Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Last Sunday marked 200 years since the British parliament, after almost twenty years campaigning by William Wilberforce and John Newton (amongst of course many others) passed an act to abolish slavery.

Here are six things you might not have known about slavery in Roman times:

  • In the early Roman Empire, at a time when the population of the city of Rome alone was approximately one million, slaves made up approximately 15-20% of the population - and no one is quite sure where the Romans got them all.

  • There were many ways to become a slave- you could be born into slavery, taken prisoner in battle, or kidnapped by pirates. Babies who had been abandoned by their parents were also often brought up as slaves, or you could sell yourself into slavery to pay a debt.

  • Slaves had no rights under Roman law, and were treated as property rather than as people. They could not own property, they could not marry, and they could be put to death by their master without trial. If a slave had a child, the child would belong to the slave’s master.

  • At the same time, many slaves were given positions of power and responsibility in their masters’ homes. For example, Cicero owned a slave called Tiro, who acted as his secretary, editor and publisher. Their relationship seems to have been one even of friendship. Seneca also records for us that masters who were cruel to their slaves were often publicly insulted.

  • There were three main ways to free a slave. Firstly a master could simply list his slave as a person (rather than as property) in the census that came around every five years. Secondly, he could go to court and declare that the slave did not belong to him. If no-one objected the slave was free. Thirdly, he could set a slave free in his will.

  • There was little stigma attached to being an ex-slave (libertus). Liberti could not run for public office themselves, nor join the army, but they were allowed to vote in the public assemblies, and their children were permitted the full rights of a civis Romanus. Horace was the son of a libertus, as was Publius Helvius Pertinax, who succeeded Commodus as Emperor. Masters would often help to set up their freedmen in business, and were obliged to maintain a patron-client relationship with them. Some liberti, with the help of their former masters, were even able to become very successful and wealthy.

This site has more, and much better, information.


Anonymous said...

did you hear abt the crash that happened yesterday, mr morrison??
as tragic as Roman slavery indeed.

Anonymous said...

It's taken me all afternoon, but finally, finally I've found your blog address, scrawled on a piece of paper in my year 10 Latin book.

Just a quick question about the Catullus assignment [and please don't laugh at me for the utter stupidity of it!] With elision, does the first vowel afterwards have to be long or not? Because with all the examples we did at summer school they were, but I thought I'd check up just in case. Mainly because the internet sucks and confuses me. And I'm trying to get the assignment done because I'm impatient and a pest =)

Have a good weekend!

P.S. Can you go through your analysies of the poems with me on Monday if possible? I'm having trouble deciphering some of them...

Anonymous said...

Rebecca, elisions don't have to be long (they follow the same rules as all other syllables), but you will find that they often are.

Anonymous said...

What about manumissio (or does that just mean freeing a slave?) and that thing about dinner parties and freeing your slave in front of witnesses and whatever? Oh man, I get really confused. Especially since all the Roman stuff we learn in Ancient totally contradicts the Latin stuff.

And is the plural of analysis "analyses"?

Anonymous said...

I have tremendously exciting news for you Sir. Go to http://www.sydneytheatre.com.au/performance.asp?pID=231

It's that play I told you I went and saw a little while ago. It's hilariously funny. I plan on going again, I enjoyed it that much. Don't miss it, you won't get another opportunity to see latin jokes written by Chris Taylor ever again.

I hope you have a good Easter and a relaxing holiday break.


Anonymous said...

I found this site pretty useful myself:


Great for revision and all. It's worth taking a look :)

Lib said...

I was just wondering if "bene, cum latine nescias" can mean by itself as "well, if you don't understand plain latin"

nice blog

Courtney said...

Hey Mr M,

Hope your holidays are going well! For the Catullus assingment, i was wondering for question 2, how does Catullus show the tone of the poem?

Thanks heaps!

Anonymous said...

courtney, if i told you that it would spoil the excitement of figuring it out for yourself!

the first part of the question asked you to identify the tone of the poem, so have a think about that first. once you've worked that out, think about what bits of the poem gave you that impression. what is it in the poem that makes you think what you think? look particularly at the kinds of words and phrases used, and think about whether any of them have any special significance.

you don't need to say anything complicated, you just need to show that you've thought about the poem, and that you understand a bit about language used in the poem.

Anonymous said...

Sir, I'm almost afraid to ask, but what is this insidious rumour I hear about you and a beard?

Anonymous said...

zmf, 'tis nothing but an insidious rumour.