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Slavery in ancient Rome

The institution of slavery in ancient Rome reduced those held to a condition of less than persons under their legal system. Stripped of many rights, including the ability to marry, slaves were the property of their owners. Over time, the rights of slaves increased, to include the ability to file grievances against a master. After manumission, or manimissio, a freed slave was known as a freedman and any future children of a freedman would be born with full citizenship. Uprisings such as that of the late 70s BC were harshly dealt with.


[edit] Origins

Most slaves in ancient Rome were acquired through warfare, sold by their fathers or abandoned at birth with Roman armies bringing captives back as part of the reward. Turning defeated soldiers into slaves brought much income, and could also serve as an alternative to imprisoning or killing them.

In addition, people could sell their children into slavery and creditors could claim insolvent debtors as slaves. However, it was illegal for people to sell themselves into slavery as this could provide scope to commit fraud.[1]

The first century Greek rhetorician and historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus indicates that the Roman institution of slavery began with Romulus giving Roman fathers the right to sell their own children into slavery, and kept growing with the expansion of the Roman state. Slave ownership was most widespread throughout the Roman citizenry from the second Punic War (218 to 201 BC) through the fourth century AD. The Greek historian Strabo (63/64 BC ' ca. AD 24) records how an enormous slave trade resulted due to the collapse of the Seleucid Empire (100 - 63 BC). Delos in the eastern Mediterranean was made a free port in 166 BC and became one of the main market venues for slaves. Multitudes of slaves who found their way to Italy were purchased by wealthy landowners in need of large numbers of slaves to labor on their estates. Historian Keith Hopkins noted that it was land investment and agricultural production which enabled great wealth in Italy, and considered that Rome's military conquests and the subsequent introduction of incredible wealth and slaves into Italy had effects like that of widespread and rapid technological innovations.[2]

Slaves were drawn from all over Europe and the Mediterranean, particularly among Celts, Germans, Thracians, North Africans and eastern Mediterraneans.[3] By the first century BC there was a custom against enslaving Roman citizens or Italians living Gallia Cisalpina, but prior to then, many southern and central Italians had been enslaved after defeat.[4]

[edit] Sale of slaves

The sale of slaves was primarily done by wholesale dealers who followed the Roman armies. Many of the slave traders were Jewish in origin and constituted the main source of livelihood for the Roman Jews. [5] Slavers are recorded to have once come away with no more than 53,000 people, the entire population of a district Julius Caesar had captured in Gaul, which he sold on the spot.[6] An official known as a Quaestor would oversee sales, which would be done in a public auction or sometimes in shops, though more private sales might take place for more valuable slaves. Sometimes slaves stood on revolving stands, and around each slave for sale hung a type of plaque describing his origin, health, character, intelligence, education and other information pertinent to purchasers. Prices varied with age and quality, with highly valuable slaves fetching prices equivalent to thousands of today's dollars. The dealer was required to take a slave back within six months if the slave had defects that were not manifest at the sale, or make good the buyer's loss.[citation needed] Slaves to be sold with no guarantee were made to wear a cap at the auction. Besides the selling of children by parents into slavery, another legal means of sourcing was the offspring of the unions between slaves, the marriage of which was not recognized, and their children (called 'vernae') were owned by the first master[7]

[edit] Treatment and experience

There are reports of abuse and harsh treatment of slaves by Romans, but there is little information to indicate how widespread such harsh treatment was. Cato the Elder was recorded as expelling out of the house his old or sick slaves. Defeated foes of Rome sometimes chose suicide rather than becoming slaves. The Roman writer Seneca held the view that a slave who was treated well would perform a better job than a poorly treated slave. He also believed a slave should not be subjected to viewing his family at a banquet, since the common practice was to only give slaves poor food.

The proverb "as many enemies as slaves" was commonly heard throughout Roman lands. Most citizens believed there was a constant danger of servile insurrection, which had more than once seriously threatened the republic,[8] and in their minds justified the severest measures in self-defense. They used the law of collective responsibility: if a slave killed his master, the authorities put all of the slaves in the household to death. Slaves who misbehaved have been known to be beaten, burned with an iron or sometimes even killed, despite age or sex (though most slaves were males).

Slaves often sought freedom by escape. Historian Moses Finley remarked, "fugitive slaves are almost an obsession in the sources". Rome forbade the harbouring of fugitive slaves, and professional slave-catchers were hired to hunt down runaways, with advertisements being publicly posted which provided precise descriptions of escaped slaves, and with rewards offered.[9] If caught, fugitives could be brutally punished and branded on the forehead with the letter F, for fugitivus. Sometimes slaves had a metal collar riveted around the neck. One such collar was preserved at Rome and states in Latin, "I have run away. Catch me. If you take me back to my master Zoninus, you'll be rewarded."[7][10]

Slaves as well as their masters and environments were diverse, and some owners were known to complain that their slaves were wandering about the public entertainment areas of the city rather than working, or that they were stealing food or items, or even engaging in vandalism.[11]

