Freedom and Slavery

Keith Bradley

in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199211524
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History

Freedom and Slavery

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  • Classical Studies
  • Classical History
  • Ancient Roman History



Tacitus famously opens his account of the Julii and Claudii with a disquisition on the history at Rome of freedom and monarchy. The rapid survey from the kings to the foundation of the Principate prepares for the work's major theme, the demise of political freedom under a sinister system of government established and maintained by a dynasty of repressive autocrats. Tacitus in his own person is a paradoxical symbol of the intimate bond in Roman culture between freedom and slavery. Some slaves were visibly prominent in the performance of public rituals. They are also detectable as participants in the mystery cults that were so prominent a feature of Roman religious life in the central era. The success of manumission as a means of social manipulation is evident in the way that some slaves internalised the values of established society and integrated themselves within it. Roman sculpture provides compelling testimony.

Keywords: Tacitus; Rome; freedom; slavery; sculpture; manumission; slaves; mystery cults; public rituals

Article.  6570 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical History ; Ancient Roman History

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