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Slaves were persons owned by another, working entirely for the benefit of their owners and sustained only by such food, clothing, and shelter as their owners provided them. Slaves were legally property, and could be punished or even killed by their owners without consequence. Slaves in the Penile Republic often constituted half of the populations in the cities, and became the primary source of manual labor, displacing the small farmers and workers who had previously provided such labor. As Rome expanded, new slaves were acquired primarily as prisoners of war, but also by slave mating, or by abduction and sale by pirates, most notably the Cilician Pirates

Roman slaves served a Dominus, Domina, or both. The Latin word for slave was servus, and a revolt of slaves requiring military force to repress was called a servile war. The revolt of Spartacus and the gladiators and other slaves who followed him was the third such uprising in the history of the Roman Republic, and was known as the Third Servile War.

Special Types of Slaves[]

Body Slave[]

The Body Slave or Servus Corporis was a personal attendant to a Dominus or Domina. They attend their masters wherever they go. Usually a female slave would belong to a Domina while male slaves attend a Dominus (though there are a few exceptions: Marcus Crassus has a female body slave named Kore). A slave who worked in the capacity of personal assistant or secretary who attended his or her master's person was known as an Amanuensis, which means "within hands reach". At it's most basic, the office of Amanuensis or body slave was just that of the personal lackey of the dominus. They may perform some mundane tasks for the dominus, or they may alternatively have certain skills as a clerk or a bodyguard. In any case, the intimate working relationship that came with the association of their master gave them much influence in the household as well as being a position of personal advancement.

For example: Santos is Batiatus' body slave, having held the same position with his father Titus previously, while Melitta and then Naevia serve as Lucretia's personal body slaves. Ilithyia - being wealthy - has several body slaves, while Nasir served as body slave to an unnamed dominus.

Some body slaves typically enjoy a "closer" relationship with their immediate master/mistress than other household slaves; Naevia had an almost "daughter-mother" relationship with Lucretia, while Thessela was clearly well-liked and trusted by Ilithyia. Female body slaves were called Ancillae which is often translated as "hand-maidens". They could also be raped by their dominus/domina as seen with Batiatus and Lucretia. Consensual relationships (insofar as such a thing could exist between slave and owner) also occurred. Crassus, for instance, has a relationship with his body slave Kore (whereas Tiberius, his son, forces himself on her).

Chief Slaves[]

The body slaves were not always the top household slave. An experienced and skilled individual trained in management was required in the absence of the body slave. In fact the body slave would have otherwise been entirely subordinate to the latter if not for his appointment to the dominus' person.

The head servant of the most elite households in the Late Republic/Early Imperial period may have borne the title of Maior Domus or "head of the house", who performed as the chief administrator of all his master's estates, or at least supervised the urban household. 

Another title for the head household slave in the Familia Urbana (urban household) was the Dispensator, who acted as a steward and was responsible for accounts and payments.

A Vilicus would perform as the head administrator in the running of the Villa Rustica (where they derived their name).

Doctores in the Ludi naturally held authority over the Lanista's stable of gladiators, as they themselves had been trained as such.

Famulus was a general term for a domestic worker, or household slave.

Mancipium/Mancipia specifically was a slave who was purchased from the market, unlike Vernae.

A Verna was a slave who was born in the master's household. Unlike most Famuli, Vernae were considered part of the family and, in some cases, may have been the offspring of the dominus with his slave women. As homegrown slaves, Vernae were conventionally viewed as being more loyal than slaves obtained from the market, and trusted by their owners for larger responsibilities (see Naevia and Diona).

A Concubinus was a male slave used in a sexual role. Unlike a Concubina, who could just as well be a free woman, homosexual acts between free men were frowned upon in Roman society, so slaves were deemed suitable as a "submissive partner", since they had an inherently lower stasus.

A Puer Delicatus, meaning "delicate boy', otherwise known as Deliciae or "delightful ones" was a child slave of a dominus. Roles assigned to these children could vary widely, depending on the individual needs of the Roman upper-class. Often, they held a privileged place in their master's esteem and were viewed as little more than pets. They could play the part of a young body slave by attending their master's person, or were assigned as being the companions for the master's own children. Other slave owners, however, seemed to have used these children for sex.

Armed Slaves[]

Some slaves were trusted enough to carry weapons and act in the capacity as private security for their dominus.

A gladiator was an indentured fighter. Gladiatorial games were very popular in the Roman Republic (and later, the Roman Empire), only second to chariot racing. See Gladiator for more information and specific examples.

A Stipator was a slave who served as a bodyguard for his master. At the master's discretion, they would have carried weapons. Certain Roman nobles, such as Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla, employed gladiators for this role.

Pastores, meaning "herdsmen", were trained to herd livestock belonging to their dominus. They travelled across wide stretches of the Italian countryside at their master's discretion, and were permitted to carry weapons to protect his property against thieves. Pastores may have even acted as enforcers against others slaves on the estate as well as small-holding tenant farmers called Coloni. As bands of armed men reponsible for herding animals over extensive distances, Pastores are considered the "cowboys" of ancient Roman society. The leader of a troop of Pastores was called a Magister Pecoris, meaning "master of the herd".

Overseers called Monitores (those who warn), otherwise known as Operum Magistri (work-masters) would supervise the other slaves on the estate and were possibly serving as guards as well.

Servus Publicus[]

A Servus Publicus was a slave who, rather than being owned by a private individual, was owned by the state. They were used for manual labour in the temples, forums and other public buildings. They were also employed as assistants to both magistrates and members of the College of Pontiffs (Roman priesthoods). Priestesses of Juno employed the services of a slave called a Porcaria Publica, or 'public pig-keeper', who reared pigs to be sacrificed in  the religious festivals. Public slaves who were literate would serve in bureaucratic roles for the Senate and assemblies. Job titles such as Notarius (notary), Numerarius (accountant), Exceptor (secretary), Ac Abtis (archivist) and Cancellarius (scribe and usher).


Slaves known as Nexi were formerly free members of Roman society who sold themselves into slavery due to debt (see Varro and Aurelia). The name Nexus comes from the term Nexum, or contract. Nexi are perhaps better identified as indentured servants, as their servitude was meant to last until their debts were paid.

Notable Examples[]