Not Wholly Free: The Concept of Manumission And the Status by Rachel Zelnick-Abramovitz

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As Davis (1984, 11–13) correctly observed, the slave/property was deemed to be sufficiently responsible for his actions that he was liable to be punished for escaping or committing a crime and to be rewarded for good behaviour and loyalty. Slaves’ legal status did not necessarily define their actual condition. 17 Furthermore, as already observed by other scholars, the notion of slavery, like that of liberty, is full of metaphorical meanings that make its language ambiguous. Metaphorical uses may say something about concepts of slavery and freedom, but they are hardly valuable for defining forms of servitude and legal statuses.

A citizen who worked for wages or accepted gifts was less free than the independent and freelygiving citizen. 50 Further, Helots were slaves in relation to the Spartans, but they were less ‘slavish’ than chattel slaves. We can continue such comparisons forever, but I think it is quite clear that neither ‘slavery’ nor ‘freedom’ was a monolithic concept. Finley’s spectrum of statuses, with the chattel slave and the full citizen at its two extremes, can therefore be extended on the ‘free’ end: freedom itself had different shades.

The emergence and development of chattel slavery is thus linked by Finley and others to economic and political changes that enhanced the ideal of a free, independent and self-governing community of citizens. 2). Finley’s vast work on slavery presents the diversity of non-free labour as a spectrum running from the pure chattel slave at one end to the full citizen at the other (1982b, 98; 1982c, 132; 1982d, 147–8). 13 Finley (1982c, 132) implies, however, that this metaphoric spectrum, where one status shaded into another, suited ancient Near Eastern societies and Greece and Rome in the earlier stages of their history.

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