What were the main sources of slavery

Slavery in antiquity and Seneca's point of view in his 47th letter


1. Aspects of research and the historical classification of slavery

2. Ancient slavery
2.1 Origin of ancient slavery
2.2 Origin of the slaves
2.3 The function, meaning and nature of slavery
2.4 Legal status of slaves
2.5 Aspect of the releases
2.6 Living conditions and treatment of slaves
2.6.1 Teaching methods of masters and examples of discrimination against slaves
2.6.2 Slaves in the city In the economic area In the spiritual realm
2.6.3 Slaves in the countryside
2.7 Resistance forms
2.7.1 Aspect of the slave wars
2.7.2 Other forms of resistance
2.8 Religion and Cults of the Slaves
2.9 Fall of Slavery
2.9.1 Influence of Christianity
2.9.2 Mentality of the population and the legislative aspect
2.9.3 Economic reasons

3. Seneca's point of view in his 47th letter
3.1 Slavery in Seneca's time
3.2 Seneca's point of view based on his 47th letter

4. Influence and meaning of the letter for antiquity and beyond

5. Appendix

6. Bibliography

1. Aspects of research and the historical classification of slavery

Slavery in the ancient world had preoccupied many researchers and historians since the 18th century. It was at this point that the Enlightenment and the associated discovery of the idea of ​​freedom began. In discussions they presented the different aspects and viewpoints of ancient slavery. Its various forms already shaped societies from the ancient Orient to the Hellenistic states and influenced the Roman Empire. In the historical classification one can speak of a gradual sequence of ancient slavery, serfdom in the Middle Ages and modern wage labor. In Rome it developed around the 3rd century BC. And existed there for a long time until the 9th century. But in order to gain precise, objective knowledge about them, one must not condemn them from our point of view, but must keep the historical distance and take the relevant circumstances into account. However, there is agreement that, due to its complexity and diversity, it represented a fundamental structure for antiquity, even if it has different meanings in the individual epochs and areas.

2. Ancient slavery

2.1 Origin of ancient slavery

The emergence and the various forms of slave labor go back deeply to the origins of mankind. It always occurs where power and wealth are limited to a small part of the population. Another prerequisite is the oversupply of work, which ultimately necessitates additional workers. The ruling class obtained them by force and used them for their own ends. The one-sided relationship of violence was legalized by them, which laid the basis for abuse of power and for the exploitation of slaves. Such forced labor could now take different forms, e.g. debt bondage, serfdom, bondage, clientele system or merchant slavery. Slavery represents the worst kind of oppression. In ancient times, however, free wage labor was of course never completely abolished, but continued to exist alongside it.

However, so that a firmly established institutional system of slavery could develop from dependent wage labor, so that antiquity even received the controversial name of the slave-owning society, other conditions are required. The transition to this did not happen immediately, of course, but took place slowly and at different levels of society. Important reasons were the high demand for labor, as a structural change to large-scale agriculture began, and the lack of dependent wage workers within society. Slavery, which occurred in Greece in the 6th century BC, in Rome around the 3rd century BC. BC, these two conditions were met. After the peasants who were initially without possessions had gained their personal freedom and their right to own the land, they also gained citizenship and membership of the community of the polis. This progressive emancipation of the clients had the consequence that these older forms of forced labor were no longer available to the ruling class. Therefore, they felt compelled to bring in workers outside of society. They could not employ farmers and artisans, as free citizens would hardly work voluntarily for the benefit of another man. Due to the legal position of the unfree, slavery also offered considerable advantages for the skaven owner, which I will go into later. On the parceled out large estates, the need for labor could only be met with the help of slaves. They gradually went over to using slave labor to an ever increasing extent, also in the city. The large number of slaves available to them were also responsible for this.

2.2 Origin of the slaves

The most important source of supply for slaves were the prisoners of war, captured by constant wars and conquests in Africa, Greece and Asia Minor. In no case should one assume that this was the reason or the purpose for these wars. Rather, it was a form of political punishment and deterrence. Especially the expansion of the Roman Empire into the Hellenistic East since the 3rd century BC. brought hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war as slaves in the west to Italy and the Roman provinces, where the latifundia economy created an increasing demand for slaves. Many of these mass slavings also took place during the Punic Wars. The first of them in 242 BC. After the conquest of Ariginent, 25,000 people were enslaved and sold to Italy. The effect of the large supply can be seen, among other things, in the low market prices for slaves. The connection between the heyday of slavery, i.e. the late republic or early imperial era, and the enormous territorial expansion that Rome had around the same time can be traced back to this. For the Greeks, the main source of supplies for slaves was the prisoners of war, who were won in the wars with the barbarians in the east and northeast. The possibility of mass acquisition of slaves was a crucial element in the emergence, maintenance and spread of slavery in Roman society. It formed the basis for large estates.

Organized kidnapping, a profitable business run by the pirates, was also used to obtain slaves. Some of them also came from the underdeveloped zones and the fringes of the Mediterranean. The traders did not care about the origin of the slaves. Only when the person concerned could prove that he was a free citizen was he released again. But most of them found this very difficult.

Sometimes it even happened that children were sold into slavery by their parents or were abandoned because of an emergency. The role of debt bondage in which indebted non-Romans became dependent, on the other hand, played only a minor role and lost since the end of the 4th century BC. In importance.

