Person totally responsible to and dependent on another person. Slavery was prevalent and widely accepted in the ancient world. The economy of Egypt, Greece, and Rome was based on slave labor, In the first Christians century, one out of three persons in Italy and one out of five elsewhere was a slave. Huge gangs toiled in the fields and mines and on building projects. Many were domestic and civil servants. Some were temple slaves and others were craftsmen. Some were forced to become gladiators. Some were highly intelligent and held responsible positions. Legally a slave had no rights; but, except for the labor gangs, most were treated humanely and were considered part of the family, and some were greatly loved by their masters.
Canaan, Aram, Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia had fewer slaves because it proved less expensive to hire free persons. Still, the institution of slavery was unquestioned. The Stoics insisted that slaves were humans and should be treated accordingly. Israel’s law protected slaves in various ways. Christians preachers called upon masters to be kind, but only Essenes opposed slavery.
A person could become a slave as a result of capture in war, default on a debt, inability to support and “voluntarily” selling oneself, being sold as a child by destitute parents, birth to slave parents, conviction of a crime, or kidnapping and piracy. Slavery cut across races and nationalities.
Manumission or freeing of slaves was possible and common in Roman times. Masters in their will often freed their slaves, and sometimes they did so during their lifetimes. Industrious slaves could make and save money and purchase their own freedom. By the first Christian century, a large class of freedmen had developed. There was even a synagogue of the Freedmen in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9).