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Slavery in Roman Society

Slavery was a basic element in Roman society. How were slaves acquired and how were they employed by the Romans? Why did slavery decline in importance?

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If modern society frowns on the use of slavery, then what needs to be considered is that Rome followed in the footsteps of the ancient civilizations which had gone before it and who had all used slave labour. It was hence understood as quite a normal thing for the vanquished to be taken into slavery, or to purchase slaves from the barbarian realms.
If ancient Egypt had used slaves at least two and a half thousand years before the Romans, then also the Babylonians, Indians, Chinese, Persians and Greeks employed slavery as a normal part of their societies. And the fact that slavery continued in the west for as long as the nineteenth century on American plantations - and that in other parts of the world it still exists today - shows that Rome was merely one period in a truly long lasting tradition.
Questions could also be asked if many 'employed' poor of 19th century Britain could perhaps be described as little more than slaves.
However, it can be said that the Romans, from roughly 200 BC onwards, based much of their society on the exploitation of slavery. Their economic systems became heavily dependent on the widespread existence of slave labour.
Slaves laboured in the mines and in the empire's many farms and potteries. The state's public works were largely completed and maintained by slaves. Also the government's state bureaucracy depended very much on educated slaves to keep the administration of the empire running. Even key institutions like the state's mints or the distribution of the corn dole to poor Romans depended on slaves.
Other educated slaves also kept the private industries going, by functioning as their accountants and clerks. Other vital services were provided by literate slaves who served as teachers, librarians, scribes, artists and entertainers - even doctors.
Also in the private houses of Rome, it was slaves who were the servants of their Roman masters, watching over their private lives.
From the man who cleaned the sewers to the emperor's scribe, slaves were an essential part of Roman society.
In the latter centuries of the Roman empire, slavery began gradually to decrease in importance, as the rise of Christianity demanded more benevolence, and - no less importantly - the supply of slaves began to dwindle.

Had the early Romans been content with a small number of household slaves, these numbers rose steeply with Rome's increasing wealth. Simple tasks, such as the master's ...

Solution Summary

Slavery in roman society and why it declined when it did.