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date: 15 July 2024

freedmen, freedwomenfree

freedmen, freedwomenfree

  • M. I. Finley
  •  and Susan M. Treggiari


  • Roman Law

Emancipated slaves were more prominent in Roman society (little is known of other Italian societies before their enfranchisement) than in Greek city-states or Hellenistic kingdoms (see slavery). In Greek the words apeleutheros/a and exeleutheros/a are used; in Latin libertus/a designates the ex-slave in relation to former owner (patronus/a), libertinus/a in relation to the rest of society. In Greek communities, freed slaves usually merged with other free non-citizens. In Rome, the slave freed by a citizen was normally admitted to citizenship (see citizenship, roman). A slave might be released from the owner's control by a fictitious claim before a magistrate with executive power (imperium) that he/she was free (manumission vindicta), by being ordered to present himself to the censors for registration as a citizen (manumission censu: in these forms public authority attested citizen status and made it impossible for the slave to be a slave), or by will (manumission testamento, where implementation of the owner's command was postponed until he/she died and depended on acceptance of the inheritance and public validation). A slave freed informally lacked citizenship and other rights, but was protected by the praetor, until Augustus introduced Latin rights, with the possibility (expanded by later emperors) of promotion to full citizenship. Augustus also, by the Fufio-Caninian law of 2 bce (introducing a sliding scale to limit the number of slaves who could be freed by will) and the Aelio-Sentian law of ce 4 (a comprehensive law, which included minimum ages for slave and manumitter and barred from citizenship slaves deemed criminal), regulated the previously untrammelled right to manumit.

In Greece, the ex-slave might be bound to perform services while the ex-owner lived; in Rome, continuing dependency took the form of part-time services (operae; libertae married with patron's consent were exempt from paying these to a male patron), possible remunerated work, the obligation of dutifulness, and some inheritance rights for the patron and descendants against the freed slave's heirs other than non-adopted children. Freedmen were usually registered in the four urban voting tribes (tribus), excluded from major public offices and military service, but given a role in local elective office and cult. Children born after their mother's manumission were free-born and under no legal disabilities, though servile descent might be remembered (especially by the upper classes) for several generations. Freed slaves document their activity in urban trades and crafts; the most prominent, wealthy, and envied were usually freed by the upper classes: literature emphasizes the exceptions—writers such as Terence, the fictitious millionaire Trimalchio (see petronius arbiter) or the bureau-chiefs of the early emperors such as Narcissus (2) and M. Antonius Pallas. See names, personal roman.


  • M. K. Hopkins and P. J. Roscoe, in M. K. Hopkins (ed.), Conquerors and Slaves (1978), 133–71.
  • S. Treggiari, Roman Freedmen during the Late Republic (1969).
  • A. M. Duff, Freedmen in the Early Roman Empire (1928; repr. 1958).
  • K. R. Bradley, Slaves and Masters in the Roman Empire (1984), ch. 3.
  • P. R. C. Weaver, Familia Caesaris (1972).
  • J. F. Gardner, Being a Roman Citizen (1993), ch. 2.