Crucifixion of slaves by masters.

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Ben C. Smith
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Crucifixion of slaves by masters.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Mon Jul 27, 2015 6:44 am

Crucifixion was called the servile supplicium (punishment for slaves) in Roman times. Crucifixion was not, however, solely the prerogative of emperors, prefects, legates, and the like; apparently every male head of a household (pater familias) technically possessed the power of life and death (ius vitae necisque) over the members of his house, including wife, children, and slaves.

(I am given to understand that this absolute power was gradually eroded over time, in stages, from Hadrian to Antoninus Pius to Valentinian I; if anyone can shed light on that process, it would be appreciated.)

Martin Hengel writes on pages 57-59 of Crucifixion in the Ancient World:

The conflict between the orders of a master and the commands of the state, both of which threatened the slave with crucifixion, or between the goodness of a master and the limitations of class, of which crucifixion was a symbol, became a favourite theme of rhetorical declamation.

Slaves thus had relatively little protection against the whim of their masters and therefore against unjust imposition of the servile supplicium. The dialogue between a Roman matron and her husband, given by Juvenal (6.2i9ff.), says more here than many examples:

'"Crucify that slave", says the wife. "But what crime worthy of death has he committed?", asks the husband. "Where are the witnesses? Who informed against him? Give him a hearing at least. No delay can be too long when a man's life is at stake." "What a fool you are! Do you call a slave a man? Do you say he has done no wrong? This is my will and my command: take it as authority for the deed."'

('Pone crucem servo!' - 'Meruit quo crimine servus
supplicium? quis testis adest? quis detulit? audi;
nulla umquam de morte hominis cunctatio longa est.'
'O demens, ita servus homo est? nil fecerit esto;
Hoc volo, sic iubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas!'
)

In his defence of A. Cluentius, Cicero accuses the mother of the accused of having had a slave crucified and at the same time of having had his tongue cut out, so that he could not give evidence (Pro Cluentio 187). ....

Of course there was also criticism of excesses of this kind. For Horace, a master who has his slave crucified because he surreptitiously tasted some fish soup while bringing it in, 'is quite mad by any reasonable standard'. This attitude was matched by Augustus' tendency to curb the whims of slave-owners in favour of the authority of the state. Seneca even went so far as to remark with some degree of satisfaction 'that the cruelty of private slave owners was avenged even by the hands of slaves, who stood under the certain threat of crucifixion' (sub certo crucis periculo, De dementia 1.26.1).

I suppose it was all down to what kind of master a slave had. But masters crucifying their slaves seems to have been common enough to elicit the above kinds of responses and complaints, at any rate.

Ben.
Last edited by Ben C. Smith on Mon Jan 01, 2018 6:28 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Crucifixion of slaves by masters.

Post by Secret Alias » Mon Jul 27, 2015 9:18 am

Very interesting!
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Re: Crucifixion of slaves by masters.

Post by andrewcriddle » Wed Jul 29, 2015 10:53 am

Ben C. Smith wrote:Crucifixion was called the servile supplicium (punishment for slaves) in Roman times. Crucifixion was not, however, solely the prerogative of emperors, prefects, and legates; apparently every male head of household (pater familias) technically possessed the power of life and death (ius vitae necisque) over the members of his house, including wife, children, and slaves.

(I am given to understand that this absolute power was gradually eroded over time, in stages, from Hadrian to Antoninus Pius to Valentinian I; if anyone can shed light on that process, it would be appreciated.)
See https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=f4x ... on&f=false

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Re: Crucifixion of slaves by masters.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Jul 29, 2015 1:46 pm

That helps. Thanks, Andrew.
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Re: Crucifixion of slaves by masters.

Post by DCHindley » Thu Jul 30, 2015 8:49 am

andrewcriddle wrote:
Ben C. Smith wrote:Crucifixion was called the servile supplicium (punishment for slaves) in Roman times. Crucifixion was not, however, solely the prerogative of emperors, prefects, and legates; apparently every male head of household (pater familias) technically possessed the power of life and death (ius vitae necisque) over the members of his house, including wife, children, and slaves.

