Slave (Servus)

Every well to do Roman household had slaves. Slaves provided the manual labour for farms and businesses as well as fulfilling all the household chores. Some slaves were highly trained – most doctors, accountants and tutors were slaves or freedmen and they will have been treated with more respect than unskilled slaves. They came from all over the empire and the most common way to become a slave was to be captured in war. In many houses, the numbers of slaves probably outnumbered the family members. A slave had very few rights and his master was legally entitled to punish him, even execute him, if he wished. Slaves couldn’t marry and if a female slave had a baby, the child automatically became the property of her master.

 The best way to keep slaves sweet was to hold out the promise of freedom. Lots of slave owners would imply they were going to free slaves in their wills as a way of encouraging the slaves to behave. Slaves might also be freed because of good behaviour or most commonly because they had been able to buy their freedom, perhaps by collecting tips.


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