Me, A Roman Slave

I had just hidden my time machine when one of Marius' soldiers spotted me. Not knowing what else to do, I began to run. However, I knew I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was on horseback, and I couldn't outrun his horse. Thus, he quickly fell upon me, and I was captured.

This soldier looked for the slave trader that traveled with Marius' army, and he sold me to him for 4 sesterces. I was in big trouble now. I was going to live the old cliche', "while in Rome do as the Romans."

Along with thousands of others, I was herded south. We marched until we reached Naples where there was a large slave-trading establishment.

Once we arrived at the slave trading place, we were all stripped naked and cleaned up. We were all separately interviewed to discover our talents. Unfortunately, I speak neither the language of the Cimbri, nor of the Teutones. I only speak a small amount of Latin, but not enough to effectively communicate. They certainly didn't have anyone that spoke English. Pig Latin was also of no use. So, communication was difficult. They kept repeating a phrase, but I have no idea as to its meaning. They give me the name of Caprimulgus. I don't know what that means, but I hope it is a good label.

We were herded into another room, and the preparations for our sale were completed. Our feet were painted white with chalk. An order of auction was arranged, and I was placed after a young Cambric boy who they gave the name of Eros. There were lots of people that were sold before they got to me. Some of them had the same name Caprimulgus, so I got a little worried.

I decided to do something to indicate some of my skills since communication during the interview process was negligible. There was a tree nearby, so I grabbed some branches with the intent of building a makeshift piece of furniture. I'm a fair wood worker, and I'd rather do that than be purchased for the gladiatorial games.

The bidding for Eros went for quite a long time. He went for a pretty high price. I was beginning to wonder why I was set up behind him. I certainly wasn't going to fetch that high a price. I think the phrase that they used to describe me was compelling enough to think that I would be valuable.

I fashioned a makeshift couch from the few twigs I gathered. It wasn't anything special, but it was enough to show them that I had some woodworking skills. It surprised the auctioneer, but he went along with it. I hoped that this little item would ensure that I wouldn't be sold into gladiatorial service. I'm too old to be an effective fighter. My reflexes are significantly slower than they were 10 years ago. I wouldn't last long as a gladiator.

The bidding went back and forth for quite a while. I was greatly surprised. I think my makeshift twig couch was making a difference. They could see that I had a skill, and I could be put to good use. Eventually, I was sold to a well to do furniture maker. I was grateful to not have to go with a large portion of these captives to be trained as gladiators. Some of them may make a large amount of money, but it wasn't the life for me.

The furniture maker made luxurious furniture to be sold to the senatorial and equestrian classes of Rome. His furniture was of very fine quality, and he was renown throughout Rome as the premiere furniture maker. I felt very lucky joining such a prestigious furniture maker in Naples. He also bought a young woman to help with the housework. She was very striking, and I wonder how his wife will react to this purchase.

At first I was assigned the task of building tables. I'm a decent wood worker, but I'm used to having modern tools. I would have done wonders if I had my woodshop with me. However, I had to work with the equipment available. I was still handy with the hand tools.

I knew that if I worked hard and crafted desirable furniture, I could earn my freedom rather quickly. So, I painstakingly crafted each piece I was assigned and I made some items on my own. Since our furniture was greatly desired throughout the republic, we sold numerous pieces and were very successful.

As the months past, I learned more and more Latin and some of the local dialect. I also learned more about my passage into slavery. One thing I did finally learn was the phrase they kept repeating at the slave interview. The interviewer kept saying "He must be an expert on animal husbandry. Look how fat he is!" Thus, they named me Caprimulgus or "Goat-milker" with designs on selling me as a shepherd.

I've never lived on a farm, and I don't have a lot of experience with animals. I don't know how long I would have lasted in the country. I'm certain that anyone who would have purchased me with those designs would have been greatly disappointed.

The man who purchased my services was named Gaius Libertus Lignarius. He had multiple ex-slaves who were paying him commission. He was earning a lot of money with all of the artisans under his tutelage. He wasn't a Roman citizen, and he very much wanted to be. He was very prosperous, and he hadn't actually made any furniture himself for quite a while. If he were given citizenship he would have easily been a member of the Equestrian order.

He lived on a large estate on the hills of Naples. Naturally, it was well furnished. Occasionally, he would invite his free tradesmen up for dinner. Those of us that hadn't purchased our freedom yet were hired to serve some of the dinner guests. Generally, we would only serve the freedmen. His regular staff would serve the more respected guests.

