Animal Slaves and Slave Animals: Republican Authors on the N

Animal Slaves and Slave Animals: Republican Authors on the N

Postby admin » Wed Oct 16, 2019 11:58 pm

Animal Slaves and Slave Animals: Republican Authors on the Nature of Slavery
from The Measure of All Things: Natural Hierarchy in Roman Republican Thought
A dissertation presented by Erika Lawren Nickerson

Part 1 of 4

CHAPTER 3

Animal Slaves and Slave Animals: Republican Authors on the Nature of Slavery


In this chapter, I will examine comparisons between domestic animals and humans in Roman republican texts. Such comparisons are frequent, and are especially pertinent to the two questions which form the focus of this study. My primary question is: What role was nature believed to play in human social inequality? Herd animal comparisons, as I will show, are common features in discussions about status and inequality, because herd animals evoke associations of slavery, and Roman writers often talk about status in terms of slavery and its opposite, freedom. My other question is: Did the Romans take a teleological view of human society? If they did, then that would answer my first question. Herd animal comparisons provide the most obvious place to look for evidence of human teleology, since slaves were the people most often compared to animals. Because they were the lowest members of society, we would expect teleological principles to be applied to them, if they were applied to anyone. In that case, their assimilation to animals would reflect the idea that, like domestic animals, they have been formed for their servile role, and therefore have subhuman characteristics.

I have already argued that the Romans probably did not subscribe to human teleology, and that man-animal comparisons in Roman texts therefore do not arise from this concept. For that matter, such comparisons do not arise from, or correspond to, either of the philosophical positions which seem most likely to have influenced Roman views on slavery, Aristotle’s theory of natural slavery and Stoicism. I must now support my previous conclusions by scrutinizing the Roman comparisons and determining what does, in fact, account for the likening of slave and herd animal in Roman thought. Although Aristotle and the Stoics are not responsible for the Roman habit of assimilating slave to herd animal, they do suggest an approach to the problem. Perhaps the pertinent question is not, “In what way are slaves like animals?” Instead we should ask, “What feature do humans and herd animals share that makes them both slaves?” Aristotle treats slaves and domestic animals as interchangeable entities because they play the same economic role: they are subordinate laborers, whose proper function is to perform manual labor at the command of the master of the household. It is this proper function that defines slavery, and any human or animal that fulfills that function is a slave. “Subordinate laborer” is a job description that could apply to many free workers as well, which is precisely why Aristotle categorizes those men, too, as virtual slaves.

The Stoics, unlike Aristotle, went out of their way to combat the likening of slaves to animals. They emphasized the humanity of slaves and the kinship of all mankind, which arises from the shared possession of rationality. However, like Aristotle, they accepted the institution of slavery as an inevitable part of the natural order, and they also tended to identify productive role as the defining aspect of slavery. Even they might have admitted that human slaves and animal slaves play the same productive role.

Ancient philosophical positions on slavery have enjoyed their fair share of scholarship, but only one scholar has, to my knowledge, explored the common habit of equating slaves with herd animals: Keith Bradley, in his article “Animalizing the Slave”. Although he does not conclude, as I do, that productive role is the crucial point of similarity, his findings do agree with my own in one essential aspect: he recognizes that the primary point of comparison has nothing to do with innate character or capacities. Rather, he contends: “the association itself was due above all to the tendency to categorize the slave as human, but animal-like, property”47. As proof, he adduces the Lex Aquilia and the Edict of the Aediles. The Lex Aquilia mandates: “If anyone shall have unlawfully killed a male or female slave belonging to another or a four-footed animal, whatever may be the highest value of that in that year, so much money is the condemned to give to the owner”; si quis servum servam alienum alienam quadrupedem pecudem iniuria, quanti ea res fuit in diebus triginta proximis, tantum aes ero dare damnas esto.48 Commenting on this provision, Bradley writes, “It assumes that slaves and animals are commodities that by definition fall under the ownership of an erus and that they are comparable commodities”.49

The notion of property is also prominent in the Edict of the Aediles, which deals with the sale of slaves, among other things. It provides that anyone selling a slave must disclose any disease or defect to the prospective buyer (Dig. 21.1.1.1 (Ulpian)). The same is required of those who sell beasts of burden, iumenta (Dig. 21.1.38 (Ulpian)). Ulpian states, “The reason for this edict is the same as that for the return of slaves. And in effect, the same applies as in respect of defects in or diseases of slaves, so that what we have said of them should be transferred to the present context” (Dig. 21.1.38.2-3).50 Ulpian explicitly says that “the reason for this edict” is the same whether the object being sold is a slave or an animal. Clearly that reason is to protect buyers from dishonest sellers, so that they do not unknowingly acquire faulty property. Here again, slaves and herd animals are indeed treated as comparable commodities.

Bradley is clearly correct in stating that slaves and herd animals were regarded as analogous kinds of property. However, he is more interested in exploring the practical consequences of slave-herd animal assimilation than in identifying its causes. He devotes only one paragraph to the matter and discusses only the two laws mentioned above. He also does not take into consideration the fact that some free persons were commonly described as slaves and herd animals – most notably wage-earners and the plebs. In those cases, property cannot possibly be the pertinent idea. Wage-earners and plebs may have been socially disadvantaged, but nobody owned them. I will argue in this chapter that the idea of commodification does not, in fact, explain the comparisons found in literary sources – not the comparisons between slaves and herd animals, and certainly not the comparisons between free men and herd animals.

Although Bradley comes close to discovering the primary point of comparison, his mistake lies in focusing on what slaves and herd animals are, as opposed to what they do. In the course of this chapter, I will show that my own conclusions are actually compatible with his. I will argue that slaves are compared to herd animals on the grounds of a shared activity, and that this activity underlies the classification of both kinds of creature as property. The activity in question is their economic or productive role. Just as Aristotle does in the Politics, Roman sources generally assume that slaves and herd animals perform the same productive function; the Romans simply define that function differently from the way Aristotle does. I will further propose that function, or usefulness to the human community, is the concept that links social class to natural class, not just slave to herd animal. By examining the association of plebs and wage-earners with animals, I will begin to consider how this method of reckoning natural and social worth affected the standing of free persons, as well as slaves.

Although my focus is on republican literature, and Varro’s Res Rustica falls outside of that period by a small margin, I will begin my examination of Roman sources with that work. I believe it is safe to treat this work as representative of republican views for two reasons. First: Varro was a very old man when he wrote the Res Rustica, and had spent most of his many years under the Republic. Thus, the work should in some way reflect the ideology he experienced for the better part of a lifetime. Second: as I will make clear, the concepts expressed in this book also appear in various republican texts.

Recently, some scholars have seen in the Res Rustica more than just a technical treatise, arguing that Varro’s handbook on farm management should be understood as covert political commentary, which targets the imperial regime. According to their reading, Varro’s assimilation of human and animal is part of this agenda, since animals in the Res Rustica represent the Roman people. 51 If this interpretation is correct, then the circumstances of the post-republican, Augustan political reality did help shape the text, and the portrayal of man and animal, in particular. However, I hope to show that, where slaves and domestic animals are concerned, Varro’s conflation of man with animal is completely in keeping with both the rhetoric and the laws of his time. As we have seen, it had long been a common practice in the ancient world to identify slaves with herd animals. Regardless of whether Varro meant to be critical or not, ironic or not, he made use of a well-established tradition of comparing slaves with herd animals, and developed that comparison more extensively than any of his contemporaries. For this reason, an examination of his work will prove to be especially fruitful in the present context: I will argue throughout this chapter that the rationale and assumptions behind Varro’s slave-herd animal comparisons actually underlie most such comparisons in the late republican corpus.

Any study of Roman man-animal comparisons would, in fact, be incomplete without reference to the Res Rustica, which provides some of the most (in)famous comparisons of slave and herd animal in all of Latin literature. The first book, which deals with agri cultura proper, categorizes both field hands and herd animals as tools, the former an instrumentum vocale, the latter an instrumentum semivocale (1.17.1). The second book, on the res pastoricia, actually classifies herdsmen as a type of pecus (2.1.12). I will now contend that these aspects of Varro’s text do not indicate a belief in natural slavery, and therefore do not indicate a belief in human teleology. He clearly recognizes that slaves are human beings, and never suggests that their personal qualities make them bestial. Their resemblance to herd animals lay not in their innate characteristics, but in external factors, the circumstances of their servitude. In particular, Varro’s conflation of man and beast depends on a perceived similarity in productive function. He treats herd animals as necessary participants in the human community, whose labor and produce are indispensible for agricultural civilization. In keeping with this view, he defines and hierarchizes the various domestic animals according to their usefulness for man. The assimilation of herd animal and slave arises from the fact that he assesses both groups by this one standard, their utility to human society. He therefore equates the two because they are useful in the exact same way: they produce profit for their masters.

I am not the first to claim that Varro’s categories correspond to roles played in the agricultural process. His division of agricultural implements into three types of tool – man, animal, and inanimate object, instrumentum vocale, semivocale, and mutum (1.17.1) – has generated the most discussion about its source and significance. Did Varro adopt or invent this classification? And what does it tell us about the ideology of ancient slavery? I follow those who have concluded that, regardless of its origin, this is not a moralizing statement on the nature of slavery. It is merely a convenient way to distinguish the components necessary for cultivating a field.52 Varro actually offers another possible division of the same subject: men and the aids of men, homines and adminicula hominum (1.17.1). This method groups animals together with inanimate objects under the heading adminicula, which may explain why Varro goes on to provide the more precise three-fold division. It is important to note that both classification systems preserve the distinction between human and animal -- unlike, say, Aristotle’s ὄργανα ἔμψυχα and ἄψυχα, which categorizes both men and animals as ὄργανα ἔμψυχα (Pol. 1253b23- 1254a8).53 After introducing the potential divisions, in the very next sentence Varro explicitly states that farm laborers are indeed human beings. He remarks, “all fields are cultivated by people, slaves or free men or both”: omnes agri coluntur hominibus servis aut liberis aut utrisque (1.17.2). Next he specifies that the free men are either hired hands or poor people who till the land themselves with the help of their families. Here we learn that Varro does not just have slaves in mind when he speaks of the instrumentum vocale. Moreover, he does not necessarily think that these human instruments are owned or purchased, like a tool or herd animal. He includes free men who till their own land, whose labor is neither owned nor purchased by another. Since he does recognize the difference between man and animal, and the notion of ownership is not an issue, only one basis of comparison remains to explain the parallelism between human, herd animal, and tool, instrumentum vocale, semivocale, and mutum: all of them take part in the cultivation of fields. Thus, this particular coupling of man and beast relies wholly on their shared function in agricultural production.

Even slaves, according to Varro, have qualities which herd animals lack, and must be treated accordingly. After establishing his threefold division, he launches into what can only be described as a use-and-care guide for agricultural slaves (1.17.3-7). His instructions focus on maximizing the amount of labor and profit which can be extracted from them, and in this respect resemble his instructions for any animal or piece of equipment. However, they aim to maximize productivity precisely by taking the slaves’ human qualities into account. Mancipia should be neither too timid nor too bold, Varro declares. The men in charge of them should have some education, be dependable, experienced, older than their subordinates, and superior to them in knowledge; this will ensure that the farm hands respect them, follow their example, and understand why they are in charge. To keep order, words should be used rather than whips whenever possible. There should not be too many slaves from the same nation, since that is a source of domestic disputes. Foremen should be made more zealous by rewards, and be allowed to have a family so that they feel more invested in the farm. The master should show them consideration and respect, in order to earn their good will. The best of the farmhands should be consulted as well; that way, they do not feel despised by their master, and they will believe that he holds them in some esteem. They too can be made more eager for their work by generous treatment, and such treatment secures their friendly feeling towards the master, preventing ill will if they are punished or asked to perform a difficult task.

None of this advice could possibly apply to the keeping of animals. Every item acknowledges that slaves possess human attributes: emotions, language, education, relationships, loyalty, personal agency, self interest, intelligence, individual temperament. Varro’s suggestions play on these attributes. Like any ox or mule, the slave’s part was to work for his master. Unlike an ox or mule, the slave had certain qualities which had to be considered. The measures listed in the Res Rustica seek to increase the output of field hands by exploiting their human tendencies. Their special traits were to be tended, appealed to, even manipulated, in order to promote an acceptance of and enthusiasm for their job. Varro’s precepts for slave management therefore assign an economic role and status to the slave which is identical with that of a domestic animal, while simultaneously recognizing – and using – his humanity.

This proves to be a trend throughout the Res Rustica: where the assimilation of man and beast seems to be the most complete, that is precisely where the difference between them becomes most explicit. The second book equates slaves and herd animals in such a way that it is impossible to dismiss as a mere comparison, based on a certain occupational similarity. According to Varro’s formulation, slave shepherds are herd animals. Near the beginning of the book, the scientia pastoralis is divided into nine parts, three categories each containing three members. The smaller herd animals: sheep, goats, pigs. The larger: cows, asses, horses. And those which do not themselves yield profit, but are born from or exist for the sake of those animals which do: mules, dogs, herdsmen (2.1.12). The text proceeds to address the science of animal husbandry according to these divisions. In keeping with their inclusion in the list of animals, herdsmen get their own use-and-care section (2.10.1-11), just like the rest of the animals, as well as the field hands in book one. Varro also includes a discussion on the breeding of herdsmen (2.1.25-26). Yet the opening paragraphs of book 2, where he sets out the origo and dignitas of the res pastoricia (2.1.1-10), give no sign that Varro is about to treat herdsmen as lowly animals. He maintains that in ancient times herdsmen were the most illustrious of men (2.1.6), and that the Roman people were sprung from shepherds (2.1.9-10). These do not sound like the claims of a man who regards herdsmen as innately bestial. Later, even as he talks about them as a form of livestock, he clearly thinks them human and does not denigrate their character.

In the passages where Varro addresses the topic of herdsmen, he employs some vocabulary that is appropriate to animals, some that is appropriate to humans. Thus the text creates parallelism between man and animal, as well as differentiation. At 2.1.25-26, one of the interlocutors asks how the speaker will maintain his original number of topic divisions, when neither breeding (admissura) nor the bearing of young (fetura) apply to humans or mules. He then concedes that perhaps they do apply to shepherds: “But I grant you that even in the case of humans (in hominibus) the ninefold division can be retained, because they have women (mulieres) in their houses in their winter quarters, some have them even in their summer quarters, and they think that this is useful in order that they may more easily keep the herdsmen with their herds; and by producing offspring (puerperio) they make the slave body larger and the cattle-raising more profitable.” Admissura and fetura are words more properly applied to livestock, and the breeding of shepherds is said to make the herd more profitable – as if their offspring increased the mater’s herd, like calves or lambs. On the other hand, hominibus is used to designate shepherds, mulieres their females, and puerperio their reproduction -- all words specific to human beings. Moreover, the speaker gives another reason for keeping women with the herds, besides increasing the master’s holdings: it makes the shepherds more likely to stay with the herds. This directive is reminiscent of the instructions given in book 1 for field hands. It recognizes that the herdsmen have special human needs, and advises the master to fulfill those needs in order to ensure faithful service.

A similar phenomenon appears in the section devoted to the use and care of shepherds (2.10.1-11): Varro simultaneously treats them as both herd animals and human beings. Since they are a kind of animal, he covers topics which overlap with those discussed for other types of livestock. He talks about the number and kind of herdsmen to be kept, issues of purchase and legal ownership, breeding, and the treatment of sickness. At the same time, however, he prescribes measures which arise from and appeal to the shepherds’ human characteristics, just as he did for agricultural slaves in book 1. Also, he consistently refers to herdsmen with vocabulary which is appropriate only to people: homo (five times), humanus, puer (five times), iuventus, puella, senis, mulier (twice), vir, mater, nutrex, mater familias, virgo, filius. Twice he actually juxtaposes men with animals, indicating that, though somehow linked, they are definitely separate entities. Varro claims that the head-herdsman should see to the equipment “which is necessary for herd animal and herdsmen, especially for the sustenance of the men and the treatment of the animals”: quae pecori et pastoribus opus sunt, maxime ad victum hominum et ad medicinam pecudum (2.10.5). Later, he says that the head-herdsman ought to have in writing “those things which pertain to the health of men and herd animal”: quae ad valitudinem pertinent hominum ac pecoris (2.10.10). These two statements encapsulate Varro’s tendency throughout book 2: homo and pecus are considered jointly, but clearly distinguished from one another.

It appears that the likening of slave and herd animal in the Res Rustica amounts to something more than mere comparison, but less than full assimilation. “Human” and “herd animal” are not mutually exclusive categories; slaves, or at least shepherds, are somehow both. If Varro’s attitude were summarized, it might be said that he sees slaves as a human form of livestock. The question arises: How could Varro regard slaves as livestock, when he does not regard them as animals? The answer must lie partially in the fact that they belong to a master; they are as much his personal property as his herd animals are. But that is not necessarily the whole answer. Varro’s threefold division in book 1 – instrumentum vocale, semivocale, and mutum – represents a coupling of man and beast similar to that in book 2: it places them together while also preserving the distinction between them. In that instance, as I have argued, Varro does not make the comparison on the basis of ownership, since he includes free men under instrumentum vocale. It is possible that the conflation of shepherd and herd animal also has another explanation. In order to discover what it is, we must first consider herd animals on their own terms. Varro’s text assigns certain characteristics to herd animals. A careful examination should reveal what those are, and which ones are supposedly shared with human shepherds.

I will start where Varro starts: with the history of herding. At the beginning of book 2, he sets the stage with a discussion of the origo and dignitas of the res pastoricia (2.1.1-10). Here he does not claim that herd animals are natural slaves. In fact, he maintains that they were once wild animals whom man captured and tamed; although, he does say that men tamed those animals “which they were able to” and “on account of their usefulness.” Sheep, moreover, were the first to be domesticated, because of their usefulness and placidity, and because they are especially docile and most fit for the life of humans (2.1.4). All these comments could indicate that certain animals were destined by nature for man’s use, and thus had temperaments amenable to subjugation. What is more clear – and more important for the present discussion – is Varro’s emphasis on utility. He specifies that animals in general, and then sheep in particular, were tamed propter utilitatem. Like others in the ancient world, he too defines the herd animal according to its use for man. Despite their wild origins, domestic animals exist as domestic animals because humans have need of them. They live alongside man, are fed, trained, conditioned, cared for, and bred by man, in exchange for some form of good or labor. Whatever benefit a herd animal confers on humans, that benefit is the reason for its being.

