Slavery was practised all but universally in ancient societies, but nowhere was it so fundamentally a part of life as it was for the Romans. In the Augustan period, perhaps a third of the population of Italy were slaves. servī aut nascuntur aut fīunt “slaves are either born or created” according to the Institutes of Justinian: under the Republic, slaves were obtained predominantly through capture in war, in the relatively stable first two centuries of the Empire, they were more usually home-bred. The rise of Christianity did very little to curb the institution. Even St. Augustine, in the fifth century, thought it proper for slaves to be obtained by kidnapping, provided the kidnapping took place outside the boundaries of the empire. Quite apart from its cruelty, the abundance of cheap manual labor which slavery provided will have inhibited the incentive for technological development.

ancilla, -ae fem. 1 slave-girl.

dominus, -ī masc. 2 (-a, -ae fem. 1) owner. A dominus exercised absolute power over his slaves. Significantly, the term is cognate with domō 1 “tame”.

ergastulum, -ī neut. 2 a slave-labor camp, esp. on lātifundia. In Italian, ergastolo means “life imprisonment”.

familia, -ae fem. 1 family. The term can refer to a family in the modern sense, or to the slaves of a household, or to both groups, since all are subject to the dominium of the paterfamiliās. (Note this archaic gen. sing. form of familia.)

fugitīvus, -ī masc. 2 runaway. When a fugitīvus was recaptured, he might have the letters FVG branded on his forehead, both as a punishment and as a warning of his tendency to run away.

lātifundium, - neut. 2, literally “broad estate” (lātus, -a, -um + fundus, -ī masc. 2). Such large-scale farms, made possible by the ready availability of slaves in the expansion of the empire in and after the 3rd century BC, are thought to have undermined the rural economy of Italy and later of several of the provinces, and to have led to the creation of the dangerously idle and impoverished urban proletariat. Manius Curius Dentatus, four times consul and victor over the Samnites and Pyrrhus in the early 3rd century BC, declared that any man not content with seven iūgera of land, the amount allotted to each man after the expulsion of the last king, was a dangerous citizen.

After the land-reforms initiated by the Gracchi in the late second century, however, the rich were nevertheless allowed to retain 500 iūgera, and more for each dependent son. Hannibal’s destructive and disruptive presence in Italy for so long will have prepared the way for the development of lātifundia, and the very success of the legionaries in the expansionist wars of the 3rd and 2nd centuries, which flooded Italy with cheap slave labor while they themselves were absent on lengthy campaigns, ensured their displacement from their farms.

Tiberius Gracchus was said to have been moved by the situation in Etruria to lament that, whereas wild beasts had their lairs to lurk in, Rome’s soldiers were fighting and dying to maintain the luxury and wealth of others, and, for all that they were called the masters of the world, they hadn’t a single clod of earth that was their own. Archaeological evidence suggests that Gracchus’ view of rural upheaval in Etruria was somewhat exaggerated; pressure for the redistribution of land was, however, an important factor in the civil wars which plagued Rome throughout the next hundred years. The dominance of latifundios had a devastating effect on the rural economy of many Latin-American countries until very recently.

lībertās, lībertātis fem. 3 freedom.

lībertus, -ī masc. 2 (-a, -ae fem. 1) freedman (-woman). Owners might free their slaves for services rendered or on payment of an agreed price (pecūlium). lībertī rarely became totally free (līberī), but rather continued to have legally binding obligations to their patrōnus. On gaining their freedom, lībertī were also awarded Roman citizenship, a privilege with few parallels in other slave-societies.

mancipium, - neut. 2 means primarily “ownership”, the act of taking something in one’s hand (manū capere; contrast “emancipation”). Despite its neuter gender, it is also used specifically in the sense “slave”.

mangō, -ōnis masc. 3 slave-dealer.

manūmissiō, -ōnis fem. 3 manumission, releasing a slave from one’s hand (manū mittere).

pecūlium, - neut. 2 savings (of anyone without the legal right of ownership, i.e. free citizens still in patria potestās [subject to their father’s authority] and, above all, slaves). Slaves who worked in mines or on lātifundia will have had much less opportunity to acquire a pecūlium than would household slaves. Slavery in the USA was once known as the “peculiar domestic institution of the South”. pecūlium and “peculiar” are cognate, but it seems unlikely that a pun was intended.

servus, -ī masc. 2 (-a, -ae fem. 1) slave. servus was thought to be derived from servō 1 “save”, slaves being prisoners of war who were saved from execution. “Slave” is derived from “Slav”, the Slavonic population of much of central Europe being reduced to slavery between the 6th and the 9th centuries. (“Slav” actually means “the famous people”.) “Ciao” is an abbreviation for the Venetian dialect form of “[sono vostro] schiavo” “[I am your] slave”. In parts of Southern Germany, Austria, Hungary and Romania, servus [tuus sum] is still occasionally used in the same way. Some scholars detect the same usage already in the vulgar language of Petronius’ Cēna Trimalchiōnis.

verna, -ae common 1 a slave born in the owner’s household. vernae might generally expect more humane treatment than slaves in mines or on lātifundia, but one of the etymologies proposed for the term in antiquity, vēre nātī “born in the spring”, suggests that they were bred like animals. A “vernacular” language is indigenous to a particular region; the term is often used of the developing Romance languages in contrast to Latin.