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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Latin, libertini and liberti), in ancient Greece and Rome, as well as in Western European states during the period of early feudalism, slaves who were set free or who bought their own freedom.

The degree of freedom of such a slave who had been set free was varied. In ancient Greece the liberated slaves did not receive the rights of citizenship; they became metics under the patronage of their former master. In ancient Rome, where the institution of freedmen became the most wide-spread, the slaves who had been set free with the observance of the legal formalities acquired the family name of their former master, and they also became Roman citizens. How-ever, they were deprived of the right to be magistrates and the duty to serve in the army. A slave who purchased his own freedom was obliged to show obsequium (deference) to his patron and to will him part (from one-third to one-half) of his property. A slave who was freed “by the graciousness of his master” was obliged, furthermore, to work for his patron part of the time or to pay him a portion of his wages. Exploiting freedmen was frequently more profitable than exploiting slaves, and the number of freedmen constantly in-creased. Sometimes freedmen were given a parcel of land, a workshop, or a little store; and they contributed a portion of their income to their patrons. Often freedmen were the trusted agents of their patrons. They made up a special class, which, however, was not homogeneous. Some freedmen were very rich. From their number were recruited members of the collegium of augurs (diviners), the so-called sevir Augustalis, who served the imperial cult. A unique role was played by the imperial freedmen, who constituted the lowest and to some extent the middle ranks of the empire’s bureaucratic apparatus, and who sometimes had great influence. But the majority of freedmen merged with the free poor, the petty craftsmen, and the coloni (tenant farmers). Among the Ger-manic tribes and in the “barbaric” states the customary type of liberation was to set the slaves free but preserve their dependence on their former master.


Shtaerman, E. M. Rastsvet rabovladel’cheskikh otnoshenii v Rimskoi respublike. Moscow, 1964.
Neusykhin, A. I. Vozniknovenie zavismogo krest’ianstva kak klassa rannefeodal’nogo obshchestva v Zapadnoi Evrope VI-VIII vv. Moscow, 1956.
Duff, A. M., and B. Zitt. Freedmen in the Early Roman Empire. Oxford, 1928.
Westermann, W. The Slave Systems of Greek and Roman Antiquity. Philadelphia, 1955.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
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