Slavery in the Roman Empire vs. North American Colonies

In this research, I wanted to look at two different forms of slavery, one rooted in ‘ancient’ history and one which falls within the “early modern’ period, but with lasting effects which are still seen in today’s society. One of my other goals for this research was to compare the structural aspects of slavery and the ‘echoes’ from slavery in the Roman Empire to slavery in North American British Colonies. Some of the problems I faced was the not only the vast time period differences between the two, but also that other forms of slavery had also greatly impacted slavery in the North American British Colonies.

In the Roman Empire, slaves could obtain freedom much more quickly than slaves during 1600s-1800s in North America. Also, in the Roman Empire, slaves were at times educated, held status within their households and were valued by their owners. That is not to say that all slaves within the Roman Empire had access to these aspects, but they were present and common practice within Roman society. In comparison, slaves in North America were not afforded these features, they were a source of labor and, eventually in the Southern Colonies, they became essential for the economy. Furthermore, slaves during the Roman Empire were typically ‘white’ and viewed as a person/human being. While in the North American Colonies, slaves were typically black or Indian, no white person was enslaved, and slaves were typically not viewed as having the same rights as free individuals, nor were they believed to be fully human.

The slave trade which existed in the Roman Empire greatly differed from the form of slavery which the British were introduced to when obtaining slaves from Africa. What I found was that while originally having some similar structural components to slavery, like a free labor source and creating a social hierarchy, these two forms of slavery had different cultural, social and political aspects and values. In today’s society individuals like Whitney Battle-Baptiste examine not only the slave narratives, but also how archaeology can be used to reform ideas about slavery and how it impacts current communities today.

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