There is a second major point to be taken from Varro’s history of herding. The entire passage begins with the observation, “since it is necessary that both men and herd animals have always existed by nature…”: et homines et pecudes cum semper fuisse sit necesse natura (2.1.3). Here is another manifestation of the familiar pattern: Varro closely associates homo and pecus but recognizes the difference. In this case, however, he does not compare a particular group of people to animals; instead, all of humanity is linked to the race of herd beasts by no less a force than natura. The point of similarity may be their origin in nature, but Varro’s account continues to weave together the fates of both creatures. He goes on to describe how human life progressed by certain stages down to the present day (2.1.3-5). First men lived off whatever the earth provided of its own accord. Then they came to the pastoral age, when they caught and trained wild animals for their use. This is an entire age defined by the burgeoning relationship between man and animal, proving to be a watershed moment for both species. Domestic animals, a human creation, came into being for the first time, and humans themselves began their march to civilization. The agricultural age is the third and last, the age to which Varro’s own time belonged. His reconstruction follows logical necessity: agriculture had to come after the domestication of animals. Before the invention of tractors, farming was impossible without herd animals to plough the fields and haul heavy loads. I have already said that, according to Varro’s thinking, herd animals exist for the use of man. It should now be added that they were not just useful, but absolutely essential for agricultural civilization – a fact which Varro tacitly acknowledges. They were thus indispensable participants in the human community, their lives inextricably bound up with those of humans. Herd animals depended on man for their care and protection, and man on herd animals for food production and a variety of other tasks. They both engaged in a partnership – albeit a lopsided one – to ensure mutual wellbeing.

The ideas which shape Varro’s history of man and beast are consistent with the trends which I discussed in chapter 1. There, I noted that the Roman sources tend to treat domestic animals as a class of beings formed by nature to support mankind; since utility is the defining feature of the class, utility generally dominates any discourse about herd animals. I observed, as well, that the arrangement between man and herd animals was considered natural, necessary, and mutually beneficial, though exploitative, too, since humans derive more benefit from it than the animal slaves who exist to serve them. These same concepts also determine how Varro talks about individual animals. This is especially apparent in his introduction to oxen (2.5.3-5). Here, Varro claims that “the cow ought to be in the highest standing among herd animals”: nam bos in pecuaria maxima debet esse auctoritate. The application of auctoritas to an animal is startling; shortly after, he also speaks of a nobilem taurum and the maiestatem boum. Whatever he means by auctoritas and nobilis and maiestas in this context, he obviously means to mark the cow as the most important and valuable of herd animals. He explains why. The ox is “man’s partner in rustic work and a servant of Ceres”: hic socius hominum in rustico opere et Cereris minister. The word socius expresses the notion of partnership and codependence between man and domestic animal. Varro immediately emphasizes the closeness of the relationship by pointing out that the ancients made it a capital offense to kill an ox. The label Cereris minister also alludes to the belief that herd animals exist ad usum and propter utilitatem. The cow has its high status because it is a Cereris minister, an essential participant in the agricultural process. Only oxen could plough heavy soil, which meant that, aside from humans, cattle played the most vital role in agricultural production – and thus in all of civilization.

Varro’s elevation of the ox reveals an important consequence of assessing herd animals by utility: they were hierarchized according to their function. The cow enjoyed the maxima auctoritas due to its all-important task, ploughing. The pig was evidently at the opposite end of the spectrum. Varro introduces swine with the claim that the Greeks call the pig ὕς, originally θῦς from the verb θῦειν, “to sacrifice”. He believes this label was inspired by the pig’s role as a sacrificial victim (2.4.9). Straightaway, therefore, he identifies the pig with its use, even deriving its very name from that use. The pig’s particular function was not deemed a very valuable one. Sacrifice usually served as a prelude to eating the victim, and Varro comments on the pig’s status as a walking meal. “They say that the race of pigs was given as a gift by nature for feasting on; and so life was given to them instead of salt, in order to preserve the meat”: suillum pecus donatum ab natura dicunt ad epulandum; itaque iis animam datam esse proinde ac salem, quae servaret carnem” (2.4.10). The joke was an old and oft-quoted one,54 attributed by Cicero to the Stoic Chrysippus (Nat. Deor. 2.160), and by Clement of Alexandria to the Stoic Cleanthes (Strom. 7.34). It turns on the Stoic argument that the world and all its creatures exist for the sake of humans. If nature created the pig for man’s use, and that use happens to be providing meat, then the purpose of the pig’s life is to keep the meat fresh until the animal can be slaughtered and eaten. This is the only explicit reference in Varro to a teleological perspective and the natural slavery of animals. Whether or not he subscribed to those beliefs, the witticism must reflect a commonly held view of pigs; the line is repeated often enough in extant sources to suggest that it had popular currency. The attitude towards swine stands in direct contrast to the attitude towards oxen, killing which had once been a capital offense. Unlike the cow and every other kind of herd animal, the pig could not yield service or products repeatedly throughout its life. In a time and place where domestic animals were evaluated solely according to their utility, pigs were doomed to be held in poor esteem. They were completely useless until the moment they were killed.

Varro’s use of the Stoic witticism about pigs calls to mind not only teleology, but also the related idea of a teleological scala naturae, wherein every creature is ranked according to both function and type. His comments about pigs and oxen suggest that, just as there are inherent inequalities in type and function between animals, humans, and gods, so there are inherent inequalities between species within the larger category “animals”. Pigs and oxen have different functions and so different types, adapted to fulfilling those functions. Therefore, they each occupy a different position on the scale of being, which corresponds to the importance and perfection of their respective functions and types. Only for pigs and oxen does Varro explicitly refer to an inter-species ranking system by establishing some sort of status vis-à-vis other kinds of herd animals. Although he does not compare whole species to each other, it is evident that he extends the function and type criteria of worth to every member of every herd animal species. He assumes that any animal is to be categorized and assessed by its function and the traits which enable it to fulfill that function. Horses, for example, carried out a variety of tasks in antiquity. Consequently, Varro notes that different horses are suited for different occupations; thus, they cannot all be judged and evaluated in the same way (2.7.15). In this model for appraising horses, they are divided into types according to their capacity for a certain function, and individuals of each type are assigned value according to their function and their ability to perform it. Varro’s remarks on this topic no doubt reflect actual practice, and do not necessarily presuppose a teleological scale of nature. However, actual practice in this case is compatible with teleological ideas. The evaluation of livestock was, perhaps, one of the traditional features of ancient culture that gave rise to philosophical doctrines of teleology, and made such doctrines seem plausible.

The evaluation of livestock, of course, entailed assigning a monetary value to animals. An emphasis on money, or, more precisely, on profit, constitutes one last element of Varro’s treatment of herd animals. Like every element of his treatment of herd animals, it is closely associated with domestic animals’ defining characteristic, their usefulness to humans. The relationship between usefulness and profit is made clear when he discusses mules and hinnies. Straightaway he specifies which services they can and cannot perform. “Each is useful for work, neither brings a return from young”: uterque eorum ad usum utilis, partu fructus neuter (2.8.2). By substituting fructus for ad usum utilis in the second half of the sentence, this particular quote illustrates a crucial point: utility and profit, usus and fructus, were almost one and the same thing. The worth of an animal’s product or service was quantifiable in terms of monetary value. That fact explains why Varro occasionally quotes prices for certain kinds of animal. Several breeding asses of Reatine stock, he claims, had sold for three hundred or even four hundred thousand sesterces (2.8.3). The high sum reflects the perceived value of the animal’s function, breeding, along with its aptitude for that function. Apparently Reatine asses were considered the best of the best for breeding; therefore, they were the most expensive. By quoting this figure, Varro shows that he sees herding as a financial endeavor.

The close relationship between utility and profit had an important consequence for the perception and practice of herding, and even for the very definition of “domestic animal”. If herd animals exist in order to produce goods and services for man, or to help man produce goods, then the best possible management of the herd should maximize their productive potential. Since maximizing produce also maximized monetary return, the ultimate end of herding was to maximize the owner’s profit. This is precisely the aim which Varro outlines in his introduction to the scientia pastoralis. The interlocutor, Scrofa, says, “There is a science of preparing and pasturing the herd so that the greatest possible profit can be taken from them, from whom money itself takes its name; for the herd animal is the basis of all money”: est scientia pecoris parandi ac pascendi, ut fructus quam possint maximi capiantur ex eo, a quibus ipsa pecunia nominata est; nam omnis pecuniae pecus fundamentum (2.1.11). Scrofa’s definition of the pastoral science shows how closely herd animals were associated with money-making in the Roman mind. The connection between herd and profit arose from the belief that domestic animals live solely for the use, and so the enrichment, of man. Apparently, then, a herd animal’s proper function entailed not just being useful to man, but also profiting man. I have said throughout this work that the ancients tended to define domestic animals by their utility to mankind: they are a class of beings that exist to serve humans. Since it now appears that the Romans characterized herd animal utility in terms of profit, we should adjust the definition accordingly: domestic animals are a class of beings that exist to profit humans. This idea underlies the whole conception of the Res Rustica book 2, which describes how to secure the most monetary return from the herd.

Now that I have explored Varro’s views on domestic animals, and produced a definition of “domestic animal” that more accurately reflects those views, we are in a better position to assess his comparisons between domestic animal and human. Before I move on to the assimilation of herdsmen to herd animals in book 2, I will briefly revisit the tripartite division in book 1: instrumentum vocale, semivocale, and mutum. I have argued that the basis of comparison between instrumentum vocale and semivocale, man and animal, is that fact that they serve the same use in agricultural production: they both cultivate fields. I will now show that profit also figures prominently in this comparison, since both man and animal are understood to serve the same use in an activity that ultimately aims at profit. Thus, the notion that herd animals are creatures who produce profit for their human masters is very much in evidence, and actually gives rise to the likening of human to animal. I will then contend that the herdsmen of book 2 are assimilated to animals on similar grounds: because they fulfill the same function as herd animals, which is to produce profit for their masters.

I have said that book 2 identifies the maximization of profit as its object. This is true for book 1, as well, which reveals that agriculture, like herding, was regarded as a profit-making enterprise. The character Stolo announces, “The farmer ought to aim at two goals, utility and pleasure. Utility strives for profit, pleasure for enjoyment”: agricolae ad duas metas derigere debent, ad utilitatem et voluptatem. Utilitas quaerit fructum, voluptas delectationem (2.4.1). Here, just as in book 2, Varro specifically links utility to profit. He then goes on to label utility, and thus profit, as the more important of the two goals. Accordingly, the instructions in book 1 all deal with increasing agricultural yield, as the instructions in book 2 deal with increasing the return from the herd.

Into this profit-driven context comes the description of agricultural laborers and herd animals as comparable types of tool. I argued previously that the designation instrumentum arises from their use in the cultivation of fields. This is in keeping with Varro’s later practice; throughout book 2, he always assesses domestic animals by their usefulness. Thus his attitude toward herd animals shows continuity from one book to the next. Unlike in book 2, he presents them as a mere aid to production, rather than a valuable product in their own right. Their reduced standing reflects the topic of book 1, which discusses the derivation of profit from agri cultura. Book 1 therefore focuses on agricultural yield, strictly the produce of the field, and the profit derived from it. As Varro himself points out, herd animals only belong to this context to the extent that they assist in the field’s cultivation. Therefore they are cast as a means to an end, an instrumentum. That descriptor is a facile one, applied as a convenient organizing principle in a place where Varro does not intend to discuss herd animals on their own terms. The word elides the great worth of their service to the farmer, but it does accurately encapsulate the nature of herd animals’ involvement in generating agricultural profit. When the sale of crops, not of the animals themselves, yields the profit, the animals simply play a part in producing the item which is the source of profit, rather than constituting a source of profit in their own right. Varro, then, depicts the exact role of domestic animals differently, depending on the source of profit and how they contribute to producing it. However, his portrayal of their proper function is consistent throughout his work, in that he always assumes that their every activity and their very existence have one ultimate end: the master’s profit.

When Varro calls agricultural laborers, too, a kind of tool, he is claiming that they perform the same function as herd animals. These humans can also be considered instrumenta because, like the animals, they play a part in a profit-making enterprise. They are mere implements in the pursuit of profit, since they themselves are not the source of profit; rather, they serve as a means of generating the goods which are a source of profit. Therefore, the value of their labor, like that of herd animals, is subordinate to the value of the crops which they help raise. According to this interpretation, the shared feature which links man with beast is their manner of usefulness. Of course any comparison of man and animal in the Res Rustica must inevitably have use as its basis. What else is there? I have shown that Varro does not make such comparisons on the basis of intrinsic qualities; he conjoins human and domestic animal while still maintaining the fundamental distinction between the two species, and recognizing the uniquely human qualities of the people in question. That leaves utility alone to provide a possible explanation for the comparisons, since Varro never judges or even considers herd animals with reference to anything else; it is their very usefulness to mankind that defines them as domestic animals. Because utility is their only attribute, it is the only one they could possibly have in common with humans.

This point of commonality between man and beast at last provides an answer to my question, “On what grounds does Varro assimilate slave to herd animal?”. Ultimately, Varro does so for the same reason that Aristotle does. I have argued that Varro allots a specific form of utility to domestic animals: they work for their master’s gain. The value of their labor or produce exceeds what is spend on them. It is fulfilling this role, toiling for a human’s profit, that makes an animal a domestic animal. Varro is therefore similar to Aristotle in identifying the characteristic function of domestic animals as an economic or productive one, although the two authors describe that function differently. Aristotle focuses on the type of task they carry out: herd animals engage in physical labor at the master’s command. Varro’s formulation, however, emphasizes the exploitative aspect of the relationship between man and animal. I have observed that domestic animals were considered mankind’s partners in survival, but unequal partners. Since they are formed by nature to provide for human needs, humans rightly and naturally take the larger share of whatever the two species produce together for their mutual support. Regardless of what the exact function consists of, the fact that Varro and Aristotle identify economic function as the defining herd animal trait leads both to include certain humans in the category “herd animal”, because those humans display that defining trait. I pointed out in the last chapter that Aristotle assigns human slaves the same economic function as herd animals. Because the two types of creature both execute this essential function, he regards slaves as a type of herd animal and herd animals as a type of slave. I contend that a similar rationale underlies Varro’s conflation of herdsmen and herd animals in book 2 of the Res Rustica.
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Re: Animal Slaves and Slave Animals: Republican Authors on t

Postby admin » Thu Oct 17, 2019 12:53 am

Part 2 of 4

Varro includes slave herdsmen under the heading “herd animal” because they fulfill an equivalent economic role, that of producing profit for another. Shepherds are living creatures whose labor yields a return from the herd. Herd animals themselves are defined as living creatures that yield a return. Since Varro classifies animal and human alike according to their productive function, and because herd animal and herdsman work together toward the same productive goal – return from the herd – they both belong to the same category. Moreover, as slaves, they both belong to the same owner. Given Varro’s emphasis on use and profit, however, ownership may not be the vital concept; rather, what matters is who produces use and profit for whom. Domestic animals, destined to serve man, yield goods and labor for man. In exchange they are given enough food and care to ensure their survival. Slave shepherds, too, worked not for their own enrichment, but for that of a human master. The master reaped whatever profit resulted from their labor; anything they kept for themselves, they kept only at the master’s sufferance. In this regard, any generosity on the master’s part really aimed at his own benefit. Varro recommends that slaves be granted incentives – more food, clothing, exemption from work, or cattle of their own to graze – in order that they “become more eager for their work,” studiosiores ad opus fieri (2.17.7). Just as, from the master’s point of view, herd animals received only what was necessary to prolong their lives and thus their labor, so shepherds received only what was necessary to secure their faithful and diligent service. The most important similarity between the two groups therefore lay in their economic role. The Res Rustica assumes that it is natural or inevitable for domestic animals to give and men to take. In that world order, any person who could take nothing for themselves, but had to constantly give to another, was as much herd animal as human.

Assimilation on the basis of productive function explains how Varro could label herdsmen as domestic animals while still acknowledging that they are innately human. It also explains how the Romans could build the equation of slave and domestic animal into law, although they did not necessarily believe that slaves had intrinsically animal-like qualities. Earlier in this chapter, I mentioned Keith Bradley’s theory, that the identification of slave with herd animal arose from the fact that they were both considered property; Bradley cites certain laws to support his point. I countered that, although slaves and domestic animals clearly were regarded as analogous forms of property, commodification alone cannot underlie the conflation of human and animal, since free persons were sometimes described as herd animals, as well. I have now found a possible solution which accounts for both phenomena, the legal commodification of slaves and the conceptual degradation of certain free persons. I have suggested that the primary grounds of comparison between slave and herd animal was their economic role, which entailed working for the profit of another. It was by virtue of performing this activity that they were property: a piece of property is an item subject to someone’s use, and an owner is the person entitled to the item’s use and produce. Thus, the legal classification of masters as owners, and of slaves and animals as property, represents the formalization of the economic relationship between the two parties, between the exploiter and the exploited. However, exploitation is perfectly possible outside of the master-slave relationship. Sometimes free persons participate in a labor arrangement that profits another more than themselves. Because this is true, such people technically meet the criterion – producing profit for another – that qualifies them for categorization as domestic animals, even though they have no owner and are not property. Later in this chapter, I will show that productive function does indeed drive the portrayal of certain classes of free person as herd animals.

Varro’s text bears out the interpretation that slaves, or at least slave herdsmen, were considered a kind of herd animal because they profited their master in a similar way. Right after Scrofa, Varro’s interlocutor, establishes that the aim of herding is profit, and that herd animals are the basis of all money (2.1.11), he divides herd animals into three groups: the smaller, the larger, and those which are not kept for profit, but are born from or exist for the sake of the other groups. Shepherds belong to the third group, along with mules and dogs: tertia pars est in pecuaria quae non parantur, ut ex iis capiatur fructus, sed propter eam aut ex ea sunt, mules, canes, pastores (2.1.12). The insertion of non parantur ut ex iis capiatur fructus shows that Varro still defines this last category according to its potential for profit, even if the defining feature is a lack of such potential. Of course, mules were useful for work and could be sold for a profit. The final category in Varro’s threefold division reflects the nature of his topic, not the intrinsic value of the animals. The res pastoricia strictly consists of making a profit by assembling and breeding a herd. Although breeding a mule could produce a profit, the mule itself could not increase the owner’s stock by breeding, and thus could not yield a profit according to the terms of the res pastoricia proper.55 The other two members of the third category, dogs and shepherds, could breed, but were not usually kept for that purpose – as another passage demonstrates. When Atticus points out that the divisions “breeding” and “bearing,” admissura and fetura, do not apply to mules, shepherds, and dogs, he then backtracks. He admits that they could technically apply to dogs and herdsmen, by whose offspring the herd becomes more profitable, rem pecuariam fructuosiorem (2.1.25-26). His initial reaction shows that, although the young of dogs and shepherds were saleable objects and therefore a possible source of profit, they were not normally considered in that light. Since mules, dogs, and herdsmen did not directly augment the size and profitability of the herd, Varro portrays them as separate from the productive herd which is the object of his attention in book 2. Mules are cast as a product of the herd, ex ea, and herdsmen and dogs as accessories to it, propter eam.

