1902 Encyclopedia > Slavery > Slavery in Ancient Rome: Moral and Social Effects. Emancipation.

(Part 8)


Slavery in Ancient Rome: Moral and Social Effects. Emancipation.

Of the moral influences of slavery we have already spoken. In the particular case of Rome it cannot be doubted that it largely contributed to the impurities which disgraced private life, as seen in the pages of Juvenal, Martial, and Petronius. It is shocking to observe the tone in which Horace, so characterized by geniality and bonhomie, speaks of the subjection of slaves to the brutal passions of their masters (Sat., i. 2, 116). The hardening effect of the system appears perhaps most strikingly in the barbarous spectacles of the amphitheatre, in which even women took pleasure and joined in condemning the gladiator who did not by his desperate courage satisfy the demands of a sanguinary mob. It led, further, to a contempt for industry, even agriculture being no longer held in esteem ("quum sit publice accepta et confirmata jam vulgaris existimatio, rem rusticam sordidum opus," Col., i., praef. 20). The existence of slavery, degrading free labour while competing with freemen for urban employment, multiplied the idle and worthless population of Rome, who sought only "panem et circenses." These had to be supported by public distributions, which the emperors found they could not discontinue, and by the bounty of patrons, and, like the "mean whites" of modern America, formed a dangerous class, purchasable by selfish ambitions and ready to aid in civil disturbances, Blair, in comparing the Greek and Roman systems of slavery, points with justice to the greater facility and frequency of emancipation as the great superiority of the latter. No Roman slave, he says, "needed to despair of becoming both a freemar and a citizen." Manumission was of two kinds—justa or regular, and minus justa. Of manumissio justa there were four modes:—(1) by adoption, rarely resorted to ; (2) by testament, already recognized in the Twelve Tables ; (3) by census, which was of exceptional use, and did not exist later than the time of Vespasian; and (4) by vindicta, which was the usual form. In the last method the master turned the slave round, with the words "liber esto," in the presence of the praetor, that officer or his lictor at the same time striking the slave with his rod. The manumissio minus justa was effected by a sufficient manifestation of the will of the master, as by letter, by words, by utting the pileus (or cap of liberty) on the slave, or by any other formality which had by usage become significant of the intention to liberate, or by such an act as making the slave the guardian of his children. This extra-legal sort of manumission was incomplete and precarious ; even after the lex Julia Norbana (19 A.D.), which assimilated the position of those so liberated to that of the Latin colonists, under the name of Latini juniores, the person remained in the eye of the law a slave till his death and could not dispose of his peculium.

A freedman, unless he became such by operation of law, remained client of his master, and both were bound by the mutual obligations arising out of that relation. These obligations existed also in the case of freedmen of the state, of cities, temples, and corporations. The freedman took his former master’s name; he owed him deference (obsequium) and aid (officium) ; and neglect of these obligations was punished, in extreme cases even with loss of liberty. Conditions might be annexed by the master to the gift of freedom, as of continued residence with him, or of general service or some particular duty to be performed, or of a money payment to be made. But the prietor Rutilius, about the beginning of the 1st century B.C., limited the excessive imposition of such conditions, and his restrictions were carried further by the later jurists and the imperial constitutions. Failing natural heirs of an intestate freedman, the master, now patron, succeeded to his property at his death ; and he could dispose by will of only half his possessions, the patron receiving the other half. Freedmen and their sons were subject to civil disabilities; the third generation became ingenua (full citizens). Thus, by a process of constant infiltration, the slave element tended to merge itself in the general popular body; and Scipio Aemiliamus could reply to the murmurs of a plebeian crowd, "Taceant quibus Italia noverca est; non efficietis ut solutos verear quos alligatos adduxi" (Val. Max., vi. 2, 3).

It was often a pecuniary advantage to the master to liberate his slave; he obtained a payment which enabled him to buy a substitute, and at the same time gained a client. This of course presupposes the recognition of the right of the slave to his peculium ; and the same is implied in Cicero’s statement that a diligent slave could in six years purchase his freedom. Augustus set himself against the undue multiplication of manumissions, probably considering the rapid succession of new citizens a source of social instability, and recommended a similar policy to his successor. The lex Aelia Sentia (about 3 A.D.) forbade manumission, except in strictly limited cases, by masters under 20 years of age or of slaves under 30 ; and the lex Furia Caninia (about 7 A.D.) fixed the proportion of a man’s slaves which be could liberate by testament, and forbade more than a hundred being so enfranchised whatever might be the number of the familia. Under the empire the freedmen rose steadily in influence; they became admissible to the rank of equites and to the senate ; they obtained provincial governments, and were appointed to offices in the imperial household which virtually placed them at the head of administrative departments. Pallas and Narcissus are familiar types of the unworthy members of this class, and there were doubtless many outside of official life who exhibited the ostentation and insolence of the parvenu; but there were others who were highly deser ing of esteem. Freedmen of humbler rank filled the minor offices in the administrative service, in the city cohorts, and in the army; and we shall find that they entered largely into the trades and professions when free labour began to revive. They appeared also in literature; we hear of several historical and biographical memoirs by freedmen under the republic and the early empire ; many of them were professors of grammar and the kindred arts, as Tiro, the amanuensis of Cicero, and Hyginus, the librarian of Augustus; and, names of a higher order are those of Livius Andronicus, Caccilius, Statius, Terence, Publius Syrus, Plnedrus, and Epictetus.

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