THE LIVES OF SLAVES
Defining the work of slaves, however, is easier than understanding the world of their thoughts and feelings, since the written evidence is so minimal. On many issues, therefore, we must be content with mere impressions of what it was like to be a Roman slave. The problem is compounded by the variegated nature of Roman slavery, which undermines any sweeping generalities we might make about the lives of slaves. Slaves might have endured great cruelty or great affection; they might have been forced to toil long hours under inhumane conditions, or have been given significant responsibilities and some degree of autonomy. The quality of slaves’ lives, from the food they ate to the clothes they wore to the hardships they suffered, depended entirely on the inclination of their owners. Still, by marshalling all of the available evidence and by using inference and imagination, it is possible in some measure to reconstitute the slave’s perspective.