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Average lifespan for people who made it to the age of 10 was 47.5 years.   Say you have a slave who is 45, and is therefore, presumably, something of a banger.

Suppose you are a bit of a bastard and also a tightwad, and  would prefer not to keep spending money on food, accommodation etc for a slave who was frankly always a bit of a lemon.

You aren't allowed to kill them, Hadrian outlawed that.   Your slave has no marketable value.

What do you do?



( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
9th Jan, 2016 22:04 (UTC)
Give them to a neighbour as a present?
9th Jan, 2016 22:06 (UTC)
:-DDD slave as mathom 'some slaves of forgotten purpose had circulated all around the district...'
9th Jan, 2016 22:18 (UTC)
Kill them discreetly. Who's going to complain? You can always claim it was an accident, or self-defence, or when trying to run away, if anyone does. If it does stick you'll just pay a bit of a fine anyway.

Or sell them for a pittance to a someone with a mine. Miners die quickly, so they always need new blood.
9th Jan, 2016 22:26 (UTC)
I think killing them has the potential for causing a lot of annoying paperwork, and might also set you up as the kind of person who takes imperial laws lightly, which would be bad.

Wouldn't it be cheaper to just give them their freedom and tell them to push off?

There are no mines in the immediate vicinity and surely no-one is going to buy a knackered slave that might not even make it to the mine and transport them long distance? That seems uneconomic.
10th Jan, 2016 10:25 (UTC)
Only if anyone finds out :-)

Anyway, if he dies accidentally while, say, doing some solo whale-fishing, or repairing the bath-house furnace while it's still running, then how is that your fault?

As a general rule, people only make laws against things that people do, so Hadrian telling people not to kill old slaves implies that it was a (perceived) problem up to that point. When a new law comes along banning a well-established practice, what that means for many people (especially people in authority, such as a paterfamilias) is that you just need to be more discreet about carrying on as you always did.

Also: expectancy at 45 is very different from expectancy at 10. A slave who's 45 probably has a reasonable number of years left in him, so in fact it may be that he does have a market value. So even if you think he's a bit of a lemon, you may be able to get someone to take him off your hands.
10th Jan, 2016 10:30 (UTC)
Also: expectancy at 45 is very different from expectancy at 10.

Yes, this.

Edited at 2016-01-10 10:51 (UTC)
10th Jan, 2016 13:59 (UTC)
Laws: I seem to remember writing an essay on that very subject a lifetime or so ago. As I remember it, there were several reasons given for such laws:

1) People are doing this. It's appalling. We'll make a law to make them stop.

2) People used to do this all the time! It's appalling. We'll make a law to show how much we disapprove although nobody does this nowadays because we know better.

3) Civilised people make written laws. I shall make a written law that affects people's personal behaviour to their dependents! Everyone will understand that I only have to snap my fingers and they are toast.

4) I shall make a written law that would affect people's personal behaviour, if they read it, which I know they won't, but The Future will remember me, and will know how civilised I was!

ISTR that Charlemagne's capitularies were held to fall in to category 4, although I remember not entirely understanding why.

I think Hadrian's law could be 1, 2 or 3, although I'm sure someone has told me very assertively that it's 2) but I don't know how they knew.

Good point on the ages, backed up by that pdf that ningloreth linked below which gives a reference for the price of slaves falling at age 60, not age 45.
10th Jan, 2016 14:31 (UTC)
I wonder how bodies were disposed of. Surely there would be a cost to that, even for the cheapest methods, you'd have to at least waste time carrying the body out of town and digging a hole.
9th Jan, 2016 23:25 (UTC)
Turn them out of doors but allow them to live in the pig sties and eat swill, maybe?

It must have been a common problem...

ETA I found this article, called Servi Senes. The Role of Old Slaves at Rome:


Edited at 2016-01-09 23:32 (UTC)
10th Jan, 2016 09:05 (UTC)
Ah! That is exactly the sort of thing I was looking for! Thank you! (Why didn't I find that? My google skills have let me down!)

I love the phrase 'remarkable shortage of primary evidence'! There is nothing that lifts my heart more than an outbreak of We Don't Really Know. :-D

(Well, that or 'Weird Stuff Happened' but when you have 'Weird Stuff Happened' you sometimes have to defend yourself with references in the comments, which I always feel suggests that I didn't quite get there with the suspension of disbelief :-D)

Mr Wiedemann seems a tad didactic about things he thinks happened, for a man who started from a position of We Don't Really Know.

"it was not the case that slaves had normally become freedpersons by the time they reached oíd age." he says emphatically, having literally just told us that there is no evidence at all about the vast majority of old slaves.

I love historians.
10th Jan, 2016 13:32 (UTC)
That passage caught my eye, too! 'It seems certain...' generally means 'I've given it a bit of thought and I've decided...' Then whatever they've decided gets quoted as fact by the next historian, LOL.

I imagine most people would have been in a sort of modified family relationship with household slaves, so a beloved slave might have been well treated (assuming the owner could afford it), and an unbeloved slave over worked, under fed, and neglected.

