Items of the slavery in (pre) Roman times

Slavery was widespead in Roman times. It was by no means a Roman invention, as finds from England predating the Roman invasion also show slaveshackles in use, notably neck irons. This page shows different kinds of manacles, neck irons, leg irons and even brands used in the capture, trade and keeping of slaves.

A set of manicles or handcuffs of the Kunzing type. These were found at Augsburg. They would be closed either by using a Roman padlock or a chain. Some have metal bands which slip over the eyes, making it impossible to pry them apart once the chain is in place. A good many have been found in military forts as well, where they could have been used for both slaves and other prisoners. The serated edges, produced by twisting the metal, would be very painfull if the chain were pulled, digging into the flesh of the wrists.


An Iron Age neckring found in England. Dated pre-Roman, it could be interlocked with additional rings, in effect forming a chain of prisoners. The rings slips around the neck, after which the moving parts are set in place. A chain is then passed through the eye and thus the shackle is closed and held firm. The ring at the end of the chain could be slipped over the next neckring. In this manner, the neckring could not be undone, the last one would have been secured with a padlock. A Roman original was found in Lagore.


Only a few of these restraints have been found in a Roman context. Called a Geige (or violin) in German, these survived well into the Middle ages. The working is very simple. The large U ring is placed around the neck, the wrists are inserted in the two smaller U rings and the whole thing is closed by passing a round metal bar down its length through the eyes, protruding from the back. A splitpin would then lock the whole thing solid, but a ring attached to a chain could also be used. After just a short period of time, these become very uncomfortable to the wearer, given the raised position of the arms.


Another pair of handcuffs of the Kunzing type. At Kunzing militairy fortress, a large quantity of handcuffs, neck chains and various types of locks have been recovered. Unlike the ones from Augsburg, these do not have the torques parts. Most handcuffs were smooth, some had a decorative pattern forged in, like the ones shown here.


These footshackles, the originals of which were found in Sommeren (B) but also in the large villa in Voerendaal (NL), would have served to hobble or imprison a captive or a slave. Quite a few of this type of shackles have been found in combination with a Roman barlock. In combination with a barlock or a chain, just enough movement would be allowed to shuffle around, for instance to work in either a workshop or in agriculture.


For an exhibition about slavery in Rome, a pair of handcuffs or footshackles with long posts were made. A locking chain was also made, this shows how this type could be locked. The original of the locking pin was found in Künzing, Germany. During the exhibition, the handcuffs saw heavy use dragging a "prisoner" through the display area, much to the delight of the visitatores.


Found in a villa near Pompeii, this implement could hold five seated slaves by the ankles. A locking bar was passed through the upright eyes and succured by a padlock inside the rectangular anti-tamper shield fixed to the end. The device was nailed or bolted to the floor, the slaves were seated opposite one another, three on one side, two on the other.