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 p730  Manumissio

Article by George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College
on pp730‑731 of

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

MANUMI′SSIO was the form by which slaves and persons In Mancipii causa were released from those conditions respectively.

There were three modes of effecting a Justa et Legitima Manumissio, namely, Vindicta, Census, and Testamentum, which are enumerated both by Gaius and Ulpian (Frag. I) as existing in their time (compare Cic. Top. 2, and Plautus, Cas. II.8.68). Of these the Manumissio by Vindicta is probably the oldest, and perhaps was once the only mode of manumission. It is mentioned by Livy as in use at an early period (II.5), and indeed he states that some persons refer the origin of the Vindicta to the event there related, and derive its name from Vindicius; the latter part, at least, of the supposition is of no value.

The ceremony of the Manumissio by the Vindicta was as follows:— The master brought his slave before the magistratus, and stated the grounds (causa) of the intended manumission. The lictor of the magistratus laid a rod (festuca) on the head of the slave, accompanied with certain formal words, in which he declared that he was a free man ex Jure Quiritium, that is, "vindicavit in libertatem." The master in the meantime held the slave, and after he had pronounced the words "hunc hominem liberum volo," he turned him round (momento turbinis exit Marcus Dama, Persius, Sat. V.78)​a and let him go (emisit e manu, or misit manu, Plaut. Capt. II.3.48), whence the general name of the act of manumission. The magistratus then declared him to be free, in reference to which Cicero (ad Att. VII.2) seems to use the word "addicere." The word Vindicta itself, which is probably the res vindicata, is used for festuca by Horace (Sat. II.7.76). Plautus (Mil. Glor. IV.1.15) uses festuca.

It seems highly probable that this form of manumissio was framed after the analogy of the In jure vindicationes (Gaius, IV.16); and that the lictor in the case of manumission represented the opposite claimant in the vindicatio (Unterholzner, Von den Formen der Manumissio per Vindictam und Emancipatio, Zeitschrift, vol. II p139).

As for the explanation of the word Vindicta see Vindiciae and Vindicatio.​b

The manumissio by the Census is thus briefly described by Ulpian: "Slaves were formerly manumitted by census, when at the lustral census (lustrali censu) at Rome they gave in their census (some read nomen instead of census) at the bidding of their masters." Persons In mancipio might also obtain their manumission in this way (Gaius, I.140). The slave must of course have had a sufficient Peculium, or the master must have given him property.

In the absence of decisive testimony as to the origin of these two modes of manumissio, modern writers indulge themselves in a variety of conjectures. It may be true that originally the manumission by Vindicta only gave libertas and not civitas; but this opinion is not provable. It may easily be allowed that in the earliest period the civitas could only be conferred by the sovereign power, and that therefore there could be no effectual manumission except by the same power. But the form of the Vindicta itself supposes, not that the person manumitted was a slave, but that he was a free person, against whose freedom his master made a claim. The proceeding before the magistratus was in form an assertion of the slave's freedom (manu asserere liberali causa, Plaut. Poen. IV.2.83, &c.), to which the owner made no defence, but he let him go as a free man. The proceeding then resembles the In Jure Cessio, and was in fact a fictitious suit in which freedom (libertas) was the matter in issue. It followed as a consequence of the fiction, that when the magistratus pronounced in favour of freedom Ex jure Quiritium, there could be no dispute about the Civitas.

In the case of the Census the slave was registered as a citizen with his master's consent. The assumption that the Vindicta must have originally preceded the Census, for which there is no evidence at all, is inconsistent with the nature of the proceeding, which was a registration of the slave, with his master's consent, as a citizen. A question might arise whether he should be considered free immediately on being entered on the censor's roll, or not until the lustrum was celebrated (Cic. de Or. I.40); and this was a matter of some importance, for his acquisitions were only his own from the time when he became a free man.

The law of the Twelve Tables confirmed freedom which was given by will (testamentum). Freedom (libertas) might be given either directo, that is, as a legacy, or by way of fideicommissum. The slave who was made free directo, was called orcinus libertus (or horcinus, as in Ulp. Frag.),º for the same reason perhaps that certain senators were called Orcini (Sueton. Octav. 35). He who received his libertas by way of fideicommissum, was not the libertus of the testator, but of the person who was requested to manumit him (manumissor): if the heres, who was requested to manumit, refused, he might be compelled to manumit on application being made to the proper authority. Libertas might be given by fideicommissum to a slave of the testator, of his heres, or of his legatee, and also to the slave of any other person (extraneus). In case of libertas being thus given to the slave of any other person, the gift of libertas was extinguished, if the owner would not sell the slave at a fair price. A slave who was made conditionally free by testament, was called Statu liber, and he was the slave of the heres until the condition was fulfilled If a Statu liber was sold by the heres, or if the owner­ship of him was acquired by usucapion, he had still the benefit of the condition: this provision was contained in the Law of the Twelve Tables. If a slave was made free and heres by the testator's will, on the death of the testator he became both free and heres, whether he wished it or not (Gaius, II.153; Ulp. Frag. XXII.11). [Heres.]

A manumission by adoption is spoken of, but nothing is known of it (Gell. V.19; Inst. 1 tit. 11 s12).

The Lex Aelia Sentia laid various restrictions on manumission [Lex Aelia Sentia], particularly as to slaves under thirty years of age. The ceremony of manumitting slaves above thirty years of age had become very simple in the time of Gaius (Gaius, I.20): it  p731 might be in the public road (in transitu) as when the praetor or proconsul was going to the bath or the theatre. It was not the place which determined the validity of such an act, but it was the circumstance of its being done before a competent authority.

The Lex Furia or Fusia Canina fixed limits to the number of slaves who could be manumitted by will. The number allowed was a half, one third, one fourth, and one fifth of the whole number that the testator possessed, according to a scale fixed by the lex. As its provisions only applied to cases where a man had more than two slaves, the owner of one slave or two slaves was not affected by this lex. It also provided that the slaves to whom freedom was given, should be named. This lex only applied to manumission by testament. It was passed about A.D. 7, and several senatusconsulta were made to prevent evasions of it (Suet. Octav. 40; Gaius, I.42‑46). This lex was repealed by Justinian (Cod. 5 tit. 3 De lege Fus. Can. tollenda).

A form of manumission "inter amicos" is alluded to by Gaius. This was in fact no legal manumission, but it was a mere expression of the master's wish, which would have been sufficient in the absence of all positive law. This might be done by inviting the slave to table, writing him a letter, or in any other less formal way. It is stated that originally such a gift of freedom could be recalled, as to which there can be no doubt, as it was not legal freedom; but ultimately the praetor took persons who had been made free in this manner under his protection, and the Lex Junia Norbana gave them the status called Latinitas [Lex Junia Norbana; Latini.]

Manumissio sacrorum causa is sometimes mentioned as a kind of manumission, whereas the words Sacrorum causa point rather to the grounds of the manumission: the form might be the usual form (Festus, s.v. Manumitti, Puri; Savigny, Zeitschrift, vol. III p402).

Besides the due observance of the legal forms, it was necessary in order to effect a complete manumission that the manumissor should have the Quiritarian owner­ship of the slave. If the slave was merely In bonis, he only became a Latinus by manumission. A woman in tutela, and a pupillus or pupilla could not manumit. If several persons were joint owners (socii) of a slave, and one of them manumitted the slave in such form as would have effected complete manumission, if the slave had been the sole property of the manumissor, such manumissor lost his share in the slave which accrued to the other joint owner or joint owners. Justinian enacted that if only one joint owner was willing to manumit a slave, the others might be compelled to manumit on receiving the price fixed by law for their shares. If one person had the ususfructus and another the property of a slave, and the slave was manumitted by him who had the property, he did not become free till the ususfructus had expired: in the meantime, however, he had no legal owner (dominus).

The act of manumission established the relation of Patronus and Libertus between the manumissor and the manumitted. [Libertus.] When manumitted by a citizen, the Libertus took the praenomen and the gentile name of the manumissor, and became in a sense a member of the Gens of his patron. To these two names he added some other name as a cognomen, either some name by which he was previously known, or some name assumed on the occasion: this we find the names L. Cornelius Chrysogonus, M. Tullius Tiro, P. Terentius Afer, and other like names. If he was manumitted by the state as a Servus publicus, he received the civitas and a praenomen and a gentile name, or he took that of the magistratus before whom he was manumitted. The slave also assumed the toga or dress of a Roman citizen, shaved his head and put on a pileus: this last circumstance explains the expression "servos ad pileum vocare" (Liv. XXIV.32), which means to invite the slaves to join in some civil disturbance by promising them liberty. The relation between a Patronus and Libertus is stated under Patronus.

At the time when Gaius wrote, the peculiar rights of Roman citizens were of less importance than they had been under the republic. He states that all slaves who were manumitted in the proper form and under the proper legal conditions, became complete Roman citizens. But this could not have been so in the earliest ages. The liberti of the plebeians, for instance, before their masters obtained the honores, could not be in a better condition than those who manumitted them, and their masters had not then the complete civitas. The want of ingenuitas also affected their status; but this continued to be the case even under the empire. [Ingenui.]

According to Dionysius (IV.22), Servius Tullius placed the libertini in the four Urbanae Tribus. In B.C. 311, the censor Appius Claudius gave the libertini a place in all the tribes (Plut. Poplicol. 7; Liv. IX.46; Diod. XX.36). In the year B.C. 304, they were again placed in the four tribus urbanae (Liv. IX.46); but it seems that the libertini did not keep to their tribus, for in B.C. 220 they were again placed in the four urbanae tribus (Liv. Epit. XX). In the censor­ship of Tiberius Gracchus, B.C. 169, they were placed in one of the tribus urbanae determined by lot (Liv. XLV.15; compare Dionys. IV.22), or as Cicero (de Or. I.9) expresses it, the father of Tiberius and Caius Sempronii transferred the libertini (nutu atque verbo) into the tribus urbanae. Subsequently by a law of Aemilius Scaurus, about B.C. 116, they were restored to the four city tribes, and this remained their condition to the end of the republic, though various attempts were made to give them a better suffrage. As to the attempt of the tribune, C. Manilius B.C. 58, to give the libertini votes in all the tribes, see Dion Cassius (XXXVI.25), and the note of Reimarus. As to the distribution of the libertini in the tribus, see Becker, Handbuch der Röm. Alterthümer.

A tax was levied on manumission by a Lex ManliaB.C. 357: it consisted of the twentieth part of the value of the slave, hence called Vicesima (Liv. VII.16, XXVII.10; Cic. ad Att. II.16).

As to Manumissio, see Becker, Handbuch der Röm. Alterthümer, 2te Th. 1ste Abth.; (Dig. 40 1 De Manumissionibus).

Thayer's Notes:

a See also Appian, B. Civ. IV.135.

b For a fanciful etymology, which appears to have been at least nominally believed in Antiquity, see Plut. Publicola VII.5.

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