Treating Slaves as Equals
Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a Roman public official, thinker, and a famous playwright. He was born in Cordoba, Spain between 3-4 B.C. at a very young age he was sent to Rome to be educated for a career in the military and law. Because of his flair in oratory and debate, Seneca rose through the ranks to the position of senator and quaestor. Due to his quick rise to such high posts people started to become jealous of him which lead to him to be exiled in Corsica in A.D. 41. The empress Agrippina, recalled Seneca in A.D. 49 to tutor and advise her eleven-year-old son, the young Nero. During his years under Claudius, there was a prominent inconsistency between his viewpoint and practices. This was possibly because of conflict, distrust, and bickering prevalent in the royal family. Seneca was able to turn his period to his own advantage and turn into one of the richest men in the Mediterranean world.
Seneca was unquestionably the most talented and gifted philosopher of his day. His values were founded in stoicism and his works reflect elevated, considerate graciousness, which was in sharp contrast to his own life of self-indulgence, practicality, and participation in murder. Seneca’s most remarkable strength was in the revitalization of philosophy in Roman prose; the essence of f his stoic writings defy the gladiatorial contests, slavery, and brutality for which the Roman Empire was infamous.[i]
The letter XLVII on treating slaves as equals hits out at the prevalent customs of the roman society. The argument “they are slaves” and “they are human beings” is the core of this short but very illustrative letter, and from the start, Seneca is putting forward his contention about the unsuitable treatment given to slaves at his time. He calls them “Fellow slaves” because according to him, it is the fortune, which made them slaves, and it could have been different too, resulting in the nobles becoming slaves. Slavery was a widespread tradition in the Roman Empire by the first century CE, and there were around two million slaves within the Empire by the start of the first century.[ii]
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[ii] K. Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves (Cambridge 1978).
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