→ This article starts with a long section on slavery in Roman law; or you can skip directly to the life and condition of slaves.
SERVUS (Roman). SE′RVITUS, "Servitus est constitutio juris gentium qua quis domino alieno contra naturam subjicitur." (Florent. Dig. 1 tit. 5 s4.) Gaius also considers the potestas of a master over a slave as "juris gentium" (I.52). The Romans viewed Liberty as a Natural State, and Slavery as a condition which was contrary to the Natural State. The mutual relation of Slave and Master among the Romans was expressed by the terms Servus and Dominus; and the power and interest which the dominus had over and in the slave was expressed by Dominium. The term Dominium or ownership, with reference to a slave, pointed to the slave merely as a thing or object of ownership, and a slave as one of the Res Mancipi classed with other objects of ownership. The word Potestas was also applied to the master's power over the slave, and the same word was used to express the father's power over his children. The boundaries between the Patria and Dominica Potestas were originally very narrow, but the child had certain legal capacities which were altogether wanting to the condition of the slave. The master had no Potestas over the slave, if he had merely a "nudum jus Quiritium in servo": it was necessary that the slave should be his In bonis at least (Gaius, I.54).
According to the strict principles of the Roman Law, it was a consequence of the relation of Master and Slave that the Master could treat the Slave as he pleased: he could sell him, punish him, and put him to death. Positive morality however and the social intercourse that must always subsist between a master and the slaves, who are immediately about him, ameliorated the condition of slavery. Still we read of acts of great cruelty committed by masters in the later Republican and early Imperial periods, and the Lex Petronia was enacted in order to protect the slave. The original power of life and death over a slave, which Gaius considers to be a part of the Jus Gentium, was limited by a constitution of Antoninus, which enacted that if a man put his slave to death without sufficient reason (sine causa), he was liable to the same penalty as if he had killed another man's slave. The Constitution applied to Roman citizens and to all who were under the Imperium Romanum (Gaius, I.52, &c.). The same Constitution also prohibited the cruel treatment of slaves by their masters, by enacting that p1037 if the cruelty of the master was intolerable, he might be compelled to sell the slave; and the slave was empowered to make his complaint to the proper authority (Senec. de Benef. III.22). A Constitution of Claudius enacted that if a man exposed his slaves, who were infirm, they should become free; and the Constitution also declared that if they were put to death, the act should be murder (Suet. Claud. 25). It was also enacted (Cod. 3 tit. 38 s11) that in sales or division of property, slaves, such as husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters, should not be separated.
A slave could not contract a marriage. His cohabitation with a woman was Contubernium; and no legal relation between him and his children was recognized. Still nearness of blood was considered an impediment to marriage after manumission: thus a manumitted slave could not marry his manumitted sister (Dig. 23 tit. 2 s14).
A slave could have no property. He was not incapable of acquiring property, but his acquisitions belonged to his master; which Gaius considers to be a rule of the Jus Gentium (I.52). A slave could acquire for his master by Mancipatio, Traditio, Stipulatio, or in any other way. In this capacity of the slave to take, though he could not keep, his condition was assimilated to that of a filiusfamilias, and he was regarded as a person. If one person had a Nudum Jus Quiritium in a slave, and he was in another's In bonis, his acquisitions belonged to the person whose he was In bonis. If a man bona fide possessed another man's slave or a free person, he only acquired through the slave in two cases: he was entitled to all that the slave acquired out of or by means of the property of the possessor (ex re ejus); and he was entitled to all that the slave acquired by his own labour (ex operis suis); the law was the same with respect to a slave of whom a man had the Ususfructus only. All other acquisitions of such slaves or free persons belonged to their owner or to themselves, according as they were slaves or free men (Ulp. Frag. tit. 19). If a slave was appointed heres, he could only accept the hereditas with the consent of his master, and he acquired the hereditas for his master: in the same way, the slave acquired a legacy for his master (Gaius, II.87, &c.).
A master could also acquire Possessio through his slave, and thus have a commencement of Usucapion (Gaius, II.89); but the owner must have the possession of the slave in order that he might acquire possession through him, and consequently a man could not acquire possession by means of a pignorated slave. [Pignus.] A bonae fidei possessor, that is, one who believed the slave to be his own, could acquire possession through him in such cases as he could acquire property; consequently a pledgee could not acquire possession through a pignorated slave, though he had the possession of him bona fide, for this bona fides was not that which is meant in the phrase bonae fidei possessor. The Usufructuarius acquired possession through the slave in the same cases in which the bonae fidei possessor acquired it (Savigny, Das Recht des Besitzes, p314, ed. 5).
