Plautus and Roman Slavery
This book offers both a complete history of Roman slavery and an investigation into finding and interpreting evidence of it. Evidence on Roman slavery for the period is minimal. To get at its mechanics and underpinnings, we must look at it indirectly. Slavery is a relationship of power, and to study slavery—and not simply masters or slaves—we need to see the interactions of individuals who speak to each other, a rare kind of evidence from the ancient world.
Plautus’ comedies could be our most reliable source for reconstructing the lives of slaves in ancient Rome. By reading literature alongside the historical record, we can conjure a thickly contextualized picture of slavery in the late third and early second centuries BCE, the earliest period for which we have such evidence.
The book discusses how slaves were captured and sold; their treatment by the master and the community; the growth of the conception of the slave as “other than human,” and as chattel; and the problem of freedom both for slaves and society.
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action Aesop American South atque behavior Bradley captives Captivi Cato Cato’s Chapter chattel citizen claims clever slave coercive comedy contrast Daemones defined dishonorable dramatic early second century emphasizes enslavement Eunus female slave Finley Fraenkel freeborn freed slaves freedom frugi Greek Gripus Hegio hercle historical honor identifies identity ideology interactions Konstan late third Leonida lex Aquilia Libanus literary Livy male manumission master and slave Matralia Menaechmus Messenio mihi military monologue moral narrative numbers nunc obedience Persa perspective Philocrates pimp Plautine Plautus Plautus stages play plot Poenulus political praetor Pseudolus punishment quam quid quod quom relationship ritual Roberta Stewart role Roman audience Roman elite Roman law Roman slavery Rome scene second century bce second Punic war Senate silence slave sale slave society slave woman slave-owners social Stalagmus status subordination tibi tion Trachalio trickster Twelve Tables Tyndarus Verginia violence Virgo volones whip women