slave : everything but free them

The Old Ways. The peculiar institution of the Roman Empire known as slavery. The Greeks and later the Romans practiced slavery and condoned it for reasons of war, luxury and business, and even the jolt of Christianity could little dent the structure; but even then, these ancients knew it to be evil…

Seneca: You may speak in the same way about all these dandies whom you see riding in litters above the heads of men and above the crowd; in every case their happiness is put on like the actor’s mask. Tear it off, and you will scorn them. When you buy a horse, you order its blanket to be removed; you pull off the garments from slaves that are advertised for sale, so that no bodily flaws may escape your notice; if you judge a man, do you judge him when he is wrapped in a disguise? Slave dealers hide under some sort of finery any defect which may give offence, and for that reason the very trappings arouse the suspicion of the buyer. If you catch sight of a leg or an arm that is bound up in cloths, you demand that it be stripped and that the body itself be revealed to you. Read More:

—An educated slave calculating before his master. From an engraved sarcophagus in the Museum of the Capitol.—Read More:


Seneca was one of the wealthiest men of his day, in an age, the first century A.D. of enormous fortunes and luxurious living, and of course he possessed his quota of slaves. In noe of his moral epistles he insists that a slave is a man with a soul like every free man; like you and me, he says. From this he concludes that one should live on familiar terms with one’s slaves, dine with them, converse with them, inspire respect in them rather than fear-everything but free them.

Seneca was a Roman, but his attitude was more Greek than Roman. To the Greeks, as Nietzsche once remarked epigrammatically, both labor and slavery were “a necessary disgrace, of which one feels ashamed, as a disgrace and as a necessity at the same time.” It would be more correct to say that the shame was generally subconscious; one sign was the almost complete silence of ancient writers about what was surely the ugliest side of the institution, the slave trade itself.

The occasional exception usually has a special twist to it. Thus Herodotus tells a story about a dealer from Chios named Panionion, who specialized in handsome young boys whom he castrated and then sold, through the markets at Ephesus and Sardis, to the Persian court and other Eastern customers.One of his victims became the favorite eunuch of King Xerxes; when the opportunity fell his way, he took the appropriate revenge on Panionion and his four sons. Herodotus applauded, for in his view Panionion “gained his livelihood from the most impious of occupations,” by which he meant not the slave trade as such but the traffic in eunuchs.


I am glad to learn, through those who come from you, that you live on friendly terms with your slaves. This befits a sensible and well-educated man like yourself. “They are slaves,” people declare.” Nay, rather they are men. “Slaves!” No, comrades. ” Slaves!” No, they are unpretentious friends. “Slaves!” No, they are our fellow-slaves, if one reflects that, Fortune has equal rights over slaves and free men alike.

That is why I smile at those who think it degrading for a man to dine with his slave. But why should they think it degrading? It is only because purse-proud etiquette surrounds a householder at his dinner with a mob of standing slaves. The master eats more than he can hold, and with monstrous greed loads his belly until it is stretched and at length ceases to do the work of a belly; so that he is at greater pains to discharge all the food than he was to stuff it down. All this time the poor slaves may not move their lips, even to speak. The slightest murmur is repressed by the rod; even a chance sound, – a cough, a sneeze, or a hiccup, – is visited with the lash. There is a grievous penalty

the slightest breach of silence. All night long they must stand about, hungry and dumb.

—The ancient Greeks eventually offered citizenship to many of their slaves, if they performed well, but they would enslave just about anyone. They would even enslave other Greeks, like the Spartans did with their neighboring Helots after they conquered them…. However, Greek city-states such as Athens were appalled at the thought of enslaving anyone other than a “barbarian”. But barbarians were just people who didn’t speak Greek, so this wasn’t some Taygetus Mountain-high moral stance. However, the conquerors of the Greeks – the Romans – made Greek slave masters look like missionaries.
The Romans liked to take the best of the cultures they conquered by force, and make the best of these cultures even better. Slavery was no exception. In fact, the Romans were a little too good at it. Slaves of many ages, races, and sizes were taken in war and were sold in the Roman markets. Once they were in the master’s possession, they were just that – a possession …
The Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero once said, “The wise alone are free, and all fools are slaves … While historians debate the true meaning behind this quote, it exemplifies the ho-hum attitudes the ancients had about slavery. Cicero spoke often about freedom, but he never really included the slaves in that freedom for men he sought – this sounds awfully familiar to our founders….—Read More:

The result of it all is that these slaves, who may not talk in their master’s presence, talk about their master. But the slaves of former days, who were permitted to converse not only in their master’s presence, but actually with him, whose mouths were not stitched up tight, were ready to bare their necks for their master, to bring upon their own heads any danger that threatened him; they spoke at the feast, but kept silence during torture. Finally, the saying, in allusion to this same highhanded treatment, becomes current: “As many enemies as you have slaves.” They are not enemies when we acquire them; we make them enemies. Read More:

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