. 149–. ISBN 90-04-16037-X.