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 modified by the fact of enslavement. Nonetheless, contemporary scholars often minimize the liabilities of slave status, downplaying the consequences of literal, physical slavery. In doing so, scholars follow the lead of ancient writers who insisted that the only true slavery was spiritual slavery. The history of Western philosophical and theological thought has, more broadly, subordinated matters of flesh to matters of the spirit. Given the ancient equation of slaves with bodies, it is not surprising that historians and theologians have so often overlooked the conditions and consequences of enslavement. In doing so, they can draw on a number of ancient writers who in turn minimize the impact of corporeal slavery while stressing the dangers of spiritual, mental, or volitional slavery.
In the Acts of Thomas, the apostle looks with compassion at a band of slaves who carry the litter of a wealthy woman who desires to hear him speak. He notes that the slaves are heavy laden, treated by their owner as beasts of burden. He insists that God does not distinguish according to status, slave or free. He then tells them what God requires of them: to abstain from murder, theft, avarice, and other vices. He reserves his strongest language for his warning against sexual activity, which he represents as a vice which has the power to enslave.113 The passage moves from the opening recognition of the physical burdens of the enslaved litter bearers, carrying their owner on their backs, to its climactic insistence that the worst slavery is the bondage of sexual desire.
The remainder of this chapter analyzes the arguments and rhetoric of two ancient works, which proclaim the relative insignificance of physical slavery and the overarching perils of spiritual slavery. Even here, I argue, we cannot escape the pervasive identification of slaves and bodies. Epictetus, a freedman and Stoic philosopher, argues that the freedom of moral choice is the only liberty of any consequence. To Epictetus, the body is a burden-bearing donkey, and what happens to the body is of no consequence. Since all a slaveholder can own or affect is the body of a slave, legal subjugation cannot compromise a person's liberty. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul points to a life in Christ that is beyond the divisions of slave and free, male and female. Having enunciated the dissolution of these identities, however, Paul redoubles his reliance on somatic and gendered metaphors of slavery. For both Epictetus and Paul, the rhetoric of physical slavery haunts the claim that the only real bondage is the servility of will, of mind, or of spirit.
Epictetus lived during the early years of the Christian movement, from the mid-first century c.e. until 135 c.e. As a child he was a slave of Epaphroditus, a freedman and an officeholder under Nero and Domitian. Epictetus studied philosophy with Musonius Rufus. Eventually, Epaphroditus manumitted him. His student Flavius Arrianus (Arrian) recorded his teachings in the work now known as the Discourses. Although Epictetus is not himself the author of this work, the Discourses bring us closer than most other ancient literature to the insights of a (former) slave, albeit an exceptional slave. Throughout this discussion I treat the Discourses as though they accurately record the words of Epictetus, although I acknowledge that the words we read have inevitably been filtered and shaped by Arrian. According to Epictetus, the situation of the slave is no different from the situation of the free person in the only respect that he thinks matters: the freedom of judgment and moral decision making. By proclaiming that the liberty of the (legally)
free person is a chimera, Epictetus denies the essential distinction between slave and free. However, a corollary of this proclamation is a refusal to acknowledge that the toll of slavery on the human person is genuine.114
For Epictetus, people's ability to decide between what is right and wrong defines their liberty, so that we may most accurately refer to "volitional" bondage or freedom. Epictetus recognizes that many things are outside the control of the individual. Because a person cannot control external circumstances, it is impossible to choose wealth, a good reputation, physical well-being, or a happy family. But liberty is unrelated to riches, a good name, health, or kinship:
"Have you nothing that is free?" "Perhaps nothing." "And who can compel you to assent to that which appears to you to be false?" "No one." "And who can compel you to refuse assent to that which appears to you to be true?" "No one." "Here, then, you see that there is something within you that is naturally free. But to desire, or to avoid, or to choose, or to refuse, or to prepare, or to set something before yourself—what man among you can do these things without first conceiving an impression of what is profitable, or what is not fitting?" "No one." "You have, therefore, here too, something unhindered and free."