(I am given to understand that this absolute power was gradually eroded over time, in stages, from Hadrian to Antoninus Pius to Valentinian I; if anyone can shed light on that process, it would be appreciated.)
See https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=f4x ... on&f=false
I wonder how much difference there may have been between the literary portrayal and the actual practice? The former includes statements indicating rather harsh measures or discipline being applied to keep the inferior, lazy no-good-niks in line. The latter include many funerary inscriptions established by masters who indicated great affection for their slaves, whether freedmen or not, frequent records of manumission in general, Pliny the Younger's description of periodic feasts for his household slaves in which he participated as an "equal" (well, at least he drank the same wine and food he set out for them to drink), and a general lack of any slaves over age 30 in surviving tax rolls from Roman era Egypt. 100% manumission of slaves who live to 30? That's about as hard to fathom as the opposite, that no slave lived to be 30.

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Re: Crucifixion of slaves by masters.

Post by Peter Kirby » Fri Aug 07, 2015 7:20 am

DCHindley wrote:a general lack of any slaves over age 30 in surviving tax rolls from Roman era Egypt. 100% manumission of slaves who live to 30? That's about as hard to fathom as the opposite, that no slave lived to be 30.
Incidentally -- could this be an attempt to strive after status?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_ancient_Rome
Already educated or experienced slaves were freed the most often. Eventually the practice became so common that Augustus decreed that no Roman slave could be freed before age 30.
Okay so it's illegal to free slaves before age 30. That means it's legal to free them once they turn age 30.

That means that anyone who is keeping their slaves after they're already age 30 is (likely) doing so out of need or want.

In every era, displaying need or want is seen as a weakness and directly leads to loss of status. High status implies the absence of want. Having a slave with an age over 30 could be the Roman equivalent of driving a car that is more than ten years old. I.e., it proves that you can't afford newer and better.

That being the case (hypothetically), in interaction with census takers, before whom one would want to maintain appearances, any slaves over the age of 30 could be fibbed as having an age under 30 in order to save face. This could be elaborated to the point where slaves are assigned youthful ages when they are bought that have nothing to do with their actual age and instead just serve to enhance the perceived value (and lifetime value) of the slave.
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Re: Crucifixion of slaves by masters.

Post by outhouse » Sat Sep 19, 2015 8:24 am

DCHindley wrote: I wonder how much difference there may have been between the literary portrayal and the actual practice?

Usually much worse.

These were terrible times when survival was not easy for anyone let alone the salves and oppressed.


Even rich families had Harris lines in their childrens bones. If their loved children had a very tough go, imagine the poor slave that even looked at the lord wrong.


After all, 30-40 was the typical mortality rate for non slaves. Living past 30 was luck and very lucky at that.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_ancient_Rome


Their living conditions were brutal, and their lives short.

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Re: Crucifixion of slaves by masters.

Post by lpetrich » Mon Dec 07, 2015 11:29 am

One has to be careful about average longevity figures in premodern societies. Infant mortality was high in such societies, and comparable to what one sees in the less-developed present-day areas. If 1 out of 2 babies died before reaching 1 years old, then the average longevity at age 1 is nearly a factor of 2 higher than the average longevity at birth.

From Longevity,
n preindustrial times, deaths at young and middle age were more common than they are today, and lifespans past 70 years were comparatively rare. This is not due to genetics, but because of environmental factors such as disease, accidents, and malnutrition, especially since the former were not generally treatable with pre-20th century medicine. Deaths from childbirth were common in women, and many children did not live past infancy. In addition, most people who did attain old age were likely to die quickly from the above-mentioned untreatable health problems. Despite this, we do find many examples of pre-20th century individuals attaining lifespans of 75 years or greater, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Cato the Elder, Thomas Hobbes, Eric of Pomerania, Christopher Polhem, and Michelangelo. This was also true for poorer people like peasants or laborers. Genealogists will almost certainly find ancestors living to their 70s, 80s and even 90s several hundred years ago.

For example, an 1871 census in the UK (the first of its kind, but personal data from other censuses dates back to 1841 and numerical data back to 1801) found the average male life expectancy as being 44, but if infant mortality is subtracted, males who lived to adulthood averaged 75 years. The present male life expectancy in the UK is 77 years for males and 81 for females, while the United States averages 74 for males and 80 for females.

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