Human Rights in Ancient Rome

By Richard A. Bauman | Go to book overview

1

INTRODUCTION

'Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto'

'I am a man: I deem nothing pertaining to man foreign to me.' The words of the comic playwright P. Terentius Afer reverberated across the Roman world of the mid-second century BC and beyond. Terence, an African and a former slave, was well placed to preach the message of universalism, of the essential unity of the human race, that had come down in philosophical form from the Greeks, but needed the pragmatic muscles of Rome in order to become a practical reality. The influence of Terence's felicitous phrase on Roman thinking about human rights can hardly be overestimated. Two hundred years later the philosopher Seneca ended his seminal exposition of the unity of mankind with a clarion-call:

There is one short rule that should regulate human relationships. All that you see, both divine and human, is one. We are the parts of one great body. Nature created us from the same source and to the same end. She imbued us with mutual affection and sociability, she taught us to be fair and just, to suffer injury rather than to inflict it. She bids us extend our hands to all in need of help. Let that well-known line be in our hearts and on our lips: Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. 1

With access to an intellectual coterie in which culture, influence and realism all played a part, Terence's message epitomised the Roman conception of human rights. It was not a starry-eyed concept. Prompted by the need to define their relations with non-Romans, the new masters of the Mediterranean world sought to combine the tenets of Greek philanthropia with traditional

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Human Rights in Ancient Rome
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface x
  • Abbreviations xii
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Human Rights: the Greek Experience 10
  • 3 - Humanitas Romana 20
  • 4 - Human Rights Prior to Humanitas Romana 28
  • 5 - Human Rights in the Late Republic: Cicero 36
  • 6 - Human Rights in the Late Republic: Curbs on Ill-Treatment 51
  • 7 - The New Image of Humanitas: Part One 67
  • 8 - The New Image of Humanitas: Part Two 87
  • 9 - Man's Inhumanity to Man 112
  • 10 - Conclusion 126
  • Notes 130
  • Select Bibliography 168
  • Index to Sources 179
  • General Index 187
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