Births from slave families were a special source. In contrast to other methods of slave acquisition, it was possible here to train and specialize slave children "vernae" at an early age. Since they never knew freedom, it was easier to integrate them into the household.

Legitimacy for slavery, which provided legal permission for this type of deprivation of liberty, was easy to enforce in Rome. For the most part, they were defeated enemies of Rome who were considered barbarians. In the “jus gentium” the validity of slavery was recognized and regarded as a natural given.

2.3 Significance, function and nature of slavery

Just as different as their origins were, the slaves were also used in very different areas, for example at the Roman imperial court, as silver mine slaves in Laureion, as palace slaves or as state police officers in Athens. This also gives rise to the complexity and diversity of ancient slavery. Friedrich Engels described their importance for antiquity and beyond as follows: “Without slavery there would be no Greek state, no Greek art and science; without slavery there would be no Roman empire, but also no modern Europe without the basis of Greek and Roman Empire.1 Without slavery, the economic system, social conditions, state administration and intellectual life in antiquity would have been inconceivable. While free citizens dominated small-scale agricultural and urban farms, slaves dominated large-scale manufacturing operations in both rural and urban areas. As a result, they formed the main source of income for the ruling class and generated most of their income. Without slave labor, any progress, both economically and culturally, would hardly have been possible. The upper class was interested in the acquisition and consumption of goods, but left the manual labor and its production to the lower class, i.e. the wage laborers and the slaves. The extent of slavery becomes particularly clear when one looks at a few numerical examples. It is roughly estimated that 30% to 35% of the population in Athens have consisted of slaves over a long period of time. During the imperial era, for example, a prefect owned 400 slaves in his town house alone.2

The expansion of the commercial enterprises and the cultivation of the conquered areas would hardly have been possible through the free population alone. Large amounts of additional labor were also necessary for the latifundia economy, since the number of free wage laborers alone was not enough. It played an important role in the agrarian economy of the Roman Empire in Italy and Spain. There, the need for small tenants on the large estates could only be met with slaves. They were also used in large numbers in large-scale pasture farming. Female slaves, on the other hand, who were called concubines, mostly did domestic work. Paradoxically, slaves themselves belonged to the oppressors' power apparatus. They were used for tasks that served to secure rule and maintain the existing social and political order. In classical Athens, for example, 300 Scythian archers were bought after the victory over the Persians and used as police guards on the market square and Areopagus. Imperial slaves were also active in state administration or became confidants of individual slave owners, such as overseers or administrators. Slaves also made up the majority of those who involuntarily took part in gladiatorial fights. The circus arenas were filled with 1200-1500 dead every day, where the cruel games for the entertainment of the population took place. Slaves were also used as an emergency measure in the Punic Wars and other battles, such as the Battle of Marathon. Their arming and recruitment eventually became essential, especially in civil wars. Prisoners of war, who represented the most dangerous part, were deployed wherever strict and efficient surveillance was guaranteed, such as gladiator schools, work in mines, on country estates or in the field of house and road construction. Usually there were no jobs reserved for the slave. He not only did low-level jobs, but also raised his master's son as an educator, ran large companies as managing director or worked as a doctor. In addition, a high number of slaves in private households represented social prestige for the master. Therefore, slaves often functioned as objects of prestige that are supposed to demonstrate the wealth and luxury of their owners in society.

However, the slave always had the quality of serving another person. Its position as property gave slave owners the advantage of having greater control over them. With their greater freedom of action, they were able to use their slaves more flexibly and get rid of unwanted workers, as replacements were quickly available. The violent deprivation of liberty of innocents, their legitimized submission and degradation to private property were important characteristics of slavery.

2.4 Legal status of slaves

Due to the different areas of application, the slaves did not form a separate class or stratum. Their only common feature was their legal position within society. According to this, they were referred to as property "res" as well as animals and devices. Despite their human qualities, they were considered to be the property of other people's “dominium”. Aristotle defined a slave as a person who, by nature, does not belong to himself but to someone else and is therefore a tool that serves to act.3 Accordingly, death or injury to a slave was considered property damage. The consequences were the loss of all control over his work, his person and his personal life. He thus became completely dependent on his master. Because of the lack of legal protection, the slaves were also not protected from abuse of any kind. In general, they had neither political nor civil rights, were not allowed to take part in popular assemblies and were not allowed to hold electoral offices. This happened without a time limit and was therefore also passed on to the children and grandchildren. But it was quite possible that slaves could build up a fortune “peculium”. Although they were refused permission to enter into a legally recognized marriage, they could enter into a marriage-like community “contubernium”, provided that this was granted by the slave owner. The Lord was in turn able to revoke such a family bond and tear the family apart by selling it. This practice was later banned in the interests of humanity. The difference between a free and a slave basically consisted in the fact that, unlike the free, the slave was physically liable for all offenses. Corporal punishment, public or private, was only used against slaves, with exceptions such as high treason of a soldier being possible.

Since the slave was no longer a legal person, the master was responsible for the offenses of his slave, regardless of whether he initiated it himself or knew nothing about it. The Romans called this noxal liability. This meant that someone could make a claim against his master in the event of injury or damage caused by a slave, his owned son, or one of his animals.4 This regulation was created at an early stage and was laid down in the Twelve Tables Act. The state, on the other hand, could not punish a citizen who had no criminal intent, or a slave, because this was damage to property. The state was responsible for its protection. The solution to the problem was now that the slave was turned over to the master for punishment. The gentleman was finally able to keep this prisoner in work barracks, the so-called "ergastulum", and still continue to exploit his labor.