Not only does Epictetus stress the dangers of volitional indenture, but he also argues that the condition of legal servitude does not and cannot damage a person. Epictetus acknowledges that he lives in a culture that allows one person to hold legal title to another, but he insists that such title is insufficient to enable one person to be master of another: "For what is a 'master'? One man is not master of another man, but death and life and pleasure and hardship are his masters" (1.29.61-63). Epictetus ridicules the notion that papers or rituals could determine whether a person is slave or free. The only evidence of a person's liberty is that person's behavior, particularly in the exercise of discernment between what is good and what is evil.
All persons have the capacity to distinguish and choose what is right because human beings are the children of Zeus, imbued by Zeus with a spark of divinity. Who are you, asks Epictetus, and why are you in this world? Zeus has brought you into this world and equipped you with senses and reason (4.1.104). What ultimately horrifies Epictetus about enslavement to the passions—subjugation to love, to fear, to greed for wealth or power—is that such bondage compromises Zeus, who is carried inside each person: "But you are a being of primary importance; you are a fragment of God; you have within you a part of Him. . . . You are bearing God about with you, you poor wretch, and know it not!" (2.8.9-15). Epictetus believes that as children of one father, Zeus, we should acknowledge our kinship to other human beings, ignoring such artificial barriers as the claims of nationality or even the formalities associated with slavery: the buying, selling, and possession of human bodies.
On one level there is nothing controversial about Epictetus's definition of freedom: "He is free who lives as he wills, who is subject neither to compulsion, nor hindrance, nor force, whose choices are unhampered" (4.1.1). However, Epictetus's definitions of compulsion, hindrance, and force diverge from common interpretations of these concepts. Is the threat of physical injury, or even death, relevant to compulsion or force? Not according to Epictetus: "Come, can anyone force you to choose something that you do not want?—He can; for when he threatens me with death or bonds, he compels me to choose.—If, however, you despise death and bonds, do you pay any further heed to him?—No.—Is it, then, an act of your own to despise death, or is it not your own act?— It is mine" (4.1.65-74).
Even as the Discourses provide evidence about the harsh conditions of slavery in the first and early second centuries, they discourage the reader from considering those conditions as liabilities for persons who endure them. Epictetus views the slaveholder's weapons as feeble. A master or mistress can ask a slave to perform immoral actions and can beat, maim, or kill the slave who refuses to comply. But this is all the slaveholder can do. Epictetus argues that a slave who does not cower before physical abuse or death is therefore free to act as he or she chooses: "How, then, does it come about that he [a slave] suffers no harm, even though he is soundly flogged, or imprisoned, or beheaded? Is it not thus—if he bears it all in a noble spirit" (4.1.127). A slave who compromises behavior or judgment because of the threat of punishment is nonetheless still culpable, because he or she has valued physical well-being over moral well-being. A slaveholder controls only the body of a slave, but to have power over a body is to dominate a thing which is of no value in itself. Epictetus can thus recognize that the slaveholder's dominion over the enslaved body is absolute and still deny that the slaveholder has any real mastery over the one who is called a slave.