Non-household slaves, though, must have been treated like animals. Or machines...

I wonder if Claudius's ruling was a bit of a let them eat cake solution? What use would freedom have been to an abandoned slave?

I keep coming back to something I read about an elderly Anglo-Saxon woman who sold herself into slavery because her husband and children were dead and she had no other way of supporting herself. What work would she have done? Maybe there was something feudal going on, and 'slavery' in that context was like getting the dole, and you paid for it with a fall in status?
10th Jan, 2016 14:11 (UTC)
I think Claudius may have had an eye on slaves that got ill, then recovered, and were reclaimed. So the temple got the bill for feeding them while they were ill, but the masters got the benefit if they came back to working health!

But yes, if the slaves were not able to work again, I'm sure freedom was no great benefit to them!

I read that injured slaves were often given work as childminders, but surely there must be a limit to the number of people who could be reasonably employed doing that.
10th Jan, 2016 09:12 (UTC)
... the ages in that are really interesting: particularly the bit about how slave prices drop after the age of 60. I had assumed since the average lifespan was shorter, that slaves might be prematurely aged by modern standards, but that sounds like it was not particularly the case.
11th Jan, 2016 14:56 (UTC)
One thing that occurs to me is that average ages for "people" (as opposed to "men") will be skewed by deaths in child-birth of many mothers. I seem to recall reading somewhere, that if women survived to the menopause, on the other hand, their life expectancy could very well be into their 70s. (And even with arthritis, I'm sure most old women could still spin and weave on a domestic loom (thinking of the more modern tradition of grannies knitting and crotcheting etc) and even do the laundry, if they didn't have to go to the river and draw the water themselves or do the heavy lifting, don't you think?)

Even with the men, I think the skew to younger average ages had less to do with people being totally clapped out by the time they were 50, and more to do with young men being soldiers, apprentices, doing hard manual labour etc and being killed by what we'd call "industrial accidents" sort of thing, didn't it? The teenage boy learning how to use a scythe had more chance of doing himself a mischief than the guy who had been scything for 20 summers. (Even today, middle-aged men throwing their backs out tends to be more the result of 20 years of too little physical activity and sitting at desks, meaning their deep muscles are not as supportive as they should be - my physiotherapist always swore that most sports injuries were due to people using the wrong muscles and having weak core stability; he was also on the physio team for the local professional club and was always telling stories about how little core strength those supposedly fit young men had.)

Equally, I'd assume that the farm-labourers and industrial-workers you owned were far less likely to make it to "uselessness" than your house-slaves, and the slaves who did the accounts at your dock-warehouses etc who would also be *less* useless merely by reason of age than those who had to do heavy labour, though I guess presbyopia would become a problem for elderly scribes etc. Hmmm.

In general, I'm with you - why not free your useless slaves?
9th Jan, 2016 23:34 (UTC)
Treat them as well as your tightfisted ways will allow, because if you're too much of a bastard the other slaves' morale will suffer, which is only going to cause you problems?
10th Jan, 2016 09:15 (UTC)
This wise approach should also apply to modern businesses and organisations, and yet...

I'm assuming that this particular owner is not particularly long-sighted.
10th Jan, 2016 00:20 (UTC)
...free them? Then they're -- well okay, they're still your problem, but presumably less of your problem?
10th Jan, 2016 09:26 (UTC)
That was my logical solution too! And there's some support for it, in that Claudius ruled that if you dumped your sick old slaves at the temple of Aesculapius on an island in the Tiber rather than looking after them, they were automatically free and you didn't even get to still be their patron.

But then I had a moment of doubt and looked it up, and found several historians all going 'you might think they were freed when they got old, but you would be WRONG' (that doc that ningloreth links above is an example.) Only I couldn't work out WHY they were saying that.

I suppose it may be as simple as Noted Historian A said it So Everyone Knows It Must Be True.

10th Jan, 2016 01:15 (UTC)
Give them to to someone you don't much like so they will have to feed them.
10th Jan, 2016 09:28 (UTC)
:-D This idea of simply strewing slaves among your enemies, I can't decide if that is better or worse than louisedennis's idea of giving them to the neighbours
10th Jan, 2016 13:27 (UTC)
It is 19th century, not 2nd, but Frederick Douglass describes how one elderly woman in her sevenites was simply sent out to live in a shack in the woods with no-one to look after her, and presumably very little in the way of supplies.
10th Jan, 2016 14:11 (UTC)
*shudder* that is very sad. :-(
10th Jan, 2016 16:45 (UTC)
Wow, that made me think, and even have a disjointed slave disposal dream last night. What made you think of that question, I wonder.
10th Jan, 2016 19:25 (UTC)
Wow, weird dream!

I am writing a short story set in the second century and it has an elderly slave character in it. It got me wondering about old slaves in general!
11th Jan, 2016 04:48 (UTC)
Sale for a pittance to anyone who would take them off the owner's hands?
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )

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