A special feature was the fact that slaves were only allowed to testify in court under torture, whereby exceptional cases occurred mainly in commercial law. However, no precise information can be given about the frequency with which this practice is applied.

The inferiority and discrimination of slaves with regard to their legal position is also evident in the Lex Aquilla. It stipulates that in the event of the unlawful killing of a foreign slave or a four-footed animal, the owner is to be reimbursed for as much money as the maximum price of it in that year. This also expresses equality with animals. This disenfranchisement even went so far that the murder of a slave by his master, based on the father's right to kill his son, was only criminalized under Emperor Constantine.

2.5 Aspect of the releases

However, through releases, which were often offered by slave owners as an incentive for greater performance, the slave regained his freedom, even if mostly only partially. In Rome he got part of the civil rights. The slave could sometimes persuade the master himself to release him, he could buy himself free or be bought free by a third party. An important reason for a master to release his slave could, apart from gratitude for his service, be that he wanted to evade the duty of old-age care. In the economy, in the state and in cultural life, a slave could then act more easily and more effectively. At the same time, however, through legal and moral ties, they remained dependent on the Patronus, who exercised protective power over them.

As “clientes”, they owed payments to them as well.After a release, nothing stood in the way of social advancement. Now there was still the possibility of starting a family. All children born after a release were free. However, those who were born before that remained slaves. Parents often had to take on the heavy burden of leaving their children in captivity. Columella, who lived around the 1st century AD, also assured us. Lived that he usually released a slave from work when she was the mother of three children and given her freedom to give birth to more children.5 Sons of such freedmen received insults and insults from the population, but a generation later they were finally fully integrated into society. For them, in contrast to the slaves in America, it was a decisive advantage that they hardly differed from the others by their skin color. Sometimes it happened, however, that such former slaves now treated their own unfree with excessive brutality in order to deny their own origin.

2.6 Living conditions and treatment of slaves

2.6.1 Teaching methods of masters and examples of discrimination against slaves

This legal position and being at the mercy of the master already allow conclusions to be drawn about the living conditions and the treatment of the slaves. In doing so, however, the social hierarchy within slavery and the individual attitude of the master towards dealing with his slaves must be taken into account. A capable slave, who shone through appropriate behavior and good leadership, was offered rewards such as permission to start a family, career opportunities or the strongest attraction, release. The latter was the goal of every slave and the hope for it made their fate bearable for many. In general, there was a high probability of being released as a slave at some point in life. So the slave owner's method was deliberate and planned. On the one hand, they offered them certain privileges if they performed well, but on the other hand they were threatened with cruel and harsh punishment for laziness, insubordination or rebellion, such as the castration of a slave, which was forbidden at a later date. This can be seen as a common hallmark of slavery.

One can now imagine what great psychological stress the constant knowledge of the possible sale and the awareness of the lack of freedom meant for the individual. In addition, the Lord was able to dispose of them without restriction due to their legal position, also in sexual terms. This also represented a heavy emotional burden. Sexual abuse and the satisfaction of the master or mistress by a servant was very common in the world at that time. Seneca put it this way: "unchastity is a crime for the freeborn, a compulsion for the slave and an obligation for the freedman."6 Trimalchio also provides information on how he has satisfied his mistress on command. For some, however, this could certainly also mean opportunities for advancement to wealth and power. For example, it was possible that a concubine became the wife of the Lord or that a slave became a co-heir

Another common method of degrading their human dignity was to address one's male slaves, regardless of their age, as “pais” in Greek or “puer” in Latin. This designation as a boy hurt the slave deeply and was largely hated. There is also no need to explain how much a slave of a brutal master could suffer from his outbursts of emotion and anger, the arbitrary measures, harassment and humiliation and the everyday violation of his human dignity. The bare and show at the slave market, in which the unfree wore a plaque around his neck stating his nationality, illnesses and other defects, he had to endure just as much as beatings, kicks or the withdrawal of food. However, if the atrocities exceeded a certain level, the state stepped in and admonished the slave owner, according to a law from the 2nd century AD.

There were other, more positive aspects to the life of an urban slave. A personal and intimate relationship with the gentleman was able to break through the legal and class barriers and create an almost friendly and confidential coexistence. So it happened, though very rarely, that loyal slaves saved their master's life. A good treatment of the unfree also offered the slave owner greater advantages, since he then performed better. By losing a worker due to excessive demands, flight or death of the slave, the slave owner only harmed himself. Particularly economically weak slave owners needed any manpower. On the other hand, however, it was easy for a wealthy master equipped with a large number of slaves to find replacements.