The experience of slavery depended heavily on the general type of labour to which a slave was assigned, which had a great range. For slaves, assignment to mines was often a sentence of death. Farm slaves (familia rustica) would generally fare better, while household slaves of rich families in Rome (familia urbana) likely enjoyed the highest standard of living among Roman slaves, together with a more intricate social experience. Though their room and board would be of a significantly lower quality than that of the free members of the familia, it may have been comparable to that of many free but poor Romans.[12] Domestic slaves could be found working as barbers, butlers, cooks, hairdressers, maids, nurses, teachers, secretaries, and seamstresses. Slaves with more education and intelligence could even work in professions such as accounting, education and medicine.[2]

Many slaves were gladiators who fought in bloody games in order to entertain crowds of freemen (with some even fighting their way to freedom). As a result of the poor treatment he and other gladiators had received, the gladiator Spartacus led a major slave rebellion.

During the period of Roman imperial expansion, the increase of wealth amongst the Roman elite and the substantial growth of slavery transformed the economy.[13] According to modern day calculations, there were upwards of two to three million slaves in Italy by the end of the first century BC, the equivalent of around thirty five to forty percent of Italy's population.[13] Indeed, one of the main needs for slavery was the Roman elite's need for massive agricultural labor.

The treatment of the Roman slaves could often be very harsh. Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian of the 1st century BC wrote that slaves were sometimes so distressed by their mistreatments and hardships that they banded together to discuss the possibility of revolt. Diodorus tells of a massive slave revolt, led by Antiochus from 136-132 BC.[14] Diodorus recounts another large-scale slave revolt from 73-71 BC, where an escaped slave named Spartacus assembled a revolt consisting of seventy thousand slaves. According to Diodorus, Spartacus eventually attempted to escape to Gaul with 120,000 followers.[15] Crassus and Pompey caught Spartacus in a pincer movement, and his forces were destroyed, Spartacus fighting to the last. 6000 of his supporters who survived the battle were crucified all along the Appian way. Spartacus's body, if he was killed, was never found.

Conditions for slaves working in the Roman cities were often not as difficult as those who laboured in the fields. Female slaves were usually put in charge of domestic tasks, and male slaves often worked as personal servants, craftsmen, shopkeepers, or even business agents for their masters.[16] Slaves who were able to work in atmospheres close to their owners lead much better lives than slaves who performed labor tasks that disconnected them from their owners.

Slaves in Rome had no legal status, however several emperors began to grant more rights to slaves as the empire grew. It became prevalent throughout the mid to late second century to allow slaves to complain of cruel or unfair treatment by their owners.[17] Claudius announced that if a slave was abandoned by his master, he became free. Nero allowed for slaves to have the right to complain against their master in a court. And under Antoninus Pius, a master could no longer execute a slave without just cause, or else the master could be tried for homicide.[18] Legal protection of slaves continued to grow as the empire expanded.

There are only a small number of sources that exist which give an accurate count of the supply of slaves in Rome. The exact number of slaves in a particular region of Rome at any given time remains unknown. Unlike other civilizations of this time period, Rome did not produce a large amount of writing regarding slavery. The XII Tablets provides brief legal references to slavery, and several playwrights express seemingly general opinions about slaves in Rome.

[edit] Prevalence

Estimates for the prevalence of slavery in the Roman Empire vary. Some historians estimate that approximately 30% of the population of the Empire in the 1st century was enslaved.[19] The Roman economy was certainly heavily dependent on slavery, but it was not (as is sometimes mistakenly stated) the most slave-dependent culture in history. That distinction probably belongs to the Spartans, with helots (the Spartan term for slave) outnumbering the Spartans by about seven to one (Herodotus; book IX, 10).

The actual proportion may have been less than 20%[citation needed] for the whole Empire, 18 million people[citation needed], but we cannot be sure. Since there was a labor shortage in the Roman Empire, there was a constant need to find slaves to tie down the labor supply in various regions of the Empire. In the Later Empire, emperors tried to tie people into hereditary occupations to secure vital services as the supply of slaves dried up.

[edit] Emancipation

Freed slaves were called liberti, and formed a separate class in Roman society at all periods. The Pileus, a felt cap given to the slaves upon their freedom, was their symbol. The number of liberti were not large, but Rome needed to demonstrate at times the great frank spirit of this civitas, so the freed slaves were made famous, as hopeful examples.

Freed slaves continued to suffer some minor legal disabilities: they could not hold certain high offices and they could not marry into the senatorial classes. Even those who grew rich and influential might still be looked down on by members of the traditional aristocracy as vulgar nouveaux riches. The fictional character Trimalchio was such a person.

Usually, already educated or experienced slaves were freed the most often. Eventually the practice became so common that Emperor Augustus passed a law proclaiming that no Roman slave could be freed before age 30. In addition, the master of the house might have children by his slaves. Such children could be well educated and freed when they became adults.