The Discourses reinforce the ancient rhetorical association of slaves and bodies. We find this association repeated, for example, in the writings of another Stoic philosopher. Seneca writes, "It is a mistake for anyone to believe that the condition of slavery penetrates the whole being of a man. The better part of him is exempt. . . . It is, therefore, the body that Fortune hands over to a master; it is this that he buys, it is this that he sells; that inner part cannot be delivered in bondage."115 However, while other ancient works characterize slaves as bodies, the Discourses characterize bodies as slaves: "'Is the paltry body [to somation] you have, then, free or is it a slave?' 'We know not.' 'You do not know that it is a slave of fever, gout, ophthalmia, dysentery, a tyrant, fire, iron, everything that is stronger?' 'Yes, it is their servant'" (3.22.40-41). According to Epictetus, a person should demonstrate no concern for what is external, and he includes one's very body among the external circumstances that are peripheral to personal identity. Dissociating oneself from one's body is liberating, claims Epictetus, since one is no longer subject to tyranny:
When the tyrant threatens and summons me, I answer, "Whom are you threatening?" If he says, "I will put you in chains," I reply, "He is threatening my hands and my feet." If he says, "I will behead you," I answer, "He is threatening my neck." If he says, "I will throw you into prison," I say, "He is threatening my whole paltry body; and if he threatens me with exile, I give the same answer."—Does he, then, threaten you not at all?—If I feel that all this is nothing to me—not at all; but if I am afraid of any of these threats, it is I whom he threatens. (1.29.6-8)
The body is servile, external to the true person, and burdensome—like a donkey, says Epictetus. Ancient law and custom stated that the body of the slave belonged to another. Epictetus goes still further. A slave does not possess his or her own body, but neither does a free man or a free woman. I have noted that ancient documents refer to the little bodies lifted from dungheaps to be raised as slaves with a diminutive of the word for body: to soma, the body, to somation, the little body. Thus, when Epictetus describes his own body as a negligible thing, a somation, he underscores once again the slavish nature of the body, the soma: "my paltry body, something that is not mine, something that is by nature dead [to somation, to ouk emon, to physei nekron]" (3.10.15).
In many respects, Epictetus's arguments assume great respect for the integrity of those persons whom others designated slaves. Like every other human being, the slave is a son or daughter of Zeus, who carries Zeus within. Slaves consequently share with the rest of humanity a boundless potential for moral discernment and action. One may differentiate slaves from free persons on grounds of utility ("For there is some use in an ass, but not as much as there is in an ox; there is use also in a dog, but not as much as there is in a slave; there is use also in a slave, but not as much as there is in your fellow citizens" [2.23.24]) but not on moral grounds. Epictetus concedes the legal division of slave from free but questions the significance of this division. The formal Roman ceremony associated with manumission requires the slaveholder to turn his slave around. Epictetus assesses the import of this ritual:
When, therefore, in the presence of the praetor a man turns his own slave about, has he done nothing?—He has done something.—What?—He has turned his slave about in the presence of the praetor.—Nothing more?—Yes, he is bound to pay a tax of five percent of the slave's value.—What then? Has not the man to whom this has been done become free?—He has no more become free than he has acquired peace of mind. You, for example, who are able to turn others about, have you no master? Have you not as your master money, or a mistress, or a boy favorite, or the tyrant, or some friend of the tyrant? If not, why do you tremble when you go to face some circumstance involving those things?
In his insistence that the slaveholder controls only the body of the slave, Epictetus denies the slaveholder any meaningful victory over another person. Hegel argues that in subjugating the slave the master seeks to force another consciousness to acknowledge his superiority. But Epictetus argues that the master tames neither the consciousness nor the conscience of the slave. In achieving victory over the slave's body the master has merely subdued an inanimate object. Epictetus characterizes the body not only as slavish but as clay, a lifeless thing. Not only, then, do Epictetus's arguments seem to dignify the humanity of the slave, but they also controvert the slaveholder's claim to a higher status.
Epictetus's dismissal of the importance of corporeal slavery, however, is in no way a rejection of the institution of slavery. Epictetus insisted that people should not try to change the circumstances in which they found themselves but should accept their situations as given by Zeus. Rich or poor, free or slave, each person should only care about what is within the control of every person, that is, proper discernment and alignment of the will with what is right. Acceptance of this ethical framework would prevent a slave from running away or rebelling against a slaveholder, two alternatives that untold numbers of slaves pursued throughout antiquity.