2.6.2 Slaves in the city In the field of economy

A separate group of urban slaves formed the so-called independent economists. Often they lived better than free wage laborers and were only formally subject to the Lord. They managed their own shop or workshop independently, were able to do business in their own name and had the opportunity to live together with their wives and children in a marriage-like community. Just like free men with whom they shared their day-to-day work, they too owned a fortune and managed it themselves. In addition, they were often shared in the profit, which promoted their pursuit of achievement. However, they still had to pay a contractual pension to their master. Some of them were loaned out to other employers, from whom they received wages like their freelance colleagues. But her master collected this salary. Free and slaves worked together without prejudice, for example when building temples. In contrast to free wage laborers, a non-free man did not have to worry about the safety or durability of his work, as long as he had a decent master. It therefore happened that the release of such socially better-off and respected slaves often had no effect on their living conditions. Yet many of them hoped for freedom and prosperity. Their independence also brought advantages for the slave owner, so that he achieved higher profits through better qualified and independently working slaves in his own shop, workshop, practice, bank or school. Outwardly there was just as little difference between a slave and a free man. Only the wearing of the toga, which marked the full Roman citizen, was forbidden to them.

Slaves were therefore fully integrated into their working world and even had access to cults and leisure activities. Sometimes they lived in abundance and led a luxury life. So the slave Musicus, the tax officer of the Emperor Tiberius and a loyal confidante of him, procured himself 16 slaves who served under him. Some even made it a habit to pass the time with dice games, pubs or brothels. In fact, the slaves brutally uprooted from their homeland remained ethnic and cultural strangers and were therefore never fully accepted into society. For the state, this had the advantage that there was little danger of socialization with opponents of the regime in its own population. It is believed that this social exclusion can be traced back to the fear of acts of revenge and the xenophobia of the time. In the spiritual realm

Intellectually gifted people represent another category of slaves. An astonishingly large proportion of the elite of the spiritual world in antiquity consisted of slaves or former slaves, for example the poet Livius, the grammarian Lutacius Daphnis or the historian Epicadus. There were also slaves among philosophers, doctors, rhetoricians, architects, lawyers, engineers and bankers. Most of them came from the Greek East, where they had already received an education in their respective specialty as free citizens before they came to Rome. There was strong demand for these Greek-speaking, educated slaves. Wealthy slave owners used them to secure and enforce their own interests in certain elite professions. So the slaves also took over the duties of the master in politics and state administration. In contrast, the slaves themselves tried to overcome and forget their fate and the hardship of being a slave through intellectual achievements. In the case of doctors, the proportion of slaves and freedmen was even more than ten times as high as that of the freeborn. Many of them also worked as private tutors. A very personal and close relationship often developed between a slave, who served as such in the household, and his protégé, although the latter was of course later able to become his master. Above all, through the spiritual training of the slaves, they now had the opportunity to gain great influence and power, especially in cultural terms. In larger houses they even hired their own “paedagogus puerorum” to train the servants. But they did not use their education to overthrow the system through a violent revolution. Rather, their achievements were recognized by their masters, who belonged to the upper class, and after a while they were given their freedom. This reduced the risk of resistance, since without spiritual guidance no great slave uprisings could develop. Characterized by the performance-based thinking that could give them freedom, the slaves even went over to adopting the prevailing social order and supporting the system.

2.6.3 Slaves in the countryside

While releases were common in the city, this was rare in the country. But that is only one aspect of the strong contrast between the privileged, urban unfree and the heavily oppressed in the country. This so-called urban-rural divide is an important structural element of ancient slavery. It is based on the different economic interests of the Lord. In the city he needed independent, hardworking and intelligent employees, while in the country, where the majority of the slaves worked, physical strength was particularly important. Hard work and cruel punishment awaited the slaves there. If they were not willing to work, they were locked up in the workhouse, the so-called “egastulum”. These had a similar function to prisons. Those who were suspected of fleeing, who were work-shy or rebellious, were chained in their free time. Although Emperor Hadrian passed a law to close the workhouses, it was still unclear whether it would be observed. The slaves also suffered from the harsh living conditions in mines and often died after a while. Apuleius reported the following about unfree workers in a flour mill: “The whole skin was marked with blue welts ... so dressed that the bones could be seen through the rags! The forehead drawn, the head half-shaved, the feet ringed ... disfigured by ghost blessing, the songs of smoke and haze in the pitch blackness ignited to the point of clouding the eyesight; "7 Rural slaves were therefore quick to be recruited for a civil war or for the slave revolts, in contrast to those in the city. It didn't matter which side they were on, as neither wanted to abolish slavery. Many of the slaves tried to escape from slavery and their personal fate and to take revenge through plundering. For this purpose, they formed small bands of robbers, which, however, if they were discovered, resulted in cruel punishments. In the pasture industry, on the other hand, the shepherd slaves, often armed to protect themselves from robbers and wild animals, were fairly independent of their masters and had little contact with them. However, they sometimes had to take care of their food and clothing themselves. In this regard, the gentlemen accepted certain security risks.

