Policing the Roman Empire: Soldiers, Administration, and Public Order

By Christopher J. Fuhrmann | Go to book overview

2
“Arrest me, for I have run away”:
Fugitive-Slave Hunting
in the Roman Empire

THE PURSUIT AND recapture of runaway slaves is a paramount concern in all slaveholding societies. Cicero, for instance, while in transit to his eastern governorship, intended to go to great lengths to apprehend a slave of his friend Atticus; as governor, Cicero besieged an obscure Cilician mountain town for eight weeks, in large part because it was harboring fugitives.1 Five years later, in 46 BC, he wrote to his friend P. Sulpicius Rufus, then a military commander in Illyricum:

On account of our friendship, I … beg you to take pains for me in an-
other matter: Dionysius, a slave of mine, entrusted with the care of my
valuable library, has stolen many books and run away to avoid punish-
ment. He is in your province. My close associate Marcus Bolanus and
many others have spotted him in Narona, but when he claimed I had
manumitted him, they believed him. If you could see to it that he is
returned to me, I cannot tell you how grateful to you I would be. It’s a
small matter in itself, but it has greatly vexed me.2

Centuries later, we can compare a parallel case from another pater patriae. On September 1, 1796, President George Washington wrote to Oliver Wolcott, his secretary of the Treasury:

1. Cic. Att. 5.15 (August 51 BC); siege of Pindenissum (October 51, location unknown): Fam. 15.4.10. Cicero did not specify that these Cilician fugitives were slaves, but the word fugitivus commonly serves as a substantive for “runaway slave(s)”: TLL II.A.1.a. Shackleton Bailey’s (SB F.110) translation “deserters” seems unlikely; Cicero would have likely commented more about such circumstances in an episode he discussed at length to enhance his own thin military record. Cf. Tac. Ann. 14.29.

2. Cicero, Fam. 13.77.3; cf. 5.9, 5.11.3, and Q. Fr. 1.2.14.

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