Romans had a practice of granting manumission to some slaves. Those receiving such grants held a separate status from the citizens, i.e. free men. As freedmen they had more limited legal rights and defined obligations to their former masters, now their patrons. That’s pretty basic, but the social function of this group certainly evolved over time and we might think about the attitudes and social conditions that preceded the evolution of the imperial freedmen. I came across two passages today that got me thinking along those lines:
These things I have heard; I have heard also that this theatre was not erected by Pompey, but by one Demetrius, a freedman of his, with the money he had gained while making campaigns with the general. Most justly, therefore, did he give his master’s name to the structure, so that Pompey might not incur needless reproach because of the fact that his freedman had collected money enough for so huge an expenditure.
While these men kept up their conflict, Pompey, too, encountered some delay in the distribution of the grain. For since many slaves had been freed in anticipation of the event, he wished to take a census of them in order that the grain might be supplied to them with some order and system. This, to be sure, he managed fairly easily through his own wisdom and because of the large supply of grain; but in seeking the consulship he met with annoyances and incurred some censure.
These passages would need to be contextualized by say Sulla’s mass manumission of the so called Cornelii, some 10,000 individuals, or the power he gave to Chrysogonus.
The basic moral seems to be that benefiting too many freedman or one freedman too much is viewed with suspicion. On the other hand our imperial sources may be reading too much of their present social reality back on to their accounts of the Republic.
Contrast how Plutarch does not mention distributions to freedmen, but instead emphasizes that there was so much grain available it was give to foreigners as well — yet another group whose influence was a site of socio-political anxiety in the Late Republic. Cf. the careers of Theophanes of Mitylene and Balbus.
I was getting a little lost in the literary accounts of 56-55 BC. This post is just a little break to try to return to the coins.