Some Remarks on Manumission and Consecration in Hellenistic Chaeronea

in Journal of Global Slavery
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Abstract

This article aims to discuss the relationship between manumission and consecration from a legal perspective, by analyzing as a case study the corpus of inscriptions from Hellenistic Chaeronea, which is usually believed to represent a specific mode of “sacral” manumission, namely, through consecration of a slave to the god. Chaeronea provides the bulk of the evidence for this alleged form of manumission, and the content of its inscriptions are highly formulaic: they typically attest the consecration (anatithemi) of a slave (doulos) as sacred (hieros) to a god, generally Serapis. After pointing out the legal nature of manumission, the article will challenge the traditional scholarly interpretation that holds that, as an effect of consecration, slaves became free individuals. The identification of consecration with manumission, in other words, raises a number of problems. Through a close look at the single elements which characterized the condition of hieroi in Hellenistic Central Greece, the article will argue that while from a legal point of view, hieroi were slaves of the god, the absence of an actual owner exercising the powers descending from his right of ownership meant that their de facto condition resembled in several ways that of free individuals. The inscriptions from Chaeronea do not attest to manumission, but rather to consecration of slaves to the god, which ultimately result in a transfer of ownership over slaves from the human to the divine sphere.

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