I am currently doing a project on Ancient Rome and was wondering how much the builders of the Colosseum got paid?

I understand they were mostly slaves, but were they given anything?

Did they also receive much training?

  • 1
    Skilled labourers are always, by definition of being skilled, well trained. Quarrying stone, shaping stone, and laying stone are all very skilled trades. Fetching lunch for the skilled labour not so much. Jun 27 '16 at 22:32
  • According to Wikipedia it was largely funded and built by the spoils from the destruction of Jerusalem, including some of the 100,000 prisoners brought to Rome as slaves. I suspect they provided the grunt labour, with Roman engineers etc providing the expertise.
    – TheHonRose
    Oct 3 '16 at 1:44

Building something as massive as the Colosseum would have required a wide range of types of labor, from unskilled slaves quarrying materials to highly skilled craftsmen and thus would encompass a range of workers and pay scales. Some slaves would have been more or less worked hard just for room and board, while others would have been well-paid for their work.

If you're doing a project on it for school, it's not really best to give you the information, but you can find ample discussion of this (and citations) on the Colosseum's wikipedia page (see the "Construction" section), †he TribunesandTriumphs website (see "How it was built"), or, for more scholarly articles, this work on the labor supply in the period, or this journal article. For an overview of slavery in Rome, try the Internet Ancient History Encyclopedia (not necessarily citation-worthy, but a good place to start).

As a general takeaway, slavery encompassed a wide range of occupations and standards of living. You could quite possibly be a slave AND be middle-class and fairly autonomous. You could also be a manual laborer who is beaten and starved every day.

  • 1
    Great point in the last paragraph, worth an up-vote for hat alone. Jun 27 '16 at 21:48
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    Ditto to @PieterGeerkens comment - we have all been seduced by Hollywood into thinking every slave was chained and beaten. Some were, many weren't. Some owned their own slaves.
    – TheHonRose
    Oct 3 '16 at 1:47
  • In other words, all employment is slavery Apr 15 '19 at 1:05
  • @CodyBugstein that totally minimises the obscenity of slavery! My employer may be generous and fair, s/he may not. But s/he can't kill me, whip me, cut off my ears/nose, put out my eyes, keep me in chains or kill me. And I can leave. Not always easy, but legally possible.
    – TheHonRose
    Apr 15 '19 at 22:55
  • Yes but see answer above. A lot of slaves were actually paid and treated very well. Apr 15 '19 at 23:20

The idea that ancient building projects were built by slaves was more or less accurate in various times, and places, and situations. Various particular ancient building projects probably varied from one hundred percent slave labor to zero per cent slave labor.

The problem with using slaves for a project with a beginning and an end is what do you do with your slaves before and after the project? You can buy them at the start of the project and sell them at the end of the project, but if you need a lot of slaves for the project your mass purchases might drive up the price of slaves when you buy them and your mass sales might drive down the price when you sell them, thus you might buy high and sell low, to say nothing of price depreciation resulting from use.

So slave labor was not always the best and least expensive choice in ancient times.

I have read that the poor part of the population of the city of Rome survived partly on government programs ("Bread and circuses") and partially on wages from low paying jobs. During the construction season many of the poor would get temporary jobs as unskilled labor in private and public construction projects. Since most of the public projects were more or less for the benefit of the Roman population (thus making the government seen benevolent to potential voters and potential rioters) there would be double gain from working on such projects, wages when working and using the projects after they were competed.

I believe that I read that in The architecture of the Roman Empire, William Lloyd MacDonald, 1965, 1982.

The Colosseum was either built as a totally government project or might have been managed by a general contracting private company. In either case, contractors and subcontractors with their own slaves and/or employees might have been hired for various parts of the project, just as in modern times.

And there may have been fees paid to architects and engineers to design the Colosseum.

Thus the amount that individual persons were paid could vary between "you worked hard today so here is your dinner, slaves" and the equivalent of millions of dollars in modern money.

And you need to do a lot more research.

  • Just to add to @MAGolding 's excellent answer, it was quite possible for the skilled workers - engineers, administrators, accountants etc - to be slaves as well. It wasn't a clear cut divide.
    – TheHonRose
    Apr 15 '19 at 22:58

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