Friday, June 3, 2011

Division between 'slave' and 'free' for the romans.

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QUESTION How rigid was the division between ‘slave’ and ‘free’ for the Romans?

A Romans perspective of a slave was that of a personal possession, and a free person was a citizen with full citizen rights. This idea gives the impression that the division between the two was quite rigid to begin with.

To distinguish the actual division of the two, we would have to look at the slaves role in Roman society, their treatment, work and appearance and how it differs to that of a ‘freeman’ to decipher this.

A slave was the lowest form of class in the Roman Society. The slave was a possession of the slave owner in exactly the same way as his land and cattle. They had no rights and were subject to their owners whims. All masters had power over their slaves (potestas), whatever a slave acquired was acquired by the master, who also had the power of life and death over their slaves.

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“Slavery is an institution of the law common to all peoples, by which, in violation of the law of nature, a person is subjected to the mastery of another”

(Florentinus Justinian Digest I. v. 4)

The slave differed radically from the lowliest serf or the poorest modern proletarian, for the slave was not a citizen at all. An Equite, was the highest form of social class. The Equites had full citizenship and political rights.

Aristotle wrote that a good man should not learn the crafts of their own workers. He believed that this would end the distinction between master and slave. This not only shows there was a distinction between master and slave but is also suggesting that there was a definite division between that of a ‘freeman’ and a ‘slave’. Thus proving that not even a common person would lower themselves to the standard of that of a slave.

Slaves undertook physical labor, as well as, becoming teachers, doctors, architects, and professional men. The people of Rome refused to do work that was thought to be work of a slave

By splitting up the society into two different perspectives of the human race, that being the ‘slave’ and the ‘freeman’, the slaves were to become the backbone of the society, performing the work but in turn having no self benefits for themselves.

Freedom was the only thing that the slaves would keep working for. In order for a slave to achieve freedom, they had to please their owner, simply a fear of cruel punishment if they did not. There might be a hope of ultimate freedom, but that depended entirely on the impulse of the master.

With the treatment that a slave received proved that a normal free citizen would not compare themselves to the status of that of a slave. They always believed that they were to have total control over their own personal slaves, and treat them in a manner that only they saw fit.

In Plautus writing, about the time of the end of the Second Punic War (01 B.C.), gives a picture of an inconsiderate master, and the kind of treatment his slaves were likely to receive.

Ballio, a captious slave owner, is giving orders to his servants. Accusing them of being lazy and of no use to him, he strikes them needlessly. They are whipped even for questioning there master, who in turn complains to them that all they ever do is pilfer, purloin, prig, plunder, drink, eat, and abscond! It is also suggested in this verse that a slave should be worth the money they are bought for.

Cato’s strictness on his slaves shows his deliberate cruel intent towards them. Floggings were performed to the slaves who showed carelessness while preparing or serving a meal. Cato also used the slaves to judge others who had committed an offence worthy of death. If a slave was convicted, they would be put to death.

Deliberate cruelty against slaves was later frowned upon by a society which did recognise slaves as human beings. Romans generally saw the difference between the ‘slave’ and the ‘freeman’ as a difference in status, not as a matter of any racial or cultural superiority and inferiority. The slave’s hatred of their masters increased with the continuing cruelty against them (pari passu) which created a revolt among the slaves upon their masters.

Even though there were some laws made to protect slaves from their unjust masters, the laws themselves were quite callous toward any who revolted or passed themselves off as ‘freemen’. Claudius deprived masters of the power to kill or discard sick slaves randomly. This would only protect a minority of neglected and abused slaves.

“As far as Roman law is concerned, slaves are regarded as nothing, but not so in natural law as well because as far as the law of nature is concerned, all men are equal”

(Ulpian � Justinian Digest L. xvi. )

Hadrian decreed that a master should no longer hold power over a slaves life and death. And Constantine the Great defined the killing of a slave as murder. Laws protected ordinary citizens better than the laws made to protect the slaves. Slaves were even unable to give evidence in a court of law without torture. They were thought so lowly of that the Romans believed that this would be the only method to obtain the truth from them.

Clothing also recognised differences. The tunic that was worn by plebians, herdsmen and slaves, was made from a coarse dark material. The tunic worn by patricians was made from white wool or linen. Free Roman men wore the toga instead of a cloak.

‘As for clothes, give out a tunic of three feet and a half, and a cloak once in two years. When you give a tunic or cloak take back the old ones, to make cassocks out of.”

(Cato the Elder - Agriculture, chapters 56-5)

As farms grew larger owners became more brutal towards agricultural slaves. Cato does not support deliberate cruelty; he simply treats the slaves according to cold regulations, supplying them with only the basic essentials.

Footwear also defined a persons position in society. Patricians wore red sandals with an ornament at the back. Senators wore brown footwear with black straps which wound round the leg to mid-calf, where the straps were tied. Consuls wore white shoes, and soldiers, heavy boots. Where as a slave was to wear only plain wooden shoes, the cheapest footwear available. Their masters were already unhappy with the amount of money to be spent on a slaves up keeping, and so gave them footwear of the least expensive substance.

Cato also describes the rations given to the slaves. Where a free person would have access to the daily requirements of life, such as food clothing and footwear, slaves were reduced to the only food source being harvest droppings. Even the plebians were assisted in times of need with the ‘grain dole’. It was ironic that the distribution of the grain dole to poor Romans depended on slaves.

The division between ‘free’ and ‘slave’ was quite rigid in the Roman Society. The main difference being that the slaves themselves were basically taken for granted. They gained little or no respect at all from the people that needed them to maintain their own civilization.

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