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LIBERTUS (ἀπελεύθερος), a freedman.


Concerning freedmen, as concerning slaves, our information mostly relates to Athens; but we have reason to believe that there was a general likeness between all the Greek states in this respect, though Sparta had some distinctive peculiarities. When we remember that slaves in Greece were mainly (though not exclusively) taken from non-Greek and more or less barbarous nations, but yet were not distinguished (like the negro) by any special external mark, we shall see how natural was the position that Aristotle took; namely, that some men were fitted by nature to be slaves, while yet the prospect of freedom as a reward for good work ought to be held before them (Polit. 7.10; Oecon. 1.5, ed. Bekker). Emancipation, then, formed a cardinal point in the philosophic view of the subject, and mitigates the force of Aristotle's approval of slavery.

Emancipation was of course generally the act of the master of the slave; but sometimes the state would give freedom as a return for important public services, compensating (as it would seem) the master (Plato, de Leg. xi. p. 914). Thus the slaves who fought in the battle of Arginusae received freedom and even citizenship as a reward (Aristoph. Frogs 33, 192, 693); and the same promise was made to the slaves who fought at Chaeronea (Dio Chrysost. 15.21). Other historical instances are known; and slaves who revealed a dangerous conspiracy were always set free at Athens (Lysias, pro Call. 5; περὶ τοῦ σηκοῦ, 16); it is clear that such a rule gave dangerous facilities to an accuser.

When an individual master set his slave free, it would either be from gratitude or affection, or because the slave purchased his freedom. Slaves could often earn money on their own account; at the same time they could not personally make any contract with their masters that the law would recognise. Hence the procedure was for the slave to deposit the money in some temple; the god to whom the temple was dedicated then bought the slave from his master, and in the contract thus made the provision for the freedom of the slave was inserted. Numerous inscriptions, embodying such contracts, have been discovered at Delphi and elsewhere. Conditions are in most cases found attached to the emancipation; certain duties to be performed, or payments to be made, by the freedman for his former master; or, in case the freedman dies without children, his former master is to be his heir (this even without special contract was, it appears, the rule at Athens: Rhetor. ad Alex. 1.16; Isaeus, de Nicostr. hered. 9; and compare Bunsen, de Jur. hered. Ath. p. 51); or perhaps even the freedman has to serve his master until the death of the latter. It is worth notice that the inscriptions record nearly twice as many female slaves liberated as males. It was not unfrequent for a master to emancipate his slaves by testamentary disposition; directions of this kind are contained in the wills of the philosophers Plato, Aristotle, Theophrastus, Straton, Lycon, Epicurus, as communicated to us by Diogenes Laertius (3.30;--5.1, 15; 2, 55; 3, 63; 4, 72;--10.21).

For the security of the freedman, the act of emancipation would often take place in a theatre (Aeschin. c. Ctes. § 44) or other public place, that there might be as many witnesses [p. 2.62]as possible. There was, however, no recognised form of emancipation; and the state as such took no interest in it, though for fiscal purposes lists of the freedmen would in some states be kept (Curtius, Anecd. Delph. p. 13 sqq.).

