A Day in Old Rome: A Picture of Roman Life

By William Stearns Davis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
THE SOCIAL ORDERS: FREEDMEN, PROVINCIALS, PLEBEIANS, AND NOBLES

116. Manumission of Slaves Very Common . -- A Roman slave's legal position may be miserable, but usually he is not under that fearful stigma of race and color weighing upon the slaves of another era. His complexion and his brain power do not differ essentially from his master's.1 If he is a Greek or Levantine, often his mental acuteness may be greater than that of his lord. An intelligent slave under not too harsh a master will devote himself to the latter in every possible way, expecting pretty certainly the great reward for faithfulness and zealous service -- freedom. Of course, many dull hardened wretches, especially upon the farms, will die as the toiling chattels they have lived; but freedom comes often enough to make manumission something for which to hope eagerly.

Often the death of a master is the signal for a grand enfranchisement of all the older members of his familia. It costs nothing thus to reward faithful service at the expense of your heirs; and it is a fine thing to have a long file of newly created freedmen, all wearing the tall red caps of "liberty," march in your funeral procession. Everybody will praise your "generosity," and the freedmen can be expected to cherish their lord's memory. Incidentally, also, there are few better ways of punishing a generally incompetent slave than having him ostentatiously refused freedom when all his comrades go about rejoicing.

____________________
1
There would be just enough of negroes in Rome for them to cease to be great curiosities.

-139-

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