Children of Roman Men and Female Slaves

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Lars Porsenna, Feb 8, 2014.

  1. Lars Porsenna Banned

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    So I can't find sources on this anywhere, and I was really wondering, what was the status of children born to Roman citizens and female slaves? I don't mean prostitute-slaves that the man will never see again; I mean household slaves that will bear the child in that house. Will the child be born a free bastard citizen? A slave? Would the mother be sold as soon as it was learned she's pregnant with the master's child? Would the baby be passed off as some male slave's offspring?

    What's the consensus?
     
  2. carlton_bach Member

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    Status under Roman law passes through the female line unless the specific marriage form of conubium ensures succession through the male. After allk, Roman law stipulates unequivocally that the father can never be known with certainty, but the mother always. The child of a slave woman is a slave of her owner by birth (IIRC it's Juvenal who makes a joke about a slave owner all of whose slaves look suspiciously like him...)

    As to what would happen - that depended awfully on the circumstances. There was no particular shame to impregnating the occasional slave girl. slave women themselves, of course, had no way of refusing and thus it was not considered that this reflected on their honour (inasmuch as that concept applied to slaves at all). Selling a pregnant woman would, from a Roman POV, be a pointless waste of valuable resources. Houseborn slaves commanded a premium. Since, s.a., pater semper incertus, a slave owner might simply assume the new child into his household as a slave, offspring of who knows, really. IN larger households, that's the most likely outcome.

    A small household with just one or two slaves might not have the resources to raise a child and the master choose to expose it after birth. That, too, was commonplace. Babies would normally be placed on communal dungheaps or other public places and collected by whoever wanted one to raise as hios own, or as a slave.

    In some cases, where the slave is the permanent companion of her owner, the child might be raised as his and freed on attaining majority. With those kinds of relationship, though, it was customary to free the mother well before she got pregnant. Having a freedwoman concuibine as a long-term life partner was quite common. Her children,. being born free and (assuming the person doing the freeing was a Roman citizen), to citizen status could even be adopted by the father.
     
  3. Lars Porsenna Banned

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    Wow, thank you! And this last part only applies to lower class Romans, right? I mean the equivalent of today's middle class and below, right?
     
  4. carlton_bach Member

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    The part about the concubine or the adoption? Freedwomen concubines were normal. Emperor Vespasian had one and everybody knew. St Augustine had one in his youth and everybody wondered why he thought that was a problem.

    Adoption was trickier, but in Roman upper class families it was more common than it was later in Western culture. It was still more likely that they'd adopt from within the 'legitimate' family circle, but sometimes there were quite scandalous choices even by senators.

    The lower classes most likely did as they saw fit with little regard to the niceties of law. It was possible in the Roman world to live a life in arrangements that were technically illegal for many years. Slaves often considered themselves married, which was legally impossible.
     
  5. Elfwine Byzantophilic Brony

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    Would it mean anything a generation later that you had a slave ancestor in the cases of adoption or being freed?

    That is, would the children of a freed(wo)man be counted as if they were any other freeborn Romans?
     
  6. Shogun Well-Known Member

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    Not sure how common this was, but let's flip this:

    What would be the status born to children born of Roman women and their male slaves? Would they be considered free-born?
     
  7. Tessitore CMII

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    I'm reminded of a programme I saw on TV years ago that involved dramatic reinactments some of the more personal records recoved from Pompeii. One of the situations involved a Roman man, his apparently infertile wife, and a slave that he'd knocked up, something which greatly worried the wife since her husband really wanted a son and evidently wasn't particuarly concerned about who the mother was, so if the baby was a boy then it'd ruin things for the wife, although I can't remember how/why it'd ruin things.
     
  8. Lars Porsenna Banned

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    I'm pretty sure that, if it was known that the child was a slave's child, both mother and child would be killed; such a situation would be an affront to Rome's gods (and its citizenry's masculinity).
     
  9. Tessitore CMII

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    On the other hand, there's Roman tomb that has a fairly lengthy inscription about those buried in it and two of them were a Roman woman and a former slave who she'd freed and married, so things were evidently a bit more flexible in that area then you'd think.
     
  10. carlton_bach Member

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    Legally yes (the stigma of being freedmen ceased after the first generation). Socially, depends on your class. Senatorial families had long memories.


    The problem is that officially, that couldn't happen. You see, a Roman woman who was married would have commited adultery (since she couldn't legally be married to a slave), and an unmarried woman would have committed stuprum, illegal fornication. Both were legally punishable, in some cases carrying very severe penalties. The only legal way this would be possible is if a Roman citizen woman were registered as a prostitute and then bore a slave's child. Technically, that child would be a Roman citizen, though a fatherless one (a serious social stigma). In reality, I doubt this ever happened. In all other situations, people would either need to find some explanation or the woman in question would suffer punishment. THat could vary from the discretion of her senior male relative (likely death) to exile or capitis deminutio (loss of citizenship). Late Antique law codes stipulate enslavement or death.

    Most likely at the personal level. An infertile woman could be divorced, with little chance of getting married again. Or she could spend a life raising adopted children knowing she had not borne them. Neither is an appealing prospect if you were hoping for the life of a proud matron.
     
  11. carlton_bach Member

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    As a freedman, he'd be a citizen, so legally that would be no problem. Socially ... I'm pretty sure she was not a senator's daughter. You could get away with a lot if you moved below the radar of the emperor.
     
  12. Elfwine Byzantophilic Brony

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    Thanks. That was more or less what I thought would happen, but Roman law is not a strong point of mine.

