The Material Life of Roman Slaves

Collaborative Group

Professor Sandra R. Joshel, Dr. Lauren Hackworth Petersen




Slaves were everywhere in ancient Roman society, yet visitors to archaeological sites walk through a landscape that appears untouched by slavery. It is no wonder, then, that many scholars of antiquity regard slaves as irretrievable in the archaeological remains because they cannot see any distinctive marks of slaves in objects or architecture. This project confronts the paradox of slave ubiquity and invisibility: it aims to recover the physical environment and lives of Roman slaves by interweaving, and setting in dialogue, the textual record of Roman law and literature on slaves and the archaeological remains of the houses, workshops, streets, and country villas that slaves inhabited. This approach maps slave points of view on their owner’s spatial arrangements and suggests how slaves disturbed them through the manipulation of time and timing. While the collaborators share a longstanding interest in slaves and freed slaves, each brings to the project different research experience in Roman social history and Roman art history and archaeology for their first major project together. The collaboration will result in the publication of a jointly-authored book, accessible to scholars in multiple fields and in the study of slavery in general. Award period: September 1, 2011 – August 31, 2012