How Important Was Slavery in Roman Society essay

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The economic revolution, which took place between 202 and 30 B.C. in Rome corresponded to a continual increase in the servile population ( Jones and Sidwell, 1997). The very abundance of slave labour explains the changes which came about in methods of production at the time of the Gracchi and took still firmer root as Republican institutions declined. On the one hand the latifundia could not have been exploited if their holders had not possessed great troops of slaves and on the other the division of labour could not have been practiced, even to the limited extent to which it existed, unless prisoners of war and skilled artisans bought in the markets of the eastern Mediterranean had been available to furnish industry with brawny arms and with technical skill of an order which was frequently highly developed (Jones and Sidwell, 1997). Rome, when she adopted the Asiatic taste for luxury and dress, took from Asia at the same time workmen to satisfy her new requirements. Nevertheless, this bodily seizure, although sanctioned by custom, was not without certain disadvantages and even perils; we have already drawn attention to these and it only remains to add that they characterized above all the second period of the present history ( Bradley, 1994). As the years passed, the Romans came to realize that the workman in chains was not the equal of the free worker, that his standards remained primitive and that he did not work with a will at the agricultural or manufacturing tasks assigned to him.
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As in the preceding centuries, the great source from which servile labour was recruited continued to be the waging of war which led to the capture of tribes and of whole nations and threw thousands and tens of thousands of human beings into the markets where they were sold by auction. The generals boasted just as loudly of their captures of slaves as of the treasures which they had pillaged from the vanquished kings or the contributions which they had levied. The yoke was imposed successively upon the Carthaginians, the Sardinians, the Cisalpine Gauls, the Syrians, the Macedonians, the epirotes, the Achaeans, the Cilicians, the Paphlagonians, the inhabitants of Pontus and others, the rough adversaries whom Marius defeated on the Lower Rhone and those whom Caesar thrust back in Belgica ( Heitland, 1921). All races, Hellenic and Germanic, Phoenician and Iberian, were thrown together pell-mell in this terrible subjection of the conquered. It was above all in the eastern markets that this human flesh was concentrated and exhibited. The traders who recruited for the latifundia of Sicily, Africa or Northern Italy were always certain to find there the low-caste and vigorous slaves whom the great agriculturists desired. They found there too the captives with brilliant intellectual qualities and those of comely form and elegant bearing much sought after in the fastidious circles of the capital. The Thracians were taken to Chios, the Scythians to Tanais, whilst Greeks and Asiatics poured into ephesus and Samos ( Warde, 1995). Athens was the centre for gifted slaves--the rhetoricians, poets and mimics whose talents could be employed to provide entertainment at the banquets of the well-to-do. The Cilician pirates who were pursued by Rome on several occasions and who skimmed the Mediterranean and its coasts brought supplies of slaves to Phaselis and to Side in Pamphylia, the latter of which was their base of operations in the middle of the second century and the warehouse for the victims of their abductions. It was Delos, however, that remained for the longest time the chief centre of the slave traffic: 10,000 dungeons were always kept ready there to receive inmates ( Warde, 1995). Whatever might be the qualifications sought in a slave, the journey need never be made in vain. Captives from Asia Minor were exchanged for those of Gaul and of the Alpine regions: the number of transactions reached enormous figures and it was not until very much later that Rome succeeded in seriously threatening the semimonopoly which her island rival had acquired after the decline of Rhodes. When Cato the elder went to the Subura to sell or to buy men or women, there was not offered to his eyes the spectacle of columns of prisoners which Caesar was later to exhibit to his contemporaries. But the actual details of the trade changed little throughout the ages and hardly varied in different countries. It is sure that in the third century slaves of the ordinary run, of average strength, were relatively expensive and that in the first century the very influx of slaves, by increasing the number on the market, led to a considerable drop in prices. ...

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