2.7 Resistance forms

2.7.1 Aspect of the slave wars

The depicted poor living conditions and the simultaneous neglect of the duty of supervision certainly favored the slave wars. A peculiarity of these was that they all occurred in an extremely short period of time, from about 140 to 70 BC. BC, the final phase of the Roman Republic and the simultaneous climax of slavery. Especially Sicily and Italy were affected by these wars. But other reasons are also responsible. The enslavement of such large numbers of people and the simultaneous political and social crisis in which the state found itself were just as crucial. Only such instability in one's own system could make it possible. Another prerequisite was that many of the slaves came from the same areas, namely Syria and Asia Minor, which made it easier for them to show solidarity. Among them were also educated unfree people, so that spiritual leadership of the uprising was possible. Religious and national motives also played a role. The aims of the uprisings, however, were not the complete abolition of slavery, but the attainment of individual freedom and the change of personal fate. They only wanted to reverse the prevailing power relations and not fight the institution itself. A system without slave labor was as unthinkable for them as it was for the rest of society. The focus was more on revenge on their masters and the return to their homeland. The number of unfree people taking part was only very small compared to the total population. Even the city slaves rejected an alliance with the shepherd slaves because they wanted to achieve freedom in a legal way. The different life situations are responsible for this. As a result, not a single one of the three great slave wars was successful. The last uprising, which appeared to be successful at first, led by the well-known gladiator fighter Spartakus, which gathered around 120,000 followers, was in 71 BC. Dejected. As a punishment and as a deterrent for the others, 6,000 crucified slaves were placed along the road from Capua to Rome.

2.7.2 Other forms of resistance

Another way to escape slavery was of course to flee. Wearing chains, metal collars and slave tags should make this difficult and prevent it. If a slave managed to escape anyway, the master usually did everything in his power to recapture him. The usual methods were consulting oracles, offering public rewards, or involving public authorities. Sometimes even professional slavers "fugativii" were used by slave owners. In addition, the problem arose for a fugitive slave that it was difficult for him to find refuge. It was a punishable offense to offer this shelter. Shepherds and slaves in agriculture in particular had the opportunity to retreat to inaccessible areas and join small bands of robbers. Such outlawed groups, which included free ones, were quite common. Exact information on how many slaves were actually there is difficult to make.

There is also little evidence of acts of sabotage, such as arson or theft, which suggests that this rarely occurred. The murder of a master by a slave was also only an exception. It was reported that the city prefect Pedanius Secundus was murdered in his bedchamber by one of his slaves. According to an old custom, all 400 slaves who lived under his roof were then executed. Even after protests by the plebs, the Senate carried out the sentence after one session.8 The rebellion of the people, who did not want a change in the law, but nevertheless felt the injustice of this decision, can probably be clarified by the fact that many of them shared their everyday work and life with them. The crackdown on any kind of violent assault on the master by a slave is a result of the constant fear of the upper class of acts of revenge.

The majority of the slaves, however, accepted their fate more or less willingly and showed little form of resistance. It would be wrong, however, to see this as evidence of mild treatment of the slaves.

2.8 Religion and Cults of the Slaves

Above all, their religion also contributed to the self-confidence of the slaves. But there were no slave deities or cults of their own. They took over the religions of their masters, although they preferred certain Roman gods, such as Fortuna or Silvanus, to whom they made sacrifices. Many of them even abandoned their own cults in favor of the master religion. Entry into such cultic associations in the imperial era primarily served to ensure that the slaves there found their recognition in the community, which they would otherwise be denied. In this way they compensated for the feeling of social exclusion.They joined religions, which among other things also served the cult of rulers, and thus adapted to the environment and the applicable values ​​of society. Christianity had a particularly large number of followers among them because of the principles of their teaching. She was of the opinion that before Christ there was no difference between free and unfree. There, slaves had the same rights as free people and were given a holy grave after their death, just like them. It made the legal position of the slaves insignificant, since all believers are free.

2.9. Fall of Slavery

2.9.1 Influence of Christianity

With the spread and development of Christianity into the state religion of late antiquity from the 4th century onwards, other religions were displaced at the same time. During the same period there was a gradual decline in slavery. The private releases of Christian slave owners who wanted to do a good work with them increased steadily. Christianity is seen as one of the main drivers for the decline in slavery. Yet an important hallmark of this religion was that it never cared about government issues or institutions, including slavery. She devoted herself only to the inner and spiritual realm of the human being. As a result, Christianity never called for the abolition of slavery. Her main interest was to bring the essence of charity and the bond with God closer to man. This had a positive effect on the handling of slaves and improved their living conditions, as they were treated more humanely by their masters. Slavery was accepted as the prevailing social order, but at the same time a spiritual bond between slave and master was advocated.

2.9.2 Legislative aspect and population mentality

Therefore, even under Christian emperors, slavery was never legally abolished. Their legislation primarily served the humane treatment and protection of the slaves from the master. The extension of the right of asylum in the 2nd century AD and the criminal prosecution of the slave owner for excessive brutality were among the decisive humanitarian laws of this time. Later, Emperor Constantine passed a law in 315 AD, according to which slaves should no longer be branded on the face, but on other parts of the body.9 In 325 AD he forbade the separation of slave families in Sardinia. However, none of these measures and laws were directed against slavery per se or changed the legal status of the slave as property. It is also difficult to assess the extent to which these laws have actually been complied with.

This attitude also corresponded to the prevailing opinion among the population. Slavery should be protected as a facility, but the Romans also advocated humane treatment of slaves. The tendency towards an ever increasing "humanitas" towards the slaves began around the 2nd century. The number of releases has increased ever since, so that even legal restrictions were necessary at the beginning of the imperial era. Likewise, many scholars, including Publius, Epictetus, and Dion, did not condemn slavery, but viewed it as a natural institution. Some even thought certain peoples, such as the Syrians, were born to serve others. They were of the opinion that what matters is not the legal status, but the inner attitude. If this is correct, a slave can also be free. Hence the abolition of slavery was not necessary.