Slaves were not only employed in the usual domestic offices and in the labours of the field, but also as factors or agents for their masters in the management of business [Institoria Actio, &c.], and as mechanics, artisans, and in every branch of industry. It may easily be conceived that under these circumstances, especially as they were often intrusted with property to a large amount, there must have arisen a practice of allowing the slave to consider part of his gains as his own: this was his Peculium, a term also applicable to such acquisitions of a filiusfamilias as his father allowed him to consider as his own. [Patria Potestas.] According to strict law, the Peculium was the property of the master, but according to usage it was considered to be the property of the slave. Sometimes it was agreed between master and slave, that the slave should purchase his freedom with his Peculium when it amounted to a certain sum (Tacit. Ann. XIV.42, and the note of Lipsius). If a slave was manumitted by the owner in his lifetime, the Peculium was considered to be given together with Libertas, unless it was expressly retained (Dig. 15 tit. 1 s53, de Peculio). Transactions of borrowing and lending could take place between the master and slave with respect to the Peculium, though no right of action arose on either side out of such dealings, conformably to a general principle of Roman Law (Gaius, IV.78). If after the slave's manumission, the master paid him a debt which had arisen in the manner above mentioned, he could not recover it (Dig. 12 tit. 6 s64). In case of the claim of creditors on the slave's Peculium, the debt of the slave to the master was first taken into account, and deducted from the Peculium. So far was the law modified, that in the case of naturales obligationes, as the Romans called them, between master and slave, a fidejussor could be bound for a slave; and he could also be bound, if the creditor was an extraneus.
A naturalis obligatio might result from the dealings of a slave with other persons than his master; but the master was not at all affected by such dealings. the master was only bound by the acts and dealing of the slave, when the slave was employed as his agent or instrument, in which case the master might be liable to an Actio Exercitoria or Institoria (Gaius, IV.71). There was of course an actio against the master, when the slave acted by his orders. [Jussu, Quod, &c.] If a slave or filiusfamilias traded with his peculium with the knowledge of the dominus or father, the peculium and all that was produced by it were divisible among the creditors and master or father in due proportions (pro rata portione), and if any of the creditors complained of getting less than his share, he had a tributoria actio against the master or father, to whom the law gave the power of distribution among the creditors (Gaius, IV.72, &c.). The master was not liable for anything beyond the amount of the peculium, and his own demand was payable first (Dig. 14 tit. 4 de Tributoria Actione). Sometimes a slave would have another slave under him, who had a peculium with respect to the first slave, just as the first slave had a peculium with respect to his master. On this practice was founded the distinction between Servi Ordinarii and Vicarii (Dig. 15 tit. 1 s17). These subordinate peculia were however legally considered as included in the principal peculium. In the case of a slave dying, being sold or manumitted, the Edict required that any action in respect of the Peculium must be brought within a year (Dig. 15 tit. 2 s1, which contains the words of the Edict). If a slave or filiusfamilias had carried on dealing p1038 without the knowledge and consent of his master or father, there might be an action against the master or father in respect of such dealings, so far as it could be proved that he had derived advantage from them. This was called the Actio in rem Verso (Dig. 15 tit. 3), and it was in fact the same actio as that De Peculio. That was said "in rem patris dominive versum," which turned out for his advantage. For instance if a slave borrowed ten sestertia and paid them to the master's creditors, the master was bound to pay the loan, and the lender had an actio against him De in rem verso. If the slave paid any part of the borrowed sum to his master's creditors, the master was liable to the lender for the amount so applied, and if the slave had wasted the other part, the master was bound to make that good to the amount of the slave's peculium; but still with this provision, that the amount of the slave's peculium could only be ascertained by first deducting from it what he owed to the master. The case was the same with the peculium of a son and a slave. Thus, as Gaius observes (IV.73), the Actio De peculio and De in rem verso was one actio, but contained two condemnationes.
It is a consequence of the relation of Slave and Master, that the Master acquired no rights against the slave in consequence of his Delicts. Other persons might obtain rights against a slave in consequence of his delicts, but their right could not be prosecuted by action until the slave was manumitted (Gaius, IV.77). They had however a right of action at the slave's master for damages, and if the master would not pay the damages, he must give up the slave. [Noxa.]