As accessories to the herd, shepherds occupy a role in herding which is exactly analogous to that of field hands in agriculture: they are a means to an end. Their persons are not valuable in themselves, but their labor helps to produce something which is valuable. In both cases, their job makes them an integral part of a certain profit-making enterprise. Because animals perform a similar function in the same enterprise, they are assigned a status equivalent to that of the human laborers. In agriculture people and animals alike are tools, since they are merely aids necessary for a productive end separate from themselves, the crops of the field. The terms of the comparison shift along with Varro’s economic viewpoint. In the herding business, the animals themselves are the productive end; as the source of profit, they cannot be reduced to mere instrumenta in the service of profit-making. Their change in status affects the standing of those men involved in their upkeep, since Varro evaluates both man and animal according to their productive role. In a context where they are raised for profit, herd animals might be defined as living beings that exist in order to yield a profit for their human masters. Herdsmen also fulfill the terms of this definition by caring for the herd, and thereby contributing to the master’s profit; thus, they actually are herd animals in a certain sense. Farmhands and domestic animals, on the other hand, as fellow agricultural laborers, are merely parallel entities. They are accorded equal status, as well, whereas herdsmen have less value than other herd animals. The animals, unlike their human handlers, are intrinsically valuable; as Varro himself points out, herdsmen only exist for the sake of the value derived from the animals, propter eam. Whatever their moral worth as human beings, in terms of their economic output their worth is subordinate to that of the animals they raise, just as both farmhands and animals are secondary to the crops they raise. The utility-and profit-based assessment scheme therefore determines even the relative standing of man and animal. That fact explains why books 1 and 2 employ different man-animal comparisons, which suggest different relationships between man and animal; the two comparisons are shaped by two different productive contexts.

The specifics of the comparisons vary according to Varro’s economic focus and literary need; however, both arise from the same fundamental assumptions. They do not assume that field hands and shepherds are innately bestial or servile, and therefore do not assume a teleological view of human nature. In book 1 the likening of man and animal extends only to their role in agriculture; Varro still preserves the distinction between them by labeling one instrumentum vocale and the other instrumentum semivocale. Even herdsmen, though classified as a type of herd animal, are described with words appropriate only to people. Varro clearly recognizes their humanity. He subsumes them under the heading “herd animal” as a matter of organizational convenience, just as elsewhere he labels both men and animals as instrumenta as a matter of convenience. Since his topic is the maximization of profit, he shows no interest in the personal character of field hands and shepherds, just in their job. He engages with them only to the extent that they play necessary parts in agriculture and herding. Their jobs, or productive roles, are precisely those features which they share with domestic animals. The general pattern of Varro’s man-animal comparisons reflect this specific point of similarity. They present man and animal as joint or parallel entities, while still distinguishing between them; thus, they recognize that man and animal perform the same function in the same profit-making enterprise, but possess different essential natures.

Varro’s views on herd animals ultimately drive his assimilation of man and animal. According to his formulation, domestic animals were domesticated on account of their utility to humans. Because they provide essential goods and labor, they are vital participants in human society; because they receive care and upkeep in return, they could even be called the partners of mankind. It is an unequal partnership, however, marked by the exploitation of one side by the other. Herd animals are a race created by nature and man in order to serve man, therefore existing solely for his use and – by a practical and conceptual extension – for his profit. Every member of every species of herd animal is defined, categorized, assessed, and hierarchized with reference to its potential usefulness and profitability. In this ideological context, it is not surprising to see herd animals likened to humans on the basis of their productive function. Since Varro assigns to domestic animals just that one attribute, utility, he can only make a comparison based on that one attribute. The surprising aspect of the comparisons, the assumption that determines their particular form, relates to humans, not animals. Varro apparently feels that he can evaluate people by the same standard which he applies to animals, and does so. He rates field hands and herdsmen just as he does animals, according to their usefulness and profitability – despite acknowledging that they are biologically human, possessing all of the qualities which that entails. As a result of his assessment scheme, he downgrades their human status, reducing them to the same level as the herd animals which they work alongside.

Nature as the Measure of Social Status

It is now time to consider how Varro’s man-animal comparisons might help us answer the question which is the focus of this study: how was nature thought to play a part in creating, maintaining, and legitimizing human social inequality? More specifically, did the Romans view human society as teleological? My reading of the Res Rustica indicates that the answer to the second question is “no”; at least, Varro does not apply teleological principles to humans in this particular work. A teleological outlook on society would suppose that the social hierarchy is a natural scale of both type and function, wherein the lower orders of human exist to support the higher, and therefore possess a type adapted to that function. Varro, however, does not imply that slaves possess a special type adapted to their lowly function. He treats them, rather, as fully human, with all the traits and capacities which humanity entails. As I have just argued, he does not liken slave to animal on the basis of innate characteristics, but on the basis of an external circumstance, economic role. He does not, therefore, seem to presume that there are intrinsically different kinds of human, suited to specific roles in society.

Although nature’s involvement in social inequality does not, apparently, include the teleological differentiation of humans, Varro does indicate that nature is involved somehow. Natura figures prominently in his comparisons. I have shown in earlier chapters that the ancients often regarded herd animals as natural slaves. Although Varro never explicitly says this, his treatment of herd animals is consistent with that belief. When he states that “both men and herd animals have always existed by nature” (2.1.3), he identifies both homo and pecus as “natural” categories of living being. When he claims that domestic animals exist for the use of man (2.1.4), he supposes that nature has created one type of living being for the sake of another; in other words, he takes a teleological view of nature. This assumption causes him to assess animals according to their usefulness to man – according to their natural destiny, their sole purpose for living – which in turn gives rise to his utility-based man-animal comparisons. Thus, whenever he compares man to animal, he implicitly refers to a natural and teleological hierarchy of species.

If the comparisons presuppose a teleological hierarchy of species, but not a teleological hierarchy of humans, then what, precisely, is the connection between the two hierarchies? I will now suggest a possible answer, which I believe explains the class-specific man-animal comparisons not only in Varro, but throughout republican literature. It also, I think, explains how nature was thought to play a role in social inequality. In this section, I will show that the comparisons in Varro assume a certain connection between the natural and social hierarchies. In the rest of this work, I will show that comparisons in other authors depend on the same assumption; moreover, authors use this notion and man-animal comparisons as a way to talk about class inequality in general, not just the inequality between slaves and free persons. I contend that, although the Romans do not tend to espouse the idea that there are different human types, each formed to fulfill a certain function, they do treat function itself as a primary criterion of social status. Therefore, they do not apply to humans both of the standards of rank, function and type, which characterize the teleological hierarchy, but they do apply one of those standards to humans. This is the link between the natural and the social hierarchies, the shared feature which allows authors to compare and even equate the two. Varro and other writers presume that the worth of any creature is determined by its function within human society – or, to put it another way, by the manner in which and the degree to which it is useful to human society. Because they hold this to be true for man and animal alike, they often conflate the natural and social hierarchies into one natural scale of social value and standing, with the result that humans and animals who contribute to society in the same way can hold the same status. Thus, Roman authors treat utility to the human community as the natural measure of all social standing.

This method of reckoning status coincides with a belief which is expressed in the De Officiis (1.22), and which I discussed in chapter 1: nature intends both people and animals to contribute to the upkeep of human society. It is also consistent with another trend which I pointed out in the same section, that Roman sources tend to talk about social standing as if it reflects how useful a person is to the state, and in what way. In the De Re Publica (2.39-40), Cicero even implies that utility to the state plays a role in determining formal legal status, as well as informal prestige. The idea that it is natural for humans to promote society is a Stoic one; the practice of assigning social standing according to utility is definitely not Stoic in origin. Perhaps the Stoics first introduced the former concept to Roman discourse; perhaps not, and Stoic ideas and native Roman ideals just happened to be similar in this regard, with the result that Stoicism was adopted all the more readily because of it. Either way, a belief that people are naturally obligated to serve society seems to have combined with the Roman concept of a utility-based social hierarchy, producing the view that such a hierarchy is natural.

It is easy to see how these ideas about human status could have interacted with ideas about animals and the scala naturae, to give rise to the notion that the scales of human and animal, social and natural status are one and the same. If the Romans were accustomed to think that there is a natural hierarchy of animals, ranked by their usefulness to human society, and if they traditionally recognized a hierarchy of humans, ranked by their usefulness to society, then the common measure of worth, usefulness, might well have prompted an analogy between the two hierarchies, or even an outright conflation of the two. The assumption that humans, like animals, are naturally supposed to serve society would have practically ensured such a conflation; to people who habitually assessed human worth in terms of utility, it would have suggested that utility is a natural standard of value for humans, as it is for animals. By this reasoning, the animal and human hierarchies are both natural, with the same natural criterion of value and standing. This view lends itself to the assumption that the two hierarchies actually comprise one, continuous scale of worth for animal and human, just as the scala naturae is one, continuous scale of inter-species worth.

Varro’s assimilation of slave and herd animal displays this pattern of thought. As I noted in the previous section, the idea of a natural hierarchy wherein all animals are subordinate to humans, and individual types are ranked by their usefulness to humans, is very much in evidence. Social status also plays a part in the text, in that Varro talks about slaves and “slave” is a human social status. Animals’ utility determines their worth to the human community, and so their standing, and the same is true for people. Varro defines servitude as an economic role, and this role or function dictates how he discusses and valuates slaves. Thus, Varro assesses man and animal by the same standard, which leads him to assign the same status to each. Because they fulfill a similar productive function, herd animals are a kind of slave, and slaves are a form of herd animal. This constitutes a conflation of natural and social status, since the social category “slave” is assimilated to the natural category “herd animal”, and the natural category “herd animal” is assimilated to the social category “slave”.

Varro also reveals one last assumption which may have contributed to the tendency to regard natural and social status as equivalent: herd animals are, in a limited way, members of the human community. I have observed that he treats domestic animals as natural slaves, as creatures destined by nature to serve man. That much we have seen elsewhere. However, he makes a point of recognizing their absolute necessity to man, as well. According to the Res Rustica, therefore, domestic animals are essential participants in the human community. They might even be considered partners, albeit unequal ones, since they engage in an exchange of vital services with their human masters. Only through cooperation between the two species can both survive. This circumstance might suggest that domestic animals are actually part of human society. If they are part of human society, then the natural category “herd animal” is a social category, too. Thus, the lowest member of the natural hierarchy, as a member of human society, is also the lowest member of the social hierarchy. Since “herd animal” is a social category, humans can belong to it, as well, if they meet the definitive criterion. Conversely, animals can belong to an ostensibly human social category, if they meet the definitive criterion. Because, as I have argued, the definitive criterion for both “herd animal” and “slave” is the same – to be useful in a certain manner – a legal slave is automatically a type of herd animal, and a herd animal a type of slave. In this way, man and animal occupy the same position in society, with the result that the status “herd animal” and the status “slave” can be used interchangeably to denote one natural social position.

The equation of slave with herd animal – and, more broadly, the equation of the social and natural hierarchies – is reflected in the language used to describe animal and human status. I have pointed out that the ancients regarded herd animals as slaves; accordingly, they were often associated with the vocabulary of subservience, the same vocabulary which was applied to servile humans. I have also discussed the long tradition of likening slaves to herd animals. Aristotle’s theory of natural slavery, as I showed in the previous chapter, makes use of both conventions. We have now seen that Varro, too, draws upon both tendencies in the Res Rustica. The fact that the Romans defined slave and herd animal in terms of each other, and classified one as a form of the other, shows that they did not differentiate between the natural and the social as we do. They could not conceptualize either state without reference to the other. As a result, the language used to talk about the natural status of animals, and that employed for human social standing, are hopelessly entangled. In chapter 1, I examined the most famous republican example of this phenomenon: the prologue of the Bellum Catilinae. There, Sallust utilizes the imagery of domestic animals and of slavery in close conjunction, in order to comment on what is naturally appropriate and inappropriate for humans of free standing.

Varro also offers examples of this linguistic and conceptual entanglement. I have talked at length about the fact that he describes field hands and shepherds, who both occupied a very low socio-economic station, by comparing them to herd animals. The conflation works in the opposite direction, as well: just as nature and animals inform the status of humans, so humans and society inform the ranking of animals. This occurs most clearly in the sections about pigs and oxen, whom Varro specifically locates within the hierarchy of herd animals. Pigs, he claims – quoting the old joke – were given by nature for feasting on; and so they were granted life instead of salt, to preserve the meat (2.4.10). As I explained before, the point here is that pigs provide humans with just one commodity, meat. Nature, then, created them for that one reason, in order to be killed and eaten. Until a pig can fulfill this destiny, the entire purpose of its life is to keep the meat fresh. Although the words “useless” and “worthless” never appear in the text, the joke assumes that a living pig is useless and therefore worthless. Cicero is more explicit: he actually applies the word “worthless” to swine. The proverbial uselessness of pigs no doubt prompted his characterization of Verres as a nequam verres, “worthless boar” (Verrines 2.1.121). Obviously a pig is neither useless nor worthless to itself. The designation “worthless pig” only makes sense if the pig is judged and ranked within the context of human society, according to its utility to humans. Its humble position is a kind of social status, in that it reflects the pig’s value to human society, as measured by the standards of that society. The pig is also inferior in relation to other herd animals, since utility determines the value and standing of them all. Furthermore, because the joke invokes natura, it attributes the pig’s lowliness to a natural order and plan. Thus, a brief witticism about pigs illustrates how men and animals, society and nature, are all subsumed into a single ranking system: to be worthless among herd animals, worthless to man, and worthless by nature, are all one and the same thing.

The equation of natural and social status is even more obvious in the passage about oxen, where Varro uses human social labels to indicate the value and standing of animals. He asserts that the ox is the socius hominum (2.5.3). Anything that can be a socius occupies, by definition, a social category. He also calls the ox a Cereris minister (2.5.3). Minister normally refers to a human job and its attendant, servile status. Here, then, is an example of the language of human servitude, linked to an animal. Moreover, and more surprisingly, he attributes to cattle the maxima auctoritas among herd animals (2.5.3), as well as maiestas (2.5.4). He tags a bull nobilis (2.5.3). These are words usually associated with the aristocracy. To express the prestige of the most important animals, Varro has borrowed from the language of the Roman elite, who were the most important humans. The text therefore demonstrates the conceptual and verbal overlap between man and animal, social and natural. In this case words from the sphere of human social relations have been applied to an animal, as a way to emphasize the value of its natural function.

We might wonder whether the idea of a single scale of animal and human worth, graded according to utility, is unique to the Res Rustica, and so has no broader significance. Perhaps Varro’s criteria for evaluating man and animal arise from his very specific literary agenda. The Res Rustica is a technical manual which explicitly states its aim: to maximize the profit derived from agricultural and pastoral enterprises. In such a context, of course everyone and everything is assigned value according to its productive capacity. However, there is a reason to suppose that Varro made use of available ideas, rather than inventing them: all of the most suggestive passages have parallels in other authors. He actually ascribes his history of the progress of civilization – from the hunter-gatherer stage, to the pastoral, to the agricultural – to a Greek author named Dicaearchus (2.1.3). Aside from that passage, my argument relies chiefly on Varro’s assimilation of slave and herd animal. Such comparisons constitute the subject of this chapter; I have already demonstrated that there was a tradition of these comparisons in ancient literature, and I will continue to explore similar instances. I pointed out, too, that the pig aphorism was an old joke, supposedly coined by a Stoic philosopher. Other Roman authors quote it as well,56 and in the Verrines Cicero presents a variation on the thought. When he calls Verres a worthless pig (2.1.121), he not only assumes the worthlessness of pigs, but also likens a human being to a herd animal on the basis of utility. In this case the point of similarity between man and boar (aside from the name verres) is their utter uselessness to mankind. Cicero’s comparison therefore displays the same pattern as Varro’s: it assimilates man and animal and assigns them the same social value, because they both possess the same measure of utility to human society.

Although the oxen passage has no exact counterpart, its ideas are not unique to the Res Rustica. To my knowledge, auctoritas, maiestas, and nobilis are applied to cattle nowhere else in Roman literature. However, various authors describe the great value of the ox in terms that recall Varro’s passage. Cicero asserts that men of the golden age never showed violence towards cattle, since cattle plow the earth. He further notes, “Such great utility was thought to be obtained from oxen, that it was considered a crime to eat their flesh”: tanta putabatur utilitas percipi e bubus, ut eorum visceribus vesci scelus haberetur (Nat. Deor. 2.159). This claim resembles Varro’s own, that it had once been considered a capital offense at Rome to kill an ox (Res Rustica 2.5.4). Cicero’s reference to plowing also shows that he, like Varro, is thinking of the cow in its working, agricultural capacity, not as a meat animal. He even pinpoints utilitas as the attribute responsible for the cow’s high status, something which is implicit in Varro’s passage.

The concepts which figure in Varro and Cicero also appear in texts written after their lifetimes. Vergil expresses the same idea as Cicero, that golden age humans did not eat cattle (Georg. 2.536-538). Ovid does not appeal to the norms or laws of some distant past, but actively intercedes on behalf of the cow’s life (Fast. 4.412-416). He bids priests to spare oxen, so that they may plough and live and labor. He argues that a neck fit for the yoke must not be struck by the axe. Ovid, like Cicero and Varro before him, locates the ox’s utility, and thus its value, in its labor, specifically in its ability to plough. Due to its usefulness as a laborer, the ox is worth more alive than dead, unlike swine. Ovid actually asks that “the idle pig”, ignavam suem, be sacrificed instead of cattle. Here is a near match to Cicero’s nequam verres, and the walking pork chops of the Stoic aphorism. According to Ovid, pigs are a better choice for sacrificial victim because they are inactive in life and so worthless, whereas a dead pig can provide a good meal. In this one, four-line passage, Ovid encapsulates Varro’s most salient points about both cattle and pigs, and assesses them by their usefulness to humanity, just as Varro did.