To accept Epictetus's arguments today is to disavow the gravity of slavery in the Roman Empire. For Epictetus, the slave who disposes of the household's human wastes is a slave on a small scale (mikrodoulos), and the governor or consul who has abased himself before the emperor to achieve his position is a slave on a large scale (megalodoulos). On this view, the fact of a person's legal manumission is inconsequential; the kidnapping and sale of a free person into slavery is equally inconsequential. The slaveholder who inflicts physical abuse on the slave suffers harm from the act, while the slave who is beaten suffers no harm. The association of slaves and bodies is crucial for Epictetus's arguments. If my body is not my own, it is a slavish thing of no consequence, and what happens to my body should not affect who I am as a person. But what happens to my body surely is part of my story. While Epictetus ridicules the impact of beatings or even threats of death, at no point does he acknowledge that slaves' bodies were also sexually vulnerable. Unlike Epictetus, I do not think that people who alter behavior in order to avoid physical abuse compromise themselves morally. Moreover, extreme physical assaults such as torture have the potential to erode the very structure of personhood.116 Somatic injuries are real injuries, and corporeal pain is real pain. Given the time-honored devaluation of the body in Western thought, Epictetus's arguments can seem persuasive. Respect for the bodies of ancient slaves, coupled with acknowledgment of the harm that enslavement caused them, demands that we ultimately reject those arguments.
Paul's Letter to the Galatian Christians
In his letter to the Galatian Christians, Paul quotes a baptismal formula to remind his readers that their new identity in Christ abrogates the claims of other status markers: "For when all of you were baptized into Christ, you put on Christ as though he were your clothing. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; there is no 'male and female'; for all of you are One in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:27-28). Commentators agree that Paul quotes the baptismal formula in this verse because he is concerned with the dissolution of the categories of Jew and Greek. However, having incidentally announced that within the Christian community slave and free are not relevant categories, Paul introduces imagery that stresses acknowledged legal and cultural differences between slave and free. Moreover, despite his dismissal of the categories male and female, the tropes of slavery and freedom that pervade Galatians 4 are gendered tropes. We have seen that, in Greco-Roman culture, status as well as gender affected the articulation and practices of "masculinity" and "femininity." Although Paul instructs the Galatian Christians to concern themselves with spiritual rather than corporeal slavery, his rhetoric ironically underscores the somatic structure of ancient slavery. Elizabeth Castelli argues, "The very notion of difference works in the passage as a conceptual problem for Paul, something that his argument requires, and yet that his philosophical framework cannot sustain."117
Paul writes, "There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; there is no 'male and female'; for all of you are One in Christ Jesus." He continues, "And, if you are Christ's, then as a result of that, you are seed of Abraham, heirs in accordance with the promise" (3:29).118 In order to tease out the significance of the trope of the heir, Paul contrasts the heir with the slave. Having explicitly introduced this opposition, the distinction between the heir or son and the slave suffuses Paul's argument. That the heir is only a son by adoption in no way minimizes the impact of Paul's analogy. The symbolic or phallic configuration of paternity, rather than the biological relationship, distinguishes the relationship of a freeborn father and son from the relationship of an enslaved father and/or son.
Galatians 4 begins: "What I mean can be made yet clearer by a picture: So long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, even though, in prospect, he is lord of the entire household. He is under the authority of guardians and managers until the arrival of the time set by the father for his passage to the status of an adult" (4:1-2). Paul then speaks of God's ransoming the Galatians from the enslaving powers of the cosmos and even adopting them as sons: "So then, you are no longer a slave, but rather a son; and if you are a son, you are also an heir by God's act of adoption" (4:7). Paul's metaphors make sense only in the context of some peculiar dimensions of first-century practices of slavery. First, Paul's comparison of the underage heir with the position of the slave points to the assimilation of slaves, perhaps especially male slaves, to the position of children, of boys. Within Greco-Roman systems of gender, the slave could not grow into the full status of a man. Second, Paul's contrast between the son or heir and the slave emphasizes the exclusion of the slave from systems of paternity or filiation and thereby the slave's lack of a phallus. Third, Paul's introduction of the Hagar-Sarah allegory reminds his readers of the sexual vulnerability of slaves, especially female slaves.119 (Sarah, the infertile wife ofAbraham, encouraged her husband to conceive a child with the Egyptian slave Hagar. After Sarah gave birth to Isaac she engineered the expulsion of Hagar and Hagar's son into the wilderness.) Fourth, and finally, the passage relies on a peculiar confusion between slave and prospective heir. Imagine a little body, an indeterminate body, perhaps lifted off a dungheap, that may be raised as a slave or may be adopted as a son. Thinking about this little body and its potential as son or as slave will help us come to terms with the extent to which first-century intimations of gender escaped biological definition, rooted as they were not in carnal bodies but in symbolic bodies, in networks of status and power.