The slave was protected against injury from other persons. If the slave was killed, the master might either prosecute the killer for a capital offence, or sue for damages under the Lex Aquillia (Gaius, III.213). [Aquillia Lex; Injuria.] The master had also a praetoria actio in duplo against those who corrupted his slave (servus, serva) and led him into bad practices (Dig. 11 tit. 3 s1 where the words of the Edict are given): the in duplum was to twice the amount of the estimated damage. He had also an action against a person who committed stuprum with his female slave (Dig.47 tit. 10 s25).
A runaway slave (fugitivus) could not lawfully be received or harboured; to conceal him was Furtum. The master was entitled to pursue him wherever he pleased; and it was the duty of all authorities to give him aid in recovering the slave. It was the object of various laws to check the running away of slaves in every way, and accordingly a runaway slave could not legally be the object of sale. A class of persons called Fugitivarii made it their business to recover runaway slaves. The rights of the master over the slave were in no way affected by his running away (Dig. 11 tit. 4 De fugitivis: there was a Lex Fabia on this subject, and apparently two Senatusconsulta at least; see also Varro, de Re Rust. III.14; Florus, III.19, and the note in Duker's edition).
A person was a slave either Jure Gentium or Jure Civili. A person was born a slave Jure Gentium whose mother was a slave when she gave him birth (Gaius, II.82); for it was a legal principle that the condition of those who were not begotten in Justae Nuptiae was to be reckoned from the moment of the birth. A slave born in the master's house was Verna. But it was also a principle of Roman Law that the status of a person who was begotten in Justae Nuptiae was reckoned from the time of conception. At a later period the rule of law was established, that though a woman at the time of the birth might be a slave, still her child was free, if the mother had been free at any time reckoning backwards from the time of the birth to the time of the conception (Paulus, S.R. II. tit. 24; Dig. 1 tit. 5 s5). There were various cases of children the offspring of a free parent and a slave as to which positive law provided whether the children should be free or slaves (Gaius, I.83, &c.). [Senatusconsultum Claudianum.]
A person became a slave by capture in war, also Jure Gentium. [Praeda.] Captives in war were sold as belonging to the Aerarium or distributed among the soldiers by lot (Walter, Geschichte &c. p50, note 35, 1st ed.). In reference to the practice of selling prisoners with a crown on their heads, we find the expression "sub corona venire, vendere." (Gell. VI.4;º Liv. V.22; Caesar, B. G. III.16).
A person might become a slave in various ways in consequence of positive law, Jure Civili. This was the case with Incensi [Caput], and those who evaded military service (Cic. pro Caecina, 34). In certain cases, a man became a slave, if he allowed himself to be sold as a slave in order to defraud the purchaser; and a free woman who cohabited with a slave might be reduced to the same condition [Senatusconsultum Claudianum.] Under the empire the rule was established that persons condemned to death, to the mines, and to fight with wild beasts, lost their freedom, and their property was confiscated, whence, concludes Gaius, it appears that they lose the Testamenti factio (Dig. 28 tit. 1 s8). But this was not the earlier law. A person so condemned, though he lost his freedom, had no master, and consequently the hereditates and legacies which were left to him, were simply void; for such a person was "poenae servus, non Caesaris" (Dig. 34 tit. 8 s3). A man never lost his freedom by usucapion (Gaius, II.48). According to the old law a manifestus fur was liable to a capitalis poena and was addicted (addicebatur) to the person whose property he had stolen; but it was doubted whether the effect of the addictio was to make him a servus or to put him in the condition of an adjudicatus (Gaius, III.189).
By a Constitutio or Senatusconsultum of Claudius (Sueton. Claud. 25) a freedman who misconducted himself towards his patron, was reduced to his former state of slavery. But this was not the rule of law in the time of Nero (Tacit. Ann. XIII.27; see the notes of Ernesti and Lipsius on this passage: and Patronus, Libertus.)
The State of Slavery was terminated by Manumissio. It was also terminated by various positive enactments, either by way of reward to the slave or punishment to the master. The Senatusconsultum Silanianum is an example of the former; and various subsequent Constitutions gave freedom to slaves who discovered the perpetrators of certain crimes (Cod. Theod. 9 tit. 21 s2).º Liberty might also be acquired by the Praescriptio Temporis. After the establishment of Christianity, it might be acquired subject to certain limitations by becoming a monk or spiritual person (Nov. 5 c2 and 123 c17. 35); but if this person left his p1039 monastery for a secular life, or rambled about in the towns or the country,a he might be reduced to his former servile condition.