Columella offers the closest parallel to Varro’s passage (6 praef. 6-7) – predictably, since he too writes an agricultural manual, and actually cites Varro as a source. He divides domestic quadrupeds into two categories, one of which consists of animals procured “for partnership in our works”, in consortium operum. Their use “takes part in our labor”: cuius usus nostri laboris est particeps. These statements recall Varro’s assertion that the ox is “the partner of men in rustic labor”: hic socius hominum in rustico opere (Res Rustica 2.5.3). In fact, Columella proceeds to use almost the exact same phrase when he calls the ox “the most hardworking partner of man in agriculture”: laboriosissimus hominis socius in agricultura. Because the ox has this status, he declares that it “ought to surpass the rest of the herd animals in honor”: ceteras pecudes bos honore superare debeat. Although the word is honor rather than auctoritas, maiestas, or nobilitas, it constitutes another instance of elite vocabulary applied to an ox. It is followed by yet another, veneratio. Columella says that “veneration of the cow was so great among the ancients, that it was just as much a capital crime to kill an ox as a citizen”: cuius tanta fuit apud antiquos veneratio, ut tam capital esset bovem necuisse, quam civem. This sentence also contains a comparison of man and animal: not between herd animal and slave, but between herd animal and citizen. The cow’s great utility elevates it to a rank above mere slave, to full participant in the Roman community.

In his Natural History, Pliny basically makes the same points, though in a more compressed manner (8.180). Again the term socius turns up to describe the ox’s role in farming. “We have this animal as a partner in labor and agriculture”: socium enim laboris agrique culturae habemus hoc animal. Again Pliny relates the fact that it had once been a capital crime to kill an ox. He claims that an actual case was recorded, in which a man was condemned for killing an ox simply for its meat, and was driven into exile “just as if he had killed his own farmlaborer”: actusque in exilium tamquam colono suo interempto. Pliny’s telling, like Columella’s, specifically likens a cow to a human. He uses colonus rather than civis, a choice which reflects the cow’s job as an agricultural worker. Colonus and ox are similar with respect to their productive function, and the degree to which that function benefits human society; they therefore enjoy the same status. The use of colonus brings Pliny’s man-animal comparison into exact alignment with Varro’s, which also equates ox with farm laborer on the basis of their shared role in the agricultural process.

The passages discussed above contain parallels to every thought which Varro expresses about oxen: their high value and prestige, derived from their great utility to humanity; how they contrast with the lowly pig; their status as partner of man; their equal standing with human laborers. Columella even describes cattle in language normally associated with the Roman elite. These views, and their underlying assumptions, are clearly not peculiar to the Res Rustica. It could be true that later authors take their ideas from Varro; Columella and Pliny, in particular, no doubt did make use of the Res Rustica. Nonetheless, it is more likely that Varro drew upon an established practice, than that numerous authors decided to repeat concepts which he invented – especially when those concepts depend on so many other suppositions. Moreover, I will show in the rest of this work that the notions which I have explicated, and which underlie the foregoing passages, appear in other sources, as well, employed in a variety of contexts for a variety of purposes. They are too ubiquitous to be attributed to Varro, or to any one man.

So far, I have discussed the equation of natural and social status only as it pertains to slaves and herd animals. However, I propose, and will later show, that the phenomenon is not limited to slaves and herd animals. Rather, Roman sources assume the existence of one continuous scale of worth and status to which all humans and animals belong, wherein every creature is ranked according to the same criterion. In this concept lies the answer to my question, “What role was nature thought to play in human social inequality?” The belief in a natural standard of worth, common to all living beings, provides the conceptual mechanism by which social divisions could be construed as natural. The common standard is utility to human society. This method of reckoning reflects the anthropocentric view that human society is the highest earthly entity; it aligns, too, with the teleological view that everything on earth has been formed for the purpose of supporting human society. If everything in nature exists for the sake of man, then the end of everything in nature is to promote the human community. It is easy to see how analogy could have suggested that for humans, as well, contributing to the community is a natural goal, or even the highest natural goal; moreover, the same analogy suggests that individuals ought to be assessed by this activity, just as everything else is nature is assessed by its contributions to human society. Thus, service to the community becomes the final, the only significant measure of the importance of any living being. It provides the link between social and natural status, which were not recognized as separate entities. Since nature itself has determined the universal yardstick, the supreme arbiter of all status, all status is natural. The resulting inequalities in status are therefore natural as well – both the inequality between man and animal, and the inequality between humans. Treating the standard of status as natural therefore naturalizes the social hierarchy itself, making it an intrinsic element of nature. Varro shows that a natural social hierarchy need not entail the existence of humans who are naturally adapted for specific functions. He treats the very institution of slavery as natural, and the very category “slave”. His shepherds and farm hands just happen to occupy that category; their personal character has nothing to do with it. Domestic animals, on the other hand, were thought to be slaves by nature. In them the ancients believed they had a natural precedent for the human institution, a model designed and sanctified by the divine plan. Herd animals therefore serve as a shorthand reference to the condition and status of slavery. Those unlucky humans who found themselves in servitude were assimilated to domestic animals, the natural slaves. Because utility was the principal gauge of rank, it constituted the primary point of similarity between slave and herd animal. The Res Rustica measures utility by profit, and thus takes profit as the basic component of the servile state. Slaves were slaves – and so comparable to herd animals – because fortune had condemned them to a life of labor, producing profit not for themselves, but for a human master. If even slaves were not considered a special breed of human, innately suited for their lowly job, then it is unlikely that the Romans subscribed at all to the notion of teleologically differentiated human types.

Now that I have identified the role of nature in creating status, we are in a better position to determine the relationship of the relevant ideas to Aristotle’s theory of natural slavery and to Stoicism. With regard to Aristotle, my analysis of the Res Rustica has borne out my conclusion in the last chapter, that the theory of natural slavery does not account for the assimilation of slave to herd animal in Roman texts. Some of the premises on which Aristotle bases his theory do appear in Roman sources, as well, though this fact probably does not signify that Aristotle introduced these concepts to common discourse; rather, it indicates that these premises were widespread assumptions, which influenced both Aristotle and Roman authors. Varro and Aristotle, for example, both treat slavery as an economic function, though they define that function differently. Aristotle focuses on what slaves do – perform manual labor at the behest of the master – whereas Varro focuses on for whom they do it: a slave is someone who works for the profit of another. Moreover, Varro, like Aristotle, supposes that slavery itself is a necessary and natural part of the world order. Unlike Aristotle, he does not conclude from this circumstance that there must be a special subset of humans naturally formed for that station. Although his comments on animals are not incompatible with a teleological view of nature, he does not apply those principles to humans.

In applying teleology to the lower animals, but not to humans, Varro is similar to the Stoics. In fact, Stoicism offers parallels to many of the concepts which play a part in the Res Rustica. As I have observed in previous chapters, the Stoics also regard slavery as a necessary and natural labor arrangement. More generally, they regard human society and the individual social relationships of which it is comprised as natural. This evidently includes relationships of inequality, since they consider the master-slave relationship to be natural. Claiming that the existing social order is natural does not amount to calculating status on the basis of utility, or advocating such a system. However, it does concur with the view that the social hierarchy is natural. Moreover, the Stoics hold that it is naturally appropriate for people to be useful to the human community. Again, this is not precisely equivalent to the idea which concerns us, that utility to society is a natural criterion by which to evaluate humans; nonetheless, it agrees with the idea to that extent that, in order to take utility as a natural criterion of human value, a person must first assume that it is natural for humans to serve their communities.

I discussed these Stoic concepts in chapter 1. There, I argued that they became a part of the common discourse, and a part of the orator’s stock of rhetorical commonplaces, because they were similar to, and so made plausible by, certain traditional ideas. Therefore, a speaker or writer could draw upon these philosophical notions, confident that they would be readily accepted as true by the audience. I think that we must see this model of selective usage at work whenever we encounter a passage in which an author employs ostensibly Stoic views to discuss human status. The idea of a utility-based hierarchy was definitely not Stoic in origin. As I pointed out in the last chapter, the Stoics hardly discuss social status at all. They also maintain that people in all walks of life are equally human, equally deserving of humane treatment, by virtue of their capacity for reason; because people do not differ in type, even a slave can be a wise man. This focus on innate, as opposed to outward worth, could be construed as inconsistent with the practice of deriving human value and status from utility. Having said that, there is nothing in Stoic doctrine that outright conflicts with the practice, or contradicts any of the assumptions which support it. I noted above that certain Stoic principles even seem to agree with and uphold some of those assumptions. Thus, a person talking about natural, utility-based social status could potentially reinforce his case by appealing to Stoic concepts, but he would not be espousing a Stoic viewpoint.

Since the ideological framework which I have elucidated has no exact philosophical counterpart, we must conclude that it is an authentically Roman way of thinking. The form that this discourse took by Cicero’s day was probably shaped, to some extent, by compatible philosophical ideas. Ultimately, however, the whole collection of related concepts, in its entirety, is a jumble of suppositions and analogies, taken for granted and never subjected to formal examination. Certain aspects of Roman culture, likewise taken for granted, no doubt contributed to the development of these ideas: most notably, the Romans’ use of livestock and their traditional class structure. The pertinent notions, viewed together, do not represent a coherent system of belief, so much as a loose association of widely held assumptions that tend to work together. Because this is true, the discourse of natural social status is characterized by a broadness, flexibility, and credibility that makes it especially useful for rhetorical purposes.
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Re: Animal Slaves and Slave Animals: Republican Authors on t

Postby admin » Thu Oct 17, 2019 12:55 am

Part 3 of 4

Varro presents one such rhetorical handling of these broad ideas, utilizing them in a limited and conscious way. However, their scope and implications extend far beyond the matters with which the Res Rustica concerns itself. In the notion of a single, natural scale of status for all living beings, there exists a potential mechanism for understanding and discussing the entire structure of society. Varro’s treatment of this concept is a rhetorical one in that it is tailored to serve a rhetorical goal – whether that goal was to create a simple technical manual, or to write covert political commentary. To what extent other writers make use of the concept, and how they do so, remain to be seen. For the rest of this work, I will explore the ways in which Roman authors employ the same assumptions in order to discuss both social classifications and society as a whole. For the rest of this chapter, I will consider, in particular, how Cicero and Sallust comment on the standing of free persons by utilizing the notion that “slave” is a natural social category. The ideas displayed in the Res Rustica are also present in those texts, and clearly subject to rhetorical manipulation.

The Ideological Assimilation of Free Wage-Earners to Slaves

Cicero and Sallust wrote texts which, unlike the Res Rustica, are overtly political. They do not disguise their meaning with talk of shepherds and herd animals, or concern themselves with slaves and herd animals much at all. Their interests are the Roman state and its citizen body, the citizens’ slavery or freedom, the citizens’ humanity or lack of it. As a result, slaves and herd animals usually appear only as objects of comparison, in order to describe the state and status of citizens, usually the plebs. How could Sallust and Cicero describe free Romans in terms of domestic animals, when domestic animals necessarily implied servility? Cicero asserts that “other nations can bear servitude, but liberty is proper to the Roman people”: aliae nationes servitutem pati possunt, populi Romani est propria libertas” (Phil. 6.19). According to him, it is the senate’s task to safeguard and augment the plebis libertas (Sest. 137). These are not the claims of a man who attached an innately servile temperament to the Roman people. The populus Romanus were not legally slaves, either, to be owned and exploited like Varro’s shepherds. Nonetheless, Varro’s man-herd animal comparisons may clarify those in Cicero and Sallust. When he divides men and herd animals into the categories instrumentum vocale and instrumentum semivocale, he includes under the first heading not just slaves, but also free men – specifically mercennarii and poor farmers. In that instance, the similarity between herd animal and free man lay in their productive function. The same might be true for comparisons between herd animal and plebs.

Before I turn to Sallust’s Historiae and Cicero’s De Re Publica, I will examine De Officiis 1.150-151, a passage that discusses which occupations are acceptable, and which not, for a Roman gentleman. The text makes it clear that some professions carried the stigma of servility, even when practiced by free persons; it can therefore help to explain why free persons are likened to slaves and herd animals, and what these comparisons have to do with nature. Scholars have always debated whether the passage has a Ciceronian or Panaetian origin, whether its intended audience was Greek or Roman, and whether it expresses Roman attitudes. 57 Regardless of its provenance, I hope to show that some of its ideas, at least, have parallels in other Roman texts, and reflect concepts which we have already seen in the Res Rustica. I will pay special attention to the hired wage-earner, the mercennarius, for several reasons. The text does not just imply a certain degree of servility, but actually equates mercennarii with slaves, although they were not legally assimilated to slaves.58 Here, if anywhere, we should be able to discover how a legally free man can also be, conceptually, a slave. Moreover, Varro lumped mercennarii together with slaves under instrumentum vocale, and the idea of wage-earning plays an important part in the Sallust passage which I will analyze next.

The De Officiis reveals that the perceived “slavery” of mercennarii depends on their productive role, just as, in Varro, the similarity between slave and herd animal depends on productive role. The roles of both mercennarii and of actual slaves resemble that of herd animals, the “natural” slaves, who are destined to work for the benefit of man. The ideological degradation of wage-earners therefore illustrates how naturalizing slavery could affect the social standing of free persons: regardless of legal reality, a condition of servitude was thought to exist whenever the natural criterion for slavery was met. Since the natural criterion for slavery consisted of performing a certain productive role, anyone who performed that role occupied the same social space as slaves and herd animals. Mercennarii are assimilated to slaves – and by extension to herd animals – because their labor produces profit for others, not for themselves.

Cicero’s comments on mercennarii can only be understood in the context of the passage in which they appear. De Officiis 1.150-151 talks about “trades and means of livelihood, which ones are to be considered becoming to a free man, which ones are vulgar”: de artificiis et quaestibus, qui liberales habendi, qui sordidi sint. This introduction immediately establishes the three major trends of the passage. The first: various professions are ranked according to the social esteem enjoyed by their practitioners. Although the text does not set up a strict hierarchy, with every occupation placed relative to the others, it does indicate levels or gradations in social status, as determined by occupation. Mercennarii, for example, are clearly very low on the social scale. Their wage itself is the reward of slavery: est enim in illis ipsa merces auctoramentum servitutis. Skilled professions – like medicine, architecture, and teaching – are honorable, but only for those “whose station they befit”: eae sunt iis, quorum ordini conveniunt, honestae. Cicero makes agriculture the most prestigious money-making enterprise, claiming that “nothing is more worthy of a free man”: nihil homine libero dignius. By implication, the landowner living off the proceeds of agriculture commands the most prestige among men.

The language with which Cicero describes social status points to the second significant trend in this passage: it connects social standing to personal liberty. The text is full of vocabulary that refers to freedom or its opposite state, servitude. The distinction which Cicero draws at the very beginning – livelihoods which are liberales or sordidi – expresses the contrast between reputable and disreputable professions in terms of what is suitable for a free man, and what is not. This phenomenon continues. The livelihood of wage-earners is illiberalis, and their wage is a reward of servitus. There is nothing ingenuum in a workshop. Those trades must not be approved, which are ministrae to sensual pleasures. Nothing is more worthy for a homo liber than agriculture. The fact that there are gradations of liberty, corresponding to gradations in social status, is consistent with the Roman conception of libertas. As P.A. Brunt notes, “there could be degrees of freedom or servitude”. 59 The divisions in Cicero’s passage, between different levels of status and freedom, do not necessarily match legal divisions. A mercennarius was technically not a slave, and was no less free than a butcher with his own shop, or a teacher, whom Cicero ranks above both wage-earner and butcher. Rather, the inequalities reflect the amount of respect accorded to each profession, and liberty and social standing are measures of that respect.60 The passage as whole demonstrates that free people could be ideologically, if not legally, degraded to the lowest social state, that of slaves.

The third important trend recalls Varro’s practice in the Res Rustica: the De Officiis passage gauges the status of an individual, and the degree of his freedom or servitude, by the role he plays in a productive, money-making process. Brunt has pointed out that the text specifically examines means of acquiring wealth, quaestus; Cicero’s topic is not professions per se, but professions as sources of enrichment.61 He specifies that he is about to talk de artificiis et quaestibus, and then goes on to repeat the word quaestus three times throughout the passage. Agriculture is characterized as the best of all things “from which something is gained”: ex quibus aliquid adquiritur. Thus Cicero treats even agriculture, like any other source of income, as a profit-making enterprise – which is precisely what Varro does in the Res Rustica. In the Res Rustica, the emphasis on profit meant that productive function determined the standing of man and animal alike, and that servitude was defined as an economic relation between master and slave, not a power relation. The De Officiis shows that the same method of reckoning applied in society at large, beyond the narrow confines of a farm. Cicero derives social standing from the way an individual makes money: that is, from the goods and services which an individual produces, in order to earn a living. Although other cultural assumptions play a part as well, the final criterion of status is a person’s productive function, and the usefulness of that function for the community. Once, Cicero even employs the word utilitas, when he explains why skilled professions like teaching are respectable.

Since the passage emphasizes money-making and production, we ought to consider the “servitude” of mercennarii in terms of the economic aspects of wage-earning. This is especially true because De Officiis 1.150-151 has shown close parallels to the Res Rustica, and in that context the critical feature of slavery is an economic one. The exact wording of Cicero’s comment about mercennarii also stresses money; he speaks of “means of livelihood” and “buying” and “wage”. Here is what he says:

Illiberales autem et sordidi quaestus mercennariorum omnium, quorum operae, non quorum artes emuntur; est enim in illis ipsa merces auctoramentum servitutis.

Unbecoming to a free man and vulgar are the means of livelihood of all hirelings whose services, not whose skill, are bought; for in their case the wage itself is a reward of servitude.


Scholars usually attribute the poor reputation of wage-earning to the hired man’s dependence on his employer.62 That no doubt played a part, but is not the whole explanation. “Dependence” takes finances into account to a certain extent: the wage-earner depended on his employer to provide money. However, the idea of dependence refers more to the power disparity which existed between employer and employee, because the employer dispensed the money. Cicero seems more concerned with buying and selling than with power. Another theory relies on his distinction between buying operae and buying artes; the two words in juxtaposition seem to refer to manual labor and skilled labor, respectively. The aversion to wage-earning therefore reflects the upper-class aversion to working with one’s hands. Again, that must be part of the explanation, but not the whole. Other sources reveal that mercennarii need not be unskilled, manual laborers, and that selling even skilled labor for a wage carried a social stigma. Cornelius Nepos notes that Greeks held secretaries, scribae, in higher esteem than Romans did, since Romans considered secretaries to be mercennarii (Eum. 1.5). Quintilian claims that it is appropriate for forensic orators to accept monetary gifts of gratitude from their clients, but they must never collect a wage, merces (12.7.8-12). Although he never uses the word mercennarii, the appearance of merces implies that orators should not reduce themselves to mere wageearners. He refers to such a practice as “selling one’s work”: vendere operam. In this instance, opera certainly does not refer to manual labor; moreover, Quintilian’s argument demonstrates that even one of the most skilled and respected professions, forensic oratory, could be degraded when it was performed for a wage. I will examine this passage in more detail later. Here it is enough to note that Quintilian views the wage itself as demeaning, regardless of the nature of the work.

