chapter  8
16 Pages

HOUSEHOLD SLAVES

Even the poorest of men, claimed Augustine one Sunday morning in 426, might own several slaves.1 Indeed, to illustrate his considerable powers of asceticism, Sulpicius Severus had noted that St Martin owned only one slave while in the army.2 The continued presence of slaves in late antiquity was in small part due to an acceptance of the institution of slavery in Church teaching. Although all humans were equal in that all had souls, various Christian authors had made a connection between Original Sin and the punishment of servitude. It paralleled the relationship between ius naturale, under which all human beings fell into the same category, and ius gentium, which made legal distinctions between various peoples. But more than the acceptance of unequal status as natural in a post-Fall world, the Church itself actively supported the institution in its attempt to moderate the effects of slavery. And because it did so, many of the things clerics preached against – namely sexual and physical abuse – were almost guaranteed to occur.