Roman Slave Merchants
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Roman Slave Merchants (Revelation 18.14-15)

"They (the slave merchants) will say, 'The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.' The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn." (Revelation 18.14-15)✞

Gained Their Wealth

Group of Slaves in ChainsThe Roman slave merchants played an important part in Roman society by providing slaves for a variety of services to their masters. Slaves were considered property and had no rights under Roman law. This slowly changed over time and slaves were allowed to own property despite it belonging to their masters. Eventually, they were allowed to even earn and to buy back their own freedom. Merchants sold slaves for a great variety of functions. For some it was their duty to remind a man of the names of his clients and dependents! "We remember by means of others," says a Roman writer about a slave who whispered the name of a acquaintance in his ear. The merchants even sold slaves who reminded them when to eat and go to bed! It was said that, "People were too weary even to know that they were hungry." The merchants had slaves to go in front of their master and to return the greetings of friends, which the master was too tired or too disdainful to return himself. It was said that many Romans citizens had four hundred or more slaves at his or her bidding.✞

Intelligent Slaves

FlowersA certain ignorant person, unable to learn or remember anything, got himself a set of slaves from the Roman merchants. One memorized Homer, (c700 BC) and another the lyrical poets. Some slaves stood behind their owner as he dined and prompted him with suitable quotations and nice things to say. Some slaves were beautiful youths called "the Flowers of Asia," who, like the footmen in large English mansions on the TV special "Downton Abbey" in more recent times, simply stood around the room at banquets to delight the eye of those attending!✞

Wipe Hands on Hair

Slave ChainsSome slaves were cup-bearers. The guests often chose to wipe their soiled hands on the hair of the slaves. This reminds us of the woman in Luke 7.37-38 who brought a vessel of perfumed oil and poured it on Jesus' feet. "A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them." She dried his feet with her hair, we are told, just like a slave. Some slaves sold by the merchants were oddities like dwarfs or giants. There was actually a market for "men with short arms, with three eyes or with pointed heads." Sometimes dwarfs were artificially produced for sale. It is a grim picture of people being manipulated for the service and entertainment of a few by the slave merchants.

"Roman Slave Merchants"
by Ron Meacock © 2017

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