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'Happy those times When lords were styled fathers of families, And not imperious masters; when they numbered Their servants almost equal to their sons, Or one degree beneath them; when their labours Were cherished and rewarded, and a period Set to their sufferings; when they did not press Their duties or their wills beyond the power And strength of their performance! All things ordered With such decorum as wise law-makers From each well-governed private house derived The perfect model of a commonwealth. Humanity then lodged in the hearts of men, And thankful masters carefully provided For creatures wanting reason.'—Tlw Bondman, activ. sc. 2. But when wealth increased and slaves were multiplied, and liberty, it must be added, became more rampant, this unfortunate race was trampled upon with still more remorseless zeal by those haughty republicans, so jealous of the least infringement on their own rights and privileges—an example not lost, it should seem, on those republicans of modern days, who are most boastful of their national and individual freedom. Then it was that the work-houses were crowded, a fettered peasantry tilled the land, and Calo, the censor, in some respects a model of Roman virtue, obtained dishonourable celebrity as a domestic tyrant.
'Masters then considered, generally, that there was nothing which they might not do to their slaves, and that great severity towards them was necessary to keep them in complete subjection; and even good-natured masters thought sometimes that their own easy temper produced carelessness in their domestics. Slaves were spoken of as mere animals; and valued only in so far as they represented money. Hortensius, we are told, cared less for the health of his slaves than of his fish. And it was a question put for ingenious disputation, whether, in order to lighten a vessel in a storm, one should sacrifice a valuable horse or a worthless slave. Even Cicero speaks of his own regret for the death of a favourite and gifted domestic being greater than he ought to have felt for a slave !'—p. 124.
During the last civil wars, the desperate Catiline alone dared to entertain the thought of letting loose the fierce and incensed slaves upon their masters; and of all the charges, accumulated by the indignant eloquence of Cicero, none, doubtless, struck on so sensitive a chord m the feeling of his audience, or aggravated to such a height the general abhorrence. Under the first Caesars, the condition of the slaves was, probably, but little improved. The law of Augustus, as we shall see, produced no great practical advantage. It appears from a law of Claudius that it w as a practice so common
to to expose sick and helpless and decrepit slaves in the island of iEsculapius on the Tiber, with the view of saving their maintenance, that a prohibitory enactment became necessary. The comic writers, particularly Plautus, who must be received with caution on the subject of Roman slavery, the satirists, and Martial, are our chief authorities on the actual usage of slaves. Like our Anti-slavery Reporters, of course such authors selected the worst cases, and sometimes wrote rather for effect than truth. But it is impossible to believe that the Romans, accustomed to the bloody diversions of the arena, were not, in general, a severe and cruel people. Instruments for the flagellation and torture of slaves, whips, thongs of bulls' hide, iron collars, and even more horrible engines, seem to have been hung up as ordinary and necessary pieces of furniture, like our stands for walking-sticks and umbrellas. Woe to the careless Abigail who did not finish off, with a nice and exquisite touch, that symmetry of curl which formed the head-dress of her capricious mistress, or touch her cheek with the becoming tinge of ceruse! The whip hung temptingly near, and the great dame herself would sometimes take that instrument of correction into her own delicate hands, or, at least, see that it was duly administered. It was only of the lady whose locks were so naturally beautiful as to disdain the use of art, that Ovid would venture to say—
'Ornatrix tuto corpore semper erat.' The porter (the janitor) appears to have been ordinarily chained, like the house-dog, to his post; a visiter was sometimes treated with the interesting spectacle of the flagellation of an offending slave; there seem to have been professional torturers, who hired themselves out for this disgusting office. The law of Augustus, which established the jurisdiction of the prcefecfus urbis in cases between master and slave, probably had no great effect beyond the moral influence, which might arise from the recognition of the legislature that this part of the community was not altogether beneath its care. The master was not compelled to bring his delinquent slave before this tribunal—the slave would rarely dare to appeal to it. At all events the jurisdiction of the 'Lord Mayor' of Rome extended only to the city, or a limited district around it—the tortured slave in the country workhouse might shriek to the unheeding air.
The mitigating circumstances of Roman slavery arose partly from the sentiments of justice and humanity, which, notwithstanding the vices and the ferocity of the general character, were gradually disseminated, and from local and incidental causes. As to.the agricultural slaves, the rapid propagation of them, which Appian describes, at the worst period of their general condition, shows that, for the most part, they were not exposed to such hard usage, or kept on such insufficient food, as checks the multiplication of the species. The
domestic domestic slave, of good conduct, industry, and skill in any of the arts or attainments which ministered to the comfort, the wealth, or the luxury of his master, had the power of enhancing his own value, and becoming an object of esteem, even of interest and pride. There was no question as to the equal capacity of the Greek or Asiatic slave for any kind of instruction, with his Roman lord—no prejudice or doubt like that which depresses the negro into an inferior mental and intellectual being. It is said that some of the liberal arts were proscribed to slaves, but practically this could not be the case. The slaves of Atticus were indispensable to his literary ease and enjoyment. Many persons derived more vulgar advantages from the skill of their slaves in the mechanical arts; and the bondman who could minister successfully to the luxury of his master, however he might occasionally suffer from his caprice, was too important to his personal comfort, and even too valuable in the market, not to be treated with some kind of distinction. The cook who could humour the delicate palate of Apicius, might be liable to occasional out-bursts of resentment from his fastidious lord, but he had so strong a hold upon the ruling passion— both the appetites and the vanity of the voluptuary were so deeply concerned in keeping him in good humour—that no doubt he w as as imperious and almost as independent as a first-rate artiste in our free metropolis.