Slaves were freed for a variety of reasons, ranging from a particularly good deed toward his/her master, or as a sign of friendship or respect. Sometimes, slaves who had enough money could buy their freedom and the freedom of a fellow slave, frequently a spouse. However, few slaves had enough money to do so, and many slaves were not allowed to own money. Slaves were also freed as a result of the master's death by a statement in his will. Emperor Augustus proclaimed that no more than a hundred slaves, and fewer in a small household, could be freed by this means.

Freeing a slave was called manumissio, which literally means "sending out from the hand". The freeing of the slave was a public spectacle, the oldest method usually performed before some sort of public official, usually a judge. The slave was touched on the head with a staff and he was free to go. Simpler methods were sometimes used, usually with the master proclaiming a slave's freedom in front of friends and family, or just a simple invitation to recline with the family at dinner. After a slave was freed, the person was free to make his or her own way in life, even become an important member in his community.

Former slaves enjoyed few of the privileges of a true Roman citizen. He could not be a candidate in public elections and could not rise to a high rank in the Roman military. He still had to work for his former master a fixed number of days each year, becoming a client and visiting his master regularly to pay his respects, usually in the morning. Some freedmen still did the work for their masters that they had previously done as slaves. Some, such as the Vettii, who were believed to be freedmen brothers, became very powerful. They owned a house in Pompeii that was one of the biggest and most magnificent in the town. A freedman designed the amphitheater in Pompeii, where all plays were held.

The children of former slaves enjoyed the full privileges of Roman citizenship without restrictions. The Latin poet Horace, the son of a freedman, served as a military officer in the army of Marcus Junius Brutus and seemed headed for a political career before the defeat of Brutus by Octavian and Mark Antony. Though Horace may have been an exceptional case, freedmen filled important roles in Roman administrative functions. Freedmen of the Imperial families often were the main functionaries in the Imperial administration. Some rose to positions of great power and influence, as did Narcissus, a former slave of the Emperor Claudius.

[edit] Influence

The Stoics taught that all men were manifestations of the same universal spirit, and thus by nature equal. Stoicism also held that external circumstances (such as being enslaved) did not truly impede a person from practicing the Stoic ideal of inner self-mastery: It has been said that one of the more important Roman stoics, Epictetus, spent his youth as a slave.

Both the Stoics and the early Christians opposed the ill-treatment of slaves, rather than slavery itself. Advocates of these philosophies saw them as ways to live within human societies as they were, rather than to overthrow entrenched institutions. While equal pay and fair treatment of slaves was enjoined upon slave masters, and which forbade threatening (as they also had a Master in Heaven), and slaves were advised to lawfully obtain freedom if possible (Ephesians 6:5'9; Colossians 4:1; 1Corinthians 7:21).

Certain senior Christian leaders (such as Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom) called for good treatment for slaves and condemned slavery, while others supported it. Christianity gave slaves a place within the religion, allowing them to participate in the liturgy. In addition, Christianity had a place for labor. In fact, tradition describes Pope Clement I (term c. AD92 - 99), Pope Pius I (term c. AD 158 - 167) and Pope Callixtus I (term c. AD 217 - 222) as former slaves. [20]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Textbook on Roman Law, Andrew Borkowski and Paul Du Plessis
  2. ^ a b Roman Slavery: The Social, Cultural, Political, and Demographic Consequences by Moya K. Mason
  3. ^ Antonio Santosuosso, Storming the Heavens p 43 ISBN 0-8133-3523-X
  4. ^ Antonio Santosuosso, Storming the Heavens p 43-4 ISBN 0-8133-3523-X
  5. ^ [The Universal Jewish Enyclopedia Volume 10 Page 48]
  6. ^ Roman Society, Roman Life
  7. ^ a b Rome Exposed - Roman Life
  8. ^ Naerebout and Singor, "De Oudheid", p. 296
  9. ^ Resisting Slavery in Ancient Rome By Professor Keith Bradle
  10. ^ http://www.flickriver.com/photos/sebastiagiralt/4282701805/
  11. ^ [1] ibid
  12. ^ Roman Civilization
  13. ^ a b Hopkins, Keith. Conquerors and Slaves: Sociological Studies in Roman History. Cambridge University Press, New York. Pgs. 4-5
  14. ^ Siculus, Diodorus. Library 34/35 1-48. 60-30 BC
  15. ^ Siculus, Diodorus. The Civil Wars 111-121. 73-71 BC
  16. ^ Bentley, Jerry and Ziegler Herb. Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past. MacGraw-Hill, New York, 2006. Pg 276
  17. ^ McGinn, Thomas. Prostitution, Sexuality, and the law in Ancient Rome. Oxford University Press, 2003 Pg. 309
  18. ^ Dillon, Matthew and Garland, Lynda. Ancient Rome: From the Early Republic to the Assassination of Julius Caesar. Routledge, 2005. Pg 297
  19. ^ Welcome to Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to History
  20. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia Slavery and Christianity

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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