When I first read the book title, I said to myself, "that must be about investment banking!" I picked it up, and soon realized the slaves were not modern interns or financial at all, but ancient and classical slaves from the Roman era. The bigger surprise though was how many real management tips on these slaves back then, can be re-used today within banks or securities firms. Oddly, the approach remains unchanged by time. it worked then, and it can work today.
This is an amazingly well-researched book. It is a set of guidelines by a real slave owner on how other slave owners should manage their slaves. We must remember the context at the time. Owning slaves was a basic benefit of the war for spoils economy in Rome at the time. Writing down such a set of guidelines would be similar to a person today writing down a similar guide to better gardening today.
It should be understood that slave owners at the time rarely had one or two slaves to manage. Machines did not exist, so labour in the farms was typically human or animal. How to keep a farm and any passive income flowing in the Roman economy was linked directly to how well you managed any resource, including the slave property on your farm. It may be disagreeable today, but it is still a fascinating reading.
There are 11 chapters in this book including "How to buy a slave, Getting the best from your slaves, Sex and slaves, What makes a good slave, and even, The punishment of slaves". I was not sure how to feel when reading these parts, but I learned a lot more than I expected. The most positive thing, was that many slaves worked to buy their own freedom over years. In large cities, former Roman citizens with debts often sold themselves into slavery (or a gladiatorial school) to escape heavy debts. This was by economic choice not circumstance.
Ultimately, this is a common economic system during the Roman Empire that worked well, and did so for many generations. Nothing lasts forever, but there was a balance in life back then as well. There were festivals where the tables could turn during festivals. Slaves could verbally threaten their slave owners badly during the festival. They could get drunk and out of hand once a year in a time called the "Saturnalia" that lasted over several days starting December 17. Many of these concepts have sometimes been kept within modern management.
I had no idea of this detail and it reminded me of Japanese team building after work drinks. Sometimes called today "nomunication" or drinking(nomu) while communicating. It is a drinking & bonding time at work where even if you complain about the boss perhaps even to his or her face in a drunken state, all is forgiven by the morning after. It is a kind of stress release for a complex system. There were many other similar re-uses of these concepts still alive in modern organizations today.
The Top 3 Takeaways from this book that really impact any reader are:
1) These rules on slave management from Roman Times are time tested for over 2000 years. They may also work to manage people in modern times.
2) Unlike more recently, many slaves bought their freedom in ancient Rome. They sometimes went on to great financial success within Rome. Some becoming even more wealthy than their previous owners due to business.
3) Many business owners since Roman times have had common issues with entrepreneurs today. The similar challenges and parallels are amazing to see.
Later chapters explain how slaves could be freed and live the Roman dream. They could sometimes rise in society and become slave owners themselves via economic success. It seems that there was a lot of fluidity in Roman Society. How, only if you could learn the language, customs and adapt your duties into a way of making money. As being a Roman was not linked to nationality or native toungue, but being a full citizen of the empire, there seemed to be a lot of class movement for the bright and entrepreneurial.
This was not expected from the book and it really opened my eyes. The financial incentives for good management are made very clear. Many management principles are learned in this book and are well explained with constant examples of how things can go well or badly if you do not follow the guidelines. This was one of the biggest book surprises I have ever come across. Highly Recommended!
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