As I have already argued, the tenure of the slave in the household of the master enshrined his position as pais. The subordinate status of the slave prevented him from claiming the position or prerogatives of manhood. Paul evokes precisely this dimension of the ancient ideology of slavery in his assimilation of the slave to the underage child, the heir. A pais who is an underage heir may be the legal master of the household, but at this time the household guardians and managers—who themselves may be slaves-function as his masters. Nonetheless, the day will come when he will assert his masculinity by exerting his mastery over the household retainers. A pais who is a slave, however, cannot look forward to this transition and is thus no different from a child, although he may sport a full beard and other somatic markers of the adult male. The point of contrast between slave and heir is that of potential. The heir expects that he will eventually attain the status of manhood, but the slave does not. Although Paul does not point explicitly to the sexual vulnerability of the slave, his first-century audience was familiar with that liability. A slave's inability to master the borders of his own body was a corollary of his subordinate status and his permanent exclusion from the category of manhood into which the heir would grow.
Peter Garnsey has noted that Paul seems to have Roman law on slaves, sons, and inheritance in mind in the third and fourth chapters of Galatians.120 Indeed, the apparent erasure of division between slave and free that Paul proclaims in 3:28 is only a cover-up, as Paul goes on to reinscribe customary and legal distinctions between slave and free. These distinctions are gender-laden. In contrasting the experiences of the slave and the heir, Paul assumes the exclusion of slaves from an important dimension of masculinity: the experience of being acknowledged as a father or as a son. Once he has reintroduced the division between slave and free, Paul insists on its significance through his use of the Hagar-Sarah allegory.
Paul offers a cryptic summary of the story of Sarah and Hagar: "Abraham had two sons, one from the slave girl and one from the free woman, [but] the crucial point is that the son from the slave girl was begotten by the power of the flesh, whereas the son from the free woman was begotten from the power of the promise" (4:22b-23). The son of the slave woman is begotten by the power of the flesh alone. The son of the free woman is recognized as the son of the father because he is begotten by the power of the spirit into a place in the legal and symbolic nexus. Paul thus subordinates biological to symbolic dimensions of fatherhood, the flesh to the phallus. Abraham sires two sons, but he is only a father to one of them. Biological reproduction does not exhaust the meaning of fatherhood. The freeborn man, the patriarch, can choose whether or not to recognize his offspring. The enslaved son is excluded from the transmission of symbolic capital. Indeed, this division between slave and free comes down to a potential property dispute, that is, the fear that the child born to the slave woman will assert a claim against the estate. To forestall this contention, Paul quotes Genesis: "Throw out the slave girl and her son. For the son of the slave girl will certainly not come into the inheritance along with the son of the free woman" (4:30b). Acknowledgment of kinship between a patriarch and his biological progeny who is more property than son threatens the clearly etched claim of the legitimate son to his patrimony. Better to disavow the relationship entirely: throw out the mother, expose the son.
