Seneca on Slavery

“I propose to value [slaves] according to their character, not their jobs. Each man has a character of his own choosing; it is chance or fate that decides his choice of job.

‘He’s a slave.’ But he may have the spirit of a free man. ‘He’s a slave.’ But is that really to count against him? Show me a man who isn’t a slave; one is a slave to sex, another to money, another to ambition; all are slaves to hope or fear. I could show you a man who has been a consul who is a slave to his ‘little old woman,’ a millionaire who is the slave of a little girl in domestic service…And there’s no state of slavery more disgraceful than one which is self-imposed.”

Letter XLVII to Lucilius

Seneca was an early and avid opponent of slavery in Ancient Rome or, at the very least, a proponent of the fair treatment of slaves. Here, in a testament to the humanity of ancient authors, he appeals to the question of free will and fortune in order to expose the injustice of the cruel treatment of slaves. What is truly miraculous is that one might argue the Romans treated their slaves far better than the slave owning states since that empire fell. Yet, Seneca’s humanism shines through in defense.

But we shouldn’t neglect his commentary on self-imposed slavery. You might reflect on whether or not you have committed yourself to a state of slavery. Do you endlessly pursue money or the affections of others? Is that the state you wish to consign yourself to?


One thought on “Seneca on Slavery

  1. Ah yes, I am enslaved. It is better to find that which pays the most dividends for the least efforts so I that I may have time and resources to persue those subjugations which shed slivers of joy and leave shadows of hope upon my dreams for future endeavours…


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