Slaves generally performed physically taxing, undesirable or necessary jobs in their communities and time periods. In Ancient Rome, slaves took care of household chores, farmed, carried their masters around and occasionally fought to death in the arena. In the American South, many slaves spent their days doing hard labor in the fields, while a smaller number of slaves worked in the house doing cooking, cleaning, sewing and child-rearing.
From ancient Egypt to the British Empire to the American South, slaves were involved in farming and agriculture. All civilizations with a history of slavery used slaves for food cultivation. Other duties depended on location and time period. In ancient Rome and Egypt, slaves carried their masters around on litters, supported by the slaves' shoulders and propelled by foot power. Slaves often fanned their masters to keep them cool in the summer, a duty repeated by slaves in the British colonies and American South.
Slaves with special skills were more desirable and more expensive than simple laborers. Slaves who had knowledge of cooking, construction, blacksmithing and sewing were in high demand and were treated better than field laborers because it was much more difficult to replace a skilled slave. In ancient Egypt, reading was desirable among slaves, and literate slaves often became managers and overseers. In the American South, literacy was discouraged. Instead, slaves who were loyal and obedient were often in charge of driving their fellow slaves.