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Gravestone of the released Gaius Messulenus ( Roman-Germanic Museum , Cologne)

A freed man is a former slave who was released from his previous state of bondage through a legal act.

Roman Empire

The released slave (servus) in ancient Rome was called libertus in Latin after his release ( manumissio ). The freedman continued to be dependent on his former master, the patronus ; he was his client and had to perform certain services, to attend his master every day and to support him in elections, otherwise the release could be revoked ( revocatio in servitutem ). Only the children of the freedman were full citizens, but they carried the stigma of the former slaves in their ancestral line.

There were different ways of releasing slaves:

  • by testamentum by testamentary disposition in the Testament
  • per vindictam by legal act before the magistrate
  • per censum with entry in the civil role as a free citizen by the Lord (this was rarely done and required the approval of public officials)
  • per epistulam by sending a charter
  • inter amicos , per mensam , per convivium through a simple declaration of intent in front of witnesses.
  • The ransom was understood to mean the purchase of a slave with immediate release.

Officially released persons had most civil rights , but they were not allowed to hold any political or military offices and were not allowed to marry women or men from the senatorial class . In this regard, their status was comparable to that of the peregrini (free people without Roman citizenship). In the second, at the latest third generation, freedmen became citizens with equal rights.

The unofficial release gave a slave freedom without granting him political rights.

With the release, the slave took over the first name and gentile name of his master, while he continued the previous slave name as cognomen . That was the name of Tiro , the former slave of Marcus Tullius Cicero , after Marcus Tullius Tiro was released .


Releases were very common in Rome. Emperor Augustus tried to limit this by setting 30 years as the minimum age for a freedman. But there were exceptions when a freedman wanted to buy his children free. Numerous grave inscriptions show that the minimum age was often not observed. The release offered the masters several advantages: on the one hand, by the prospect of later release, they could offer their slaves an incentive to serve them particularly diligently; On the other hand, the duties of a freedman to his patron were considerable (especially since additional services could be determined individually), while the duty of care that a master had towards his slave according to the Roman understanding ceased to exist with the release. The fact that many unfree people were given the opportunity to save money in order to ultimately buy themselves free also offered the slave owner an additional incentive.

In general, slaves employed in the household had a very good chance of being released when they got old enough. It was different for slaves in agriculture and mining . Many funerary inscriptions show that the families of urban freedmen and slaves often kept very close together, so that formerly enslaved family members found themselves together again after their release.

Most slaves achieved freedom between the ages of 30 and 40. Her previously born children remained unfree, while those conceived later were already full Roman citizens, and the grandson of a freedman was allowed to become a senator. Since the slaves came from different areas, the Roman citizenship constantly received "fresh blood" from other peoples of the empire and its neighboring states through the freedmen. At the same time, civil rights naturally became less and less exclusive until Emperor Caracalla finally granted it to all free residents of the empire in 212 ( Constitutio Antoniniana ).

However, it is also recorded that freedmen under Trajan could be exposed to the reprisals of the Senatus consultum Silanianum , which had already been exacerbated under Nero's "Senatus consultum Neronianum".

Lives of the freedmen

In principle, there were no restrictions on career choice. For example, there were doctors among free as well as freedmen and slaves. The social status of the freedman depended on the social status of his previous master. The freedman of a poor craftsman was mostly also poor, the freedman of a childless rich man could with luck become the heir to a considerable fortune. Some freedmen made it to proverbial wealth like the fictional character Trimalchio in the novel Satyricon by Titus Petronius Arbiter. Narcissus , the emperor Claudius ' freedman , even rose to be a kind of minister. Overall, in the principality, imperial freedmen often played an important role at the imperial court, as they were obliged to be particularly loyal to the emperor and at the same time, due to their social position, were completely dependent on his favor.

Tomb of the family of a freedman; the son wears the bulla , the amulet of the free-born children

The graves of the former slaves were often adorned with images of themselves in bourgeois clothing, the toga over the tunic worn by everyone . Often there were also relatives in the pictures, sons, daughters and their spouses. The family was thus united in death. The deceased were often depicted as apparent busts, which were actually half-body representations. They looked out of a window, down at the viewer from above. The clothing consisted of tunic and toga as a symbol of the state of the free.

See also


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ↑ On this: Joseph Georg Wolf : The Senatusconsultum Silanianum and the Senate speech of C. Cassius Longinus from the year 61 AD , (presented on Jan. 17, 1987), meeting reports of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences , Philosophical-Historical Class; 1988.2; ISBN 978-3-533-04023-1 , p. 48 f .; Max Kaser : Roman private law. Short textbooks for legal studies. Munich 1960. From the 16th edition in 1992 continued by Rolf Knütel . 18th edition ISBN 3-406-53886-X , I § 67 I p. 283, note 3 and § 67 II 3, p. 285, note 25.
  2. Digest 19,5,3,18 ff. Ulpian , 50 ed., 29,5,25,2. Gaius 17 ed. Prov.