Economic reasons

So there was never any intention of legally eliminating slavery. The reason for this is that it had become so natural that ancient society was never aware of the injustice of the institution. For the gradual disappearance of slavery and its replacement by other forms of dependent labor, therefore, mainly economic and political reasons were responsible. After the Wars of Conquest ended around AD 14, an important source of slave supplies also dried up. Still, kidnapping, civil wars, and child births from slave families produced enough unfree people. The crisis did not set in until the 2nd century. Above all, Germanic prisoners of war were now used in agriculture as dependent, but still legally semi-free people. Parts of the large estates were leased to them, for which they had to make payments to the Lord. This system of colonies spread more and more. It is still unclear to what extent economic profitability and increased production played a role. Due to the loss of the farmers' voting rights and the increasing taxation of the land, which meant a heavy financial burden for many, farmers, tenants and farm workers also became dependent and thus achieved the status of bondage. The formal differences between the different categories of dependent rural dwellers gradually disappeared. In the 2nd century AD, the “humiliores”, i.e. the lower classes of the population, were downgraded to slaves by law. Society was split into the haves and the haves. A leveling process began, so to speak, which brought the slaves and the lower strata of dependent workers into line with one another, both legally and factually. Slavery began to decline around the 4th century. In the cities slaves were replaced by legally bound free people and in the countryside by the semi-free people of the colonate. Due to the migration of peoples, the number of slaves increased again in the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries, but their decline could no longer be stopped. Feudal rule, which now took the place of slavery, was not fully developed until the 9th century.

Seneca's view in his 47th letter

Slavery in Seneca's time

A slight decline in slavery can already be observed during Seneca's lifetime (). The great slave revolts and wars of conquest were over after Augustus' death, but they were still very popular in the markets. The release of slaves rose sharply, however, which is due to a tendency towards humanity towards slaves. This development is due not only to the influence of Christianity but also to the spread of Stoic philosophy. Both attitudes did not try to change the legal status of the slave as property. Their intention was to achieve a friendly relationship between the masters and their slaves. Due to this change in mentality, the slave was no longer viewed as a thing but as a person and treated accordingly, which often led to releases. That this was also the goal of the Stoics I would now like to illustrate with a work that comes from one of their most famous representatives.

3.2 Seneca's point of view based on his 47th letter

In his 47th letter, which is shaped by his stoic philosophy, Seneca also does not demand a direct abolition of slavery. In it he poses the question of the correct relationship between slave and master. Thus, however, he is the only Roman writer who even turns to this topic several times. This again shows how natural slavery was at the time. In his letter, a dispute-like dialogue between a teacher and his pupil, who is also his friend, is presented. It eventually evolved into a treatise on the treatment of slaves. The leitmotif that spans the entire letter is the cena. It is representative of the human togetherness.

At the beginning of the letter, the objection “there are slaves” is contradicted four times, with the answers slaves and free people moving closer and closer together. He justifies this with the fact that all, free as unfree, are at the mercy of fate in the same way. Even a suitor can get into slavery through unfortunate circumstances, as he justifies with examples in paragraph 10. This is also an essential point in stoic ethics. According to her, every person is determined by the unalterable fate, which is the highest authority, and the outside world. For Seneca, therefore, the most important thing for people is their inner freedom, which is the only area that remains withdrawn from external influences. Only in this inner attitude towards things does he find complete freedom of choice. Therefore he also condemns the behavior of a tough and haughty gentleman as he describes them in § 2 to § 9, since one can become dependent on himself through no fault of his own. The extremely harsh manners, such as beatings or the sexual abuse of a slave, and the condemnation of the slave to the described despicable tasks only unnecessarily result in mutual enmity instead of friendship being built up. The solidarity of a slave, on the other hand, is achieved with the social inclusion of the slave in the conversation and in the community.

Another argument that Seneca refers to in his letter in § 10 is the equality of humanity. According to the Stoa image of man, the original creative force, the Logos, is in all things on earth. Since every human being has something divine in him and therefore also has reason, it now follows that all human beings are equal. The master should not only regard the slave as of the same origin or as noble, but also draw his conclusions from it. Accordingly, Seneca calls for the slave to be viewed as a human being and to be treated as such. For this he uses the term "humanitas". It represents one of his highest teaching goals in his philosophy. The master should put himself in the position of the slave and derive the decision for his action from it. In Section 13, for example, he demands that his slave be friendly and sociable. For Seneca, a person must not be judged on their social and legal position or on their work. The only criterion here may be the character of the person. Because only for this, according to his reasoning, is man himself responsible. He underlines this with an example. It would be stupid to judge a horse that you want to buy, not by its performance but by the saddle it wears. Everything else is imposed on him by fate and the outside world and he is beyond his sphere of influence. Therefore, even a slave, whose legal position is now insignificant, can develop into a friend of the master through confidential and friendly interaction. The Lord thus changes in the course of the letter from haughty tyrant to "contubernalis" and finally to "amicus".