G.E.M. de Ste. Croix might come closest to the truth. He sees Cicero’s operae and artes as a distinction between two different types of worker. The first is a general laborer, who hires himself out over a period of time for unskilled or partly skilled work. The other is what we might call a “contractor”: someone who undertakes a specific task, usually requiring skill and the possession of some kind of equipment. The former, who is a mercennarius in the strict sense, does not sell his skill for a one-time job; rather, he sells “the general disposition of his labour power”.63 This view of the matter takes into account the economic dynamics of wage-earning, and also recalls Varro’s formulation of servitude in the Res Rustica.

In the Res Rustica, the most important aspect of slavery, and the one that made human slaves comparable to herd animals, lay in who produced for whom. Both slaves and herd animals, although they did receive upkeep in return, were ultimately enriching their masters. The master took the fruits of their labor for himself. An employer stood in the same economic relation to his mercennarius as a master to his slave or herd animal. By paying a wage, the employer became entitled to what de Ste. Croix calls “the general disposition” of the wageearner’s “labour power”. To put it another way, the employer purchased the right to the wageearner’s use and produce. This is what Cicero means when he says that the operae of hirelings are “bought”. Presumably the value of the hired man’s produce equaled, and often exceeded, the payment he received. Why bother to hire him, if the employer did not secure a return from the work performed? Thus, receiving a wage bound the mercennarius, like a slave, to labor for the profit of another man. Thus, as Cicero notes, “the wage itself is a reward of servitude”.64

Another passage in the De Officiis supports this reading. At 1.41, Cicero again equates mercennarius with slave:

Est autem infima condicio et fortuna servorum, quibus non male praecipiunt qui ita iubent uti, ut mercennariis: operam exigendam, iusta praebenda.

The lowest condition and fortune is that of slaves. Those men advise well, who bid us to make use of slaves thus, as we do hired workers: work must be exacted, dues must be paid.


Cicero’s recommendation addresses both moral and practical concerns. It comes in the course of a discussion about justice. Justice, he contends, is owed even to the most humble, who happen to be slaves. The quote above provides a guideline for treating slaves with justice, without ceding the master’s right to their labor and produce. They must be forced to work, but they must be given their dues, iusta, in return. Other texts hint at what Cicero might have in mind when he says iusta. We have already seen what Varro proposes for the use and care of slaves. He suggests providing not only necessities, but even certain privileges and accommodations; however, these generous provisions aim at increasing the productivity of slaves. They are not a gesture of kindness on the master’s part, but a stick-and-carrot method of getting the most work out of a human chattel. The precepts in Res Rustica books 1 and 2 are supposed to maximize agricultural profit; Varro was fully aware that the monetary return from well-treated slaves exceeded what was spent on them. Cato the Elder similarly focuses on profit in his own handbook of agriculture. Despite his infamous assertion that old and sick slaves should be sold (2.7), even he maintains that the familia ought to be kept warm and well-fed (5.2). No doubt his reasons for this attitude match Varro’s. Cicero’s iusta, if Varro and Cato are any guide, definitely did not constitute full recompense for the value of a slave’s work. The fact that the work of a mercennarius was likened to a slave’s work, and his iusta to a slave’s iusta, is telling. The principle that “work must be exacted” recognizes the employer’s financial stake in the hireling’s productivity. The conflation of merces with a slave’s iusta shows that a wage was not thought to cover the full worth of a wage-earner’s produce.

Two passages in Seneca make the connection between mercennarius and slave even more explicit. The first demonstrates that the Romans could and did distinguish between purchasing a thing and purchasing its use and produce. De Beneficiis 7.5.1-6.3 is devoted to drawing that very distinction. Seneca states that sometimes “one man is the owner of a thing, another of its use”: alter rei dominus est, alter usus. To illustrate his point, he adduces several examples of rental arrangements. The landowner does not have a right to his tenant farmers’ crops. The house owner cannot enter his tenant’s rented apartment. The man who has rented a cart does not have to give the owner a ride. Finally, “you [the slave owner] will not take away your slave, my hireling”: nec servum tuum, mercennarium meum, abduces. Here, Seneca imagines a scenario in which he has hired out another man’s slave. The fact that this mercennarius is also a slave is immaterial. What matters is the difference between slave and hireling. The context makes it clear that the issue turns on right of possession versus right of use. When a master bought a slave, he bought both kinds of right over the slave. If he then rented the slave out, he ceded right of use to the renter. Seneca treats a merces as the purchase price, or rental fee, for right of use. A free mercennarius, then, was someone who sold the right to his use and produce; because another had this right over him, he was like a slave. He did not, however, sell his person; no one had possession of him. That was the primary contrast between slave and mercennarius. The language of the De Officiis reflects the distinction between right of possession and right of use, when Cicero says of hirelings that their services are bought. He does not say that they themselves are bought.

The Romans knew, of course, that they were making a profit from the use of their slaves and wage-earners. This becomes clear in the other Seneca passage, in which he discusses whether it is possible for a slave to perform a beneficium for his master (De Ben. 3.18.1-28.6). Seneca claims that he can; others apparently said otherwise. They reasoned, according to Seneca, that a service is only a beneficium, when bestowed by someone who does not have to bestow it. However, a slave is a person “whose condition has placed him in such a position, that nothing he offers imposes a charge on his superior”: quem condicio sua eo loco posuit, ut nihil eorum, quae praestat, imputet superiori. This argument is further refined. A slave, claims Seneca’s opponent, cannot bestow a beneficium for the following reason. “He is not able to become his master’s creditor, if he gives him money. Otherwise he places his master under obligation every day”: Quia non potest…creditor domini sui fieri, si pecuniam illi dederit. Alioqui cotidie dominum suum obligat. The imaginary speaker then lists several jobs which slaves normally undertake for their masters. He ends with the declaration that a slave has no power to refuse any of these things; since he has to give them in any event, they cannot constitute beneficia. This entire case rests on the master’s right to the use and produce of his slave. The slave must provide his labor, and the master is entitled to the fruits of his slave’s labor, owing nothing in return except upkeep. Because everything the slave has or produces belongs to the master anyway, the master cannot be the slave’s debtor, or the slave his master’s creditor. A beneficium need not be a cash gift; it could be a favor performed. However, the interlocutor decides to clarify his point in terms of money. This choice shows an awareness that the slave’s services have a certain monetary value which ultimately enriches the master. The relationship between master and slave could be construed as an essentially financial arrangement, in which the productive capacity of one side is exploited for the benefit of the other.

It is in response to this reasoning that Seneca presents his counter-attack. Despite the master’s rights over a slave, he believes it possible for a slave to go above and beyond the call of duty, thereby bestowing a beneficium on his master. Here he introduces and espouses a view which he attributes to a Stoic philosopher. “A slave, according to Chrysippus, is a perpetual wage-earner. Just as a wage-earner gives a benefit when he supplies more than he contracted for, so a slave”: Servus, ut placet Chrysippo, perpetuus mercennarius est. Quemadmodum ille beneficium dat, ubi plus praestat, quam in quod operas locavit, sic servus. I cited this quotation in the previous chapter as evidence that the Stoics viewed slavery as an economic role, though I did not discuss at the time how they defined that role. Given the context of this passage, there is only one way to understand the servile function as it is presented here: to produce profit for another. Like Varro and like Seneca’s imagined opponent, Chrysippus presumes that a slave is someone constrained to offer his full services and their value to his master, for a minimal amount of recompense in the form of his upkeep. The equation of slave to mercennarius only works if a mercennarius, too, provides services to his employer whose value exceeds his fee. With this argument, Seneca continues to cast the debate in financial terms. The comparison works to the slave’s advantage, and supports Seneca’s point, because it limits what the slave owes to his master. A hireling might provide his employer with more than he receives in return, but his obligation to the employer is still circumscribed by what he contracts to do, and the amount of wage he collects. If a slave is a kind of mercennarius, then his obligation is finite as well. He is therefore capable of surpassing the bounds of what he must give, and so providing a beneficium.

I have taken much of my evidence for mercennarii from philosophical works by Seneca and Cicero, both heavily indebted to Stoicism. Seneca cites the Stoic Chrysippus for the idea that a slave is a perpetuus mercennarius, and scholars have seen this concept as the basis of Cicero’s remarks in the De Officiis, whether he was influenced by Chrysippus directly or indirectly through Panaetius.65 We might ask whether the attitudes expressed by Cicero and Seneca had any currency beyond philosophical theory. Varro’s Res Rustica indicates that the Stoic definition of slavery, at least, appeared outside of strictly philosophical contexts. I have just shown that Stoic comments on wage-earning depend on the same assumption which underlies Varro’s treatment of slaves: servitude is an economic arrangement in which one person works for the gain of another. We should probably conclude from this circumstance that common notions influenced both Varro and the Stoics; it is unlikely that philosophical precepts exercised much influence over how the Romans perceived and managed their agricultural business enterprises. Likewise, a passage in Quintilian suggests that the views on wage-earning which I just discussed reflect widespread cultural prejudices.

Although Quintilian occasionally appeals to philosophy, the relevant section concerns practical, professional ethics (12.7.8-12). Here he attempts to establish guidelines for the payment of forensic orators, obviously believing that the form which this payment takes will impact an orator’s standing in society. Specifically, he addresses whether they should accept a fee. I referred to this passage earlier, as an instance in which a wage was felt to degrade skilled labor. It is now time to consider the exact nature of Quintilian’s objection to wage-earning. The text is full of vocabulary that recalls the De Officiis. He starts with the claim that it is “most honorable” (honestissimum) and “most worthy of a liberal education” (liberalibus disciplinis…dignissimum) to work for free. If anyone makes oratory a source of gain when he already has enough money, he lays himself open to the charge of vulgarity (sordes). The opposition between liberalis and sordidus dominates De Officiis 1.150-151, where it provides the standard by which Cicero assesses the various professions. Whatever is not liberalis is unworthy of a free man. In Quintilian, then, as in Cicero, the measure of a person’s liberty is somehow implicated in his means of making money. “Means of making money”, rather the profession itself, is the issue here, as it is in the De Officiis. When a man takes money for his oratory, Quintilian describes it as a quaestus, and an adquirendi ratio. Forensic oratory itself was, of course, a prestigious profession. As I pointed out before, the fact that even an orator could have this dilemma shows that a stigma attached to the merces itself.

The language of buying and selling predominates in this passage, as it does in the other texts which talk about mercennarii. Quintilian speaks of receiving a wage (merces), of selling work (vendere operam), of selling a service (venire beneficium), of having a price (pretium), of owing (debet). Ultimately, he concedes that an orator in need of funds may accept a client’s gift of gratitude; on no account, however, must he accept a wage. The distinction seems meaningless, since the orator takes money from his client either way. Quintilian’s reasoning becomes clear, however, if we recognize that a wage is the selling price for the right to a person’s use and produce. That also explains all the vocabulary of buying and selling. A forensic orator usually performed his job not for his own sake, but in the service of others. Quintilian himself notes that it is hard for an orator to make money in any way except from his oratory, since “all his time is given to the business of others”. If an orator were to charge a set fee, he would essentially sell his client the right to his service, whose worth exceeded the fee itself. The transaction therefore bound the orator to undertake labor that profited another more than himself, which would be an arrangement akin to servitude. Quintilian’s solution finds a way around this problem:

Nihil ergo adquirere volet orator ultra quam satis erit, ac ne pauper quidem tamquam mercedem accipiet, sed mutua benivolentia utetur, cum sciet se tanto plus praestitisse: non enim, quia venire hoc beneficium non oportet, oportet perire: denique ut gratus sit ad eum magis pertinent qui debet.

An orator will wish to make no more money than is enough, and not even a poor man will take it as a wage, but he will use mutual goodwill, when he knows that he has given so much more: for the service ought not go to waste, because it ought not to be sold: finally, that he be grateful pertains more to the man who owes.


By relying on mutua benivolentia, rather than exacting a fee, the orator ostensibly offers his labor for free. Because he does not sell the right to his work, he does not obligate himself to perform a task that is worth “so much more” than what he receives in return. Rather, he puts himself in the superior position of having obligated another. Since it is the client “who owes”, it behooves him to show his gratitude with a gift of cash. Quintilian’s advice allows the orator to collect his money, while avoiding the odium of selling his services and becoming a mercennarius.

If Quintilian is any indication, working for a wage was felt to be degrading even among skilled professionals. It impinged upon the personal liberty of the wage-earner, and so diminished both his standing as a free man, and the amount of respect he could command in society. For a mercennarius in the strict sense – a general laborer who hired out his unskilled work – the stigma of wage-earning counted against him, as well as those of poverty and manual labor. They all combined to reduce his status to that of a virtual slave. He was not legally a slave, nor was an orator any less free before the eyes of the law, if he decided to accept a wage. “Status” here corresponds to the prestige, or lack thereof, accorded to a person by society at large. The hireling’s ideological assimilation to a slave resembles the assimilation of slave to herd animal: in each case, the sources conflate the two categories, while still recognizing a difference between them.

The explanation for this phenomenon lies in the point of similarity that drives the comparisons. In the Res Rustica, De Officiis, and other texts I have examined, the general emphasis is on money-making and its source, the production of goods and services. More specifically, money and production dominate comments about slaves and mercennarii, and indeed prove to be the link between them. Because somebody else owns the right to their use and produce, wage-earners and slaves both labor for somebody else’s profit. They therefore have essentially the same role in the productive process, and play the same part in the acquisition of money: they work in order to provide themselves with a little, and someone else with more. In a cultural context that evaluated social standing in terms of utility, the status of mercennarius and that of servus were bound to overlap – to the detriment of the mercennarius. Wage-earning, a form of exploitation, was inevitably likened to slavery, the most perfect form of exploitation, which inflicted the deepest social disgrace.

In the background, serving as the perfect model of the perfect form of exploitation, was the herd animal: the pecus, basis of all pecunia, who was destined by nature to labor for and enrich man. The existence of this natural slave made slavery a natural criterion against which to judge any profession. Nature itself had established the servile function and allotted it to herd animals. Since a domestic animal was, by definition, an animal that served this natural purpose, any person who served the same purpose was a kind of domestic animal. Perhaps only legal slavery corresponded perfectly to that job description; nonetheless, an occupation was demeaning if it brought its practitioner closer to a servile state, and so closer to the level of a herd animal. This is reflected in the language Cicero uses to assess professions in the De Officiis. He approves or disapproves of each one according to how liberalis it is, “suitable for a free man”. People like mercennarii, who were almost fully assimilated to slaves, risked losing not just their status as free men, but their status as men altogether. When Cicero claims that agriculture is most worthy of a free man, he includes the word homo: nihil homine libero dignius. If the reader does not realize what is at stake, the insertion of homine might seem like a pleonasm. In fact, its use is very pointed. Because slaves were so closely identified with herd animals, the distinction between free and slave was also a distinction between human and herd animal. Thus, the more free a person was, the more human he was. The liber homo who was not truly free was both less liber and less a homo.

A passage in Petronius’ Satyricon illustrates how a threat to liberty could be construed as a threat to human identity. A mercennarius named Corax takes exception to the heavy labor he is required to do. He protests:

“Quid vos” inquit “iumentum me putatis esse aut lapidariam navem? Hominis operas locavi, non caballi. Nec minus liber sum quam vos, etiam si pauperem pater me reliquit.” (117.11-12)

Do you think that I am some draft animal or ship for carrying stones? I contracted the work of a human, not of a pack horse. I am no less free than you, even if my father did leave me a poor man.


The mercennarius seems to believe that the nature of his work is more fitting for a herd animal, and that this fact has led others to view him as a herd animal. His fear is consistent with the tendency I have now traced through the Res Rustica, De Officiis, and other texts: job, or productive function, determines the status of man and animal alike. Because they both subsist on the same scale of social worth, they can be assimilated to each other, or occupy the same social category, on the basis of shared function. Corax obviously connects herd animals with slavery, and their labor with servile labor, since he defiantly asserts that he is as free as anyone else. He also implies that he is only doing this job because he is poor, which indicates that he sees servile work as demeaning, just as Cicero does. In three short sentences, Corax’s complaint demonstrates how entangled were the concepts of “slave” and “herd animal”, on the one hand, and “free” and “human”, on the other. It shows, too, that mercennarii were associated with the wrong end of the spectrum. Corax’s wage-earning has put him in a position where he feels the need to defend his standing as both a liber and a homo.

The words have been put into this character’s mouth by a wealthy, senatorial author, and might communicate specifically upper-class prejudices. It is impossible to know for sure whether mercennarii themselves, and other people of low station, shared these low views on wage-earning. A passage from Sallust may be suggestive, however. It makes use of the same ideas, and its context indicates that it might reflect the concerns of a plebeian audience. If so, then the plebs in general, like Corax the mercennarius, felt acutely that their liberty was at stake, and their status as human beings along with it.

Fighting for Freedom and Humanity in Popular Oratory

Scholars generally recognize that there was a distinctly popular brand of oratory practiced in republican Rome, a set of tropes and ideas utilized by those who were speaking before the assembled people and professing to champion their interests. 66 Such oratory tended to rail against the supposed slavery of the plebs; accordingly, the preeminent slogan was “freedom”, libertas.67 If we assume that this rhetoric was meant to address the concerns and desires of the plebs, then we may deduce from the prevalence of servitus and libertas that they were concerned for their status as free men. I have argued at length now that the opposition between free and slave in Roman thought often resolved itself into the opposition between human and domestic animal, due to the perception that slaves and domestic animals have the same natural and social value. We might suspect, then, that the plebs, suffering anxiety over their freedom, worried about their standing as humans, as well. Certain texts indicate that this was indeed the case. There are four extant orations usually thought to exemplify the popular style of speaking.68 One of them is a speech delivered by a tribune named Macer, as reported by Sallust in a fragment of the Historiae (3.34). In addition to taking libertas as its leitmotiv, it contains a prominent comparison between the plebs and herd animals. The comparison establishes some of the major topics of the speech, which are all closely entwined throughout the text with the theme of plebeian liberty. This oration is therefore the ideal text with which to consider why free citizens are likened to slaves and animals, and how nature is implicated in the comparison.

