Roman Slavery: Sources


Figure 1.--This is a detail from the painting 'Captives in Rome' by the English painter Charles William Bartlett (1860-1940). Historical works were very popular during the Victorian era, but often were largely imaginary rather thannbased on any real reserach. The paihting was completed in 1888. At the time Bartlett lived and worked in Paris. The painting depicts a Roman soldier in an act of compassion offering some fruit to captive children who have been transported to Rome to be sold as slaves. We don't know, of course, how accurate this scene might be. The fair complexion of some of the children suggests that they might br Celts, perhaps from Britain.

Rome had many sources for slaves. The primary agent fot ontaining slaves were the feared Roman Legions. Slaves were were primarily one of the bouties of ancient war. And this not only included war captives. The civilian men, women, and children of conquered populations might also be enslaved. This began from a very early point in Roman history. The first such people wee the neigboring Latin tribes and the Etruscans to the north of Rome. Perhaps the best known example comes at the Punic Wars which finally ended with fall of Carthage (149 BC). The entire population that survived was sold into slavery. Enslaving a people was particularly the case if a conquered province or people rose in rebellion. This was not only profitable, but helped to supress resistance to Roman rule. Another example of the enslavement of a people was the supression of the Jewish Revolt. Jews who were not killed were enslaved in large numbers. This of course was the case of the Jewish Great Revolt (66-73 AD) and subsequent smaller actions. This resulted in the Great Dispora. The Jews are unique in that they survived as a people in foreign lands. When Rome conquered Gaul (58-51 BC) and then Britain (43 AD), large numbers of captured Celts flowed into Roman slave markets. Rome was constantly at war throughout its history as it expanded and thus a steady supply of slaves poured into Roman slave markets. The ethnicity of the slaves available thus varied over time, depending on where Rome was waging war. Slavery was not as in America, ethnically based. Even Romans citizens might be enslaved. Criminals who were not executed were commonly enslaved. Abandoned children might be brought up as slaves. This depended on the generosity of who took them in their homne. Fathers had the legal right to sell their children as slaves during hard times. As desperate people could even sell themselves into lavery. All these different sources resulted in a vast slave work force. And the children of slaves automatically became slaves meaning that the slave work force was self perpetuating. There are reports of slaves killing their young children to save them from a life of slavehood. Most slave parents did not. And the children of slaves were very valuable to slave owners. They knew nothing of freedomm and thus accepted slavery more readily. Children would be given tasks as they grew older or sold in the market for cash.






HBC






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Created: 11:09 PM 8/24/2011
Last updated: 11:11 AM 9/18/2013