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p684 Lex Aelia Sentia

Article by George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College
on p684 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

LEX AELIA SENTIA. This law which was passed in the time of Augustus (about A.D. 3), chiefly regulated the manumission of slaves; a matter that has been put under certain restrictions in modern slave states also.

By one provision of this law slaves who had been put in chains by their masters as a punishment, or branded, or subjected to the other punishments mentioned in the law (Gaius, I.13), if they were afterwards manumitted either by the same master or another, did not become Roman citizens or even Latini, but were in the class of Peregrini dediticii. [Dediticii.] The law also made regulations as to the age of slaves who might be manumitted. It enacted that slaves under thirty years of age who were manumitted, only became Roman citizens when they were manumitted by the Vindicta, and after a legal cause for manumission had been established before a consilium. What was a legal cause (causa justa), and how the consilium was constituted, are explained by Gaius (Gaius, I.19, 20). These consilia for the manumission of slaves were held at stated times in the provinces, and in Rome. A slave under thirty years of age could become a Roman citizen if he was made free and heres by the testament of a master, who was not solvent (Gaius, I.21). The law also contained provisions by which those who were under thirty years of age at the time of manumission, and had become Latini in consequence of manumission, might acquire the Roman citizenship on certain conditions, which were these. They must have taken to wife a Roman citizen, or a Latina coloniaria or a woman of the same class as themselves, and must have had as evidence of that fact the presence of five Roman citizens of full age, and have begotten a son who had attained the age of one year. On showing these facts to the praetor at Rome, or to the governor in a province, and the magistrate declaring that the facts were proved, the man, his wife, and his child became Roman citizens. If the father died before he had proved his case before the magistrate, the mother could do it, and the legal effect was the same.

If a man manumitted his slave to defraud his creditors, or to defraud a patron of his patronal rights, the act of manumission was made invalid by law. A person under the age of twenty years was also prevented from manumitting any slave, except by the process of Vindicta, and after establishing a legal cause before a consilium. The consequence was that though a male, who had completed his fourteenth year, could make a will, he could not by his will manumit a slave (Gaius, I.37‑40). A male under the age of twenty could manumit his slave so as to make him a Latinus, but this also required a legal cause to be affirmed by a consilium. The provisions of the Lex Aelia Sentia, as to manumitting slaves for the purpose of defrauding creditors, did not apply to Peregrini, until the provision was extended for their benefit by a Senatusconsultum in the time of Hadrian. The other provisions of the Lex did not apply to Peregrini. The application of the principles of the Law is shown in other passages of Gaius (I.66, 68, 70, 71, 80, 139, III.5, 73, 74). In a free state, when manumission must change the condition of slaves into that of citizens, the importance of limiting and regulating the manumitting power is obvious. Under the later Empire such regulations would be of little importance. This law was passed according to the constitutional forms in the time of Augustus, when the status of a Civis had not yet lost its value, and the semblance of the old constitution still existed (Ulp. Frag. tit. 1; Dig. 28 tit. 5 s57, 60; Dig. 38 tit. 2 s33; Tacit. Ann. XV.55).


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