There were slaves that belonged to the state and were called Servi Publici (Plaut. Capt. II.2.85): they had the testamenti factio to the amount of one half of their property (Ulp. Frag. tit. 20), from which circumstance it appears that they were viewed in a light somewhat different from the slaves of private persons.
In times of revolution under the Republic, it was not unusual to proclaim the liberty of slaves to induce them to join in revolt (Plut. Mar. c41, 42); but these were irregular proceedings, and neither justifiable nor examples for imitation. Lord Dunmore, the last British Governor of Virginia, at the commencement of the American Revolution, followed this bad example.b
The preceding account treats of the legal condition of slaves in relation to their masters. It remains to give an account of the history of slavery among the Romans, of the sale and value of slaves, of the different classes into which they were divided, and of their general treatment.
Slaves existed at Rome in the earliest times of which we have any record; but they do not appear to have been numerous under the kings and in the earliest ages of the republic. The different trades and the mechanical arts were chiefly carried on by the clientes of the patricians, and the small farms in the country were cultivated for the most part by the labours of the proprietor and of his own family. But as the territories of the Roman state were extended, the patricians obtained possession of large estates out of the ager publicus, since it was the practice of the Romans to deprive a conquered people of part of their land. These estates probably required a larger number of hands for their cultivation than could readily be obtained among the free population, and since the freemen were constantly liable to be called away from their work to serve in the armies, the lands began to be cultivated almost entirely by slave labour (cf. Liv. VI.12). Through war and commerce slaves could easily be obtained, and at a cheap rate, and their number soon became so great, that the poorer class of freemen was thrown almost entirely out of employment. This state of things was one of the chief arguments used by Licinius and the Gracchi for limiting the quantity of public land which a person might possess (Appian, B. C. I.7, 9, 10); and we know that there was a provision in the Licinian Rogations that a certain number of freemen should be employed on every estate (Appian, B. C. I.8). This regulation, however, was probably of little avail: the lands still continued to be almost entirely cultivated by slaves, although in the latest times of the republic we find that Julius Caesar attempted to remedy this state of things to some extent by enacting, that of those persons who attended to cattle a third should always be freemen (Suet. Jul. 42). In Sicily, which supplied Rome with so great a quantity of corn,º the number of agricultural slaves was immense: the oppressions to which they were exposed drove them twice to open rebellion, and their numbers enabled them to defy for a time the Roman power. The first of these Servile wars began in B.C. 134 and ended in B.C. 132, and the second commenced in B.C. 102 and lasted almost four years.
Long however after it had become the custom to employ large gangs of slaves in the cultivation of the land, the number of those who served as personal attendants still continued to be small. Persons in good circumstances seem usually to have had only one to wait upon them (Plin. H. N. XXXIII.1 s6),º who was generally called by the name of his master with the word por (that is, puer) affixed to it, as Caipor, Lucipor, Marcipor, Publipor, Quintipor, &c.;c and hence Quintilian (I.4 §26) says, long before whose time luxury had augmented the number of personal attendants, that such names no longer existed. Cato, when he went to Spain as consul, took only three slaves with him (Apul. Apol. p430, ed. Ouden.). But during the latter times of the republic and under the empire the number of domestic slaves greatly increased, and in every family of importance there were separate slaves to attend to all the necessities of domestic life. It was considered a reproach to a man not to keep a considerable number of slaves. Thus Cicero, in describing the meanness of Piso's housekeeping, says "Idem coquus, idem atriensis: pistor domi nullus" (in Pis. 27). The first question asked respecting a person's fortune was "Quot pascit servos?" (Juv. III.141). Horace (Sat. I.3.12) seems to speak of ten slaves as the lowest number which a person in tolerable circumstances ought to keep, and he ridicules the praetor Tullius for being attended by no more than five slaves in going from his Tiburtine villa to Rome (Sat. I.6.107). The immense number of prisoners taken in the constant wars of the republic, and the increase of wealth and luxury augmented the number of slaves to a prodigious extent. The statement of Athenaeus (VI p272E), that very many Romans possessed 10,000 and 20,000 slaves and even more, is probably an exaggeration, but a freedman under Augustus, who had lost much property in the civil wars, left at his death as many as 4,116 (Plin. H. N. XXXIII.10 s47). Two hundred was no uncommon number for one person to keep (Hor. Sat. I.3.11), and Augustus permitted even a person that was exiled to take twenty slaves or freedmen with him (Dion Cass. LVI.27). The mechanical arts, which were formerly in the hands of the Clientes, were now entirely exercised by slaves (Cic. de Off. I.42): a natural growth of things, for where slaves perform certain duties or practise certain arts, such duties or arts will be thought degrading to a freedman. It must not be forgotten that the games of the amphitheatre required an immense number of slaves trained for the purpose. [Gladiatores.] Like the slaves in Sicily, the gladiatores in Italy rose in B.C. 73 against their oppressors, and under the able generalship of Spartacus, defeated a Roman consular army, and were not subdued till B.C. 71, when 60,000 of them were said to have fallen in battle (Liv. Epit. 97).
