Monday 14 January 2013
Slavery - the Roman point of view (yes, they had one)
I'm going to be up front here...slavery is just about the worse thing someone has ever come up with. In the Roman-era slave owners were entitled to do anything they wanted with their slaves, and I mean anything...torture, death and the other stuff people with power like to do to those who don't. Some slaves, such as those working the Spanish silver mines or those who found themselves in the arena had very short and awful lives. But - and this is a big caveat - on the whole, life as a Roman slave was a genuine improvement on the slavery cultures prior to and after the classical age. For one thing, Roman slavery wasn't hereditary or cultural - a child born into servitude had a good chance of earning their freedom and becoming a Roman citizen regardless of their cultural origin, their skin colour or choice of religion. And for many, slavery meant learning Latin and a trade and being able to earn good money before and after they were granted freedom. In fact, for those tens of millions of provincials living outside of Italy, slavery was often their only means of economic improvement. The preponderance of Greeks who continued to arrive in Rome as slaves during the 1st-century AD - despite Greece having been peacefully ruled by Rome for the best part of two centuries, suggests the majority of 1st-century Greek slaves were selling themselves - or their children - into servitude rather than finding a way into slave markets via crime or rebellion. And from that, we should assume they were thinking life in a Roman household - despite what a Roman might do to them - had more long term rewards than the freedom they were giving up.
So what does that mean? Didn't these 'volunteers' have any pride in their freedom? Surely they were masochists to think life was better under the whip than in some dirt poor, muddy backwater? Perhaps, perhaps not, obviously their expectations weren't as pessimistic as our modern day interpretations...in tomorrow's post we'll explore why.
Check out my latest book - Vagabond - life after one million Gauls were sold into slavery