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In those early days manual labor was not beneath the dignity of a Roman citizen, but in later times such work was thought undignified for the citizens of a great power like Rome. The slaves were nearly always foreigners, but occasionally a Roman citizen might be condemned to be sold into slavery as the punishment for serious offences.  It is therefore necessary to distinguish between the different types of slaves.

The household slaves, especially those in the towns, were often Greeks of very good type and sometimes well educated - better educated, in fact, than their masters. Their position was little different from that of the humbler working-class citizens. The slaves employed on the grate country estates were very different from those in the town households. They also had the slaves that worked on the sheep-farms of Southern Italy. These slaves were in a constant state of discontent and always ready to rise in revolt.

Paralleling the developments in the rural areas was an equally great transformation of the urban economy and society of Rome. The impact of slavery on urban economy coincided with its effects on rural Italy. The two were intimately linked, but a recent study suggests that the political effects were greatest in the city. In the absence of easy international migration, slavery was the main means by which Rome recruited its technical and professional manpower, much as Greece had done previously. Soon, all occupations except the military were dominated by slaves and ex-slaves. The Roman middle and upper classes gained enormously from this expansion of slavery.

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The slaves were found in the cities and in the villas of large landowners who performed intellectual functions, as for example pedagogues: there was such a pedagogue in Cato's establishment. They were also servants and in luxury areas.

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