Under the empire various enactments, mentioned above (p1036A), were made to restrain the cruelty of masters towards their slaves; but the spread of Christianity tended most to ameliorate their condition, though the possession of them was for a long time by no means condemned as contrary to Christian justice. The Christian writers, however, inculcate the duty of acting towards them as we would be acted by (Clem. Alex. Paedagog. III.12), but down to the age of Theodosius wealthy persons still continued to keep as many as two or p1040 three thousand (Chrysost. vol. VII p633). Justinian did much to promote the ultimate extinction of slavery; but the number of slaves was again increased by the invasion of the barbarians from the north, who not only brought with them their own slaves who were chiefly Sclavi or Sclavonians (whence our word Slave), but also reduced many of the inhabitants of the conquered provinces to the condition of slaves. But all the various classes of slaves became merged in course of time into the Adscripti Glebae or serfs of the middle ages.
The chief sources from which the Romans obtained slaves have been pointed out above. Under the republic one of the chief supplies was prisoners taken in war, who were sold by the quaestores (Plaut. Capt. Prol.34, and I.2.1, 2) with a crown on their heads (see above, p1038B), and usually on the spot where they were taken, as the care of large number of captives was inconvenient. Consequently slave-dealers obtained them for a mere nothing. In the camp of Lucullus on one occasion slaves were sold for four drachmae each.d The slave trade was also carried on to a great extent, and after the fall of Corinth and Carthage Delos was the chief mart for this traffic. When the Cilician pirates had possession of the Mediterranean as many as 10,000 slaves are said to have been imported and sold there in one day (Strab. XIV. p668). A large number came from Thrace and the countries in the north of Europe, but the chief supply was from Africa, and more especially Asia, whence we frequently read of Phrygians, Lycians, Cappadocians, &c. as slaves.
The trade of slave-dealers (mangones) was considered disreputable, and expressly distinguished from that of merchants (mangones non mercatores sed venaliciarii appellantur, Dig. 50 tit. 16 s207; Plaut. Trin. II.2.51); but it was very lucrative, and great fortunes were frequently realized from it. The slave-dealer Thoranius, who lived in the time of Augustus, was a well-known character (Suet. Aug. 69; Macrob. Sat. II.4; Plin. H. N. VII.12 s10). Martial (VII.13) mentions another celebrated slave-dealer in his time of the name of Gargilianus.
