In the first century, slaves formed a distinct group within the society of the Roman Empire. Although they were the property of their masters, in practice this did not prevent many of them from experiencing a good deal of freedom and social mobility. Many earned a living or worked in partnership with their owners. Some actually held positions of authority within businesses or administrative posts in lower levels of the government. It was also not unusual for a slave to receive a good education. On the whole, the slaves in the churches of Asia Minor who heard Paul’s message lived in a time when conditions were improving.
Slavery in ancient Ephesus played an important role in society and the economy. Besides manual labor, slaves performed many domestic services and might be employed at highly skilled jobs and professions. Teachers, accountants, and physicians were often slaves. Greek slaves in particular might be highly educated. Unskilled slaves, or those condemned to slavery as punishment, worked on farms, in mines, and at mills. Their living conditions were brutal, and their lives were short.
The good treatment of slaves in Ephesus was one of the positive and beneficial aspects of the slave system. For example, some slaves were given many privileges, comforts and were treated better than most people would have imagined. Nardo states “some masters treated their slaves with care and affection as their own children”.