Farm employees and slaves

Thanks to descriptions by Latin authors that have come down to us, we know something about those who worked at the villa. The owner might be represented by a steward, the procurator, who was in charge of bookkeeping and administrative matters. Daily operations were the responsibility of the vilicus, who oversaw the familia rustica. Slaves (servi or mancipia) played a major role, either chained together or working in teams under the direction of monitores. But slaves were not the sole workforce. Non-slave labour could still be found, in the form of seasonal workers and those providing specialised services, the mercenari; there were also coloni, tenant-farmers who developed parts of the estate.

Although we have taken to applying the broad outlines of this organisation to villas in Gaul, it is not a simple affair to understand the nature of the relationships within the estate. Upon examining certain layouts, we may tentatively hypothesise the existing of a dwelling for the vilicus in the vicinity of the main residence and possessing certain comforts. We can be more certain when it comes to housing for labourers: identical small units organised in wings or quarters, and domestic equipment such as hearths. These structures tell us nothing about the status of their occupants. Inscriptions concerning slaves are infrequent in a rural setting, and it is rare to find shackles.

Medias

Interactive document - Gallic Peasant

Gallic Peasant

Statuette of a "Gallic Peasant", moulding of the original bronze, Vaucluse or Villeron (Val d'Oise), Gallo-Roman period (50 BCE–100 CE).
© Photo RMN - M. Assemat
Interactive document - Shackles

Shackles

Two shackles each fitted with two rings. Forest of Compiègne.
Musée d'archéologie nationale © Photo RMN - Thierry Le Mage
Interactive document - Shackles

Shackles

Collection: Musée Rolin, Ville d'Autun.
Collection musée Rolin d'Autun (no. 527 du Cat AA) © Ville d'Autun, musée Rolin, photo: S. Prost
Interactive document - Map of inscriptions of slaves and freemen in the provinces of Gallia Narbonensis, Belgica and Germania, after A. Daubigney, F. Favory and L. Lazzaro

Map of inscriptions of slaves and freemen in the provinces of Gallia Narbonensis, Belgica and Germania, after A. Daubigney, F. Favory and L. Lazzaro

For the most part, these inscriptions indicate servants as denoted by their owners, not anonymous field workers. There were very few of them, in fact, and they were primarily found in special zones such as Gallia Narbonensis.
Map P. Ouzoulias
Interactive document - Map of discoveries of shackles, after H. Thompson

Map of discoveries of shackles, after H. Thompson

Very few shackles have been found in Gallia Narbonensis, a province with the largest number of inscriptions of slaves, most of them coming from a rural setting. Does this indicate a form of slavery without coercion?
Carte P. Ouzoulias