Slaves were usually sold by auction at Rome. They were placed either on a raised stone (hence de lapide emtus, Cic. in Pis. 15; Plaut. Bacch. IV.7.17), or a raised platform (catasta, Tibull. II.3.60; Persius, VI.77, Casaubon, ad loc.), so that every one might see and handle them, even if they did not wish to purchase them. Purchasers usually took care to have them stript naked (Senec. Ep. 80; Suet. Aug. 69), for slave-dealers had recourse to as many tricks to conceal personal defects as the horse-jockeys of modern times:e sometimes purchasers called in the advice of medical men (Claudian, in Eutrop. I.35, 36). Slaves of great beauty and rarity were not exhibited to public gaze in the common slave-market, but were shown to purchasers in private (arcana tabulata catastae, Mart. IX.60). Newly imported slaves had their feet whitened with chalk (Plin. H. N. XXXV.17 s58; Ovid. Am. I.8.64), and those that came from the East had their ears bored (Juv. I.104), which we know was a sign of slavery among many Eastern nations. The slave-market, like all other markets, was under the jurisdiction of the aediles, who made many regulations by edicts respecting the sale of slaves. The character of the slave was set forth in a scroll (titulus) hanging round his neck, which was a warranty to the purchaser (Gell. IV.2; Propert. IV.5.51): the vendor was bound to announce fairly all his defects (Dig. 21 tit. 1 s1; Hor. Sat. II.3.284), and if he gave a false account had to take him back within six months from the time of his sale (Dig. 21 tit. 1 s19 § 6), or make up to the purchaser what the latter had lost through obtaining an inferior kind of slave to what had been warranted (Dig. 19 tit. 1 s13 § 4; Cic. de Off. III.16, 17, 23). The vendor might however use general terms of commendation without being bound to make them good (Dig. 18 tit. 1 s43; 21 tit. 1 s19). The chief points which the vendor had to warrant, was the health of the slave, especially freedom from epilepsy, and that he had not a tendency to thievery, running away, or committing suicide (Cic. de Off. III.17). The nation of a slave was considered important, and had to be set forth by the vendor (Dig. 21 tit. 1 s31 § 21). Slaves sold without any warranty wore at the time of sale a cap (pileus) upon their head (Gell. VII.4).º Slaves newly imported were generally preferred for common work; those who had served long were considered artful (veteratores, Ter. Heaut. V.1.16) and the pertness and impudence of those born in their master's house (vernae, see above, p1038) were proverbial (Vernae procaces, Hor. Sat. II.6.66; Mart. I.42, X.3).
The value of slaves depended of course upon their qualifications; but under the empire the increase of luxury and the corruption of morals led purchasers to pay immense sums for beautiful slaves, or such as ministered to the caprice or whim of the purchaser. Eunuchs always fetched a very high price (Plin. H. N. VII.39 s40), and Martial (III.62, XI.70) speaks of beautiful boys who sold for as much as 100,000 or 200,000 sesterces each (£885 8s 4d and £1770 16s 0d).f A morio or fool sometimes sold for 20,000 sesterces (Mart. VIII.13). Slaves who possessed a knowledge of any art which might bring in profit to their owners, also sold for a large sum. Thus literary men and doctors frequently fetched a high price (Suet. de Ill. Gram.; Plin. H. N. VII.39 s40), and also slaves fitted for the stage, as we see from Cicero's speech on behalf of Q. Roscius. Female slaves who might bring in gain to their masters by prostitution were also dear: sometimes 60 minae were paid for a girl of this kind (Plaut. Pers. IV.4.113). Five hundred drachmae (perhaps at that time about £18) seem to have been a fair price for a good ordinary slave in the time of Horace (Sat. II.7.43). In the fourth century a slave capable of bearing arms was valued at 25 solidi or aurei [Aurum, p182A.] (Cod. Theod. 7 tit. 13 s13). In the time of Justinian the legal valuation of slaves was as follows: common slaves, both male and female, were valued at 20 solidi a piece, and under ten years of age at half that sum; if they were artificers, they were worth 30 solidi, if notarii 50, if medical men or midwives 60; eunuchs under ten years of age were worth 30 solidi, above that age 50, and if they were artificers also, as much as 70 (Cod. 6 tit. 44 s3). Female slaves, unless possessed of personal attractions, were generally cheaper than male. Six hundred sesterces (about £5) were thought too p1041 much for a slave girl of indifferent character in the time of Martial (VI.66); and two aurei or solidi were not considered so low a price for a slave girl (ancilla) in the time of Hadrian as to occasion doubt of her having come honestly into the hands of the vendor (Dig.47 tit. 2 s76). We have seen that in the time of Justinian the legal value of female slaves was equal to that of males; this may probably have arisen from the circumstance that the supply of slaves was not so abundant as at earlier times, and that therefore recourse was had to propagation for keeping up the number of slaves. But under the republic and in the early times of the empire this was done to a very limited extent, as it was found cheaper to purchase than to breed slaves.