I contend that the passage draws upon the same conception of slavery that prompted Varro to assimilate slaves to herd animals, and Cicero to assimilate wage-earners to slaves. By extension, the speech reveals that the plebs shared in, or at least were aware of, the ideology that reduced free wage-earners to virtual slaves, and thus very nearly to animals. In fact, these ideas play a major role in the whole tradition of popular oratory; after I discuss their use in Macer’s speech, I will trace their presence in other popular speeches.

Specifically, I will show that the primary point of comparison between plebs, on the one hand, and slaves and herd animals, on the other, is productive or economic role. Thus, as we have seen elsewhere, popular orations assume that the defining feature of slavery is determined not by law, but by nature. Despite their free legal status, the plebs perform the function naturally allotted to slave and herd animals, and so the plebs, too, are slaves and herd animals in a sense. In the other texts which I have examined, characterization as a slave or herd animal does not necessarily connote an innately servile temperament, and therefore does not presuppose the existence of teleologically differentiated human types; the designation describes a certain job and its attendant social status. Again, the same holds true for portrayals of the plebs in popular speeches, which make a point of contrasting the natural slavishness of herd animals with the plebs’ naturally free and human character. With this tactic, the speakers protest the plebs’ servitude. Although it may seem counterintuitive, popular rhetoric therefore combats plebeian slavery, but does so by employing the ideas which naturalize legal slavery.

The oration in which this trope figures most prominently was never actually delivered. Although a tribune named Macer did, apparently, deliver a speech to the people on the same subject, the version that survives is Sallust’s reconstruction. It is impossible to say how closely Sallust has followed Macer’s original speech; however, whether Macer really said something like this, or Sallust invented something appropriate to put into his mouth, the historical context guarantees that it reflects the kind of oratory intended to appeal to the plebs. C. Licinius Macer was tribune of the plebs in 73 B.C., and here he speaks to the assembled people, addressing them directly in the second-person plural. The matter at hand featured prominently in politics from 76 to 70 B.C.: the restoration of the legislative powers of the tribunate, which Sulla’s constitutional reforms had removed. The tribunes would regain the right to initiate legislation in 70 B.C., but in 73 Macer was one of those agitating for that very outcome. In his oration, he represents himself as the people’s defender in this fight and exhorts them to force the issue through collective action.

Because the tribunate was always regarded as a bastion of plebeian freedom,69 Macer could cast the curtailment of tribunician powers as a problem in which freedom itself was at stake. In keeping with popularis rhetoric, and the political circumstances, he does so. From the very outset (1-4), he establishes that Sulla has imposed slavery, servitium, on the plebs, a slavery currently maintained by the mastery, dominatio, of the nobles. Macer himself is encouraging the people to take the path which will lead to the recovery of their libertas. Although, in fighting alone for their rights, he has taken on a task impossible for one man, he has decided that defeat in the struggle for liberty is better for a brave man than not to have struggled at all. The language of slavery, mastery, and liberty continues throughout the oration. The idea of struggling for liberty, in particular, serves as a rallying point. It is significant that Macer immediately characterizes this struggle as something that befits a brave man, fortis vir. Since the contrast between free and slave was also a contrast between human and animal, the vir (male human) perhaps stands in opposition both to womanly weakness and to the slavishness of herd animals. What follows confirms that this is the case.

The next two sentences further explain the situation (5-6). Here, Macer describes the plebs’ noble masters and the nature of the slavery they have imposed. We might expect the speaker to say more about the tribunician power and political rights, since that is the issue under discussion. Instead, he talks about how a few prominent men have taken possession of imperial holdings. It is in this context that Macer compares plebs to herd animals:

Itaque omnes concessere iam in paucorum dominationem, qui per militare nomen aerarium, exercitus, regna, provincias occupavere et arcem habent ex spoliis vestris, cum interim more pecorum vos, multitudo, singulis habendos fruendosque praebetis, exuti omnibus quae maiores reliquere…70

Therefore all have now yielded to the mastery of a few, who, under pretence of war, have seized the treasury, the armies, the kingdoms, and the provinces, and hold a stronghold from your spoils; in the meantime you, in the manner of herd animals, offer yourselves, a multitude, to individuals for use and enjoyment, after having been stripped of everything which your ancestors left you…


According to this passage, the supposed servitude of the plebs, and their likeness to herd animals, consist of two elements: economic exploitation, and their willingness to be so exploited. Even though Macer does not explicitly mention herd animals again, these two concepts are both fundamental to the rest of the speech. The idea of the domestic animal – the perfect, natural slave – therefore shapes his portrayal of the plebs’ slavery and its opposite state, their freedom.

The fact that the matter involves money is signaled by several words: aerarium, spoliis, habendos, fruendos, pecorum. Per militare nomen and spoliis indicate that a particular kind of property is under scrutiny: that acquired through military action. The contents of the treasury, the armies, the kingdoms, and the provinces are all represented as spoils of war. Macer leaves no doubt about who is responsible for winning these possessions: plebeian soldiers. That is why he refers to the list of goods as “your spoils”, as spoils that properly belong to the people who fought for them. A few powerful men, however, have seized these goods. Thus the plebs can be said to offer themselves “for the use and enjoyment” of such men: the plebs’ military labor, voluntarily undertaken, is enriching these individuals rather than the plebs themselves. Here, as we have seen elsewhere, ideological servitude and mastery exist where there is a relationship of economic exploitation: one who works for the profit of another man is a slave, one who keeps the profit from another man’s work is a master. If they were really free men, as opposed to slaves and herd animals, the plebs would be enjoying the fruits of their own labor.

It might seem strange that a speech ostensibly about legislative rights should harp on the fate of military spoils. Macer, however, calls the tribunician power “a weapon prepared by your ancestors for liberty”, vis tribunicia, telum a maioribus libertati paratum (12). This is hardly a unique thought; as I have already pointed out, the tribunate was always associated with the freedom of the plebs. Since the office existed in order to secure the plebs’ liberty, any impingement on that liberty could be seen as the province of the tribunes. A skeptic might suspect that this offered a conveniently wide rhetorical umbrella for any politician seeking to win the favor of the plebs. In Sallust’s version of the speech, Macer never does offer concrete details about the supposed theft of plebeian property, nor a plan for dealing with the problem. Perhaps his talk of public money is an allusion to – and promise of – reforms that involved the redistribution of state property, like the grain dole and agrarian legislation; such reforms were usually initiated by the tribunes of the plebs, utilizing the very power which Sulla’s constitution had stripped from them. Thus the tribunes’ legislative powers could be seen as a mechanism by which state money, acquired in war, made its way back to the people who had fought for it; in this way, the tribunate secured for the plebs an economic return from their own labor, and by extension secured their liberty. By this roundabout logic, never explicitly stated, the tribunes’ lost legislative powers do have a connection to military spoils. Whatever his intentions, and however sincere he was, Macer clearly recognized the efficacy of this particular appeal, even when the disposal of government property was not strictly the matter at hand. He no doubt realized that the issue of political rights was always more abstract, and of less immediate interest, than the question, Where is my money?

Economic exploitation is one aspect that the plebs have in common with herd animals, who are also slaves. The other similarity is the plebs’ apparent acceptance of their exploitation, signaled by Macer’s accusatory use of the word praebetis. The plebs actually yield themselves up for servitude, willingly going off to fight when it will not enrich them, passively letting other men take the profits. The comparison turns on the belief that herd animals are slaves by nature. They always accept their lot with passivity and willingly labor for the benefit of human masters, because they have no alternative; they serve and obey in accordance with inescapable, natural impulses. This idea appears prominently elsewhere in Sallust. As I explained in the first chapter, it plays a part in the prologue of the Bellum Catilinae. There, herd animals are employed as a negative model, an extreme to avoid, precisely because they have no choice but to behave slavishly. In the same work, Sallust has Catiline urge his troops to die fighting like men, rather than be captured and “slaughtered like herd animals”: neu capti potius sicuti pecora trucidemini quam virorum more pugnantes (58.21). His remark assumes that domestic animals are characterized by a servility so extreme, they quietly acquiesce even in their own deaths. Macer suggests that the plebs are displaying just such acquiescence, which is the essential feature of the herd animal’s natural character.

All three Sallustian passages, however – prologue, military harangue, and contio – offer an alternative to this brutish slavishness. The prologue maintains that a human can, should, must strive to be better than the beasts. Catiline tells his troops to fight to the bloody end so that might they die like men. Macer, too, exhorts his listeners not to behave in the manner of herd animals. In each case, Sallust is drawing upon a conception of human nature which I discussed in chapter 1, and which definitely does not entail human teleology. When the speaker calls upon his audience to decide between an animal and a human mode of conduct, he presumes that people, unlike animals, have a capacity for choice or free will. However, this capacity enables humans to choose wrongly, and so deviate from correct human behavior. The passages all identify the correct standard of human behavior for the audience, by portraying one form of conduct as proper to herd animals, and another as proper to humans. Thus, in every instance, Sallust simultaneously makes use of both a normative and a descriptive understanding of “humanity”. In the normative sense, the audience will be less human if they pick the option which the speaker warns them against, because that course of action is inconsistent with the norm of human behavior. In the descriptive sense, the audience members are all fully human in that they possess the uniquely human power for choice. Therefore, they all have the ability to adhere to the human norm and become “truly” human, if only they will choose rightly by acting as the speaker recommends.

In keeping with the pattern outlined above, Macer’s speech does not posit that the plebs are naturally slavish or subhuman; in fact, it asserts the opposite. The oration draws its persuasive and emotive power from the tension between the servile role forced upon the plebs, and their naturally free and human character. Precisely because they are not slaves or animals by nature, they can choose not to submit to treatment which is unsuitable for human beings; they can choose to reclaim a truly human living situation by rising up and taking what is rightfully theirs. Therefore the reference to herd animals is in fact a clarion call to action. The plebs’ noble masters have imposed upon them a condition of economic servitude, a condition equivalent to that of slavish herd animals. They will continue to be treated like animals, and resemble them in character, if they do not correctly utilize their human faculty of choice and exercise their will to act. We see now why Macer claims that the struggle for liberty, even a losing one, befits a brave man, and why he later urges the plebs to remember and recreate the manly deeds, virilia illa, of their ancestors (15). The choice to resist, the will to freedom, the struggle itself is naturally appropriate to a man, utterly denied to a herd animal.

Although Macer only mentions herd animals once, the themes established in that one sentence continue throughout the speech. The negative example of the herd animal therefore remains very much in the foreground. Sections 14-16 dwell on the idea that the plebs are willingly submitting to their servitude, by supporting the designs of their self-appointed masters (like herd animals). Macer accuses his audience of having a weak spirit, animus ignavus, since they are not mindful of their liberty outside of the assembly. All the power is actually in their hands, he claims, because they can choose to carry out or not to carry out the very commands which are imposing their slavery. The plebs are putting such orders into effect by executing them, and are thus rushing to enact their own servitude (like herd animals). Since their slavery depends on their connivance, they could win their freedom simply by refusing to cooperate.

In sections 17-18, Macer further refines on his characterization of the plebs’ slavery, and on his plan for ending it. Here, too, he describes their slavery in terms of economic exploitation. He begins: iure gentium res repeto, “I demand restitution according to the law of nations”. This is the formula which was used by the fetialis to demand from a foreign state reparation for stolen goods or redress for an injury.71 The demand for the return of stolen goods, aimed as it is at the domineering nobles, again voices the idea that all state holdings really belong to the plebs. The nobles who are enjoying these goods can be said to have stolen them from their rightful owners. The only remedy for the situation is for the plebs to get their money back. How does Macer propose they accomplish this? He advises that they no longer offer up their blood: ne amplius sanguinem vestrum praebeatis censebo. The reference to blood signals that he has military spoils in mind when he speaks of stolen goods. Since he specifies that the plebs shed their blood of their own accord, this might also be an implicit comparison to herd animals, who even die willingly for their masters’ benefit. When he bids them to stop shedding their blood, Macer means that they should stop serving as soldiers. Let the nobles wage their wars alone, he urges, but “let danger and labor be absent for those who have no part of the profit”: absit periculum et labos, quibus nulla pars fructus est. This last phrase expresses the character of the plebs’ servitude explicitly and succinctly: they perform the labor of military service, but do not reap the profits. Macer’s “no pay, no work” slogan calls to mind a modern labor strike, and that is essentially what he advocates. The nobles cannot carry out a war without plebeian soldiers. Soldiers who refuse to fight will not be paid, but neither will the nobles grow rich off their hardship.
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Re: Animal Slaves and Slave Animals: Republican Authors on t

Postby admin » Thu Oct 17, 2019 12:58 am

Part 4 of 4

Next, Macer admits that the plebs might be receiving some return for their work (19). He uses the concept of wage-earning, however, and its similarity to servitude, in order to make the point that they are still slaves, despite the paycheck. Although he never uses the word for wage, merces, the language of buying and selling makes his intention clear: “Unless by chance your services are paid for by that sudden grain law; a law by which they valued the liberty of all at five pecks each, which certainly cannot be more than a prison allowance”, nisi forte repentina ista frumentaria lege munia vestra pensantur; qua tamen quinis modis libertatem omnium aestimavere, qui profecto non amplius possunt alimentis carceris. Macer proceeds to elaborate on the similarity between the grain allotment and prison rations, in order to emphasize the scantiness of the allotment. He is suggesting that the grain distribution does not nearly begin to cover the entire sum of money acquired by the plebs through military conquest. Thus it is a form of payment for the plebs’ military services, but one that falls far short of the full value of their labor. In that respect, the grain dole can be viewed as a wage – as animal fodder or slave upkeep, provided for the purpose of keeping the plebs alive and working for the enrichment of their masters. The plebs will only have true freedom if they recover the full amount of their earnings. This is the reasoning that prompts Macer to claim that the plebs’ liberty has been valued and bought at five pecks per man: in exchange for those five pecks, every one of the plebs has traded his liberty, his right to enjoy the full fruits of his labor.

Macer continues with this line of thought (20). Even if the amount offered were large, he maintains, it would still be the price of slavery, servitii pretium. For the plebs to be deceived by this offering, and to feel gratitude for the theft of their own property, vestrarum rerum iniuria, would be an act of great sluggishness, torpedo. The phrase servitii pretium is reminiscent of Cicero’s auctoramentum servitutis. Cicero explicitly states that a wage is the reward or recompense of slavery. By claiming that the grain dole is the price of slavery, Macer implicitly calls it a wage. That is, it is the buying price for the right to the plebs’ use and produce, the value of which exceeds the wage itself. Even a large wage is nothing to be grateful for, since that money belongs to the plebs anyway – as well as the rest of the money produced by their labor, the money which is not being paid out to the plebs, the money which has been stolen from them using the grain dole as a blind. If Macer’s speech does indeed represent the kind of oration that could have been spoken in an assembly of the people, then his audience must have been familiar with the rationale that assimilated wage-earning to slavery, and identified economic exploitation as the essential feature of both. He employs these concepts without spelling them out. They must also have been sensitive to the warning implied by use of the word torpedo. Macer states here, as elsewhere, that the plebs are willingly submitting to their servitude through sheer sluggishness. Their position makes them like herd animals; their acquiescence in the situation will perfect the resemblance.

The conclusion of the speech emphasizes the ideas which I have traced throughout the text (26-27). Again Macer blames the plebs’ dilemma on their own sluggishness, torpedo, as well as idleness, ignavia. In this case he treats the idleness itself as the wage for which they have sold the right to their profits. “You have exchanged everything for your present idleness, having reckoned your freedom abundant, doubtless because your backs are spared and you are allowed to go here and there, gifts of your rich masters”: cunctaque praesenti ignavia mutavistis, abunde libertatem rati, scilict quia tergis abstinetur et huc ire licet atque illuc, munera ditium dominorum. The sentence as a whole makes it clear that ignavia is supposed to suggest a wage, and that the defining feature of the plebs’ servitude is economic exploitation. The phrases tergis abstinetur and ire licet refer to other aspects of slavery, corporal punishment and restriction of movement. Macer admits that the plebs are not suffering those particular features of servile life. They are only free from these indignities, however, because their rich masters permit it. The description of the masters as rich points to the phenomenon that has turned the noble-pleb relationship into a master-slave relationship: the nobles are growing wealthy off the plebs’ labor, while the plebs themselves enjoy little or no monetary reward.

The final sentence of the speech touches upon all of the concepts initially introduced by Macer’s comparison between plebs and herd animals. The sentence begins with, “thus you fight and conquer for the benefit of a few, plebs”: ita pugnatur et vincitur paucis, plebes. By now his meaning, and its consequences, are obvious: the plebs’ military service is enriching a few prominent men, and this arrangement constitutes slavery for the plebs. This slavery will be strengthened day-by-day, he continues, “if indeed those men retain their mastery with greater care than you expend to regain your freedom”: si quidem maiore cura dominationem illi retinuerint, quam vos repetiveritis libertatem. The oration ends resoundingly on the word libertas. This final call for action reminds the audience that to be free is indeed an act as well as a legal status, a contested state that must be won and constantly defended. The will to wage this on-going battle, and to claim one’s own property in the process, resides in men, and this human possession ought not to be sold off for the paltry sum of a wage. To labor endlessly for the benefit of others, without protest, is the naturally appointed lot of herd beasts. Unless the plebs want to share that fate, they must exert themselves.

Macer’s concluding comments indicate which argument he, or Sallust, believed would have the greatest emotional impact. Although tribunician powers provide the occasion for the speech, Macer’s grand rhetorical finish never mentions the tribunate or political rights. He focuses instead on a matter which is not directly related, money, and characterizes freedom and slavery in terms of who is providing money for whom. No doubt the rhetorical effectiveness of this ploy derived partially from the financial self-interest of the audience; however, if that were the whole explanation, there would have been no need to obscure the financial incentive with talk of freedom. It is libertas, not pecunia, that literally has the last word. From Macer’s speech we get some sense of just how fragile freedom and human identity could be. I showed in my discussion about wage-earners that people could be ideologically assimilated to slaves even if they were legally free. Before that, I demonstrated that human slaves were ideologically and legally assimilated to herd animals, although the fact that they were human was still recognized, too. In each of these cases, as for the plebs in Macer’s speech, the conceptual degradation to a lower social category arose from economic or productive role. When a person’s status as a free human being depended not on their innate qualities, but on how they earned a living, that standing was precisely as stable as their financial standing. For a poor pleb, possessing little or no financial security, hanging on near the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, the possibility of falling to the very bottom must have seemed all too probable. Perhaps, then, socio-economic precariousness lies at the heart of Macer’s oration and the whole tradition of popular speaking, with its emphasis on liberty. This rhetoric appealed to the plebs’ greed and their jealousy of social position, but, more importantly, it played on their fear.

