Select Page

Dr. Franco Luciani (Newcastle University) is Marie-Sklodowska-Curie Fellow on the research project ‘Servi Publici: Everybody’s Slaves’ (SPES). From April to September 2017 he was a Visiting Fellow at the ICS. Franco told us more about the project and the work he carried out during his stay here.

The SPES project sets out to provide a full-scale reconsideration of the position of public slaves in the Roman society through a multidisciplinary and comparative study. Slavery played a central role in the economy and society of Rome: slaves performed all kinds of manual labour and domestic services, and some of them even had highly skilled professions. Besides private slaves, owned by private masters, and imperial slaves, who were property of the emperors, there also existed the so-called ‘public slaves’ (servi publici): these were non-free individuals, not owned by a private person, but by a community. Their masters (domini) were the Roman people as a whole (populus Romanus), in the case of Rome, or the entire citizen body of a municipality (municipes) or a colony (coloni), whether in Italy or in the provinces. Therefore, public slaves in Rome were under the authority of the Roman Senate, whilst in other cities they were under that of the local council.

A number of literary and epigraphic sources from the Republican period and the first three centuries of the Empire show that public slaves in Rome were mostly employed as attendants to priests, and magistrates. Servi publici also worked as custodians of public buildings, such as archives, temples, basilicas, and libraries. From Augustus to Claudius, a familia publica aquaria, comprised of 240 public slaves, was used for the maintenance of the water conduits. Other servi publici carried out generic public works (opera publica).

Silver cup from Boscoreale, also known as ‘Tiberius cup’ (end of the Tiberian age): a public slave is placing a victory crown over Tiberius’ head.

The epigraphic evidence from Italy and the provinces attests that during the Empire public slaves were employed in the cities for very similar tasks as the ones described for Rome. They were in fact commonly employed as attendants of magistrates. On the contrary, their involvement within the religious sphere as attendants of priests and aeditui is scarcely attested. Many inscriptions from different parts of the Empire show servi publici acting in the administration of the cities as treasurers (arcarii), transactors (actores), and archivists (tabularii). Other epigraphic sources suggest that public slaves could be employed in the management of markets (macella) and granaries as horrearii. Some servi publici were probably also involved in the Trajan’s ‘welfare’ program of alimenta. Finally, in some cities of the Empire servi publici were entrusted with the task of maintaining the public baths, as well as of producing lead-pipes and bricks.

The purpose of my research stay at the Institute of Classical Studies was to acquire the necessary skills for and lay the foundation of the online database for the project. The database will gather every relevant piece of information for the study of the public slaves and freedmen in Rome and in the municipalities of the Empire in a clearly organised way. Following the model of the online edition of Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania (IRT), each epigraphic text will conform to the EpiDoc and EFES guidelines. As a Visiting Fellow at the ICS I conducted a crucial part of the SPES project under the mentorship of Dr Gabriel Bodard. In order to gain the necessary knowledge to build the EpiDoc schema-based database, I attended an EpiDoc training during the first week of my Fellowship (April 3-7, 2017). Then, I organised many textual (literary, legal, and epigraphic) sources relevant for the study of public slaves and freedmen in Rome and in the municipalities of the Empire in a database conformed to the EpiDoc guidelines.

During my Visiting Fellowship, I also used the very useful and rich library of the ICS, which allowed me to complete the rough drafts of two articles for edited books, to write an article for a journal, and five chapters for a handbook and to prepare a poster for the 15th International Congress of Greek and Latin Epigraphy. I also prepared the book proposal of my monograph, which will be the main outcome of the SPES research project. In addition I enjoyed the dynamic and stimulating cultural life of the Institute by attending the Ancient History Summer Seminar Series 2017, the Director’s seminar Series, and the Digital Classicists Series. I myself delivered a seminar within the Director’s seminar Series, in order to present an ongoing aspect of my research project: this event gave me the opportunity to receive helpful feedback and comments from advanced students and colleagues.

My collaboration with the ICS continues also now that the secondment has finished: I have received an ICS Conference Grant for the organisation of the forthcoming event entitled ‘Being Everybody’s Slaves. Public Slavery in Ancient and Modern World’. The conference, which will take place at Newcastle University on March 22nd-24th 2018, will bring some of the most prominent experts of ancient and modern slavery to discuss central methodological issues and focus on the interpretation of the concept of ‘public’ slavery. Its remit goes well beyond Roman public slavery as it encourages the collaboration between experts working on different historical periods. The conference aims to provide a methodologically up-to-date discussion of the nature of the phenomenon, introducing for the first time a theoretical and comparative approach encompassing public slavery in the Roman period as well as some early modern and modern manifestations of it.

I am planning to come back to the ICS very soon!

by Franco Luciani


The conference which Franco mentions is part of the ‘Servi Publici: Everybody’s Slaves (SPES)’ project, which is based at Newcastle University, and has received funding from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship (H2020-MSCA-IF-2015) under grant agreement No 704716.


Information about the ICS Visiting Fellowships scheme is available here.