Slaves were divided into many various classes: the first division was into public or private. The former belonged to the state and public bodies, and their condition was preferable to that of the common slaves. They were less liable to be sold, and under less control than ordinary slaves: they also possessed the privilege of the testamenti factio to the amount of one half of their property (see above, p1039A), which shows that they were regarded in a different light from other slaves. Scipio, therefore, on the taking of Nova Carthago, promised 2000 artizans, who had been taken prisoners and were consequently liable to be sold as common slaves, that they should become public slaves of the Roman people, with a hope of speedy manumission, if they assisted him in the war (Liv. XXVI.47). Public slaves were employed to take care of the public buildings (cf. Tacit. Hist. I.43), and to attend upon magistrates and priests. Thus the Aediles and Quaestors had great numbers of public slaves at their command (Gell. XIII.13), as had also the Triumviri Nocturni, who employed them to extinguish fires by night (Dig. 1 tit. 15 s1). They were also employed as lictors, jailors, executioners, watermen, &c. (cf. Gessner, De Servis Romanorum publicis, Berlin, 1844).
A body of slaves belonging to one person was called familia, but two were not considered sufficient to constitute a familia (Dig. 50 tit. 16 s40). Private slaves were divided into urban (familia urbana) and rustic (familia rustica); but the name of urban was given to those slaves who served in the villa or country residence as well as the town house; so that the words urban and rustic rather characterized the nature of their occupations than the place where they served (Urbana familia et rustica non loco, sed genere distinguitur, Dig. 50 tit. 16 s166). The familia urbana could therefore accompany their master to his villa without being called rustica on account of their remaining in the country. When there was a large number of slaves in one house, they were frequently divided into decuriae (Petron. 47): but independent of this division they were arranged in certain classes, which held a higher or a lower rank according to the nature of their occasion. These classes are: Ordinarii, Vulgares, Mediastini, and Quales-Quales (Dig.47 tit. 10 s15), but it is doubtful whether the Literati or literary slaves were included in any of these classes. Those called Vicarii are spoken of above (p1037B).
Ordinarii seem to have been those slaves who had the superintendence of certain parts of the housekeeping. They were always chosen from those who had the confidence of their master, and they generally had certain slaves under them. To this class the actores, procuratores and dispensatores belong, who occur in the familia rustica as well as the familia urbana, but in the former are almost the same as the villici. They were stewards or bailiffs (Colum. I.7, 8; Plin. Ep. II.19; Cic. ad Att. XI.1; Suet. Galb. 12, Vesp. 22). To the same class also belong the slaves who had the charge of the different stores, and who correspond to our housekeepers and butlers: they are called cellarii, promi, condi, procuratores peni, &c. [Cella.]
Vulgares included the great body of slaves in a house who had to attend to any particular duty in the house, and to minister to the domestic wants of their master. As there were distinct slaves or a distinct slave for almost every department of household economy, as bakers (pistores), cooks (coqui), confectioners (dulciarii), picklers (salmentarii), &c. it is unnecessary to mention these more particularly. This class also included the porters (Ostiarii), the bed-chamber slaves [Cubicularii], the litter-bearers (lecticarii) [Lectica], and all personal attendants of any kind.
Quales-Quales are only mentioned in the Digest (l.c.), and appear to have been the lowest class of slaves, but in what respects they differed from the Mediastini is doubtful: Becker (Gallus, vol. I p125) imagines they may have been a kind of slaves, qualiquali conditione viventes, which however does not give us any idea of their duties or occasions.
Literati, literary slaves, were used for various purposes by their masters, either as readers [Anagnostae], copyists or amanuenses [Librarii, Amanuensis], &c. Complete lists of all the duties performed by slaves are given in the works of Pignorius, Popma, and Blair, referred to at the close of this article.
The treatment of slaves of course varied greatly according to the disposition of their masters, but they appear upon the whole to have been treated with greater severity and cruelty than among the Athenians. Originally the master could use the slave as he pleased: under the republic the law does not seem to have protected the person or life of the slave at all, but the cruelty of masters was to some extent restrained under the empire, as has been stated above (p1036B). The general treatment of slaves, however, was probably little affected by legislative enactments. In early times, when the number of slaves was small, they were treated with more indulgence, and more like members of the family: they joined their masters in offering up prayers and thanksgivings to the gods (Hor. Ep. II.1.142), and partook of their meals in common with their masters (Plut. Coriol. 24), though not at the same table with them, but upon benches (subsellia) placed at the foot of the lectus. But with the increase of numbers and of luxury among masters, the ancient simplicity of manners was changed: a certain quantity of food was allowed them (dimensum or demensum), which was granted to them either monthly (menstruum, Plaut. Stich. I.2.3),º or daily (diarium, Hor. Ep. I.14.41; Mart. XI.108). Their chief food was the corn,º called far, of which either four or five modii were granted them a month (Donat. in Ter. Phorm. I.1.9; Sen. Ep. 80), or one Roman pound (libra) a day (Hor. Sat. I.5.69). They also obtained an allowance of salt and oil; Cato (R. R. 58) allowed his slaves a sextarius of oil a month and a modius of salt a p1042 year. They also got a small quantity of wine with an additional allowance on the Saturnalia and Compitalia (Cato, R. R. 57), and sometimes fruit, but seldom vegetables. Butcher's meat seems to have been hardly ever given them.
