5 Things About Slavery in the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire had a dirty little secret, though not so secret at the time. The over five-hundred years of peace and prosperity that people enjoyed was founded on the backs of slaves.

 Slavery was so widespread, that it’s estimated 35%-40% of Italy’s population by the end of the first century were slaves. Yeah, two out of every five people were slaves.

salve

Throughout the entire empire, 10–15% of the total population of 50–60 million inhabitants were enslaved.  Of these, an estimated 49% of all slaves were owned by less than 1.5% of the Empire’s population.

Yet, the Empire couldn’t be made to function without slavery (not that they ever tried), and in the later years of imperial Rome, serfdom even among free Romans was already taking root.

Five Things About Slavery in the Roman Empire

 

Spoils of War

Many of Rome’s slaves came from war, with hundreds to tens of thousands being captured and enslaved i. During a war with Gaul, Julius Caesar sold the entire population of a region (over fifty-three thousand people) on the spot to slave traders.

Occupations

Unlike the images that most of us have of what a slave is, only about half of Roman slaves were unskilled laborers working in the fields. As a matter of fact, many Roman slaves, especially those of Greek origin, were highly educated. Many physicians and accountants of the time were slaves, and there were many government positions also held by slaves.

Less surprising, most of the sex workers in the empire were also slaves. As slaves were considered non-persons, there were no protections even for children.

doctor
Because a slave is totally someone I want treating me.

 

Living Conditions

As with all things, living conditions varied greatly. Those who served in wealthy and influential homes often lived better than poor citizens. Those who served out in the country on imperial estates fared far better than those forced into the mines.

Slaves were property and had no rights. Unlike Roman citizens, they could be subjected to corporal punishment, sexual exploitation (prostitutes were often slaves), torture, and summary execution. Over time, slaves gained increased legal protection, including the right to file complaints against their masters.

Runaways

As slavery in the Roman Empire was not based on race, if a slave could slip away from their master, they could be very difficult to find again. As such, there were professional slave-catchers that were hired to hunt down runaway slaves. Some slaves were branded across the forehead to mark them, while others were forced to wear metal collars.

swiss
Not very Italy or Rome-like, but the Nazis might not have been the first group people were escaping to Switzerland to avoid.

Insurrection

When such a large portion of your population in enslaved, there’s always the danger of insurrection, especially when many of these slaves are captured soldiers. We know about several slave insurrections, and yes, Spartacus was a real man. Who really led a slave revolt. And really lost.

So, while I may base my world very loosely on Rome, this is one thing that won’t be brought into the same kingdom as the Knights of Valor. However, those bastions of justice who love to uphold the law may come across slavery in other places. It will be interesting to see how they react to it.

 

How about you? Know any other dirty little secrets about Rome or other empires that would be interesting to research?

Heroine Analysis: Part 4

For my last look at heroine analysis (for the moment, anyway), I took a look at the novel I am currently revising.

crown-759296_640

I finished a first draft and my first revision that made me rewrite the whole ending. The heroine is a slave in a fantasy world trying to escape and find freedom.

So, can I not hate her if she were another author’s heroine?

  • Is she Passive? – She’s a slave, so there are areas that she is a bit passive, especially in response to the hero . . . And yet, she has struggled to find a way out of slavery and she is more than willing to stand up to powerful men. I might need to take another look at her interactions with the hero and make sure they aren’t passive. Make sure the reader understands her thoughts and manipulations to gain her freedom.
  • Do I tell one thing and show another? – I don’t think so. Again, I don’t believe I actively tell you that she’s determined. I try to let you feel how she longs for a family and a place to belong, how it’s shaped her, and how she’s willing to give a lot and risk a lot to get it.
  • Does she do stupid things? – No. At one point in the story, she does flee the safety of the palace, but that’s because she has inside information on bad stuff going down. Not foolish, and I laid the groundwork in advance as to where she’d go and why. I had some stupid in the story, and I cut it during the first rewrite. There may be more, but nothing I can quickly identify. Perhaps on revision two. . .

So, I might need to work with her to make sure she doesn’t come across as passive without making her overstep too many bounds as a slave. At least, I should take another look at it and try to be objective on whether I’d be annoyed with her or not.

Now, does she exhibit the traits I’m looking for to like her?

  • Is she actively involved in solving her problem? – Yes. From the beginning, she is fighting to escape and goes to great lengths to do it.
  • Can you identify with her? – I feel like this is harder as she’s a slave in a fantasy world. But perhaps the reader can identify with her feeling alone, unloved, and wanting a home and a family of her own.
  • No Damsels – I need to be very careful with that on this story. The rewrite I’m working on has been addressing a little of this, but the very dominant alpha hero can make it difficult. I need to balance her doing things to save herself with his need to protect. I might need to foil him more, throw much harder obstacles in his path. This will have to come through more on my second or third rewrite.

 

I think the heroine here has potential, and I’ll need to really focus on making her active, not letting the hero do too much rescuing, and showing her strength and determination. Thoughts to keep in mind as I begin the next round of revisions.