CLASSICS 2K03 Lecture Notes - Lecture 20: Gynaecology, Favorinus, Contubernium

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2 Feb 2016
Lecture 20: Roman Slavery
Rome was a slave based society
Major sources for slaves: conquest, self-sale (debt-slavery), slave reproduction (house born
slaves), exposure
Slaves fulfilled a number of positions (eg. bankers, accountants, bakers, hairdressers, etc.)
Key slaves within the familia
MIdwife: delivered the baby
Either freelance or owned by a household (same was true for male doctors)
Well-trained slaves who had training in gynaecology and obstetrics
Females since Roman females didn’t feel comfortable with baring their bodies around
male doctors
Tomb of Scribonia: woman birthing with a midwife and an attendant
Roman father consulted the midwife before he welcomed the child into the family (the
midwife was responsible for examining the midwife and determining whether or not the
infant was viable by considering factors like the condition of the mother during
pregnancy, physical inspection, strength of infant’s cries)
Midwife was responsible for the child’s first bath
Wet-nurse: raised the child
Most households owned a female slave who could serve as a wet-nurse: she had to
have given birth and be capable of feeding the child
Primary caregiver for the first 2 years
Mother uninvolved in the early infancy of the child
Responsibilities: feeding, swaddling, comforting baby, playing games, telling stories,
slept in child’s room
Some (for example, Favorinus) believed that the bond between wet-nurses and their
charges had a negative impact on parent-child relationships
Tacitus thought that the slaves would corrupt the children
Pedagogue: early childhood educator
Taught children how to read and the basic rules of speech
Once the child could attend schol, the pedagogue became a chaperone/guardian
Protected the child from harassment in public
Constant attendant (both in public and at home)
Viewed as a strict figure and a source of resentment, as they were disciplinary figures
Slave marriages
Slaves did not have the legal capacity to marry
Many masters permitted informal slave unions called contubernia (between two slaves or
between a free man and a female slave) but these unions were not protected by the law
Although freeborn men were allowed to be involved in these unions, free women were forbidden
from doing so
Motivation for allowing these unions: helped to provide stability and happiness to the slaves,
which made them more obedient and reliable
Female slave might have given her partner a quasi-dowry
Slaves in a contubernium called each other their spouse
House-born slaves
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