The huma­nity shown to sla­ves can in a mode­rate state pre­vent dan­gers that might be fea­red from their exces­sive num­ber. Men get used to eve­ry­thing, and even to ser­vi­tude, pro­vi­ded the mas­ter is not har­sher than ser­vi­tude. The Athenians trea­ted their sla­ves with great kind­ness ; we do not find that they per­tur­bed the state in Athens, as they shook the one in Lacedæmon.

We do not find that the early Romans were wor­ried about their sla­ves. It was when they had lost all fee­lings of huma­nity for them that civil wars arose that have been com­pa­red to the Punic Wars.1

Simple nations, ones which attach them­sel­ves to work, ordi­na­rily have more kind­ness for their sla­ves than those which have given it up. The early Romans lived, wor­ked, and ate with their sla­ves ; they had much kind­ness and equity for them ; the grea­test punish­ment they inflic­ted on them was to make them pass in front of their neigh­bors with a for­ked piece of wood2 on their backs. Their ethos suf­fi­ced to main­tain the fide­lity of the sla­ves ; no law was requi­red.

But when the Romans had expan­ded, and their sla­ves were no lon­ger the com­pa­nions of their work but the ins­tru­ments of their luxury and their pride, since there were no tra­di­tions, they requi­red laws. It even took fear­some ones to secure the safety of these cruel mas­ters, who lived among their sla­ves as among their ene­mies.

They made the Silanian sena­tus consul­tum and other laws which decreed that if a mas­ter was killed, all the sla­ves who were under the same roof, or in a place close enough to the house to hear a man’s voice, would without dis­tinc­tion be sen­ten­ced to death.3 Those who in this case shel­te­red a slave in order to save him were puni­shed as mur­de­rers4 ; even one whose mas­ter had orde­red him to kill him, and who obeyed him, would have been guilty5 ; one who had not pre­ven­ted him from killing him­self would have been puni­shed.6 If a mas­ter had been killed during a jour­ney, those who had remai­ned with him and those who had fled were put to death.[[Law 1, §31 fol­lo­wing ibid.] All these laws applied even to those whose inno­cence was pro­ven, their pur­pose was to give sla­ves pro­di­gious res­pect for their mas­ter. They were depen­dent not on the civil govern­ment, but on a flaw or imper­fec­tion of the civil govern­ment. They did not derive from the equity of the civil laws, since they were contrary to the prin­ci­ples of civil laws. They were pro­perly based on the prin­ci­ple of war, with the excep­tion that the ene­mies were within the state. The Silanian sena­tus consul­tum deri­ved from the law of nations, which would have a society, even an imper­fect one, pre­serve itself.

It is the govern­ment’s mis­for­tune when the magis­tracy finds itself for­ced to make cruel laws in this way ; it is because obe­dience has been made dif­fi­cult that one is obli­ged to increase the punish­ment for diso­be­dience or to sus­pect loyalty. A pru­dent legis­la­tor anti­ci­pa­tes the mis­for­tune of beco­ming a fero­cious legis­la­tor. It is because the sla­ves among the Romans could have no confi­dence in the law that the law could have no confi­dence in them.

“Sicily,” says Florus, was “more cruelly devastated by the slave war than by the Punic war” (book III).

[Bois fourchu = carcan, yoke or stocks, collar of ignomony.]

See all of the article De senatus consultus Silaniano and following.

Law 1, §22 following De Senatus consultus Silianano.

Law 1, §22 following De Senatus consultus Silianano.

Law 1, §22 following De Senatus consultus Silianano.