When the emancipation was complete, and all conditions fulfilled, the freedman (except in special cases, as in that of the slaves who fought at Arginusae) took the status of a μέτοικος, or resident alien; and as such was bound to choose as his patron (προστάτης) the master who had set him free. He had then certain duties towards his patron (beyond, it would appear, those of the ordinary μέτοικος), on the transgression of which he was liable to be proceeded against at law [APOSTASIOU DIKÉ]; the most serious offence would be choosing for himself another patron. (Meier and Schöm. Att. Proc. p. 473, &c.; Petit, Leg. Att. 2.6, p. 261; compare Plato, de Leg. xi. p. 915.) He had to pay the μετοίκιον, or tax of 12 drachmae yearly, and a triobolon besides; this triobolon was probably the tax which slaveholders had to pay to the Republic for every slave they kept, so that the triobolon paid by freedmen was intended to indemnify the state, which would otherwise have lost by every manumission of a slave. (Boeckh, Publ. Econ. p. 331 = Sthh.3 1.403.) Whether the relation between a patron and his freedman extended to the children of the latter, is unknown; but in one of the Delphic inscriptions it is specially stated that if any of the children of the freedman die childless, the patron is to be the heir. A freedman was said to be καθ̓ ἑαυτὸν (Dem. pro Phorm. p. 945.4), and the expression χωρὶς ᾤκει in Dem. c. Euerg. et Mnesib. p. 1161.72, is plainly synonymous with “he had been emancipated;” probably in Dem. Phil. i. p. 50.36, τοὺς χωρὶς οἰκοῦντας means the same thing, though from the context some difference is clearly implied between these and the μέτοικοι, due no doubt to the imperfect character of the emancipation of many freedmen.

Freedmen, like the resident aliens generally, appear to have taken much to commerce; and two of the bankers whose names we know best in all Athenian history, Pasion and Phormio, had both been slaves, and some years after their emancipation received the Athenian citizenship. In the case of Pasion, this was the reward of services rendered to the state.

We have no mention of any emancipation of public slaves at Athens; and since these generally worked in the mines, and were more hardly treated than others, it is not likely that their emancipation was frequent. But at Sparta the emancipation of the helots (who were, properly speaking, not slaves, but serfs) was frequent. They were called Neodamodes when emancipated (Pollux, 3.83), and formed from B.C. 421, when they are first mentioned (Thuc. 5.34), to B.C. 369, when they are last mentioned (Xenoph. Hellen. 6.5, 24), not an inconsiderable part of the Spartan armies. The emancipation of the helots required the action of the state, and could not be carried out by an individual (Ephorus, in Strabo viii. p.365). Another class of emancipated slaves at Sparta were the μόθακες or μόθωνες, who were children brought up with the children of citizens. (Phylarchus in Athenaeus, 6.271. See Miller's Dorians, 2.3.6.) Other classes are named in the same chapter of Athenaeus as ἀθέται, ἀδέσποτοι, ἐρυκτῆρες, and δεσποσιοναῦται. The δεσποσιοναῦται served on board the fleet; of the other classes nothing is known. (See especially in relation to this subject Büchsenschütz's Besits und Erwerb im griechischen Alterthume, pp. 168-181, to which this article is much indebted.)

[L.S] [J.R.M]

2. Roman.

Freedmen are defined by Gaius, 1.11, and Justinian, Inst. 1.5, pr., as those “qui ex justa servitute manumissi sunt.” As a class they are denoted by the term libertini, but each freedman, in relation to his late master, is called libertus (i.e. liberatus). In the time of the censor Appius Claudius, and for some time after, libertinus meant the son of a libertus (Suet. Cl. 24); but this is not the meaning of the word in the extant Roman writers.

Originally there was but one species of libertini, viz. liberti cives: they possessed in substance all the rights, private and public, of a free-born citizen of Rome. In other words, if a full owner of a slave ex jure Quiritium set him free in one of the three civil or statutory modes of manumission (vindicta, census, testamentum), he became a oivis: any other kind of manumission, or even civil manumission by a merely “bonitarian” owner, left him a slave in the eye of the law, though protected by the praetor in the actual enjoyment of freedom (Gaius, 3.56). The children of liberti cives were ingenui.

