A slave's eye view

What was it like to be a slave in the ancient Roman Empire?

The videos and illustrations provided on this website are an interpretation of how slaves lived in ancient Rome.

You can find numerous examples on the Internet of historical documentaries in which you can observe dramatisations and recreations of slaves' lives. In many feature films you can also observe fictional accounts of how slaves lived.

These accounts are generally based on historical research, but how accurate are they?

Activity: How did slavery work in the ancient Roman Empire?


  1. In pairs, annotate an A3-sized copy of illustrations of daily life in Pompeii, available in the image gallery. What does it tell you about daily life?
    - Conduct your own research on daily life in Pompeii.
    - Do these illustrations provide an accurate depiction? You might draw up a chart where you define which are accurate, which are not and provide evidence for your reasons.
  2. Watch the videos of the four slaves Flavius, Myrtilla, Panos and No Name.
    - Write a brief account of each of the slave's stories and compare them. Again, you might want to create a table where you compare their description of their own lives.
    - Choose one of the slave's stories and determine if it is a truthful depiction of a slave's life by conducting your own research. Write a critical review of the slave's story. Provide evidence from your research to support your claims. Is there a primary source which supports or contradicts what is depicted or said?
  3. Class discussion: What would have made the video or illustrations more believable? Share your response with your classmates.

Generate and develop ideas and possibilities

  1. Through your investigation of the provided secondary sources, what did you discover about slavery in ancient Rome?
  2. Create a mind map in which you categorise your ideas about slavery.
  3. What other evidence did you use to develop your ideas?
  4. How did these secondary sources help you to formulate further questions for enquiry?

Reflect on thinking

  1. How did you classify the information you found in your research?
  2. When you encountered opposing views, how did you decide which to believe?
  3. Do you have enough evidence to draw conclusions?
  4. How can you use the evidence to support your point of view?

Analyse, evaluate and synthesise

  1. Prepare a report, account, essay or presentation that draws together your research on slavery in the ancient Roman Empire.
  2. Choose one of the suggested topics and write questions which will take you deeper into your exploration of slavery in ancient Rome. Add your own area of interest to this list as another option.
    - Slaves built and ruined Rome
    - Being a slave was a good thing, for some
    - What does it mean to be a slave?
    - Roman-style slavery around the world
    - Planning an escape
    - My journey from capture to freedom
    - Challenging my master, and not getting caught!

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