To develop his analogy of the child born into slavery, Paul relies on the expectation that his readers, the Galatian Christians, will know that the status of the child follows the status of the mother. His audience may or may not have heard the story of Hagar and Sarah from other preachers,121 but they are certainly familiar with the sexual vulnerability of female slaves and the destiny of their offspring. Despite Paul's repetition of a baptismal formula that promises an end to the division between slave and free and between male and female, his rhetoric throughout Galatians 4 relies on tropes of inheritance that presuppose a gender-marked division between slave and free. The adult male slave can beget children, yet these children are not counted as his own in the phallic economy. The boy born to an enslaved mother is likewise recorded in the property register as a possession of his mother's owner, rather than as the son of his biological father, even when owner and father refer to the same person. To protect the patrimony of the heir, writes Paul, we must expel the threatening bodies of the slave woman and her son. To the uncanny and threatening little bodies of exposed children we now turn.
In the opening verses of Galatians 4, Paul compares an underage heir to a slave and thus parallels the situation of slaves to that of children: "When we were children, we were held in a state of slavery" (4:3). Although in 4:1-2, Paul seems to speak of the heir and the slave as separate figures, as he works through the implications of his imagery the metaphor changes or perhaps becomes more focused. Through the legitimating power of the spirit, those formerly enslaved by the law are redeemed (that is, bought out, manumitted from slavery) and adopted as sons. Paul concludes, "So then, you are no longer a slave, but rather a son; and if you are a son, you are also an heir by God's act of adoption" (4:7). A decision of a patriarch determines whether the little body of the child is adopted and acknowledged as son or raised as human chattel.
We may find Paul's mixing of metaphors confusing. Surely one would know whether a little body was destined to be an heir or a slave. The documentary evidence, however, implies that the distinction was not always so clear. For example, a fourth-century contract arranging the adoption of a two-year old-boy as an heir to a formerly unrelated man specifies that under no circumstances may the adoptive father reduce him to slavery.122 Enunciation of this prohibition hints that the parents who permitted the adoption harbored some fear that the adoptive father might later attempt to alter the terms of his relationship with the child. Identities of the infant bodies lifted off dungheaps appear to have been even more fluid. Documents that refer to these infants typically use the term somatia, little bodies, to describe them. The term somation is an appropriate epithet, a diminutive for the word soma, which refers not only to the human body but also to the slave as thing or property. In the papyri such bodies appear to be interchangeable, devoid of personality. Contracts for wet nurses who are hired to nourish and raise these little bodies emphasize the indeterminate quality of these somatia. Wet-nursing contracts sometimes specify that if the infant being nursed dies, another somation, another little body, should be raised from the dungheap to take its place. Some contracts ascribe the responsibility for raising a substitute body to the nurse or her owner, and some contracts ascribe this responsibility to the owner of the original little body.123 In itself the somation has no identity but requires inscription into a will, a property register, or a bill of sale.
Alternately, the somation may be inscribed as son, as heir. A mid-first-century legal dispute records such confusion over the identity of a little body. A woman named Seraeus had contracted to nurse an enslaved foundling belonging to a man named Pesouris. At the same time, her own son was quite young, newly weaned. One of the little bodies in her care died. Seraeus claimed that the child who died was the foundling lifted off the dungheap and that the surviving child was her own son. Pesouris claimed that the child who died was Seraeus's son and that the surviving child was hence his property. Pesouris brought the matter to court to decide whether the somation should be marked as his property or as the legitimate son of Seraeus and her husband, Tryphon. The court sided with Tryphon, who was willing to acknowledge the little body, the somation, as his son and heir.124 At a distance of almost two thousand years we cannot say for sure whether the infant who survived had been born to Seraeus and Tryphon or secretly adopted by them after the death of their own son. The little body was not intrinsically slave or free, but his inevitable assignment to one of these statuses would legally and culturally condition his reception as a man and hence his experience of masculinity.
