The Roman Empire (and also the Roman Republic) was a society built on slavery. Slaves were omnipresent in ancient Rome, not only in the households of wealthy Romans but also in the city’s administration and of course in the Gladiator fights.
But how much did a slave cost in Ancient Rome? And could everybody in ancient Rome afford a slave?
An average slave without any special qualifications did cost 1,500 Denarii in the 1st century AD, a chef did cost 2,000 Denarii while a vintner did cost 2,000 Denarii. A normal day laborer or a Roman legionary earned about 1 Denarius per day. So only wealthy Romans could afford slaves. Roman families with lower incomes could not afford a slave.
Let`s take a closer look!
How Much Did Slaves Cost in Ancient Rome?
Just like the price of slaves in Ancient Greece, the price of slaves in ancient Rome also varied drastically depending on the exact time period. So you will find that I added the year to the prices in the following table. And in case you also want to find out more about the prices of daily goods and the height of salaries in Ancient Rome you might want to check out my article here.
The Price of Slaves in Ancient Rome
|1 Slave (1st century AD)||1,500 Denarii|
|1 Chef (1st century AD)||2,000 Denarii|
|1 Vintner (1st century AD)||2,000 Denarii|
|13 Gladiators (40 AD)||2,250,000 Denarii|
|1 Sexslave (220 AD)||25,000 Denarii|
Ok, these numbers are interesting. But they don`t really tell us anything about how expensive a slave really was as long as we don`t know the prices of normal goods that are still used today to compare them to.
A day laborer who worked in a vineyard made about 1 Denarius per day in the 1st century AD. A used Toga, the cloth of the Roman citizens, did cost approximately 3 Denarii while 1 lb of black pepper did cost 4 Denarii in the 1st century AD.
Do you want to find out more about the prices of daily goods (like black pepper and other spices) and the salaries that were paid for different professions in ancient Rome? Then please check out my article here.
Oh and by the way. Not only day laborers got about 1 Denarius per day. Roman legionaries were also paid 1 Denarius per day! And while that pay might not sound like a lot (especially considering that there were hefty deductions for food and accommodation) we must remember that Roman soldiers received a quite generous retirement as well as a share of any war bounty.
Ok, so that brings us to the big question: Could every Roman afford a slave?
Could Everybody Afford a Slave in Ancient Rome?
When we compare the prices of slaves and the pay of soldiers or day laborers then we see that most Roman (lower-income) households were not able to afford a slave.
Low-income households in Ancient Rome could not afford slaves. Let`s face it, a day laborer who made 1 Denarius per day would have never been able to save up enough money to buy an average slave for 1,500 Denarii.
But high-income Romans like lawyers (one lawyer in 153 AD made 500 Denarii for just one court case) could definitely afford slaves. Here you can find out more about the income of Rome’s high-earners.
Roman senators and equites usually had several slaves in their city homes and potentially hundreds (or even thousands of slaves) on their estates outside of Rome. The vast estates were quite profitable compared to small family-run farms, not only because slave labor was cheap, but also because they – unlike the family farms – did not have to grow grain and could focus on more lucrative kinds of agriculture.
So not every Roman could afford a slave.
Specially trained Slaves like vintners, chefs, and Gladiators were sold at much higher prices than normal slaves without any special training.
Ok, but now we have talked a lot about Roman coins. Let`s now also take a close look at Rome’s currency system
The Coinage of Ancient Rome
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
Paul Erdkamp: The Cambridge companion to ancient Rome.*
Tsevi Ya`vets: Slaves and Slavery in ancient Rome.*
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