Of course, it may be overreaching to extrapolate from just one speech that the plebs feared for their freedom, and to extrapolate from just one herd animal comparison that they feared for their very humanity. Because the evidence for popularis rhetoric is scanty, it is difficult to determine how prevalent these themes were; even if the evidence were more abundant, it would be impossible to say for certain how the plebs felt about anything. There are signs, however, that animal comparisons were a long-standing tradition in speeches delivered before the people.

The only extant herd animal comparison that I am aware of, besides Macer’s, was delivered by a tribune of the plebs in the year 97 B.C. This tribune, Marcus Duronius, attacked a piece of sumptuary legislation from the rostra. He said, among other things: “Reins have been thrown upon you, citizens, which must in no way be borne. You have been bound and constrained by the bitter bond of slavery”; freni sunt iniecti vobis, Quirites, nullo modo perpetiendi. alligati et constricti estis amaro vinculo servitutis (Valerius Maximus 2.9.5)72. In this case, the relevant aspect of the plebs’ “slavery” is restriction of their activities, not economic exploitation. Duronius’ reference to the “reins” of slavery, however, illustrates how domestic animal vocabulary could always be utilized to evoke human servitude. The states of being a slave and of being a domestic animal were rhetorically interchangeable. Given the prevalence of the liberty vs. slavery opposition in surviving tribunician speeches, it seems probable that human vs. herd animal also cropped up on a regular basis.

A more precise parallel to Macer’s comparison appears in Plutarch’s life of Tiberius Gracchus. If Tiberius really did speak the words which Plutarch attributes to him, or something like them, then the habit of likening plebs to animals extends at least as far back as the Gracchi. The following is the relevant passage:

ὁ γὰρ Τιβέριος…δεινὸς ἦν καὶ ἄμαχος, ὁπότε τοῦ δήμου τῷ βήματι περικεχυμένου καταστὰς λέγοι περὶ τῶν πενήτων, ὡς τὰ μὲν θηρία τὰ τὴν Ἰταλίαν νεμόμενα καὶ φωλεὸν ἔχει καὶ κοιταῖόν ἐστιν αὐτῶν ἑκάστῳ καὶ καταδύσεις, τοῖς δὲ ὑπὲρ τῆς Ἰταλίας μαχομένοις καὶ ἀποθνῄσκουσιν ἀέρος καὶ φωτός, ἄλλου δὲ οὐδενὸς μέτεστιν, ἀλλ᾽ ἄοικοι καὶ ἀνίδρυτοι μετὰ τέκνων πλανῶνται καὶ γυναικῶν, οἱ δὲ αὐτοκράτορες ψεύδονται τοὺς στρατιώτας ἐν ταῖς μάχαις παρακαλοῦντες ὑπὲρ τάφων καὶ ἱερῶν ἀμύνεσθαι τοὺς πολεμίους• οὐδενὶ γάρ ἐστιν οὐ βωμὸς πατρῷος, οὐκ ἠρίον προγονικὸν τῶν τ οσούτων Ῥ ωμαίων, ἀ λλ᾽ ὑ πὲρ ἀ λλοτρίας τ ρυφῆς κ αὶ π λούτου π ολεμοῦσι κ αὶ ἀποθνῄσκουσι, κύριοι τῆς οἰκουμένης εἶναι λεγόμενοι, μίαν δὲ βῶλον ἰδίαν οὐκ ἔχοντες. (9.4-5)73

Tiberius…was eloquent and invincible when, with people crowding around the rostra, he took a stand and spoke about the poor, saying that the wild beasts dwelling in Italy each have a den and lair and hiding-places, but that the men fighting and dying for Italy have a share in the air and light, but in nothing else. They wander homeless and unsettled with their children and wives, and their commanders lie when they exhort soldiers in battle to defend tombs and shrines from the enemy: for not one of them has a hereditary altar, not one of so many Romans has an ancestral tomb, but they wage war and die for the luxury and wealth of others, and although they are said to be masters of the world, they do not have a single clod of earth for their own.


Although Tiberius compares the plebs to wild animals, τὰ θηρία, rather than herd animals, the same reasoning underlies this famous passage as underlies Macer’s comparison. When Tiberius states that Roman soldiers “wage war and die for the luxury and wealth of others”, he acknowledges that a successfully prosecuted war is a money-making enterprise. Like Macer, he claims that those who perform the actual labor are not securing any personal gain from this enterprise. Instead, their labor is enriching others. The unfair exploitation of military labor is precisely what prompts Macer to call the plebs slaves and, by extension, herd animals.

There is a difference between the two tribunes’ arguments which accounts for Tiberius’s use of wild animals rather than domestic animals. Macer admits that the plebs are getting some return for their labor, a paltry wage, in the form of the grain dole (a practice which the Gracchi introduced). Tiberius, on the other hand, maintains that the plebs are not receiving any return on their labor; in fact, they are being denuded of everything they own, including their homes. According to him, the plebs are suffering an exploitation and consequent dispossession so extreme that they do not retain even the basic necessities of life. When he says that they “have a share in the air and light, but in nothing else”, he surely means to imply that they are barely subsisting. Even a slave or herd animal could expect to be provided with upkeep in exchange for his labor. Tiberius therefore likens the plebs to wild animals for this reason: they receive absolutely nothing from their exploiters, and so they do not participate in the partnership or reciprocal exchange between animal and master which is the defining feature of the herd animal state. Despite all their hard work and the riches it has yielded for their countrymen, they have even less than wild animals, who do not labor and who do not belong to the productive conglomerate which constitutes a state.

The speeches of Tiberius and Macer, as presented by Plutarch and Sallust, are the only texts I am aware of that explicitly employ animals to describe the plebs’ economic condition; nonetheless, the idea of exploitation which drives the comparisons features prominently in other popular orations, and even in Sallust’s historical analysis. At one point in the Bellum Jugurthinum, he sums up the activities of the Gracchi: “they began to free the plebs and to expose the crimes of the few”; vindicare plebem in libertatem et paucorum scelera patefacere coepere (42.1). Exactly how did they champion the freedom of the plebs, and what were the crimes of the few? In the preceding section, Sallust provides the following specifics:

Paucorum arbitrio belli domique agitabatur; penes eosdem aerarium provinciae magistratus gloriae triumphique erant; populus militia atque inopia urgebatur; praedas bellicas imperatores cum paucis diripiebant; interea parentes aut parvi liberi militum, uti quisque potentiori confinis erat, sedibus pellebantur. (41.7-8)

Affairs at war and at home were carried out according to the will of a few, and the treasury, provinces, magistracies, glory, and triumphs were in the possession of the same men; the people were oppressed by military service and poverty, and their commanders were seizing the spoils of war and dividing them with a few others. Meanwhile the parents or small children of the soldiers, if they were the neighbors of a more powerful man, were driven from their homes.


This characterization of the Republic’s ills could have been taken directly from the Tiberius Gracchus fragment. The wild animal comparison is the only thing missing; the circumstances which prompt the comparison are all there. Since Sallust focuses on the nobility’s enrichment and the plebs’ impoverishment, he must refer, at least in part, to the Gracchi’s agrarian legislation when he speaks of their fight for the people’s liberty. By the reasoning which I have now traced through both Sallust and Plutarch, agrarian legislation, as well as other measures designed to redistribute wealth, merely returns state property to its rightful owners. Because such acts allow the people to enjoy the fruits of their own labors, they guarantee the people’s freedom.

Another passage in the Bellum Jugurthinum makes use of the same themes (31). It purports to be a speech delivered by Gaius Memmius, tribune of the plebs. In it, Memmius tries to rouse the plebs to action regarding the war in Numidia; its conduct had supposedly been undermined by Roman officials in the pay of Jugurtha. This oration is one of the two tribunician speeches in Sallust; the other, of course, is Macer’s speech. Although the historical events surrounding the two orations are different, and although neither speech is technically about the disposal of public goods, Sallust has Memmius employ essentially the same arguments as Macer. He does not explicitly compare the plebs to herd animals, but the similarity is virtually implied by his focus on the plebs’ economic servitude.

Like Macer, Memmius starts by establishing that he is a defender of the people’s liberty, though it is dangerous for him (31.1-7). This introduction ends with an ominous allusion to the fate of the Gracchi and their followers. He proceeds to characterize the Gracchi’s efforts as an attempt to “restore to the plebs their own property”; plebi sua restituere (31.8). The neuter plural sua does not specify precisely what the Gracchi were trying to restore to the plebs, and could refer to political rights. However, the very next sentence shows that Memmius has something more tangible in mind. “In former years,” he says, “you were silently indignant that the treasury was plundered, that kings and free peoples paid tribute to a few nobles, that the greatest glory and vast riches were in the possession of the same men. Nevertheless, they do not consider it enough to have undertaken these great crimes with impunity…” The nobles’ crimes obviously consist of enriching themselves at the expense of the commonwealth; thus, when the Gracchi were trying to return the plebs’ “own things” to them, they were trying to release state funds to their rightful owners, the Roman people. The theft of public, i.e. the people’s, money forms a major theme throughout the oration. The nobles enjoy priesthoods, consulships, and triumphs as stolen goods (31.10). They have seized the republic and made everything honorable and dishonorable a source of gain (31.12). All things human and divine reside in the possession of a few (31.20). They extort money from the allies, betray the auctoritas of the senate and the imperium of the Roman people to the enemy, and, in short, offer up the republic for sale at home and abroad (31.25).

Memmius does not treat the noble’ misdeeds as mere embezzlement, but as a kind of domination over the plebs. In the midst of leveling his accusations, he frequently upbraids the plebs for passively accepting their slavery, in terms highly reminiscent of Macer’s exhortations (31.11, 16, 17, 20, 22, 26). Two of these passages are especially illustrative of the issues at stake. In one instance, Memmius asks, “Slaves purchased with money do not put up with unjust rule from their masters; do you, citizens, born in power, tolerate slavery with a calm mind?”: servi aere parati iniusta imperia dominorum non perferunt; vos, Quirites, in imperio nati, aequo animo servitutem toleratis (31.11)? I have argued throughout this chapter that the Romans did not automatically attribute servile natures to their slaves. Here, Memmius acknowledges that human slaves can and do sometimes choose to resist their state of servitude. Like Macer, Memmius uses the tension between servile conditions and free human will in order to urge the plebs to action. He suggests that the plebs are already suffering the conditions of slavery. To bear these circumstances with passivity would make them more slavish than people legally sold into slavery.

The other passage (31.20) shares an important feature with Tiberius’ speech in Plutarch. Memmius talks about the recent period of domination by the nobles, in which “all things human and divine were in the possession of a few men”. Meanwhile, the Roman people, although undefeated by enemies and rulers of the world, “considered it enough to retain the breath of life”: satis habebatis animam retinere. For which of the plebs, asks Memmius, dared to refuse slavery? Not only does Memmius align master and slave with rich and poor, exploiter and exploited, but he claims that the people have been stripped of all but their very lives. This portrayal of the plebs’ extreme dispossession recalls Tiberius’ Roman soldiers, who “have a share in air and light, but nothing else”. Despite having conquered the known world, the plebs are barely subsisting.

Even Cicero utilizes the idea of plebeian economic exploitation when it suits him, which indicates that it was indeed a trope, and one with rhetorical currency. During his consulship, Cicero spoke against an agrarian law put forward by Publius Servilius Rullus, tribune of the plebs. The second of his speeches on the subject, De Lege Agraria 2, was delivered before the popular assembly. In this oration, Cicero had to convince the bill’s ostensible beneficiaries, the Roman people, that the proposal was actually contrary to their interests. The sentiments expressed in this speech differ markedly from those normally found in Cicero’s corpus, and it is generally supposed that, owing to his plebeian audience, he consciously adopted a popular persona and speaking style for this performance. In keeping with that strategy, he portrays the promise of land distribution as a ruse, one which will enable a few powerful men to enrich themselves at the expense of the plebs.

The main thrust of Cicero’s argument is introduced in section 15, where he reveals the “true” aims of the bill’s promulgators. These men, he claims, will be established as kings and masters of the treasury, the revenues, all the provinces, the entire republic, the kings, the free peoples, and, finally, the whole world. It is no accident that Cicero mentions the treasury and revenues first. In the next sentence, he begins with the money once more. He asserts that, in the proposed law, nothing is given to the citizens, but all things are gifted to certain men, that lands are held out before the Roman people while even their liberty is snatched from them, that the money of private individuals is augmented and public money drained, and that kings are set up in the state. This passage presents a familiar conjunction of thoughts: public funds seized, a few powerful individuals enriched, the liberty of the Roman people threatened. Cicero proceeds to expand on the topic of libertas (16), again in a familiar manner. If, after hearing his speech, the citizens believe that a plot has been laid against their liberty, they should not hesitate to defend their freedom, obtained and handed down to them by the sweat and blood of their ancestors. Like Sallust’s tribunes, Cicero urges the plebs to action, emphasizing the need for will and struggle with his reference to blood and sweat.

Near the end of the speech, Cicero asserts that the men behind the pernicious land bill will use their ill-gotten gains to raise military force against the Roman people (73-97). Nevertheless, I have now argued at length that any suggestion of economic exploitation was enough to imply servitude, and Cicero takes advantage of that association to its fullest extent. The bill apparently called for ten land commissioners, decemvirs, to raise funds by selling public property; once the funds had been raised, they were to purchase land in Italy on which to settle colonies of Roman citizens. Cicero devotes much of his oration to insisting that the decemvirs will pocket the proceeds from the sale of public property (35-62), neglecting to purchase the necessary land or to establish proper colonies (63-71). After making his case, Cicero concludes by posing the question, quid pecuniae fiet? What will become of the money? His final answer: “The decemvirs will hold all the money, not a field will be bought for you; after your revenues have been alienated from you, your allies harassed, and the kings and all the nations emptied, those men will have the money, you will not have fields”; igitur pecuniam omnem decemviri tenebunt, vobis ager non emetur; vectigalibus abalienatis, sociis vexatis, regibus atque omnibus gentibus exinanitis illi pecunias habebunt, vos agros non habebitis (72).

Throughout the speech, Cicero harps on the idea that the decemvirs will be making themselves rich off lands and revenues that rightfully belong to the Roman people. He emphasizes his audience members’ personal stake in those lands and revenues by repeatedly using “your” to describe state holdings: all your things, vestra omnia (25); your empire, vestrum imperium (35); your money, vestra pecunia (67, 80); your revenues, vestra vectigalia (33, 47, 56, 62). Like Tiberius Gracchus and Macer, he also reminds the plebs of why those goods properly belong to them: they, or their ancestors, won that property through military service (40, 49, 50, 69, 84).

Morstein-Marx has argued that there were no distinct political ideologies represented in speeches delivered before the people.74 Rather, any politician who needed to speak before the assembly, regardless of his real views, would draw upon a stock set of popular themes in order to portray himself as the true friend of the Roman people and his opponent as a false friend, who secretly aimed to serve factional interests at the expense of the people. The choice presented from the rostra, then, was never a choice between competing ideas, but between competing politicians who all espoused the same ideas, at least in public. The winner was the one who did so more convincingly. Morstein-Marx adduces De Lege Agraria 2 as an example of such ideological and rhetorical appropriation. My own analysis supports his thesis. I have identified a Roman tendency to see any kind of economic exploitation as a form of slavery. By that definition of slavery, a man reduced the plebs to slavery if he enriched himself with funds produced by their labor. Agrarian legislation was envisioned as a corrective for plebeian slavery, since it restored to the plebs the fruits of their own labor. When Cicero was faced with the difficult task of turning the people against agrarian legislation, he claimed that the promulgators really meant to…enrich themselves with funds produced by plebeian labor. Thus, he carefully cultivated his role as friend of the people by drawing on rhetoric pioneered by the Gracchi, the original friends of the people. In order to attack a popular, tribunician measure, Cicero employed the very argument which tribunes traditionally used to promote popular measures.

The narrow rhetorical focus maintained in popular speeches, the limited scope of the ideas expressed, and the continued relevance of those ideas through time – from the days of Tiberius Gracchus to those of Cicero and Sallust – suggest that these speeches reflect the plebs’ political concerns. Those concerns, moreover, were neither complicated nor many in number. The most pressing of them did not involve political rights – although those were a source of worry too – but something of more immediate and practical consequence: money. The discourse on this issue demonstrates an awareness on the part of the plebs that their own economic interests were often different from, and even in direct conflict with, those of the rich citizens who controlled the government and the military. Accordingly, the matter of wealth distribution resolved itself into a matter of class strife. As I have shown, orators portrayed this strife as a contest, not just between competing economic interests, but between the libertas of the plebs and the dominatio of the nobles.

As I have also shown, the connection between economic status, liberty, and domination lay in the Roman conception of slavery as a productive role. Any relationship in which one party produced, and the other took the produce, could be described as a slave-master relationship. This was potentially even more true for the plebs and nobles collectively than for individual wage-earners and employers. Because there were property qualifications for holding office, wealth enabled members of the ruling class to wield real power over the lower orders. Exercising official authority could entail more direct coercion, like passing legislation which curtailed certain activities, but it also meant having the all-important power of the purse. The magistrates, the senate, the generals – such men decided how much public money to dispense and to whom – just as a master decided how much to food to give to his slaves, and an employer decided how much to pay his wage-earners. A master, however, had a vested interest in keeping his slaves healthy and productive. A wage-earner could choose not to work for a particular individual, if the offered pay was not high enough to meet his needs. Tiberius Gracchus would have his listeners believe that the men in power were denying even survival rations to the plebs.

Since orators used animals to describe the plebs’ economic slavery, presumably their target audience understood and shared in the assumptions that assimilated herd animals to slaves and slaves to herd animals. Slavery was thought to be a naturally occurring phenomenon, characterized first and foremost by economic exploitation. Thus, anyone who was exploited technically met the natural criterion for slavery, whether or not that exploitation was supported by law. Because utility to the human community naturally determined all status, all beings who were useful in this particular way held the same status. The plebs clearly understood that, by this method of reckoning, they belonged to the same social category as slaves and herd animals.