Mireille Corbier writes of adoption in Roman law: "Just as he had the right to decline paternity, the 'legal' father had the right to transfer his paternity by adoption," and "Adoption was governed by strict rules, namely those of the transmission of a collection of real and symbolic possessions, the first and foremost of these being the family name."125 Although Roman men who had not produced legitimate sons sometimes chose to adopt close relatives, under some circumstances even a slave or an infant raised from a dungheap could be ascribed the status of a son. Paul's allusion in Galatians 4:7 to the adopted son who is no longer a slave is thus not entirely idiosyncratic. Paul does not use the word somation in Galatians, but his logic at the beginning of chapter 4 indicates familiarity with such indeterminate little bodies, whose future identities were contingent on the decision of a man who could designate himself either father or owner. That decision would determine whether the somation would be translated into an heir or an inheritance, listed as a body, a soma, in the property register of the heir himself.
As we consider a somation, a little body pressed against a woman's breast for nourishment, we see a little body not yet defined by the categories of slave and free. At this moment the little body's identity is fluid, undefined. The patriarch has not yet decided its destiny as slave or son. The patriarch has not inscribed the infant into a symbolic body where it will be designated slave or free. Paul promises a suspension of the categories of slave and free, male and female, within the Christian community. His rhetoric, however, insists on the consignment of human persons to places in society that are defined by these very categories. Even as Paul dismisses the relevance of legal, corporeal slavery among Christians, he warns his Galatian audience that they are once again being spiritually enslaved by their submissive participation in ritual practices. The metaphors he chooses to dramatize his admonition recall the real limitations and perils of firstcentury slavery: relegation to a childish and dominated position in the household, sexual vulnerability, alienation from one's biological kin, and exclusion from any inheritance, including the inheritance of a name. Because Paul subordinates the power of the flesh to the power of the spirit, generations of readers have been convinced that the hazards of mundane slavery must pale in comparison to the evils of spiritual bondage. However, the structure of Paul's argument is contingent on the somatic configuration of firstcentury slavery.
Throughout the Roman Empire, slavery was understood in corporeal terms. Nonetheless, some thinkers of that era, who have continued to be influential over the millennia, insisted that legal, physical slavery was not nearly as great a threat as bondage of the will, the mind, or the spirit. In the course of their arguments, however, both Epictetus and Paul draw our attention to the conditions and practices that affected slaves in the first century. In his insistence that blows to the body should not affect a person's will, Epictetus reminds us of the vulnerability of the slave to physical abuse. In his desire to convince the Galatian Christians of the pitfalls of spiritual enslavement, Paul relies on imagery that evokes the somatic liabilities of servile status. My discussion of Galatians has focused on Paul's inability to sustain rhetorically the dissolution of the categories of slave and free that he signals in 3:28. I have not, however, explored the relations between enslaved and free members of the Galatian community. Did those baptized into the body of Christ experience a life beyond the status distinctions of slave and free? We therefore turn to a consideration of the impact of slavery on Pauline communities and the impact of Christianity on the lives of slaves and slaveholders in Pauline circles.
