microhistories, is of connecting micro- and macrohistories by the history of the individuals’ own connections.’ But that is what microhistory is: there is nothing very new about it, and one is discouraged at the outset by the pretentious academic claims made both by the author and on her behalf on the jacket. Near the end too, we are back with convoluted sentences on ‘the tr ipartite understanding of enlightenment in modern historiography’: no one who has read the book with attention that far is going to need this sort of elbow-jogging.
This is in many ways a brave and able book, but it could have been so much better. And much of the good detail is rendered oddly flat by the author’s apparent total
SUBJECT OR OBJECT? THE CAMBRIDGE WORLD HISTORY OF
SLAVERY: VOLUME 1, THE ANCIENT
Edited by Keith Bradley and Paul Cartledge
(Cambridge University Press 620pp £110)
THE ROMAN JURIST Gaius (fl c AD 160) got it in one: ‘The principal distinction in the law of persons is this, that all human beings are either free or slaves.’ We call them ‘chattel’ slaves, as in ‘goods and chattels’, ‘chattel’ being from the same root as ‘cattle’ (property was defined in ter ms of quadrupeds). In his chapter on Aquilius’s law relating to unlawful killing (287 BC), Gaius begins by discussing the unlawful killing of a slave, a slave-girl or a ‘four-footed beast of the class of cattle’: for legal purposes, they are all one category (Greeks called slaves andrapoda, ‘man-footed things’). The derivation of ‘chattel’ is also cognate with ‘capital’, meaning both ‘punished with death’ and ‘trading stock, accumulated wealth’. The root is the Latin caput, meaning ‘head’ – nothing but head-count mattered. Or did it? It is easy to assume that slaves were a sort of sub-human species, going mechanically about their probably disgusting tasks all day every day, starved, abused and regularly beaten to keep them up to pace. Whether they worked the mines in Attica or Spain, or were in gangs that worked on huge farms in Italy, or just the sexual playthings of their masters, their lot was indeed a pretty gr isly one. But people captured by pirates or in war could be worth a lot: fancy coming across the ancient equivalent of an Alfred Brendel or Warren Buffett! Welleducated slaves served in high office in the imperial palace in Rome. We know where Cicero’s priorities lay when he wrote to his chum Atticus in 54 BC about Caesar’s invasion of Britain: there was no hope of ‘any imperviousness to place. Although the Johnstones travelled the world, there is no perception of the effects of this on them, no sense of climate, vegetation, or houses, nothing on the influences of the empire on design, even when oriental tea-cups are sent as a present; no mention is made of what anyone wore. There is not even a brief description of eighteenth-century Calcutta or Grenada, or New York (where brothers Alexander and Gideon both spent time), and no word-picture of Edinburgh. The one fleeting reference to the ‘barren hills’ of the Border country that was the Johnstone home comes like a welcome sip of water in a desert. But it is the only one. To order this book for £19.96, see LR bookshop on page 12
booty from there except s l aves – and I don’t imagine you will expect any of them to be overendowed in the literary or musical departments’.
Further more, skilled slaves cost a lot of money. They also needed clothing, feeding, water ing and housing (we hear of people volunteering to become s l aves for the chance of a regular meal). One would not routinely kick them for fun before breakfast any more than we would the washing machine or car, today’s slave and animal substitutes. They needed looking after if they were to give good service (there were dedicated slave doctors).
Are you being served?
Upper-class Romans seem to have been relatively liberal about freeing them. Presumably the prospect of manumission encouraged acquiescence (according to Jane F Gardner, one of the contributors to this collection), but, g iven the alter native, a slave might have regarded that as a win-win. As freedmen under the empire, many continued to work for their masters; others set up their own businesses. We have many monuments erected by freedmen proudly recording their subsequent success and riches. These were the lucky few, certainly, among the perhaps 100 million slaves created over 750 years of the empire (Walter Scheidel’s estimate). So saying that slaves were technically without any human r ights tells one something of the greatest importance but of little practical significance.
This is where the twenty-two essays in the Cambridge History come in, with nine on the Greeks and twelve on the Romans, written by academics from the UK, Greece, the USA and Canada. Topics covered for both cultures include the literary response, slave supply, the effect on the family, economy and society, material evidence and
LITERARY REVIEW July 2011