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Imperial Freedmen and Roman Society: A study on the social standing of imperial freedmen as expressed in literary and epigraphic sources in the early Roman Empire
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Languages, Department of Linguistics and Philology.
2010 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study discusses the imperial freedmen’s standing in Roman society as it is expressed in literary and epigraphic sources. It has often been assumed that the traditional elite had a general negative attitude towards this group, and previous scholars have interpreted the social standing of the imperial freedmen very differently due to the discrepancy between the legal status and the social status of these freedmen.

After examining texts written by Seneca, Pliny and Tacitus, the author concludes that they express criticism of imperial freedmen who show inappropriate behaviour and/or have attained an unacceptable position in the state and hence access to political power. However, it is clear that this is not the fault of the freedmen themselves, but of their master, the emperor, since he is responsible for their behaviour. Imperial freedmen who do not show these characteristics are not criticized. They can, in fact, be perceived as competent officials much in the same way as freeborn officials, and the same qualities are expected and appreciated in them during their work in the imperial service.

The epigraphic sources show that the status of being Augusti liberti is of significant importance to this group, but in regard to family and work the sources show the same tendencies as those for ordinary freedmen: the nuclear family, rather than occupational titles, is of the greatest importance for imperial freedmen.

When comparing the literary and the epigraphic material it is clear that the imperial freedmen have a standing somewhat “in between” the traditional status groups in the early Roman Empire. It is suggested that previous scholars have focused too much on horizontal divisions between strata based on legal status and neglected the importance of vertical connections which offer status by association. It is therefore concluded that it is not possible to come to an absolute result as regards the standing of the imperial freedmen. This, however, opens new avenues for further discussions on social standing in Roman society.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Department of Linguistics and Philology , 2010. , viii+237 p.
Keyword [en]
imperial freedmen, emperor, status, social history, early empire, Pliny, Tacitus, Seneca, Latin epigraphy, Rome
National Category
Specific Languages
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-131111OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-131111DiVA: diva2:353841
Public defence
2010-11-13, Geijersalen, Thunbergsvägen 3P, Uppsala, 10:00 (Swedish)
Available from: 2010-10-21 Created: 2010-09-22 Last updated: 2010-10-21

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