Domestic Bodies Family Life among Slaves

Our sources help us detect the shadowy ghosts of slaves proceeding through the streets of Mediterranean cities in the course of their varied duties or laboring in workshops and kitchens. The sources are less helpful when we try to reconstruct the domestic arrangements of slaves. What kind of quarters did slaves occupy How did the layout of ancient houses facilitate or impede family ties among slaves Moreover, how did residential layouts shape the quality of relationships among slaves who...

Body Count

The Greek word to soma, body, functioned as a synonym for ho doulos, slave. Wills and other listings of property frequently designated slaves as bodies. As part of the settlement of an estate in Egypt in 47 C.E., three sons agreed to a division of four slaves or, literally, four slave bodies, ta doulika somata. In its specification that the brothers who received female slaves as their portion of the inheritance also inherited the future offspring of those slaves, the settlement attests to the...

Female Bodies

The English word slave is unisex it can refer either to a male or a female slave. The English word slaveholder can similarly refer to a male or a female owner of slaves. Reliance on such unisex terms tends to obscure the gendered dimensions of slavery. Even in situations where the Greek word doulos clearly refers to a male slave, translators are likely to translate this grammatically masculine term as slave and not as male slave. However, the grammatically feminine term doule is typically...

Male Bodies

Beyond an accident of language, the male slave endured the permanent status of a boy, excluded from maturing into the category of manhood. Indeed, later slave systems, such as those of the American South and the Caribbean, have also characterized male slaves as boys and thereby refused to acknowledge their manhood.83 In the context of the Roman thought world, the slave remained forever under the potestas (power) of the owner-patriarch.84 An incident from the ministry of Jesus illustrates the...

Walk through the Streets of a Provincial City

Who were the slaves that Paul encountered in the course of his travels Where and in what contexts did he encounter them Acts of the Apostles includes one account of a slave whom Paul met in the streets of Philippi. The unnamed female slave (paidiske) was possessed by a Pythian spirit, who spoke through her. The slave's oracular powers were a source of income to her owners and a source of annoyance to Paul and his companions. The woman followed after them, calling out that they were slaves of...

Spiritual Slavery and Somatic Metaphors

Throughout antiquity, and certainly throughout the decades and centuries that witnessed the emergence of Christianity, every level of documentation represents slaves as bodies. The writings of early Christians are no exception. Corporeality conditioned the circumstances and experiences of slaves, ranging from their vulnerabilities to restraint and abuse to gender-specific dimensions of their servitude. Even a person's identity as a woman or a man in a patriarchal and honor-conscious society was...

Working Bodies Occupations of Slaves

Slaves could be found in every occupation in Greco-Roman cities.18 The men who maintained the furnaces in the baths were often slaves. The women who served beer in beer shops were often slaves and, for that matter, often prostitutes. Slaves worked in pottery factories and on farms, in mines and as shepherds. In smaller establishments a slave might have multiple jobs. Slaveholders provided official notifications of the deaths of slaves in order to avoid capitation taxes. These death notices...

Shame Honor and Slave Bodies

The gender-specific liabilities of slaves placed them outside the game of honor, in Orlando Patterson's words.99 At its simplest level, honor is a socially recognized claim to worth.100 Honorable people guard their honor by protecting their persons from both physical and symbolic affronts. As we have seen, the slave is vulnerable to both. Consider, for example, Bruce Malina's synopsis of male honor in the New Testament world First of all, male honor is symboled by the testicles, which stand for...

Bodies without Boundaries

Although slaves could be referred to as bodies, the bodies of slaves were not themselves neatly bounded nor defined entities. The bodies of slaves were vulnerable to abuse and penetration. The insult suffered by a free woman who received an unwanted sexual proposition was mitigated if she were dressed in such a way that she could be mistaken for a slave. Plutarch proposed that free Roman youths wear the amulet known as the bulla to prevent adult men from accosting them for sexual purposes.12...