Teudogar and the Alliance with Rome

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Slaves in the Roman Empire

Although the Romans despised the Barbarians, they didn't mind living together with them - as long as the Barbarians would serve them as slaves. Prisoners of war and enslaved civilians, also women and children, came to Rome and Italy from every defeated country, by the ten thousand (hence, after the country of origin, slave names Barbara, Syria, Lydia). There they had to serve as tillers, miners, homemakers, cooks, concubines, but also as scientists, accountants, teachers, clerks, or commissioners.

Depending on skills or appearance, the price for a slave was 200 to 1000 Denar (silver coins), i.e. an inexpensive slave approximately cost as much as a cattle or a sword, acquirable with an annual pay that an ordinary legionary earned.

Without the low-cost work force provided by the slaves, the Roman economy would have collapsed: The slaves were laboring in mines, manufactural plants and large factories. They worked on the large plantations, and they served as secretaries and recording clerks in public administration.

Also, without the slaves, the pleasant lifestyle of the wealthy wouldn't have been possible: The wealthy kept slaves as clerks, land agents, financial advisers, walking appointment calendars, human lexica of conversation, carriers of sedans, torch-bearers, gardeners, cooks, and waiters. The slaves tutored the children and wrote poems or tragedies which then their masters could claim as their own. Slaves also served as gladiators or bodyguards. Many slave owners satisfied their sexual needs with female slaves or young slave boys, and some wives likewise secretly satisfied themselves with male slaves. Sometimes during feasts, female slaves had to make their long hair available only to have it misused as towels. Other slaves had to announce the time on a regular basis, or they had to go ahead of their masters during walks so as to warn them of bumpy spots ahead.

In material terms, most slaves did not too badly. Just as a peasant wouldn't starve his cattle, a slave owner would also look after his precious possessions. Also, often slaves were set free once they had served to the satisfaction of their masters for long enough.

Though often slaves were forced to do degrading tasks, being a slave wasn't degrading in itself: Every third inhabitant of Rome was a slave (300,000 of 1 million people during the reign of Emperor Augustus), and most of them conformed to their fate, going along with the circumstances they were in. Usually, good services were rewarded with good treatment, and when a slave was very useful to his master, he had a powerful position. Sometimes master and slave would even become friends to a certain extent. Mostly slaves stood by their masters with steadfast loyalty. Some were even willing to sacrifice their own lives for the master.

In the beginning, most slaves were treated as family members. However, since many Roman families owned dozens, sometimes even hundreds or thousands of slaves that could be bought and sold like cattle at auctions, personal ties disappeared, and maltreatments became more widespread.

See entry 'The Unfree' for slavery among the Germanic people.

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