The ‘Servi Publici: Everybody’s Slaves’ (SPES) Project

  1. Who and When?

The Servi Publici: Everybody’s Slaves’ (SPES) research project started on October, 1st 2016. It is supported by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Individual Fellowship (H2020-MSCA-IF-2015), with the School of History, Classics and Archaeology (SHCA) of the Newcastle University as host institution.

Dr Franco Luciani is the Fellow, Dr Federico Santangelo is the Principal Investigator. The duration of the project is two years.

A six-month secondment is scheduled from April, 1st to September, 30th 2017 at the Institute of Classical Studies (ICS), which is part of the School of Advanced Study (SAS) of the University of London, under the mentorship of Dr Gabriel Bodard.



2. What?

The SPES project sets out to provide a full-scale reconsideration of the position of public slaves in the Roman society through a multidisciplinary and comparative study. Its main objectives are:

a) to gather and organize in an on-line database all the available sources (literary, epigraphic and archaeological documents) concerning public slavery in the Roman World;

b) to cross-fertilize the historiography of ancient and modern slavery in order to thoroughly understand the predicament and historical significance of the slaves owned by a community, both in antiquity and in the modern age.

cil_vi_2329A detail from a Latin inscription from Rome (CIL VI, 2329), which mentions Philippus Rustianus, a public slave in service as a custodian of a shrine dedicated to a deified Emperor

3. Public Slaves: Who Were They?

Slavery played a fundamental role in the Roman economy and society: slaves performed all kinds of manual labour and domestic services, and some of them even carried out highly skilled professions.

Besides private slaves, owned by private masters, and imperial slaves, who were the property of the emperors, there were the so-called public slaves (servi publici): they were non-free individuals owned not by a private person, but by a community, such as the Roman people as a whole or the citizen body of a municipality.

Public slaves were considered as state chattel, much in the same way as it was the case in ancient Greece and in some modern slave-owning societies.

In 5th century BCE Athens, public slaves (dēmósioi) were employed for a variety of lowly, but fundamental administrative tasks and public works.

In the 16th century, Christian and Muslim states in the Mediterranean area used prisoners of war as galley-slaves or public workers.

Analogously, during the 18th and 19th century, in some African and Caribbean regions the so-called ‘government slaves’ were employed on rural estates or as labourers in the various public department.

In the city of Rome, public slaves were under the authority of the Roman Senate. They were mostly employed as attendants of priests and magistrates. Other servi publici also worked as custodians of public buildings (archives, temples, basilicae, and libraries) or carried out generic public works.

In the cities of Italy and the provinces, public slaves were under the power of the local councillors. They were employed for very similar tasks as the ones described for Rome, i.e. as attendants of local magistrates, treasurers, transactors, and archivists. In some cities of the Empire servi publici were entrusted with the task of maintaining the public baths, as well as of producing lead-pipes and bricks.

During the Late Roman Republic and the first three centuries of the Empire (II century BCE – III century CE), a public slave in Rome could be manumitted by a magistrate’s ruling, with the prior authorization of the Roman Senate. After his manumission, a Roman public freedman assumed the name Publicius as a token of his former status (Publicius derives from publicus/-a), or the same name as the magistrate who affranchised him.

In the Italian and provincial cities, public slaves could be freed by the local councillors, by request of one of the magistrates that were elected on a yearly basis. After their manumission, cities public freedmen and freedwomen also assumed the name Publicius or another one derived from the toponym of their city (e.g. Ostiensis, from Ostia).

Roman public slaves, freedmen and freedwomen are mostly attested by epigraphic, juridical and literary sources.


Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Research Student Symposium 2015, Newcastle University

The 2nd Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Research Student Symposium was held at Newcastle University on the 20th and 21st of November 2015 and was organised by 2nd year PhD archaeology students Lucy Cummings and Mareike Ahlers.

The symposium aimed to provide an opportunity for postgraduate, independent and early career researchers to present their research on aspects of the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age to their peers in a relaxed and friendly environment. We chose not to use a theme for the event to enable it to be as inclusive as possible, which resulted in a great collection of papers including interdisciplinary researchers who’s primary focus was not archaeology. The conference was supported by the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at Newcastle, and we also received a generous donation from BAR Publishing and a number of conference pack inserts from BAR, Beta Analytic, and Newcastle University.

The contents of our NEBARSS packs
The contents of our NEBARSS packs

Delegates attended from across Britain and Ireland including local archaeology group members, Newcastle lecturers, and interdisciplinary PhD students as well as research students in archaeology. The programme began on Friday 20th with a keynote lecture by Newcastle’s own Dr Chris Fowler on powerful events and ontologies in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain and Ireland. This was followed by a wine reception and a chance to get to know the delegates prior to the PGR presentations on the Saturday.

On Saturday 21st a full day programme of presentations began covering a range of topics. The first session included new research on minilithic monuments of Exmoor Nations Park (Doug Mitcham, Leicester University), the landscape setting of stone rows of Connemara (Marcus Byrne, NUI Galway), the current issues with terminology and the study of henge monuments (Lucy Cummings, NCL), mortuary structures showing evidence of contact between Britain and the Northern Funnel Beaker Culture (Mareike Ahlers, NCL) and a critical review of the megalithic roller hypothesis (Barnabas Harris, UCL).

The second session was based on technology and included research papers on stone procurement at flint mines and axe quarries during the Neolithic (Peter Topping, NCL), experimental research into the use of flaked stone bars and stone ard points in Orkney (Robert Leedham, Reading University), and a case study from Cyprus into the use of experimental archaeometallurgy (Marco Romeo Pitone, NCL).

The third and final session of the day was focused on ceramics and included presentations on feasting and identity in the Hebrides (Mike Copper, Bradford University), recent results of a contextual analysis of accessory cups (Claire Copper, Bradford University), reinterpretation through contemporary craft of gabbroic clay used in Cornwall from the Neolithic period to the present (Helen Marton, Falmouth University), and using regional informed perspectives to understand beakers as pots rather than a conceptual category (Owain Mason, Edinburgh).

The speakers after an enjoyable day of papers
The speakers after an enjoyable day of papers

New to this year’s symposium a poster display was also presented during the lunch hour including posters on the design and use of causewayed enclosures (Cameron Straughan, NCL), colour representation in Neolithic monuments of Atlantic Europe (Penelope Foreman, Bournemouth University), the use of polished flint discoidal knives (Melissa Metzger, Bradford University), the Neolithic stone axe factory at Graid Lwyd (Amber Roy, NCL) and the analysis of Neolithic and Bronze Age hafted stone tools (Amber Roy, NCL).

Newcastle MA student Cameron Straughan with his poster
Newcastle MA student Cameron Straughan with his poster


Newcastle University student Amber Ray with her posters
Newcastle PhD student Amber Roy with her posters

I think the symposium was successful as it created a good atmosphere for researchers to present their research in a friendly environment to an interested and varied audience. Using Twitter and a website, as well as contacting universities, local archaeology groups, and previous attendees, we hope to expand the conference each year as it is passed on to the next PGR’s to organise and host.

So, watch this space for NEBARSS 2016…

  • By Lucy Cummings (co-organiser)