Several Roman Senators had lands in Campania. He often had dinner at their estates. Often in these instances, he was the one served by the less competent waiters. However, many times he would bring a reclining couch as a gift. We made some of the best in the Roman world. He would insist on dining on this couch in order to make sure it was "up to standards." Thus, he would at least dine in comfort. Often times, it was the finest reclining couch that the host had. Thus, it was odd to have the finest furniture in the rear of the dining area. This often brought notice of others. Thus, in order for his host to feel less foolish, he began to move up in rank. These hosts wanted the finest furniture at the front for all to see. Thus, Libertus would gain in rank simply because of the nature of his fine gifts.

I lived in a small loft above the shop. It was on the third floor, and it was rather small. Another slave with more experience lived in the apartment below. Since I was in the furniture business, I could spend my time furnishing it as I pleased. Thus, although it wasn't a great place to live, it was nicely furnished. The building had a distinct lean towards the street. You had to take care in which direction you slept otherwise the blood might rush to your head by morning.

After furnishing my place, I started to save my peculium, which is extra money, to earn my freedom. In the years after Marius' victories, our products were in great demand. Every battle abroad brought more wealth to a few citizens. They would use some of this wealth to purchase luxury items. Thus, we had plenty of demand for our products.

After working for Libertus for 5 years, I earned enough to buy my freedom. He agreed to grant my freedom with the agreement to pay him a percentage of my pay. It was a pretty standard agreement. He found a location a short distance from his shop to establish my shop. This time, I would live in the first floor above the shop. I agreed to house a few of his slaves in the upper floors. This reduced the amount I had to pay him.

At this time, I thought about changing my name to something more appropriate to my profession, but it had grown on me and I decided to keep it. Besides, my reputation was built upon my unusual name for a carpenter. However, as was somewhat traditional for freed men to take on the name of their emancipator, I became Caprimulgus Liberius.

The five years after purchasing my freedom were successful. The demand for Naples furniture came from other places besides Rome. Furniture from Naples was sold to the King of Parthia and to the Egyptian royal family. Throughout the civilized world, people looked for furniture built by us.

I was making an excellent living, and I even considered purchasing some slaves to help out in my shop. However, there was growing unrest in the Republic and it was affecting our trade. Some of the allies of Rome felt they were being treated unfairly. Libertus was one who felt that he should be considered for full citizenship. His requests in this area were regularly denied.

Revolts became regular occurrences. The Samnites in Campania revolted, and the trade routes between Naples and Rome were cut off. Soon, most of Campania had separated from Rome. The Samnites established themselves as a separate state. With all this unrest, it wouldn't be a good time to increase production.

Being non-Roman I had a few advantages. Since I had earned a great deal of money up to this point and I had an excellent reputation, I could begin looking at my options. One of the things that I considered was to find my time machine and return home. However, it had been many years and I was quite happy with the way my life was going. I also wasn't too concerned about joining Roman society and I still did things in my own way. My attitude about things was far different than many Romans.

I felt that my shop was too close to Libertus' ship. He had some individuals who were ready to purchase their freedom, so I sold my shop and apartment back to Libertus. With this money and some that I had saved, I was able to purchase a small plot of land in a bit of a nicer part of the city. This parcel of land that I purchased used to hold a shop, but it had burned to the ground. Since the furniture business was suffering, I decided to construct the new shop and home by myself. I had enough to purchase the materials. I had saved enough to take the time build a new building.

It took a while to build the building on my own, but in the end it was worth it. My building was just going to have a small shop and living quarters above. I couldn't quite afford an estate, but I would be more comfortable in the new building.

Shortly after I finished, Lucius Cornelius Sulla began his consulship to take back Campania. Sulla punished many of the Samnite rebels. Unfortunately, Libertus was labeled one of the rebels. He went into hiding, but was betrayed by a slave. He was crucified along the road to Rome to teach the Samnites a lesson. This released me of all of my former obligations, but it cost me several fine pieces of furniture to remain alive. I am glad that I was able to communicate at this point. Otherwise, I certainly would have been put to death as well.

With Libertus dieing in disgrace, that hurt my business with Rome. However, Egypt and other wealthy foreign customers turned to me and the other former slaves of Libertus for their business, but this did not mean a lot of business.

With the strife in the Republic during this time, furniture purchases were way down, and when the Sulla's proscriptions started, furniture sales took a turn for the worse. I wasn't pleased with Sulla killing off well to do Roman citizens. They were my core business. However, I didn't voice any opposition.