Mr. Blair gives some curious instances of the value which different slaves bore in the market: the important personage, alluded to above, sold for 772/.; a fool (morio) for \6il.Qs. 2d.; for a luxury of a much nobler kind, a set of learned slaves, a kind of rhapsodists who could repeat the whole of celebrated works, Calvinius Sabinus paid at the rate of 100,000 nummi, or 81 5s. lOd. each. A good actor and a good physician! bore a high price, on account of the emoluments which they brought in. The slaveplayer, about whom Cicero was concerned in his celebrated cause pro Koscio, was estimated at the least at 200 sestertia (1614/. J 1». ad.)
The language of the moral writers during the early emperors gradually assumed a more humane and liberal tone on the treatment of slaves, and though no doubt far beyond their age, must, in some degree, be considered as indicative of the general sentiment. Cicero ventures to hint that justice is to be observed even towards slaves, and that those are not altogether wrong in their judgment who would treat them as hired servants.—(De Off. i. 13 ) This cold and timid philosophy expands, in many passages of Seneca, into bold and almost Christian sentiments of humanity. Pliny the younger, instead of treating his friends with the sight of the bleeding bucks and collared necks of his slaves, felt a more honourable pride in displaying the cleanliness and comfort of their
apartments. The mild and benevolent Plutarch is full of pleasing and liberal feeling on the same subject. But the real drop of sweetness in this bitter cup must, after all, have been the chance of liberty which was often granted with no sparing hand ;—Augustus, indeed, restrained to a certain degree the general liberality, and put some check on the number of manumissions ;—and this restoration to freedom, though the libertus was in some degree of dependence upon his patronus, who was still responsible to the public for his behaviour, might become practically complete. It was not, as in the great republic of modern days, where the libertino patre nati, unfortunately still marked out by the indelible sign of their colour and features, remain a despised and excluded race, whom the public sentiment sternly refuses to admit to social union, to a real and active participation in their free institutions.
Some legal limitations still fettered in Rome the man of slave descent; for several generations he was not admitted into the senate; but to all other distinctions this blot seems to have been no practical impediment. Gibbon considers that they were excluded from military honours, but we doubt whether that barrier was not often overleaped; and the single example of Horace is sufficient to prove that it was no exclusion, when compensated by great talents, from the most distinguished society of Rome. The emperor Hadrian first effectually extended the protection of the law over the slave part of the community, and took away the power of life and death. He suppressed the ergastula, and restrained a proprietor from selling a slave to a keeper of gladiators. Antoninus Pius legislated in the same benignant spirit, and thus prepared the way for that final emancipation which was to take place through the slow and silent operation of Christianity. We have already, in a former article in this Number, pointed out, as an interesting subject of inquiry, the manner in which Christianity contributed to this great social change. Mr. Blair has stated the operation of some of the regulations introduced by the Christian emperors, but he has only treated the subject, according to his plan, in an incidental manner. It still remains to develope both the direct and indirect operation of this new principle of civilization on the servile population of the Roman empire. It does not appear quite clear, when Christianity first ventured openly to raise its voice against the injustice and inhumanity of the whole system. Chrysostom inveighs in one part of his writings against the possession of an enormous number of slaves, yet rather as a proof of inordinate and dangerous opulence, than as worse in itself than any other prevailing luxury. The emperors proceeded but slowly in their legislative interferences, and rather with a view to the amelioration of the condition, than, at least till the time of Justinian, with any view to complete emancipation. A new slave-trade arose in the centre of Europe during the invasions of the barbarians, of which a sketch is given in the 'History of the Jews,' vol. iii., as it appears chiefly to have been carried on by that active race, who had little scruple as to the traffic in which they should engage, provided it was lucrative. Yet it cannot be doubted that to Christianity Europe was eventually indebted for the extinction of slavery—or that our modern philanthropists have unwisely neglected the mode of operation in that great example.
On the whole, we recommend this little work to the reader who may be desirous of useful and dispassionate information on a most curious subject. Mr. Blair—the grandson, we are informed, of the author of ' The Grave,' and the son of the late admirable Lord President of the Court of Session at Edinburgh —is not a writer for effect, or for any temporary purpose. He has no splendid theory to illustrate; no object but that of diffusing the valuable knowledge which his mdustry has enabled him to collect; and though his reading is both accurate and extensive, he brings it to bear on his subject without the slightest display or parade. If accomplishments such as his be common with the northern bar, that profession may well be a proud one; and its members may be excused for regarding with some jealousy the system which subjects the decisions of their native judges, trained in the study of Roman jurisprudence, to the revisal of persons who have but rarely even a tinge of that species of learning, without which no man can understand anything of the ancient municipal law of Scotland.
The whole history of the servile classes of mankind, of which Mr. Blair's theme is an important chapter, might be made both interesting and instructive. The advantages which legalized slavery has certainly conferred upon mankind, in certain periods of society, iu mitigating the atrocities of barbarian warfare, giving a kind of value to human life, which would otherwise be unsparingly mowed down by the exterminating sword ; its modifications iu the east and west; the singular and (so to speak) premature benevolence of the Mosaic institutes in the mitigation of its sufferings; the difference in its actual effect on both classes in despotic and republican states; all these, and numberless other points connected with its history, might afford very curious subjects for a philosophical mind, which should be superior to all the temporary excitement of the day, and bring to the investigation sound political wisdom, tempered with real Christian benevolence.