Article

Roman Slavery

Theresa Urbainczyk

in Classics

ISBN: 9780195389661
Published online March 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0151
Roman Slavery

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Romans could never escape their slaves. Slaves were always a physical presence: in the city, in the country, in the forum, in every room of their homes. As the empire increased, so did the numbers of slaves. Sometimes Romans were murdered in their homes by their slaves. Sometimes whole Roman armies were slaughtered, but the Romans only took more care. They did not conclude that the system was flawed, since for them it had worked for centuries. Despite the ubiquity of slaves, it is not as easy as might be assumed to find out about their lives. They wrote nothing themselves, and the masters seldom mention them in their own literary creations. However, that is not to say nothing can be discovered. The study of ancient slavery is entering a new and exciting phase. During the 20th century it was largely influenced by modern political concerns, since scholars in the old Eastern Bloc countries were seen to be overemphasizing the element of class conflict in the topic. This in turn often led to perhaps a similar distortion in the other direction on the part of Western scholars, in their underplaying the unpleasant side of the great civilizations of Greece and Rome. Now that the political debates of the past century have entered new phases, the study of slavery in Antiquity can be looked at more dispassionately. Having said that, it is not simply a question of letting the sources speak for themselves, since we have no evidence remaining from any slave from the ancient world. All is written by the masters, which makes the area of Roman slavery different from, say, the history of slavery in Brazil or the United States.

Article.  7198 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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