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 ambivalent position of the pais (child or slave) in the master's household.85 One context in which rural provincials would come in contact with large slaveholding households would have been encounters with military personnel, many of whom amassed large numbers of slaves as they moved around the Empire. According to Matthew, as Jesus entered Capernaum a centurion approached him to ask Jesus to heal his ailing pais. Whether Matthew's pais is a child or slave is unclear. Luke's version is unambiguous: the centurion wants Jesus to heal his dying slave, his doulos.86 The slaveholding Roman military official exhibits a paternal persona, caring for his slave, who is implicitly represented as vulnerable and childlike. The story functions as a companion piece to the story of Jesus' encounter with the synagogue leader Jairus, whose daughter Jesus raised from the dead.87 Although the centurion expresses paternal care for his pais, he also proclaims the subordinate status of slaves. Drawing an analogy to the power of his own commands, the centurion announces that a word from Jesus should be sufficient to effect a cure of the pais: "For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and the slave does it" (Matt. 8:9). The centurion's world was also Jesus' world. In that world, a freeborn man would be protective of his legitimate son. The son, in turn, would grow up to assume the role of protector toward others, a manly role. A slave, however well cared for by his owner, remained in a dependent and secondary position. Although he might display the somatic characteristics of the adult male, he nonetheless had the social standing of a pais—a slave, a child.

The exclusion of slaves from the category of manhood was thus implicit in ancient Mediterranean conceptions of masculinity.88 Stephen Moore and Janice Anderson summarize a current that has prevailed in classical studies since Michel Foucault's influential work:

Mastery—of others and/or of oneself—is the definitive masculine trait in most of the Greek and Latin literary and philosophical texts that survive from antiquity. In certain of these texts, as we shall see, a (free) man's right to dominate others—women, children, slaves, and other social inferiors—is justified by his capacity to dominate himself. Moreover . . . this hegemonic conception of masculinity was less a dichotomy between male and female than a hierarchical continuum where slippage from most fully masculine to least masculine could occur. The individual male's position on this precarious continuum was never entirely secure.89

The practice of rhetoric among elite men provides an example of a domain where freeborn men found themselves precariously close to emulating the manners of slaves. Since women and slaves were stereotypically associated with persuasive and perhaps deceptive speech, a man who sought to inculcate his own capabilities to sway others through his oratorical style entered a tenuous territory. Thus Quintilian championed styles of oratory that eschewed artifice, which he explicitly linked with slavish practices of somatic presentation ranging from excessive hand motions to castration. The command of voice and posture that freeborn men tried to develop in their rhetorical training was founded on a hatred of the servile, which was exacerbated by its proximity to the stratagems of the disempowered.90 Elite ideology insisted that men should master and control the boundaries of their bodies as slaves could never do.

Legally, a male slave could not experience paternity. In the eyes of the law, he neither had a father nor could he father a child. Obviously, male slaves did impregnate women and produce biological progeny, but this biological kinship escaped legal recognition and legitimation.91 Physically, the male slave had a penis, although the vulnerability of his other sexual organs to the modifications of castration at an owner's whim underscored the degree to which his body was not his own. Rather, he was another's body, counted among the slaveholder's somata in the context of a will or other tabulation of property. Symbolically, no slave had a phallus. No slave had the legal right to a patrimony, to inheriting or transmitting a family name or other symbolic capital. Artemidorus's dream logic spells out the connection between the phallus and a man's name: "The penis signifies, moreover, the enjoyment of dignity and respect. ... I know of a slave who dreamt that he had three penises. He was set free and, in place of one name, he had three, since he received in addition the two names of the master who had freed him."92 A slave was unaffiliated, outside the system of filiation in which fathers recognize and legitimate sons, thereby enabling them to assume their places within society.93 Indeed anthropologists acknowledge natal alienation as a defining characteristic of slavery crossculturally.94

In the twenty-first century courts accept genetic testing as definitive evidence for or against paternity. Not so under Roman law. Of course, we have no way of knowing whether scientific advances would have altered the conventions of paternity laid down in Roman legal codes. According to Roman law, paternity could only be established when a free man acknowledged a child as his own. A free man had the right to "decline" fatherhood; he alone could legally make the decision to rear a child. A free man who decided not to acknowledge his offspring would order the infant to be exposed in a public place. The child might die. The child might also be taken from that public place by another person and raised as a slave. (For further discussion of child exposure as a source of slaves, see chapter three.) When a man died during his wife's pregnancy, the child had to be reared with the family, since the only person who could make the decision to disavow the child could no longer speak.95 Although a divorced man might be compelled to provide financial support for a child his wife conceived during the marriage, he was not obliged to recognize the child, that is, to extend to the child his symbolic patrimony, including the family name. An enslaved man was not in a position to decide whether or not to raise a child. A legal nonperson, he had no patrimony to extend to biological offspring. A free man who chose to acknowledge and raise an infant thus marked the child as his own. An enslaved man, legally and culturally outside the phallic economy, lacked the ability to mark offspring as his own. In the matrix of Roman thought, fatherhood was not conceived at the genetic or the spermatic level but at the level of language, the symbolic, the bequeathing of a name and a status recognized by law. As Richard Saller concludes, "One of the things that most sharply distinguished the paterfamilias' child from his slave was that only the former stood to inherit the father's position."96

Although the law did not recognize slaves as fathers, it did recognize freedmen as fathers, and freedmen who were married could even father legitimate, freeborn children. We cannot know, however, what proportion of male slaves actually had this opportunity. Returning to the best-documented geographic region of the Roman Empire, the Egyptian evidence suggests that male slaves were commonly manumitted by age thirty. However, many slaveholders seem to have retained their female slaves in bondage for at least another decade, that is, until they had passed their peak reproductive years. Who were the sexual partners or potential wives of freedmen? If they had slaves as sexual partners, the law designated any progeny as the property of the woman's owner rather than as the son or daughter of the biological father. Freedmen might also have freed-women as sexual partners or legally recognized wives, but the data suggest that the numbers of still-fertile freedwomen may have been relatively small. Cultural and, in some cases, legal norms discouraged partnerships between freedmen and freeborn women.97 Thus, although freedmen could legally be the fathers of legitimate children, and ample evidence attests that this was not uncommon, we nonetheless have reasons to suspect that many freedmen were never able to establish themselves as fathers within their own families.98

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