The Roman Empire

Two thousand years ago while the Celts were still living in tribes the Romans were the most powerful people in the world. Roman society differed greatly from that of the Celts. It was a slave society divided into antagonistic classes. The main classes were the slaves and the slave-owners. The slave-owners made up the minority of the population but they owned the land, tools, buildings and slaves. The slaves possessed neither land nor tools and were themselves the property of the slave-owners. The slaves could be brought and sold, exchanged or given away like any other thing. They could be kept in chains, whipped and put to death.

Slavery was the first and the most inhuman form of exploitation. The slave owners appropriated almost all the results of the slaves' labour; the slaves were given some food and clothing so that they would not die of starvation and cold. Thus, whatever was produced by the slaves beyond what they needed to keep themselves alive was taken away by their masters. Therefore the slaves were not interested in the results of their labour.

Overseers forced the slaves to work more. The disobedient slaves were severely punished. Government bodies issued acts beneficial to the exploiters. With the help of the army the slave-owners put down the uprising of the exploited. The army also helped the slave-owners to protect their riches against foreign enemies and to wage endless wars in order to conquer new lands and to seize more slaves.

The Romans conquered all the countries around the Mediterranean Sea. In the wars, in which Rome gained one province after another for the empire, many thousands of prisoners were taken. They were sold at the slave-market at Rome. Slaves were so cheap that all the Romans except the poorest had one or more, and rich slave-owners possessed hundreds of them.

In the 1st century BC and in the 1st century AD slavery spread widely in the Roman Empire. Unlike the Ancient East and Greece where the land was cultivated chiefly by peasants, in Rome, very many slaves were engaged in agriculture; large farms in Italy were worked entirely by gangs of slaves. The slave system reached its peak in the Roman Empire. No other country in the ancient world had so many slaves as Rome did. In no other country did slave labour replace that of the freemen on such a large scale.