The orators’ repeated warnings – do not act like slaves and animals, do not fall to their level, do not accept for yourselves the servile dehumanization which is imposed on them – imply a twofold desire in the plebs: to exact their dues from those of superior socio-economic standing, and to maintain their own superiority over social inferiors. This dual agenda highlights the fact that the concept of natural status was a two-edged sword. On the positive side (from a plebeian point of view), it ensured that there was always somebody to look down upon in the person of the legal slave. The notions which equated slave with animal justified the subordination of both. Certain economic circumstances may have suggested a likeness between pleb and slave, but in truth a free citizen was always free to resist those circumstances. Orators were reminding their audience of that truth when they held up the herd animal, the natural slave, as a behavioral model to avoid. As human beings the plebs had the will to fight servitude, and as citizens they had social and legal support for that fight. Popular speakers urged the plebs to utilize those resources, so that they might sustain and maximize the difference between themselves and slaves. This rhetorical strategy both drew upon and reinforced the – supposedly natural – inequality between slave and citizen, while using it as a means to attack the inequality between poor and rich citizens.

The ideas manipulated by popular orators also had negative consequences for the plebs. These ideas may have located slaves at the lowest extreme of the social hierarchy, alongside herd animals, but the very same beliefs suggested the similarity between pleb and slave. In my discussion of wage-earners, I pointed out that the measure of a man’s social prestige could be expressed in terms of the degree of his liberty or servitude. An individual’s servitude need not have been literal to diminish the esteem which he could command in society. Some free persons, like wage-earners, were regarded as virtual slaves. There was therefore a real threat posed by the mere appearance of slavery. If we accept that popular oratory targeted issues sure to illicit a strong emotive response, then the plebs must have felt the degradation of their supposed slavery keenly. Their acceptance of an extralegal, natural criterion of slavery meant that, legal status aside, their standing as free citizens was always in danger. While the legal divide between slave and poor citizen was huge, the social divide seems to have been thin indeed.

That thin line could be rhetorically exploited to either side, depending on the views and aims of the orator. Those speaking before the people maintained that the plebs were being treated like slaves and animals, and that they must rise up and fight against this unjust servitude. However, Cicero’s optimate discourse often reveals the opposing viewpoint: the plebs are treated like slaves and animals, and they ought to be. In the De Re Publica, the same concepts which place slaves and animals at the very bottom of the social scale are employed, as well, to justify the low standing of poor citizens relative to rich citizens. Thus, the plebs were participants in an ideology which elevated them above nature’s lowest members (barely), but which simultaneously naturalized their own social and political handicaps.

Conclusions

The apparent contradictions within popular discourse, and between popular and optimate discourse, indicate that we should not expect perfect consistency when texts conflate social with natural status, human with non-human. The instances which I have examined – the assimilation of slaves, wage-earners, and plebs to herd animals – each rely on three basic notions: all beings belong to a single scale of worth and status; the universal or natural measure of worth is utility to the human community; because that measure of worth is universal, even members of different species can hold the same worth and therefore the same status. These ideas, broad though they are, manifested themselves in some specific patterns of thought – such as the persistent identification of certain people with herd animals. However, their very broadness ultimately meant that they could be used in various ways to support different, even opposing, points of view. Their use depended on who or what the speaker was talking about, how he defined the role of the relevant humans or animals, the usefulness he assigned to that role, and whether he was trying to reinforce or undermine the status quo. Popular oratory, intended to provoke a particular response in a particular audience, reflects the prejudices, fears, and goals of that class of people, which are not necessarily the products of logical cogitation.

To the extent that the concept of natural status has any theoretical background at all, it assumes a teleological theory of nature, which holds that the lower orders of creation are naturally adapted to the purpose of serving the higher. This concept provides the only reasonable justification for assessing everything in nature according to its usefulness for humans: everything in nature exists in order to support the highest earthly entity, human society. Although Roman sources do not apply teleological principles to humans, as they do to animals, they do assess humans by that same standard, usefulness to society, and presume that that is a natural mode of assessment. This notion is compatible with a teleological view of nature, in that it arises from the premise that all things, including people, are intended by nature to promote human society. Thus, in Roman thinking, nature itself has established the benchmark by which both animal and human worth and status are to be measured, and status so determined has been naturally ordained. By this reckoning, the resulting inequalities in status are built into the world order. Moreover, the phenomenon which I have studied in this chapter, the linking of slave and domestic animal, presupposes that other things, as well, are naturally or inevitably occurring parts of the world order. Herd animals are naturally or inevitably slaves to mankind. They are naturally suited to slavery. Slavery itself is natural and unavoidable, and consists of fulfilling a role which, if lowly, is nonetheless necessary to the existence of human society.

Because Hellenistic philosophy made nature normative, some of these concepts found support there. Roman authors therefore could and did draw upon philosophical sources when discussing the relevant topics. Varro, for example, quotes the Stoic joke about pigs, and Cicero and Seneca adopt the Stoic view that slavery is a form of wage-earning. We should probably not suppose, however, that the Romans took all of their ideas about nature and society from Greek philosophy. While educated Romans were no doubt influenced in a general way by their philosophical reading, the texts I have examined suggest that borrowing could also be conscious and selective. Certain philosophical notions were compatible with Roman cultural preconceptions, and were thus available for use if and when convenient.

This selective pattern of philosophical borrowing is evident in the Roman discourse on nature and status. Parts of the ideological framework which I am studying have parallels in philosophical doctrine, and so texts make an occasional nod to Stoicism; however, taken in its entirety, it does not conform to any particular philosophical system. The presence of these ideas in popular oratory suggests as much. It is one thing for Varro to include philosophical precepts in the Res Rustica or Cicero in the De Officiis; those works have intellectual pretensions and are clearly aimed at a wealthy and educated audience. It would be another thing entirely for a speaker to direct philosophical precepts towards the plebs at a popular assembly. If the popular orations which survive do in fact reflect the sorts of speeches which were delivered from the rostra, then they should reflect the sorts of beliefs which were commonly held, even among the illiterate poor. Accordingly, those orations do not employ the philosophical buzzword natura. They did not need to in order to access the relevant mode of thought. Who ever contemplated the nature of creation when he put a donkey to work or bought a slave off the auction block? The Lex Aquilia built the equation of slave and herd animal into the Roman legal system long before Greek philosophy had an impact on Roman law. Even on the Greek side, for that matter, popular preconceptions, which linked slave to animal on the basis of productive role, shaped Aristotle’s theory of natural slavery, not the other way around. Moreover, humans often believe that their society reflects the natural order of things, even when they do not have a coherent theory of nature to justify that belief. I propose that the complex of ideas which naturalized social inequality was a long-standing and deep-seated habit of thought, a series of cultural assumptions never consciously adopted nor seriously questioned by most. These preconceived notions may have influenced philosophical discourse, but they were certainly not its products. Precisely because they were not subject to formal scrutiny, they could be wielded with the flexibility and inconsistency which I have already commented upon.

There were alternate ideas in circulation, other ways to understand nature and its relationship to human society. Epicureanism, for example, denied that the universe had been created for mankind and developed its ethical system accordingly. Even Stoicism differed in some respects, although it did accept a teleological world view and cast slavery as a natural productive role. If Seneca’s Epistle 47 and De Beneficiis are any indication, then the Stoics went out of their way to oppose the assimilation of slaves to animals. More specifically, they objected to abusing slaves as if they were animals. They did this by emphasizing slaves’ human qualities and thus their close kinship with their masters. This approach cut straight to the heart of the matter. It identified the major fallacy in placing certain humans on a social level with animals, and attempted to correct the attendant ethical problem: collapsing social categories tended to collapse the difference between slaves and animals entirely, with the result that slaves were treated like animals.

I have shown that the assimilation of slave to herd animal did not necessarily presuppose an innate similarity between slave and animal. Roman texts, probably echoing Stoic tenets, sometimes say explicitly that no man is born a slave by nature. However, that intellectual lip service coexisted with a darker reality. Seneca would not have penned Epistle 47, reminding slave owners of the common humanity of their slaves, if slave abuse were not widespread. Social worth is often confused with innate worth, and once certain people had been grouped with animals, it was easy to think that they were in fact animal-like. This is especially true because the association of specific kinds of people with specific kinds of animals depended upon a teleological understanding of nature. As I have observed numerous times, the teleological hierarchy of species was a hierarchy of both function and type. Since the ancients tended to conflate this hierarchy with the social hierarchy on the basis of function, it would have been tempting to complete the analogy between the two by assuming that the social hierarchy was indeed a scale of type, as well as function; that there were indeed different kinds of human to fulfill different functions, just as there were different kinds of animals to fulfill different functions.

Aristotle’s theory of natural slavery chronicles just such a mental leap. He starts from the notions that nature is teleological, and that slaves and herd animals perform the same function, and from those premises he extrapolates the existence of the natural slave, who is mentally akin to an animal. Given ancient ideas about nature, animals, and status, and the ubiquity of slavery, it is not surprising that Aristotle drew the conclusions expressed in the Politics. What is surprising is the fact that more people did not think as he did. The only explanation is that the idea of intrinsically different human types conflicted with the evidence of their own eyes. The Stoics were right: the concept of a slave by nature is inconsistent with reality. Although many of the ancients seem to have recognized this, that recognition did not put an end to the ingrained, thoughtless habit of contempt that downgraded the slave to an inferior type of human.

This customary disdain invested the slave-herd animal association with significance beyond its most basic meaning. In some texts, such as the Res Rustica and Lex Aquilia, the coupling of slave and herd animal invokes only the functional similarity between the two, and amounts to a mere job description, legal designation, or social classification. However, in his article “Animalizing the Slave”, Keith Bradley demonstrates that the connection between slave and animal had real-life ramifications for both the practice of slavery and the slave’s experience of servitude.75 Moreover, a kind of taint definitely attached to the person of the slave or former slave, an indelible stain of inferiority that set him apart from freeborn persons. Henrik Mouritsen, who devotes a chapter to the servile stigma,76 tries to reconcile its existence with the fact that Roman sources generally reject the idea of a natural slave. He concludes that the very condition of servitude – especially the harsh treatment which the slave suffered – was thought to be degrading and to negatively impact the slave’s disposition. Mouritsen may be right, but it would probably be a mistake to insist on one, rational explanation for an unrationalized and conventional belief. Cicero often displays a similar bias, but against the plebs rather than slaves. He assigns near-animal status and attributes to poor citizens, without explaining why they are less capable of intelligent and moral behavior than wealthy citizens. His attitude simply reflects the tendency of a rich and politically privileged man to look down on the lower orders. If free citizens could be victims of such prejudice, so too could slaves.

Cicero’s contempt for the plebs is no different in its causes from the plebs’ own contempt for slaves. In each case, the socially superior party assumes innate superiority over social inferiors – for no particular reason other than bias. This habitual bias was convenient, since it justified social and legal advantages on moral grounds. The fear of slipping downwards on the social scale, which is so apparent in popular speeches, also gave everyone a vested interest in differentiating themselves as much as possible from those below them. This fearful, self-serving, and purely reflexive prejudice coexisted with the rational knowledge that wealth and profession, not innate worth, decided social and legal status. Thus, despite the impulse to connect social standing to moral standing, there remained an awareness that the two did not always coincide. A person’s station in life was ultimately a matter of luck. The fact that fortune, not character, determined status gave rise to an uncomfortable reality. Social inequality was an accepted part of life, and naturalized through the utility-based assessment scheme. However, there was no compelling reason to suppose that every individual was naturally suited to his rank, because there was no convincing or universally accepted ideology that differentiated between types of people. That is, there was no conventional belief in the teleological differentiation of human beings. Even if distinct types of people did exist, each intrinsically inclined toward a certain role and status, there was no mechanism to ensure that every person was settled in the station where he belonged according to his merits.

As far as civil concord was concerned, the lack of a strong discourse of human teleology was actually problematic. The apparent disjunction between natural status and natural type made class conflict endemic to human society. The capacities, ambitions, desires, and needs of any given person or group did not necessarily align with the position they occupied. Because there was no tradition of human teleology, telling them that they were inherently and inevitably deserving of their station, people did not necessarily resign themselves to their lot and its attendant disadvantages. Cicero might have believed that the plebs were practically animals and ought to be curbed accordingly, but popular oratory tells us that the plebs had different thoughts on the matter. Even as the elite applied political and ideological pressure from above, the plebs pushed back from below. Likewise, masters needed to keep their slaves cowed and productive, but slaves did not always accept their fate passively. Bradley points to resistance as a key theme in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, where the main character’s transformation into an ass is paradigmatic of the animalization of the slave. The rest of the world might see him as an ass and a slave, but he retains his human mind and, with it, the ability to disobey when he deems it safe or advantageous. His calculated acts of rebellion illustrate the truth that the animalization of the slave was never complete, because human slaves still had human mental capabilities. 77 Bradley’s analysis concurs with my own observation: despite the existence of social classifications which conjoined human with animal, the Romans were well aware that any person remained essentially human and thus an unknown quantity. Social classifications were therefore contestable whenever there was a perceived discrepancy between social standing and inner worth. Although legalized social divisions gave rise to such contradictions and to bitter class conflict, nobody ever seems to have seriously considered eliminating them. Those divisions were, after all, thought be a natural part of the world order.

In the next chapter, I will continue to explore how Roman authors treat social status as natural by likening human to non-human on the grounds of utility. Exploitation and herd animals are not the only standards against which to measure utility and status. Wild animals comprise a different category of being, one defined by separateness. They are natural outsiders, creatures that inevitably exist apart from the human community, and even violently oppose it. Accordingly, the notions of separateness and violence figure prominently in comparisons between wild animals and people. Although these comparisons employ the utility-based criterion of natural status, they differ from the herd animal comparisons in that they often state or imply that the people involved possess minds that match their animalistic behavior and status. How could authors make this claim, if, as I have just argued, the Romans did not subscribe to human teleology? I will continue to argue they did not accept teleological theory where humans are concerned: the comparisons do not assume that there is a special kind of human, innately disposed to act like wild animals. The answer lies elsewhere, and it sheds light on how the Romans could reject human teleology, yet simultaneously maintain that some people – whether slaves or plebs or barbarians or criminals – are less human than others.

______________

Notes:

47 Bradley (2000) 111.

48 I have used the reconstructed text and translation provided in Crawford (1996) 723-726. On reconstructing the original text, see Crawford (1996) 723-726 and Crook (1984). Only paraphrases of the Lex Aquilia have survived. See especially Dig. 9.2.2pr.-1 (Gaius) and Gaius, Inst. 3.210.

49 Bradley (2000) 111.

50 For the contents of the Digest, I have used the translation provided by Watson (1985) 614.

51 e.g. Green (1997) and Kronenberg (2009).

52 e.g. Perl (1977) and Skydsgaard (1968) 15-17, 33-34, 35-36.

53 I owe this point to Perl (1977) 425.

54 cf. Cicero, Nat. Deor. 2.160, De Fin. 5.38; Pliny, N.H. 8.207; Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 7.34.

55 I owe this point to Flach (1997) on Varro, Res Rust. 2.1.12 (p. 199).

56 Cicero, Nat. Deor. 2.160, De Fin. 5.38; Pliny, N.H. 8.207; Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 7.34.

57 For a brief overview of this debate, see Dyck (1996) on Cicero, De Officiis 1.150-151 (pgs. 331-333). Dyck himself thinks that the passage is a Ciceronian insertion.

58 Brunt (1980) 99-100 argues that, although upper-class writers regarded wage-earning as servile, mercennarii were not assimilated to slaves legally. At least, there is no evidence that they were.

59 Brunt (1988) 287.

60 cf. Dyck (1996) on Cicero, De Officiis 150-151 (pg. 331): “Our section deals not with choice of profession…but the amount of respect that representatives of various professions can claim in society”.

61 Brunt (1973) 21, 28.

62 For bibliography on paid labor in Rome and the general disrepute in which it was held, see Diliberto (1981) 32 n. 89.

63 de Ste. Croix (1981) 189, 198-199.

64 Throughout my examination of De Officiis 1.150-151, I have rendered the phrase auctoramentum servitutis as “the reward of servitude”. In translating auctoramentum as “reward”, I have followed the OLD s.v. auctoramentum, 3. However, that translation probably does not convey the full import of the Latin. The auctoramentum was the oath by which free men became legally assimilated to slaves. Cicero’s use of the word to talk about the similarity between slaves and wage-earners is therefore very pointed. In order to gain a better understanding of the meaning of auctoramentum in this passage, I have consulted Diliberto’s book on the auctoramentum (1981), specifically his discussion about the relationship between the auctoramentum and the locatio operarum, the contract for hired work (pgs. 67-70). He concludes – on what seems to me to be insufficient grounds – that any contract for hired work was essentially an auctoramentum with two additional elements, wage and term limit. He contends that a contract for hired work was understood to put the hired man into a quasi-servile state, because it made him dependent upon and subject to his employer. Therefore such a contract accomplished the same thing as the auctoramentum, which was to establish a relation of domination and subjugation between the two parties involved. The auctoramentum by itself created the most extreme form of this relation, a master-slave relation, whereas a normal labor contract mitigated the relation by adding a wage and term limit. Diliberto’s interpretation depends on the assumption that wage-earning was thought to be akin to servitude because of the power disparity between employer and employee; however, I question the validity of that assumption. I have argued and will continue to argue that the primary point of similarity was believed to lie rather in the economic relation between master and slave, employer and employee, exploiter and exploited. If I am correct, then the connection between the auctoramentum and wage-earning, and so the meaning of auctoramentum in De Officiis 1.150, perhaps needs to be reassessed, though there is no space for such a study in this work.

65 Dyck (1996) on Cicero, De Officiis 1.41 (pg. 154), 1.150 (pg. 334).

66 The bibliography on optimates and populares is huge. For a fairly recent and comprehensive overview of popularis rhetoric, see Morstein-Marx (2004) 204-240.

67 For libertas as the leitmotiv of popular rhetoric, see especially Wirszubski (1950) 40-65, Hellegouarc’h (1963) 551-558, Brunt (1988) 330-350, and Morstein-Marx (2004) 217-222.

68 Sallust, Iug. 31 (Or. Memmi), Hist. 1.55 (Or. Lepidi), Hist. 3.48 (Or. Macri); Cicero, De Lege Agraria 2.

69 For the association of the tribunate with plebeian freedom, see Wirszubski (1950) 25-27, 50-52, and Brunt (1988) 324 n. 109.

70 I have used Maurenbrecher’s text (1891-1893) for all quotations from Sallust’s Historiae. The translations are my own.  

71 I owe this point to McGushin (1994), on Sallust, Historiae 3.34.17 (pg. 94).

72 =Malcovati (1953) 68.1, pgs. 262-263.

73 =Malcovati (1953) 34.13, pg. 149.

74 Morstein-Marx (2004) 204-240.

75 Bradley (2000).

76 Mouritsen (2011) 10-35.

77 Bradley (2000) 119-121.  
 
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