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Pompeii: The life of a Roman town.: Slavery in the Roman World

With the Vesuvius eruption on August 24, 69 AD, a Roman town was frozen in time, revealing the intimate side of a Roman citizen's life, from entertainment to homelife and personal religious expression.

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Slavery in the Roman World

First of all, there were many ways to become a slave. You could be born to a slave in your master's house. You could have been left exposed at birth and raised by a family as a slave. Provinces that were conquered or rebelled would go into the slave system. Some poor families sold their children into slavery. Poor men sold themselves into slavery to become gladiators. Once you were a slave there are many different positions you could hold and many different prices for your skills. Even the poorer families could afford a kitchen or child-minding slaves. Wealthy people had body slaves who dressed them and followed them around and served them. There were prostitute slaves and pretty boy slaves who would serve in a household. Gladiators were slaves and belonged to various masters. Incidentally, Gladiators were expensive slaves to keep, think of caring for an athlete or a thoroughbred horse. There were farm slaves that worked in country villas. Some slaves worked for the government and were very educated. There were a few ways to become free. Often masters would leave them freedom as part of their will. You could buy your freedom and your spouses' and children's. Some masters just freed them. Gladiators in theory could win a certain amount of fights and be freed. Life as a slave was variable, depending on who owned you and what skills you had. Skilled slaves could have a good lifestyle and freed slaves were often wealthy.  On the other side you could be worked to death and slaves' skeletons found in Herculaneum and Pompeii attest to the hard labor they endured at a young age.  A household slave lived in rooms that were not decorated, heated, or well-lit. There were sexual predators everywhere for slaves, even for gladiators.