*Special Episode* Slavery in Greece and Rome – Dr R and The History of Ancient Greece Podcast

Update: In November 2020, a series of revelations across a variety of social media platforms have made clear that Ryan Stitt’s behaviour to many women in the classics and ancient history community has been inappropriate. We hear those women and stand by those women.

We did not know about the pattern of behaviour when the episode below was recorded. We have opted to leave the link to the episode below active as the topic may be of interest to listeners. We have no plans to work with Ryan in the future.


Dr R discusses slavery in the ancient world, gladiators, and slave revolts with Ryan Stitt, host of The History of Ancient Greece Podcast.

How were Roman Slaves Acquired?

There’s a variety of ways this could happen to a person.

  • Piracy is high on the list of horrific ways you could be enslaved – how do you argue that you are a free person when everyone around you knows you only as a slave?
  • Infant exposure was a source of slaves. Unwanted infants or infants deemed defective in some way were abandoned and made easy fodder for slave traders
  • Capture through war, debt-slavery, and being born of a slave-mother also expanded slave numbers

Ryan notes that successful politics includes expansion of the slave trade. As Athens’ democracy takes off, so too does its capacity to acquire slaves. Dr R confirms that this idea is also borne out in Rome as success is equated with imperial expansion.

What Terminology was Used for Slaves?

In Greece there’s a variety of demeaning and dehumanising names used to refer to slaves. Ryan reviews a number of examples and explores their implications. These names reinforce the system and imply that slaves are less civilised than the free peoples.

In Rome the same dehumanising practices were at play, but as Rome’s power expands their attitude towards the treatment of slaves changed. The possibility of manumission was more likely for Roman slaves, which could be purchases under certain circumstances, or was granted to the slave in the will of their owner.

Was a Manumitted Slave Really Free?

This is a tricky question. Becoming a slave was already terrible, but could you ever really be free? It turns out that it is complicated.

In Greece, some slaves were completed manumitted, while others were considered slaves part of the year! In Rome, full manumission was more common, but there are challenges in terms of how they get paid, how much they can earn, and the implications of the fact that the money carried by a slave always belongs to their master.

What Kinds of Work Did Slaves Do?

Ryan and Dr R explore the range of work required from slaves. This extends from the relatively protected life of house slaves (though there were dangers for the enslaved in being in such close proximity to their owners), to working in exhausting and dangerous mines. The mines were viewed as a death sentence. The working conditions were terrible, the shifts were long, and people were not expected to survive.

Who Became Gladiators?

Gladiators were a type of slave, but not every slave would be targeted for this kind of role. Dr R and Ryan explore the requirements of a gladiator and discuss why the Greeks were not used as gladiators. These excellent fighters, living together in fighting schools, represented a huge liability for the Romans and this leads to a discussion of Spartacus!

Hear it all here: **Special Guest Episode on Roman Slavery and Gladiators w/Fiona Radford**

Roman gladiator, slavery, slaves
Black and white mosaic detail from “The Colosseum” in Rome. Image courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons and Fluous
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Drs R and G laugh and spar their way through the ancient Roman world!

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