Under the republic they were not allowed to serve in the army, though after the battle of Cannae, when the state was in such imminent danger, 8000 slaves were purchased by the state for the army, and subsequently manumitted on account of their bravery (Liv. XXII.57, XXIV.14‑16).g
The offences of slaves were punished with severity and frequently the utmost barbarity. One of the mildest punishments was the removal from the familia urbana to the rustica, where they were obliged to work in chains or fetters (Plaut. Most. I.1.18; Ter. Phorm. II.1.20). They were frequently beaten with sticks or scourged with the whip (of which an account is given under Flagrum), but these were such every-day punishments, that many slaves ceased almost to care for them: thus Chrysalus says (Plaut. Bacchid. II.3.131),
Runaway slaves (fugitivi) and thieves (fures) were branded on the forehead with a mark (stigma), whence they are said to be notati or inscripti (Mart. VIII.75.9). Slaves were also punished by being hung up by their hands with weights suspended to their feet (Plaut. Asin. II.2.37, 38), or by being sent to work in the Ergastulum or Pistrinum. [Ergastulum; Mola.] The carrying of the furca was a very common mode of punishment. [Furca.] The toilet of the Roman ladies was a dreadful ordeal to the female slaves, who were often barbarously punished by their mistresses for the slightest mistake in the arrangement of the hair or a part of the dress (Ovid. Am. I.14.15, Ar. Am. III.235; Mart. II.66; Juv. VI.498, &c.).
Masters might work their slaves as many hours in the day as they pleased, but they usually allowed them holidays on the public festivals. At the festival of Saturnus in particular, special indulgences were granted to all slaves, of which an account is given under Saturnalia.
There was no distinctive dress for slaves. It was once proposed in the senate to give slaves a distinctive costume, but it was rejected since it was considered dangerous to show them their number (Sen. de Clem. I.24). Male slaves were not allowed to wear the toga or bulla, nor females the stola, but otherwise they were dressed nearly in the same way as poor people, in clothes of a dark colour (pullati) and slippers (crepidae) (Vestis servilis, Cic. in Pis. 38).
The rights of burial, however, were not denied to slaves, for as the Romans regarded slavery as an institution of society, death was considered to put an end to the distinction between slaves and freemen. Slaves were sometimes even buried with their masters, and we find funeral inscriptions addressed to the Dii Manes of slaves (Dis Manibus). It seems to have been considered a duty for a master to bury his slave, since we find that a person, who buried the slave of another, had a right of action against the master for the expenses of the funeral (Dig. 11 tit. 7 s31). In 1726 the burial vaults of the slaves belonging to Augustus and Livia were discovered near the Via Appia, where numerous inscriptions were found, which have been illustrated by Bianchini and Gori and give us considerable information respecting the different classes of slaves and their various occupations. Other sepulchres of the same time have been also discovered in the neighbourhood of Rome.
(Pignorius, de Servis et eorum apud Veteres Ministeriis; Popma, de Operis Servorum; Blair, An Enquiry into the State of Slavery amongst the Romans, Edinburgh, 1833; Becker, Gallus, vol. 1 p103, &c.).
a This must have been a problem in Late Antiquity, with every con artist and loafer finding refuge under the cover of Christian practices; these are the gyrovagi — in English, sometimes rendered as gyrovagues — mentioned by St. Benedict (Rule, 1.10: Latin • English).
b The Emancipation Proclamation by the U. S. president Abraham Lincoln was another such enactment; and although it was partly motivated by humanity, it was triggered late in the Civil War by just these considerations of political expediency.
e Reading this 140‑some years later, we will substitute "used car dealers".
f An exact conversion to modern currency is for various reasons quite impossible, both when Smith wrote and now; in U. S. dollars in 2010, we're talking about something like $200,000 to $500,000.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 26 Jan 20