Perhaps it was a time to look for other work. Marcus Crassus was purchasing slaves in the field of home construction. I could sell myself back into slavery to him. My house and shop turned out pretty nice, and it was well thought of in the neighborhood. Thus, I thought about taking the trip to Rome, but the violence there was too great. I figured if I could stick it out, business would pick up. I also started building more modest pieces for the locals. However, I couldn't do this alone.

There was a slave auction, and I decided to see what was available. Some of the Samnite civilians were being sold into slavery. There were lots of women and children on the blocks. I purchased a slave woman to work in the front of my store. She would give me the opportunity to concentrate more on my construction.

She wasn't particularly attractive, but she was quite competent in terms of running a store and a home. She didn't cost a great deal, so I think she was a very good deal. She was a decent cook, and quite a loving person. We grew very close, and eventually, she became pregnant with my first child. Before he was born, I freed her and married her. We wed on the day Marius died. Shortly after that day, our free son was born. He was called Marcus Caprimulius Liberius.

With Marius dead, tensions were somewhat relaxed. Sulla killed off a great deal of the Aristocracy. However, Soldiers with newfound wealth and property began ordering luxurious furniture again. Thus, business began to pick up. The aristocracy in Rome was once again noticing my services. I built several pieces for Crassus. He wanted furniture to put in some of the real estate that he had been acquiring.

Crassus began to demand more and more furniture. Thus, I looked for purchasing more artisans. I began to frequent the slave auctions. I managed to purchase a few Greek artisans. They were very expensive, but they were well worth it. They had skills already, and I could steer them towards the style my customers had grown accustomed.

I began to have more time for leisure. So, I began to take more time to visit the gladiatorial games. I was beginning to bring in a lot of money. I did not have enough money to sit in the front, but I was able to sit in decent seats. I wondered how some of the slaves that were sold on the same day that I was faired in the games.

I found that I was becoming more Roman. I enjoyed the games, and I started to look towards eating out more. I had more internal pressure to act more Roman and to shed my strange future ways.

When Sulla retired to Campania, he also purchased some furniture from my shop. I was once again one of the premiere furniture makers in Rome. People throughout the Republic began to seek me out for fine furniture.

I began to go to more and more slave auctions trying to keep up with demand. I allowed some artisans their freedom with the same agreement I had with Libertus. They would pay me a commission on everything they sold. I used the money from their purchase of freedom to purchase more slaves.

I hoped the tensions between the government and the armies would soon subside. It was much better for my business to have internal stability. However, this was not to be. Marcus Aemilius Lepidus decided to march on Rome with his army, and Gnius Pompanius Magnus was given the task to put down his rebellion.

Things were good when the armies fought external forces. The army would take wealth from others and have purchasing power to buy our goods. However, whenever there was internal fighting, a large number of wealthy men ended up dead. This is very bad for business.

Luckily, Sulla didn't march on Rome. We didn't need any more aristocratic bloodshed. However, his campaign in Spain was disastrous. With Luculus in Asia Minor, and Pompey having troubles in Spain, a revolt of country slaves took place.

My men were happy with their lot. They were well fed, and they had a place to live. They earned plenty of money, and could purchase their freedom at any time. Thus, they were not on the side of Spartacus. I offered them their freedom if they wished it. I turned 66, and the years had taken their toll upon me. I didn't need some slaves rebelling against me. They unanimously decided to continue working in my shop.

I had a pretty large amount of money built up. I purchased a modest estate for my children to live. My wife was several years my junior, and she gave me 3 strong boys. They would continue on with my work once I was gone. I made sure all of my possessions were divisible by three. I had 6 slaves working for me, and I had 15 paying commission. It was agreed that they would continue to pay my heirs upon my death.

It is hard to believe that I lived in Ancient Rome for 30 years. The estate I purchased needs a lot of work. In my youth I would have started from scratch. However, I just don't have the energy. The boys are too young to fix the house, and it is drafty. I long for my old apartment above the shop. Even with its lean it was at least warm.

I am trying to fix up this place, but my age prevents me from several activities. I can't scramble up a ladder like I used to. This cough just won't go away. So, I have decided to return to my time machine. I have a feeling that I don't have much longer to live. I have family and friends here, so I won't be returning myself. However, I hope to send the machine back with this report. My English is quite rusty, and I'm sure my penmanship needs a lot of work. However, I feel that I should try to send this report back through. Thus, people there will know what happened to me.

This cough will not go away, I wish there was something I could do. My guess is that I caught pneumonia. I'm glad that my time machine was undisturbed. This long walk back to it took a lot out of me. I'm afraid that I won't be able to return to Naples. That trip would be just too much for me. I hope you get this report without any difficulty. I think I'll wonder off in the mountains and spend my last days there. I wonder how much impact my life will have. I've got a few great kids, and I had a good life in the Roman Republic. Farewell everyone!