Travelers to the towns and cities of the Roman Empire customarily sought shelter with those they knew, or they carried letters of introduction from families and friends. When Lucius, the hero of Apuleius's Golden Ass, arrives in the town of Hypata in Thessaly, he inquires at a public inn for the home of Milo. Lucius is previously unacquainted with Milo, but a friend has provided him with a letter of introduction. The old woman who directs Lucius to Milo's house notes as a sign of Milo's meanness that, although he is a wealthy man, the only inhabitants of his house are his wife and a single female slave. Lucius knocks at Milo's gate and his knocking brings the slave, Photis, to the gate. The rudeness of the house is apparent in her interrogation of the visitor. When Lucius presents her with the letter of introduction, she again bars the gate as she brings the letter inside to Milo.1 Acts of the Apostles presents a scene with similar details, set in another urban environment in the Eastern Empire, Jerusalem. After King Herod orders the killing of James, the brother of John, he orders the arrest of Peter. The night before Peter is scheduled to appear before Herod, an angel appears in his cell and releases his chains. The angel leads Peter past the guards. The iron gate opens for them, and they go into the city. Realizing where he is, Peter proceeds to the house of his fellow believer Mary. A prayer meeting is in progress at her house. When Peter pounds on the gate, Rhoda, a slave, arrives at the gate to see who is causing the disturbance. Like Photis, she leaves the visitor at the gate while she runs into the house to report the appearance of the visitor, although the text attributes her behavior not to rudeness but to flustered joy
The appearance of these two slaves when visitors knock at the gates of the houses in which they dwell ushers us into the world of urban slaves in the Eastern Empire. Both Photis and Rhoda live in modest slaveholding establishments. Households with a hundred or more slaves existed but were far less numerous than smaller slaveholding establishments, families that held one or two slaves or a half dozen slaves. In contrast to the miserly Milo with his single slave, the traveler Lucius is eventually joined even on his travels by two of his own slaves, who follow him on foot. Milo's hospitality to Lucius extends to these two slaves. This is only a minor act of generosity; hosting a few extra slaves causes Milo little trouble. Apuleius mentions the crude mattress shared by Lucius's slaves when its relocation to a place in the courtyard farther from Lucius's door signals that Photis has been preparing for an evening of erotic activity with the visitor. One of these slaves later arises from a heap of straw in the stable to beat a troublesome ass, whom he fails to recognize as his master, Lucius, transformed. Acts of the Apostles does not specify the extent of Mary's slaveholdings, but we may infer that she does not have an opulent household. Rhoda does not seem to be exclusively a gatekeeper: she must come to the gate when she hears the knocking.
By contrast, a grander household would feature a slave for whom gatekeeping was an exclusive duty. For example, in the Gospel of John a woman who seems only to serve as a gatekeeper guards the entrance to the high priest's complex.3 The Acts of Paul includes a reference to the enslaved doorkeeper of Thecla's household because he serves as a witness to her nocturnal comings and goings.4 Seneca remarks on a surly doorkeeper who expects visitors to drop a small coin in his hand as he lets them cross the threshold. The wise visitor placates the doorkeeper, says Seneca, "as one quiets a dog by tossing him food."5
Gatekeepers, cup bearers, hairdressers, paedagogi accompanying young masters through the streets to school—roles played by domestic slaves in antiquity may seem at odds with images of slaves' work influenced by the paradigm of heavy slave labor on the cotton-producing plantations of the American South. Domestic slaves did not always contribute to the wealth of the household, while the costs of maintaining the household increased with every slave. ("The only servant he [the miserly Milo] feeds is one young girl," says the innkeeper as she supplies the traveler Lucius with information about his prospective host.6) Reliance on slaves as a source of wealth or income, however, is only one dimension of the anthropology of slavery.7 Paul Bohannan, who defines slavery in terms of a servile antikinship relationship in which the slave is subject to sale, notes: "The content of the master-slave relationship may vary greatly. One or the other aspect may be emphasized: economic, domestic, religious, sexual, or whatever. Any attempt to classify systems of servility in terms of the economic obligations and positions of the slave is to assume that this one point provides an index for the rest, when in fact such a situation must be shown empirically to exist or not to exist."8
Pauline Christianity was an urban phenomenon. The relationships of slavery with which Paul was acquainted would have been principally the relationships of urban slavery. Slaves in Corinth or Philippi would not have been miners or agricultural laborers but, for example, craftspeople, prostitutes, managerial agents, and domestic slaves, including those whose domestic duties included sexual obligations. How would a new identity as a Christian affect an urban slave, and how did the presence of slaves and slaveholders in the population affect the growth and practices of the churches? Ancient understandings of slaves as bodies will again inform my analysis. I situate the slaves and slaveholding households of the Pauline orbit in the context of the practices of slavery in the early Empire before I narrow my focus to a consideration of the (incompatibility between enslaved and thus sexually vulnerable bodies and the strictures of purity demanded within the Christian body.
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