G32: [Marcus Pe]tacius Dasius, freedman of Marcus. [To Marcus Pe]tacius Severus, son of Marcus, of the Menenian tribe, his son; to Petacia Vitalis, freedwoman of Marcus, freedwoman.
Article G32 in Pompeii is an epitaph from a tomb. As Cooley and Cooley (2004) point out, "inscriptions carved in stone on public and private monuments were intended to perpetuate the memory of the individuals concerned," (p. 1). Tomb carvings like this one can be used to "provide a vivid picture of life in an ordinary town" in ancient Rome (Cooley and Cooley, 2004, p. 2). Although some parts of the original inscription were missing, indicated by Cooley and Cooley (2004) with brackets in Pompeii, the reader understands fully the context and multiple meanings of the epitaph. The most notable feature of the inscription is the fact that it refers to a freedman, a freedwoman, and their child.
The epitaph therefore raises a slew of questions about the role of slaves in Roman society and the specific structure or brand of Roman slavery. For example, the epitaph points out the evolving relationship between slaves and masters, and the relationship between liberated slaves and their former masters, now their patrons. The epitaph also reveals that the same master, Marcus, owned the freedman and freedwoman. This raises questions about gender roles and marriage norms in ancient Rome.
Furthermore, the son of the two former slaves is born free under Roman law. The epitaph mentions the tribe to which the patron Marcus belongs, because the son of the freedman and freedwoman becomes a member of this tribe. Thus, the nature of tribal lineage and membership is called into question. Article G32 therefore triggers inquiry into political, social, cultural, and demographic issues related to daily life in ancient Rome.
As Cooley and Cooley (2004) point out, Pompeii was a minor town and not one very important within the empire. Even so, this one artifact reveals reams about the nature of life throughout the empire. "Freedmen and freedwomen…were a distinctive feature of Roman society, and became increasingly prominent from the Augustan period onwards," until 212 CE (p. 146). Manumission was a great honor and a major ceremonial act in ancient Rome. Former slaves were "keen to celebrate their achievement in becoming Roman citizens" and one way of expressing this excitement was by advertising it on their gravestones (Cooley and Cooley, 2004, p. 146). Because of their eagerness to advertise their social status, freedmen and freedwomen are "consequently over-represented in the funerary record," (Cooley and Cooley, 2004, p. 146).
Slavery in ancient Rome was not based on race, per se, but might have been based on other factors such as being born outside the empire. Usually, slaves were foreigners who were captured at sea, during warfare, or during episodes of general conquest and plunder ("Slaves and Freemen"). Rarer were Roman-born slaves who were sold by their parents for money; this practice was "not uncommon," ("Slaves and Freemen"). The life of a slave was rough; Seneca pointed this fact out in his letters. "I shall pass over other cruel and inhuman conduct towards them; for we maltreat them, not as if they were men, but as if they were beasts of burden," (Seneca, letter 47). Slavery was certainly "an abusive and degrading institution" in which "cruelty was commonplace," ("Slaves and Freemen"). Slaves were lashed, simply for the act of speaking out of turn: "The slightest murmur is repressed by the rod; even a chance sound, - a cough, a sneeze, or a hiccup, - is visited with the lash," (Seneca, letter 47).
As Seneca argued passionately against the institution of slavery, manumission became increasingly commonplace in ancient Rome. Manumission was voluntary for slave owners, although there may have been any number of different reasons why a slave owner would choose to undertake the ceremony. This epitaph in particular is important because of the way Augustus made manumission laws stricter during his reign. It could have been that "the Romans (or at least Augustus) were wary of having their citizenship tainted by 'foreign or slave blood," ("Augustian Manumission Laws").
Nothing is known of Marcus, who owned both Marcus Petacius Dasius and Petacia Vitalis,. The epitaph focuses squarely on the couple. Because slaves were not permitted to marry, it is clear that Marcus Petacius Dasius and Petacia Vitalis married after manumission. Most likely, they met while they were in the Marcus household.
The Marcus household is mentioned more times than any other name on the epitaph. This fact attests to the ongoing relationship between former slave and former master. Furthermore, both Marcus Petacius Dasius and his son Petacia Vitalis have taken on the name of their patron: Marcus. It is notable that wife Petacia Vitalis has not taken the Marcus name as a prefix. This reveals Roman naming customs, and also reveals gender roles and hierarchies. Another sign of gender hierarchy in ancient Rome is evident in the fact that Petacia Vitalis's name is last on the gravestone epitaph. Her name comes after that of the son: showing that her status in the household is subservient to that of the men.
Even though their masters freed them, the former slaves "became clients of their patron and retained close connections with their original household," (146). The relationship was ongoing and often amicable. "They might still live in the same house, and might be buried in the household's tomb at their death," (Cooley and Cooley, 2004, p. 146). Although the gravestone of Marcus is not classified in Pompeii, this could have been the case with Marcus Petacius Dasius and Petacia Vitalis,. However, there is insufficient data on the epitaph to draw any conclusions about how tight the relationship between liberati and patron actually was.
What this tomb does show is clearly that "children born to a freedman after his manumission were full Roman citizens," (Cooley and Cooley, 2004, p. 147). "Marcus Petacius Severus, son of Marcus, of the Menenian Tribe," is the son of the two former slaves. