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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Roman Slavery

BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time, Roman Slavery

"We have very little evidence... from the slaves that really tells us what they did and how they undertook that task and what it meant to them. Now, however, we have a lot of funerary evidence where slaves recalled their job title and scholars have always argued this means that labor means something to them. It's important for them to be seen in that role...

They often think about female slaves as breeding stock, essentially as a source of future slaves... there's a rather chilling part of Roman law that concerns, essentially the circumstances under which you can get a refund for a defective product. And there's a long section of what counts as a defect in a slave... if you were to purchase a slave woman and discovered that she was barren, that does count as a defect and you would be allowed to claim a refund if you hadn't been told this in advance. It's clear they treat the slave population as something that is a resource that could reproduce itself...

'Were they bothered that there were slaves?'...

'There is some evidence that people had hesitations of how to treat, but not in the fundamental way of getting rid of slavery... Cato... says if you have a farmstead, when you hold an auction sell any old and sickly slave. Now we see later that another writer Plutarch, a few centuries later, says you wouldn't do this to your dog. So there was clearly a dispute of how you handle your slaves, but there was no fundamental issue with it.'...

This was a contented part of the population. This was comparatively serene... the very, very, very few slave revolts over centuries, only one of real significance, Spartacus, seems to confirm that...

What proportion of slaves could hope to be freed and after how long? Because different answers to that question would give us a radically different sense of what the slave experience actually was. There were several bits of evidence that suggest that the answers might be a large proportion and quite early...

We don't really want to believe that. But I think it is important to recognize them. So one piece of evidence is the extraordinary representation of ex-slaves in tombstones. A second example would be to go back to our census documents in the Province of Egypt, which contain about 100 slaves. It's quite striking in that among the 100 slaves I think there is not a single male slave over the age of 35 or 30. And not a single female over the age of 45. Why? Because there were none left or because they'd been freed? And there's various anecdotal evidence that manumission was quite common. There's a famous and much disputed passage of Cicero where he's trying to mobilize his fellow Senators to rebel against Mark Anthony. Where he says, we, the people of Rome, we have been slaves for six years. Longer than a frugal and hardworking slave might expect to remain a slave before winning his freedom...

'Aristotle said that slaves were, as it was, born and not made... that permeated right through to the Romans'...

'The theory of natural slavery... you get both in the Roman side. You get clear evidence for the Romans recognizing the slave's humanity, and you get clear for the Romans engaging in the absolute dehumanization of the slave, in what we also call the animalisation of the slave... Plutarch interprets Cato's dictum to sell an old and sickly slave as treating that person like a dog. And we find this repeatedly in our sources. We find slaves, for instance, being downgraded by being regarded as lazy, as idle, as sleepy all the time, which goes hand in hand with the citizen being alert and bright... So this is a means of also defining what the citizen is'...

Ed: A Christian friend disputed the next bit so I retranscribed the whole bit

From 36:55:

Melvyn Bragg: 'In the third century, fourth century AD, Romans were told that they had to be Christians... how did the idea of slavery or did it carry on into Christianity at the time and afterwards?'

Myles Lavan: 'So we know the early Christian communities counted many slaves and ex slaves among their members which is probably not specifically an issue about Christianity, but perhaps is typical of *something* Roman society, where the slaves, the freed and the freeborn all rubbed shoulders together and it's clear that the Christian message, like, like much Greco-Roman philosophy contained a message of universalism that might have developed into a critique of slavery and there were certainly some early Christian thinkers who toyed with idea that slavery was not consistent with God's message, but it seems that the Christian community as a whole very quickly accommodated itself to the reality of slavery.

We can see the Christians making concessions to the rights of masters. There's a debate about whether, if a slave wants to be baptized, whether you can baptize him just like that or whether you need the master's permission and there a debate about that, but it seems that the dominant position is that the master's permission is required for the sale of baptized which is a very big concession to the right of a master over his slave.

The other way in which Christianity naturalizes or legitimises slaveries, and the way it appropriates the relations between masters and slaves, is actually the paradigm of the Christian's relationship to God. And so for Christian writers like Paul, the idea of being slave to God or Christ, doulos *something* Greek is a fundamental metaphor for understanding the Christian's relationship to God. And so the New Testament is pervaded by the language of slavery, often obscured in English translations by the choice to translate the Greek word doulos as servant whereas actually it means slave and as soon as Christianity looks to slavery as a paradigm for this most important relationship in a Christian's life, therefore legitimises that master-slave relationship as part of the fundamental nature of the world'

MB: 'And very, very briefly you suggest that this ripples through to the Holy Roman Empire and keep inside the Roman Catholic Church. And other-'

ML: 'So slavery is legitimated both in Roman law which has a huge influence, legacy and also in Christianity. Christianity very early accommodates itself to the rights of masters.'"
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