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Manumission slave in Rome

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Phrygian god of vegetation Attis in a Phrygian cap
Phrygian god of vegetation Attis in a Phrygian cap

Manumission of a slave was referred to in ancient Rome as manumissio (literally “releasing from hand”). Originally, this practice took place in a public place, usually in front of a judge. The owner then touched the slave’s head with his walking stick and let him go. In practice, however, such occasions were held in the group of family and friends, and the slave would eat dinner with the family for which he was serving.

Manumission could take place under various circumstances:

  • the slave had enough wealth to buy his freedom; often even for their beloved – but not all slaves could raise funds.
  • slaves were liberated through the owner’s will – later August limited such manumissio to a maximum of 100 slaves per family.
  • slaves were set free for good service or the owner’s respect for their work and person.

Freed slave in ancient Rome he wore a Phrygian cap (called pileus in Latin) – a symbol of feeding – and he was given the names of his owner, and his name actually often became the surname. The freedman was in a relationship of dependency with his owner; it was the so-called patronage. Roman law forbade marriages between senators and freedmen. Although their number later decreased significantly, they still constituted a significant social class until the last centuries of the Empire.

Hence the attempts to raise the social status of freedmen, while maintaining their political inferiority. Contrary to Greece, in Rome, a freedman could become a citizen, but he was incapacitated. The children of the freed parent only became full citizens. For example, the famous Roman poet – Horace was the son of a freedman and later became an officer in the army of Marcus Junius Brutus.

Some freedmen became extremely powerful and influential. Great examples were the freedmen of imperial families, who often held important offices. One of these freedmen was Narcissus, a former slave of Emperor Claudius.

Others, in turn, became extremely wealthy. For example, the famous House of the Vettii in Pompeii belonged to the freed brothers. Also, the amphitheatre in Pompeii was designed by a liberator.

  • Alfoldy Geza, Historia społeczna starożytnego Rzymu, Poznań 2003
  • Łoposzko Tadeusz, Historia społeczna republikańskiego Rzymu

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