If you were wondering, this was one of the essay's I had to write for my "History of Roman Civilizaion" class. I added some because of restrictions, but I liked the story...

Am surprised,impressed and challenged

Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

A very good story. I enjoyed reading it. It flowed very well and was interesting.

Thanks very much! I am quite fond of the story myself.

So, I was forced to delete a couple of negative comments here. I hated to do it, but the person involved didn't use language suitable for my taste.

The person in question, probably wanted more sex and bondage instead of a more accurate account of the life of a Roman Artisan slave. Such is life! But, I thought I would point out that there have been negative comments made...

pretty good, im doing a play on Roman life right now too.
Great Story.

Thanks. I have always tried to make it realistic, rather than stereotypical. Glad you enjoyed it, and the site!

I am doing a current affairs on the Life of a slave and found this story helpful. Thanks!!!!!

I'm glad to be of service! Thanks for visiting, and come again.

real good story

Thanks Rohan from New Zealand! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment!

hi at the min im doing a essay on A DAY OF A LIFE OF A ROMAN SLAVE can you help me ???

Thanks for visiting Brucey.

The problems with researching Roman slavery are many. First of all, the only thing anyone really wrote about were Roman citizens. Rarely did anyone write about the poor slaves.

Secondly, there were many types of slaves. The ones we think about most are agricultural slaves. However, anyone making pottery or furniture or the like were also slaves. Only the guild masters were freemen. Even teachers were slaves. Many Greeks were brought into households to teach aristocratic youngsters. Nevertheless, they were slaves. Then there were also the gladiators. The good ones lived well, but the bad ones died young.

Each type of slave had a different lifestyle. The slaves brought into teach Roman children probably lived quite well. However, the agricultural slaves were likely greatly abused. Most of the slaves that joined Spartacus were agricultural slaves.

That is about all I have to offer. Good luck with your paper.

hey nice story i really liked it!!! although i need your help please. my teacher asked me to choose one roman job(i choose blacksmith) and talk about what his life was for four i can put anything i want in there like (in themorning i woke up and eat breakfast) but i want to put something that is as close and accurate to the real life of a blacksmith roman slave.


Thanks for visiting Kevin! One of the problems with writing about "A Day in the Life" of a Roman slaves is that the Roman's themselves did not write about it. Also, each situation is different. Some slaves would have an easier life than others. It just depends on the situation. I'll send you more stuff off-line. Thanks again for reading!

That's really cool. But you know, the Romans were really big on herbal remedies and such like. So, your cough could probably have been fixed :-)

Thanks for your kind words Rebecca! But, you know, I had to end the story somehow...

Why were the slave's feet painted white? The story was really good and interesing.

Thanks for your comments Susi. It is generally believed that they painted their feet with chalk to indicate that they were imported slaves. Whether this is true or not can never be fully known. It could just indicate that this slave had been inspected and was in general good health. Thanks again for reading.

Great Story! it really helped, im doing an essay about a slave that was captured and taken as a slave on a farm, any advice?

Thanks for your comments Jacob. You can read Cato: On Farming as a start. There is a work out there somewhere giving advice on how to treat slaves, and it might help too. (Who it was by escapes at the moment.) Basically, treat them like you would an ox or a mule. Anyway, good luck with your essay!

that rocks

Thanks for stopping by Jimmy. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

haha very accurate and doing a humanities on ancient history and i was able to get some unique information here, thanks!!

I'm glad to be of service! Thanks for stopping by.

I am also doing report about "my life as a roman slave" and i had no idea what to do, but this really helped. Thanks!

Good luck with your report. I am glad I could be of some help.

Cool story Doug. I am glad I happened across it. I will have to return and finish reading it when I have more time. I must admit that I was puzzled why Caprimulgus did not return to where he had hidden his time machine once he became free. Maybe the end of the story will answer this nagging question for me.

Great fun nonetheless.

Thanks for your comment! This was a class assignment to determine if we understood the life of a slave in Roman times. Further, there were restrictions on length. Thus, some things are left to the imagination of the reader. Perhaps he was comfortable in Rome. Perhaps too much time had passed for him to explain his sudden aging in his time...

Fantastic story. Very helpful in my research. Thank you.

Glad to be of service Bob! I am glad you liked it.

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This page contains a single entry by Douglas Gogerty published on May 15, 2005 5:45 PM.

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