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Sexual Damage to Slaves in Roman Law

Matthew J. Perry
Published Online: 2015-05-29 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jah-2015-0016


There was an expectation in Roman society that slaves would be sexually active, and sources generally represent such conduct as a positive and beneficial social practice. Only if the owner disapproved, or was unaware of the encounter, was the sexual interaction deemed illicit—and potentially damaging to slaves in ways that diminished their value. This paper explores the legal evidence addressing the issue of “damage to slaves” in order to investigate evolving notions of the perceived harm wrought by illicit sexual intercourse. It is possible to see Roman jurists articulating the notion of moral or character damage, as something distinct from physical harm. Such was the extraordinarily destructive capacity of sexuality that it might diminish even society’s lowest-ranking members.

Keywords: Roman Law; Sex; Slavery; Status; Morality


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About the article

Published Online: 2015-05-29

Published in Print: 2015-06-01

Citation Information: Journal of Ancient History, Volume 3, Issue 1, Pages 55–75, ISSN (Online) 2324-8114, ISSN (Print) 2324-8106, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jah-2015-0016.

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