    It sounds like something that would only come up if the other senators wanted to make a point at your expense (not unlikely, but not a day to day life and privileges thing either).
     
  13. carlton_bach Member

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    This depends on when and where it goes down. In Rome in the Late Republic, when senatorial families wield real influence independent of a power centre, it can matter every day. Te Romans had the idea that your political heft depended on two things: your auctoritas (the power of your office and status) and your dignitas (the esteem you were held in). That was Augustus' fig leaf: Not superior to others in auctoritas, but in dignitas, so everyone happily did as he said (that, and thirty legions, but why pick at the details...) AS a senator in that age, a questionable parentage will be an issue every time you hold a speech, sit in judgement, go to court, converse with your peers - whenever you encounter them, which is practically daily because social intercourse is your job.

    In the Principate era, it will already be much more subtle. Proximity to the emperor can cover a multitude of sins, and the senate no longer disposes of real power. You might still find yourself relegated to the second tier, but you'd be in good company, and if you get on the emperor's right side it won't really matter. Unless you absolutely wanted to be proconsul of Africa, because you won't.

    In Late Antiquity, it will most likely only come up as part of serious political moves. Senators at that point are more likely to interact wioth their inferiors and stay out of politics, and as long as you do that you should be fine. And with children of innkeepers, peasants and craftsmen holding the highest offices, what's the point?
     
  14. Elfwine Byzantophilic Brony

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    Point taken. But you'd still be ranked as a senator, even if some kind of third class one , if I understand this right.

    Interesting how that developed.
     
  15. carlton_bach Member

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    Absolutely. As a senator, you had made it in life. But kind of like being a 'one percenter' or a 'political leader' today, there's a big difference between being Prime Minister of Timor Leste and President of China.

    THe senators were basically pushed out of political responsibility, first the formal organ of the senate, then increasingly the group it recruited from. In the end, most senators were landloreds who came to Rome rarely if ever and mainly competed for sinecures if they were in politics at all. Real power was exercised through the army and civil service.
     
  16. Russian woolly rhinoceros

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    I remembered a legal written will of a Roman legionary found during archaeological excavations.
    That was a legionary of I-II centuries A.D., definitely before when it was legal for a legionary to get married while on military service before his retirement.
    Of course he was a Roman citizen.
    First thing which stroke me was that the guy was surprisingly rich.
    Among his possessions he had two slave women; one had two children, the other had three children.
    After his death all his wealth was inherited by these two slave women according to the number of children they had. The woman with two kids would inherit two fifths of his property, the woman with three kids inherited three fifths.
    And there was a clause in the will that if at the moment of his death there would be more children of these women the property would be divided between these women with equal shares for every their child.
    Of course these slave women and their children were to be immediately freed after his death according to his will.

    It was never written that these children were biological kids of this legionary, but that is obvious. And these women were actually his illegal wives whom he seemed to treat quite nicely.
     
  17. Mookie Banned

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    An unmarried slave owning woman couldnt bear a child of a slave. She could free him and then do what she wants. But keeping him a slave would be illegal.

    As for a child of female slave and a man he would be whatever his father wants him to be, a slave or free
     
  18. BlondieBC Kaiser of Ozarks Banned

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    My understanding.

    In the modern west, the state investigates a crime. So if a body of a lower/mid class person is found dead in a dark alley, the cops investigate. In Rome unless a high ranking person (senator rank or so), the cops would simply allow the family to bury the body. If the crime went to court, the friends or family of the victim would have to find the evidence, and then present to the court. So while a bit imprecise, the Romans system was more like our civil system except the judge could hand out jail or death sentences. And presumably just like our modern civil system, only a very small % of civil disputes ever saw the docket of any Roman official.

    So my understanding of the net effect was that as long as a lower/middle class Roman citizen did not offend a powerful family, showed loyalty to more powerful families it had ties to , paid its taxes, and did not revolt; the lower/middle family could largely do whatever it wanted in its own household and lands.
     
  19. SlyDessertFox BUST *CLAP* THOSE *CLAP *TRUSTS* Donor

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    The child of a freed slave would legally be a freeborn Roman. AFAIK, later on in Roman history, there were senators that had a freed slave in their ancestry.
     
  20. Lars Porsenna Banned

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    It also depends on whose bastard you are rumored to be. Mamercus Aemilius Lepidus Livianus, a great general, okay politician, and Princeps Senatus by the end of his life, was sometimes thought to be born of adultery between his mother and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (Mamercus's birth father was supposedly Marcus Livius Drusus); however, despite these rumors, he had few political opponents, even after his powerful father-in-law Sulla's death.

    Also, Roman from the dawn of the Republic to Nero really cared who your parents were. Gaius Marius was wealthy, talented, and one of Rome's greatest generals, but he was constantly passed over and disliked from being a New Man (but still a citizen) from Samnium. It was only after politics became mostly about military power and the use of force against Rome was accepted that non-Romans such as Galba.

    In Rome there were no police; there wasn't even a city garrison. If a death was deemed as important to the State, then a senator or few would go to investigate it, accompanied by clerks and lictors; once a competent commission like that got started, there was no stopping it.

    Middle and lower class Romans didn't have lands, but yes, a paterfamilias was the master of his household. Legally, he could murder, beat, or sell every person (including children and wife) under his roof. However, social rules often dictate behavior, and his neighbors might "teach him a lesson", so to speak, if things get too noisy; there was a man during the late Republic who killed his son and was basically ostracized from public life.

    I'm actually not sure about the court system or civil system.

    Exactly, though during the Republic only the Porcii Catones Saloniani come to mind.