Legislation under the first two emperors had the effect of creating two new classes of freedmen. The Lex Aelia Sentia, A.D. 4, enacted that slaves who had been put in chains by their masters or branded as a punishment, or convicted of crime after torture or imprisoned, or made to fight in the arena, or entered at the gladiatorial school, should, if subsequently manumitted, have no higher status than that of enemies who had surrendered at discretion ( “peregrini dediticii,” Gaius, 1.13). The Lex Junia Norbana, circ. A.D. 19, gave a legal status to slaves manumitted under circumstances which prevented their becoming cives without being dediticii, the number of whom must have been largely increased by other clauses of the Lex Aelia Sentia (Gaius, 1.18, 38); they were to have the rights of Latini Coloniarii (i.e. commercium without conubium), though the statute expressly disabled them from making a will, being testamentary guardians, or taking under the will of another person either as heirs or legatees (Gaius, 1.23, 24: see LATINITAS): they were called Latini Juniani. Hence Ulpian writes in the third century (Reg. 1.5): “Libertinorum genera sunt tria: cives Romani, Latini Juniani, dediticiorum numero.”

Dediticii were capable of owning property so far as other peregrini were, but it went inevitably to the patron on their decease, as they could not make a will, and had no sui heredes or agnates: they might not live within 100 miles of Rome, or be manumitted a second time, under penalty of being made slaves again; and there was no means by which they could rise to any higher civil condition (Gaius, 1.15, 26, 27). The rights of Latini Juniani, and the modes in which they could rise to the status of civitas, are noticed under LATINITAS. [p. 2.63]Both of these classes were abolished by Justinian, who thus restored the simplicity of the early law and made all manumitted slaves citizens of Rome (Inst. 1.5, 3; Cod. 7, 5; 7, 6).

The main point in which a libertus civis was inferior to an ingenuus was his relation to his patronus or quondam master. Towards him he a was bound to show obsequium and reverentia, as a child towards his father (Dig. 37, 15, 9), and on that account he could bring no action against him without the praetor's permission, while he could not bring an actio famosa under any circumstances whatever (Dig. 37, 14, 1; 37, 15, 5, 1; ib. 7, 2; Gaius, 4.183; Inst. 4.16, 3): for breach of this duty he was liable “in servitutem revocari” (Suet. Cl. 25; Dig. 37, 14, 5, pr.). He was also bound to provide the patron, his parents, and children with alimony, if their circumstances became reduced; and he could bind himself to perform certain services (operae officiales) for the patron by mere oath (jurata promissio liberti), which between ordinary persons would create no legal obligation whatever (Dig. 38, 1, 7, 3), though this was not extended so far as to reduce him to a dependence inconsistent with freedom (Dig. 44, 5, 1, 5). Finally, the patron had certain rights of inheritance in respect of the freedman's property, if he died intestate, leaving no issue of his own; and if it exceeded a certain minimum, he had a claim to receive a specific proportion of it under his will. This subject is too long to be entered into here, but it is treated at length in Gaius, 3.39-76; Inst. 3.7.

The rights of the patron devolved on his decease upon his children (Gaius, 3.58; Dig. 38, 1, 29), and, so far as they related to liberti cives, could not be bequeathed away by will to an outsider, because they were based upon the fiction of relationship. But a Senatusconsultum Ostorianum (Inst. 3.8) enabled the patron to assign a freedman or any number of them to any child in his power, either by declaration in his lifetime or by testament; and if the child was still in the father's power at the latter's decease, he became sole patronus of the liberti so assigned to the exclusion of the other children.

The patron might lose his rights, either in whole or part, by their abuse (Dig. 37, 14, 15), or by neglect of his own duties towards the freedmen (Dig. ib. 5, 1; 38, 2, 14, pr.). By special imperial favour, too, a libertus could become ingenuus, and this in two ways. By a grant of the jus anulorum aureorum, he acquired the position of an ingenuus in relation to all men except his patron, the latter's privileges remaining unaffected (Fragm. Vat. 226; Dig. 38, 2, 3, pr.; 40, 10, 6). By natalium restitutio, he became ingenuus in every respect, the relation of freedman and patron being extinguished (Dig. 40, 11, 2).


hide References (6 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (6):
    • Aristophanes, Frogs, 693
    • Aristophanes, Frogs, 192
    • Aristophanes, Frogs, 33
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.34
    • Suetonius, Divus Claudius, 25
    • Suetonius, Divus Claudius, 24
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