Now Seneca lets the differences of opinion break up again at the beginning. It turns out that the Lord, like everyone else, unconsciously enters the dependency and slavery of desires, such as greed or lust. He rates this voluntary submission as much more profound and worse than the slave's involuntary bondage 10. In doing so, he diminishes the superiority and grandeur of the slave owner and even places him morally among the slaves. Apathy, that is, freedom from these "affectus" and complete lack of passion, represents the ideal form of the Stoa. According to it, true freedom lies in the inner solution of worldly things in general. So it is true that everyone is free to own money and wealth, but one must be ready to part with them at any time. Especially fear, both of death and of the gods, and hope are all subject to all, whereby these take on a special meaning. Only the wise one is fearless and therefore really free. This also explains why Seneca does not demand the complete abolition of slavery. There is no need for it as only inner freedom is crucial. A slave can also achieve true freedom through his inner attitude towards external things. So a free can be a slave and a slave can be free. In this way, he transfers the legally defined concept of freedom in society to the moral and moral realm within the individual.

Finally, he describes how the correct relationship between master and slave should be. In doing so, he draws a parallel to the relationship between God and man. It reads: "They should worship you rather than fear"11 It is therefore a two-way relationship based on goodness on the part of the master and on reverence on the part of the slave. Seneca underpins this with the application of individual examples, such as not using blows. In contrast to this, there is the reign of terror of the brutal "reges", which inflict suffering and injustice on their servants. Such slave owners will always be hated instead of receiving recognition and reverence from the slaves for their good nature.

Seneca recorded in his work the spiritual currents and humane attitudes of his contemporaries as well as his own convictions in writing. He thus called them into the consciousness of society. The practical application of this represented thinking of humanity to everyday life in Rome is the great achievement that Seneca has achieved. Its influence on legislation and on the improvement in slave law are very difficult to prove, since most of the innovations in the area were not implemented during his lifetime. Changes did not occur until the 2nd century, when its influence had already died out. He also drew his way of thinking into stoic philosophy, thereby helping it to gain a higher reputation. As the only one of his time, he clearly expressed the demand for mild treatment of slaves. This shows his honesty and sincerity. These moral values ​​could thus also be passed on to the descendants and develop their effect there.


