What Is The Head Slave In Ancient Rome Called

Definition of a Head Slave

In ancient Rome, a head slave was a particular type of slave who held a somewhat elevated status within their slave caste. Typically, these slaves were hired for their expertise and/or experience, and often held a higher level of trust within their master’s household than other slaves. Head slaves often served as advisors to the master, helping them in decision-making, managing the other slaves, and providing manual labor. Head slaves were sometimes referred to as ‘chief slaves’ or ‘senior slaves.’

Legal Status in Ancient Rome

According to the legal system in ancient Rome, head slaves had a unique set of rights and obligations that were bestowed upon them. In essence, they had the same rights and obligations as other slaves. However, they were specifically granted special privileges that allowed them to perform certain tasks that even free citizens were not able to do. For example, head slaves were allowed to broker contracts, sell property, and act as intermediaries between the master and their slaves.

Duties and Responsibilities of a Head Slave

Head slaves were responsible for a wide range of duties and responsibilities. They were tasked with ensuring that all the other slaves in the household were adequately fed, clothed, and cared for. Head slaves were also responsible for training new slaves to follow instructions and perform tasks. Furthermore, they were expected to manage the other slaves, as well as supervise them during working hours. Additionally, head slaves had the responsibility of carrying out punishment for other slaves who violated the master’s orders.

Status and Prestige Within the Roman Slave System

Despite the fact that they were still slaves, head slaves often occupied a higher position of status and prestige than their fellow slaves. They were granted special privileges that separated them from other members of the slave caste. These privileges included the right to lead a revolt, participate in religious ceremonies, and have a say in matters of governance.
In addition, head slaves were often granted special privileges in terms of education. In some cases, they were allowed to learn basic literary skills, such as reading and writing, as well as other areas of knowledge. This allowed them to serve as advisors and mediators for their masters, and often gave them a higher degree of social respect than other members of the slave caste.

Role in the Administration of a Household

Head slaves had an important role in the administration of a household. They acted as intermediaries between different slave factions, and often served as a point of contact between the master and other members of the household. In addition, they were responsible for overseeing and regulating the behavior of the other slaves in the household, as well as ensuring that daily tasks and duties were completed in a timely manner.

Witnesses and Confidants

Given their elevated status, head slaves were often called upon by their masters to be both witnesses and confidants. They were trusted with private information and could be relied upon to be truthful and reliable. They were also often asked to serve as mediators and negotiators for certain disputes, as well as to provide counsel and advice to their masters.

Impact of Head Slaves in Roman Society

Though head slaves were still considered property, and did not have the same autonomy as freed men, their influence in Roman society was significant. They acted as a bridge between the privileged upper classes and their subordinates, and their unique insights and perspectives were highly valued. Moreover, many head slaves eventually achieved freedom and increased social status, thus contributing to the overall democratization of Roman society.

Head Slaves and Modern Day Slavery

Today, head slaves are still employed in some parts of the world, though the term itself is not in common usage. In many countries, especially those with a history of colonialism, individuals with power and authority within their slave class can be seen as bearing a resemblance to head slaves of ancient Rome. As such, though it is difficult to draw a direct comparison between ancient and modern-day slavery, it can be argued that head slaves of ancient Rome serve as a reminder of the continued struggle for freedom of individuals in servitude.

Women in Ancient Rome as Head Slaves

In ancient Rome, women were also sometimes held in servitude and could become head slaves. This was a relatively rare occurrence, but some women did gain higher status among their peers due to their experience or level of education. These female head slaves usually served as intermediaries between slaves, and largely carried out the same duties and responsibilities as their male counterparts.

Depiction of Head Slaves in Ancient Roman Culture

Head slaves were a regular feature in ancient Roman literature and artwork, often being portrayed as wise counselors or as symbols of loyalty. In some cases, head slaves were depicted as personifications of virtues such as duty, service, and integrity. Such characters often served as a foil for their masters, and in some cases their loyalty and strength of character even exceeded that of the master.


Head slaves played an important role in the Roman economy and society. They held a unique status that set them apart from other slaves and often held a higher degree of trust among their master’s household. Though their status was not equal to that of a free citizen, head slaves enjoyed certain privileges, such as education and being allowed to mediate disputes and provide advice. Throughout history, head slaves of ancient Rome have come to represent an important reminder of the continued battle against slavery.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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