Byzantine social status tended to be relational, not absolute, and identity-sets were likewise dependent upon the situation. Slaves and their masters were not solely defined by these statuses in all aspects of their lives, especially as it concerned life within the household or as members of a family. In many functional aspects, the social realities of unfree members of the Byzantine household even mirrored those of free-born children. By arranging marriages and an inheritance for their newly freed slaves, for example, masters were fulfilling two of their most important roles for their free-born children as well.

This chapter explores the complex, overlapping, and sometimes contradictory roles of slaves, freedmen, and their masters in the context of the Byzantine household and the family, both in practical and in idealized, normative forms. In doing so, it also interrogates notions of family and kinship in their social and cultural contexts, including the varying definitions of the family and the dynamics of power and affection that defined it at different times and in various sources.