In today’s excerpt – as part of his education, Julius Caesar (100 BCE – 44 BCE) would have been able to read instructions on how to manage slaves written by the legendary statesman Marcus Porcius Cato (234 BCE – 149 BCE):
“[For an aristocrat in Rome at the time of Julius Caesar], farm management meant, primarily, slave management. Fortunately, Cato had left detailed instructions on the subject. He distinguished, of course, between domestic and farm slaves although, in general, he treated all ‘like beasts of burden, using them to the uttermost, then, when they were old, driving them off and selling them … like shoes or pots and pans, casting them aside when they are bruised and worn out with service.’ With domestic slaves Cato had advice on how and when to praise, threaten, reprimand or reward. To prevent conspiracies he promoted dissension and rivalry among them. He entrusted the chief steward with major responsibilities and permitted him to be shaved by the local barber, to gossip with other stewards in taverns and brothels, to participate in neighborhood clubs, to play ball and to attend the theater. The more willing and cunning slaves he encouraged to buy slaves of their own to train and to sell at a profit. The slovenly and the lazy he flogged.
“Farm slaves, distinguished as ‘speaking tools’ from ‘mute’ tools (animals)
and ‘lifeless’ tools (equipment), were to be worked to the limits of their
endurance and to be sold when they were no longer productive. The bailiff and
perhaps a few specialists in viniculture and orchardry were permitted to marry.
Most of the others were manacled and locked up at night. If caught stealing or
stepping beyond the boundary stones or listening to itinerant astrologers (troublemakers who preached dangerous thoughts), they were to be beaten and assigned to hard labor. Habitual recalcitrants were hung overnight on a cross; captured runaways were branded on the forehead and locked in an iron collar inscribed with instructions for their return and an offer of reward. Incorrigible slaves were to be prodded to a place of execution, flogged and hoisted and nailed to a beam and left to strangle.
“In general, the employment and treatment of slaves was a pragmatic question, and many slaveholders accepted Aristotle’s judgment: ‘Every assistant is as it were a tool that serves for several tools; for if every tool could perform its own work when ordered or by seeing what to do in advance – thus shuttles wove and quills played harps by themselves – master craftsmen would have no need of assistants and masters no need of slaves.’ On the other hand, slave rebellion was the greatest peril confronting [Roman] society. A good citizen exhibited no sentimentality in face of such a threat.”
Author: Arthur D. Kahn
Title: The Education of Julius Caesar
Date: Copyright 1986, 2000 by Arthur D. Kahn
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