1 I would like to hear from the people who come from you, that you live on friendly terms with your slaves, that corresponds to your wisdom and your education. “They are slaves.” - No, housemates. “They are slaves.” - No, friends of low rank. “They are slaves.” - No, fellow slaves, when you consider that fate is allowed to one as much as the other. 2 Therefore I laugh at those who consider it dishonorable to dine with their slave: why except because a very haughty habit surrounds the master at mealtimes with a crowd of standing slaves? He eats more than he can grasp, and with a monstrous greed he burdens his overstretched stomach - and has already weaned the stomach's duty - so that he chokes everything up again with greater difficulty than he introduced it. 3 On the other hand, the unfortunate slaves are not even allowed to move their lips to speak. With a rod one suppresses every murmur, and not even unintentional sounds are exempt from blows: coughing, sneezing, hiccups: one atones with severe punishment if the silence is broken by any word; all night long they stand there sober and mute. 4 So it is that those who speak of their Lord are not allowed to speak in the presence of the Lord. On the other hand, those who talked not only in the presence of the Lord but with them themselves, whose mouths had not been sewn shut, were ready to turn their necks and threatening danger onto their heads for the Lord: at the banquets they spoke, but under torture they were silent. 5 Finally, a proverb of the same presumption was used to boast that there are as many enemies as slaves: we do not have them as enemies, we make them so. Other cruelties, inhumanities, however, I ignore that we don't even treat them like humans, but abuse them like beasts of burden, that - when we have sat down at the table - one person wipes away the sputum, another reads out the remains of the drunkard, bent under the sofa . 6 Someone cut up precious poultry: guiding the expert hand through the breast and legs with sure cuts, he cuts portions to size, the unfortunate who lives alone to cut up poultry elegantly - who teaches this for the sake of enjoyment is more miserable than whoever teaches it learns from necessity. 7 Another, the cupbearer, dressed in woman's style, wrestles with his age: he cannot escape the boyhood, he is brought back, already in a fit for military service, with smooth skin, since the body hair has been scraped off and completely torn off, he wakes up all night, which he divides between the drunkenness of the master and his sexual lust, and is a man in the bedroom, a boy at the banquet. 8 Another, who is entrusted with the judgment of the guests, stands there, unhappy, and watches whom flattery and intemperance, either of the throat or the tongue, recommend for tomorrow. Add the buyers who know what taste of a food stimulates him, what sight pleases him, what news can get him back on his feet when he is nauseous, what he completely rejects when he is oversaturated, what he has an appetite for that day. He cannot bear to dine with these people, and he considers it a diminution of his importance to go to the same table with his slave.Gods! How many of them does he have masters! 9 I saw his master standing at the threshold of Callistus, and how he, who had put the tablet on him, who had divided him among the useless slaves while others came in, was turned away: that slave gave him thanks and among them first group on which the auctioneer tested his voice: he too rejected him, he too declared him unworthy of his house. The Lord has sold Callistus: but how much is Callistus worth to the Lord! 10 Please remember that he whom you call your slave came from the same seeds, enjoys the same sky, breathes the same, lives the same, dies the same! So you can see him born free as he sees you as a slave. After the defeat of Varius, many of noble origins, expecting the rank of senator as a result of military service, fell to the ground; one of them was made a shepherd, the other the keeper of a hut: now despise a person with these Fate that you can fall into while you despise him 11 I do not want to get involved in a huge topic and talk about dealing with slaves, towards whom we behave extremely haughty, cruel and contemptuous. The following is nevertheless the core of my teaching: so lay with a person of lower rank, as you want, that someone of higher rank should live with you. Whenever it occurs to you what you are free from your slave, it occurs to you that just as much is free from your master. 12 You say “but I have no master” - you are of a good age: maybe you will have one. You do not know at what age Hecuba became a slave, in which Kroisos, in which of Darius' mother, in which Plato, in which Diogenes? 13 Live with your slave in a mild, sociable manner and grant him access to conversation, advice, and meals. At this point the whole crowd of demanding people will call out to me: “Nothing is lower than that, nothing more disgraceful.” I will meet the same people kissing the hand of strange slaves. 14 Do you not even see how all the wickedness of our ancestors relieved the masters, all the offense from the slaves? They called the master of the household, the slaves, which also continues in Mimus to this day, housemates. They set a feast day, not so that the masters dined with the slaves alone, but in any case to exercise offices in the house, they allowed them to speak justice and were of the opinion that the house was a small state. 15 “So what? Will I put all slaves at my table? ”- just as little as all free ones. You are mistaken if you think that I will reject some of them as being too filthy occupation, think for example of this muleteer or that shepherd: I will judge them not by their service, but by their character. Everyone gives themselves to their character, the services are assigned to them by chance. Some may dine with you because they are worth it, some so that they are: if something about them is slavish because of their dirty interactions, it will drive out being with more educated people. 16 There is no reason, my Lucilius, for you to seek your friend only in the forum and in the curia: try and try. How foolish is he who wants to buy a horse and does not look closely at it himself, but his blanket and reins, so is he very foolish who judges a person according to his clothing or situation, which surrounds us like a piece of clothing. 17 “He is a slave.” - But maybe free in the soul. "He is a slave." - Will that harm him? Show who it is not: one is a slave to his sensuality, another to his greed, another to his ambition, all of hope, all of fear. I will show a former consul, slave of an old woman, I will show a rich man, a young slave, slave, I will show very distinguished young men as slaves of actors: no slavery is more disgraceful than that of one's own will. Therefore there is no reason that these haughty ones should scare you off from showing you to your slaves in a friendly manner and sociable, although higher in rank: they should worship you rather than fear. 18 Someone will say that I am now calling the slaves to freedom and throwing the masters out of their position, because I have said that they should worship their master rather than fear. He said “so, that means almost? They should worship him like dependents, like visitors? ”- Anyone who has said this will forget that for a master there is not too little that which is sufficient for God. Those who are worshiped are also loved: love cannot mix with fear. 19 I think that you act most correctly, that you do not want to be feared by your slaves, that you only punish with words: with blows one admonishes the cattle that are unable to speak. We are also not hurt by whatever arouses our displeasure: but our indulgence forces us to become furious, so that whatever does not go according to our will arouses anger.20 We have adopted the attitude of tyrants: because they too, their own Forgetting strength and other people's weaknesses, so foam, rage, as if they had suffered an injustice, from the danger of which they make the height of their position perfectly safe. And they are well aware of this, but with their complaint they are looking for an opportunity to harm; they have suffered an injustice in order to be able to do one thing 21 I will not hold you back any longer; you don't need a warning. Besides the rest, this quality has a good character, he agrees with himself, he endures: wickedness is unreliable, it often changes, not for the better, but for the other. Goodbye


Rosenbach M. (Ed.), To Lucilius - Briefe 1-69, Philosophische Schriften Volume 3, Darmstadt, 1974

Finley M.I., Ancient Slavery, C.H. Beck Munich, Munich, 1981

Vogt Joseph, Slavery and Humanity, Franz Steiner Verlag, Wiesbaden, 1983 2

Alföldy Geza, Ancient slavery - contradictions, special forms, basic structures, Buchner, Bamberg, 1988

Weeber Karl - Wilhelm, Everyday Life in Ancient Rome: A Lexicon, Artemis Winkler, Düsseldorf, 2000 5

Heinen Heinz, Aspects of Slavery in the Roman World, in: GWU 28, 1977

Lauffer Siegfried, Slavery in the Greco-Roman World, in: Gymnasium 68, 1961

Bütler Hans - Peter, Swiss Hans Jörg, Seneca in class, F. H. Kerle Verlag, Heidelberg, 1974

Judge W., Interpretation of the 47th letter from Seneca, in: Gymnasium 65, 1958

I hereby declare that I have prepared the submitted technical work without outside help and have only used the sources and aids given in the bibliography.

Figure not included in this excerpt


1 Finley M.I, Slavery in antiquity (p.12, lines.24-27)

2 Finley M.I, Slavery in Antiquity (pp. 95 f.)

3 Alfödy Geza, Ancient Slavery

4 Finley M.I, see above (p.117)

5 Finley M.I., see above (p.158)

6 Finley M.I., see above (p.115, lines 7-9)

7 Weeber Karl-Wilhelm, Everyday life in ancient Rome (p.330, bottom left)

8 Weeber Karl-Wilhelm, see above (p.329)

9 Finley M.I., see above (p.155)

10 see §17 in the translation

11 Rosenbach M., To Lucilius letters 1-69 (p.373, §18 line 5)