slavery to serfdom: the empire strikes black

There were some hairsplitting decisions in slavery such as between the general flow of human cargo and sub-categories such as the commercial transactions regarding eunuchs for example. But distinctions have to be drawn. The ancient world was in many respects a brutal one by modern standards. The gladiatorial shows were surely among the most repellant of its habits- as the Greeks would have agreed until they, too, were finally corrupted by the Romans- yet these is abundant evidence that gladiators were proud of their successes and that not a few free men voluntarily joined their ranks.

—A Roman holiday in AD 64 proves anything but relaxing for the time travellers. Ian and Barbara are kidnapped by slave-traders, while the Doctor, accompanying Vicki, is mistaken for murdered musician Maximus Pettulian and invited to perform at Emperor Nero’s court. Surviving an assassination attempt, the Doctor then has to conceal his inability to play the lyre. Later, Barbara is auctioned to Nero’s slave-buyer Tavius, and Ian is put to work on a galley, then forced to train as a gladiator after his ship is wrecked in a storm …Read More:

This, it can reasonably be argued, merely proves how deep the brutalization went. But what about the Paphlagonian names Atotas in the Athenian silver mines, who claimed descent from one of the Trojan heroes and whose tomb inscription included the boast, ” No one could match me in skill”? The skill and artistry of slaves was to be seen everywhere, for they were not used only as crude labor in fields but were employed in the potteries and textile mills, on temples and other public buildings, to perform the most delicate work. The psychology of the slave in the ancient world was obviously more complicated than mere sullen resentment, at least under “normal” conditions.

—“Hercegovinian woman”, a young housewife and mother carried away by Turkish troopers, her husband and baby lie dead at her feet
Mention the word ‘slavery’, and it will immediately conjure up pictures of negroid cotton pickers and sad savages being marched in chains by Arab slave traders, but very little is ever said about the enslavement of white European Christians.—Read More:

Even the slave trade had its shadings, so that it can serve as a barometer of the state of the society itself. It is no coincidence that the last century of the Roman Republic, a period in which moral and social values broke down badly, was the period of the most reckless slave hunting and of the great slave revolts. Then came the relatively quiet centuries of the early Roman Empire, followed by the long period in which ancient society itself finally dissolved.

One incident is symptomatic: when the Goths achieved a massive breakthrough into Thrace in A.D. 376, the Roman armies were badly handicapped because many of heir officers were more interested in the profits of slaving than in resisting the barbarians. But by then slavery itself was a declining institution, not because a higher morality was finally in the ascendant, but because serfdom, a different kind of unfreedom, was replacing it.

—Cover illustrations : Fragment of the manumission relief from Mariemont, Belgium,
the only possible representation of a manumission ceremony from the Roman world.
Copyright: Musée royal de Mariemont (Morlanwelz, Belgique), Inv. Nr. B26.
George Duff ’s painting of a Cape Town procession on the anniversary of
slave emancipation, 1860s. Cape Archives, Roeland Street, Cape Town—Read More:,0,1,The-Faces-of-Freedom.-The-Manumission-and-Emancipation-of-Slaves-in-Old-World-and-New-World-Slavery.pdf

Slavery did not altogether disappear, of corse. The word “slave” itself is a meieval term that entered the languages of Europe when the Slavs became a main source of chattels, many of them sold to the Moslems across the Meditterranean. And farther ahead in the future lay the vast traffic in African slaves. Yet throughout these ups and downs in the history of the institution, the slave trader seems never to have changed significantly, either in his methods or in his ill repute in polite society.


Seneca:Associate with your slave on kindly, even on affable, terms; let him talk with you, plan with you, live with you. I know that at this point all the exquisites will cry out against me in a body; they will say: “There is nothing more debasing, more disgraceful, than this.” But these are the very persons whom I sometimes surprise kissing the hands of other men’s slaves. Do you not see even this, how our ancestors removed from masters everything invidious, and from slaves everything insulting? They called the master “father of the household,” and the slaves “members of the household,” a custom which still holds in the mane. They established a holiday on which masters and slaves should eat together, – not as the only day for this custom, but as obligatory on that day in any case. They allowed the slaves to attain honours in the household and to pronounce judgment; they held that a household was a miniature commonwealth.

—The slave auction from Roman Scandals (1933), with choreography by Busby Berkeley—Read Mor


“Do you mean to say,” comes the retort, “that I must seat all my slaves at my own table?” No, not any more than that you should invite all free men to it. You are mistaken if you think that I would bar from my table certain slaves whose duties are more humble, as, for example, yonder muleteer or yonder herdsman; I propose to value them according to their character, and not according to their duties. Each man acquires his character for himself, but accident assigns his duties. Invite some to your table because they deserve the honor. If there be any slavish quality in them as the result of their low associations, it will be shaken off by intercourse with men of gentler breeding. You need not, my dear Lucillus, hunt for friends only in the forum or in the Senate-house; if you are careful and attentive, you will find them at home also. Good material often stands idle for want of an artist; make the experiment, and you will find it so. As he is a fool who, when purchasing a horse, does not consider the animal’s points, but merely his saddle and bridle; so he is doubly a fool who values a man from his clothes or from his rank, which indeed is only a robe that clothes us.

“He is a slave.” His soul, however, may be that of a freeman. “He is a slave.” But shall that stand in his way? Show me a man who is not a slave; one is a slave to lust, another to greed, another to ambition, and all men are slaves to fear. I will name you an ex-consul who is slave to an old hag, a millionaire who is slave to a serving-maid; I will show you youths of the noblest birth in serfdom to pantomime players! No servitude is more disgraceful than that which is self-imposed. …Read More:
( see link at end) …During the millennium from the emergence of the Roman empire to its eventual decline, at least 100 million people – and possibly many more – were seized or sold as slaves throughout the Mediterranean and its hinterlands. In terms of duration and sheer numbers, this process dwarfs both the transatlantic slave trade of the European powers and the Arabic slave trade in the Indian Ocean. For all we can tell, enslavement and the slave trade constituted the principal means of geographical and (both upward and downward) social mobility in the ancient world . The modern observer must wonder how to do justice to the colossal scale of human suffering behind these bland observations: the story of the Roman slave supply must count as one of the darkest chapters of human history.Read More:

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