Roman freedmen and freedwomen - Ancient Rome
Welcome to Quatr.us Study Guides!

Roman Freedmen

Stone carving of Latin writing and a man reaching out to a woman
A gravestone for a freedwoman, put up by her husband,
who was also a freedman (ILS 1221, Rome, 80 BC)

May 2016 - Freedmen and freedwomen were people who had once been enslaved but had managed to get legally free. Sometimes they were freed because they were getting too old to work and the people who owned them didn't want to have to take care of them anymore. Owners often set nannies and wetnurses free, for instance, when the children they were taking care of grew up. Sometimes enslaved people saved up enough money to pay for themselves and buy their own freedom. Or they might get their freedom because they had done something especially useful for their owners, out of gratitude.

Most of the people who became freedmen worked as servants for rich people, or they worked for the Roman government - the field workers on big farms were much less likely to get their freedom.

Freedwomen and freedmen still had to do what their ex-owners told them, and had to work for them for free if their owners wanted them. Freedwomen could not refuse to marry the men who had once owned them, even though they were free now. And freedmen could not hold important political and religious positions, though their children could.

But we do hear of many ex-slaves eventually becoming independent and even wealthy. Often they opened stores, or ran small businesses. Sometimes they bought farms. Many freedmen owned slaves themselves.
And some freedmen actually got pensions from their former owners. Pliny the Younger bought a small farm for his old nanny to retire to.

During the Julio-Claudian period, some of the most powerful men in the empire were actually freedmen. The emperors felt they could trust these men more than they could trust senators and other rich men they knew.

Learn by doing: how are freedmen like retired people today? How are they different?
More about Roman slavery

Bibliography and further reading about Roman families:

More about Roman slavery
Ancient Rome
Quatr.us home


LIMITED TIME OFFER FOR TEACHERS: Using this article with your class? Show us your class page where you're using this article, and we'll send you a free subscription so all your students can use Quatr.us Study Guides with no distractions! (Not a teacher? Paid subscriptions are also available for just $16/year!)
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Quatr.us Study Guides
  • Publisher: Quatr.us
  • Date Published:
Proud of your class page, homework page, or resource page? Send it in and win a Quatr.us "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in Quatr.us' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more?
Quatr.us is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Quatr.us Study Guides, . Web. 24 March, 2017
ADVERTISEMENT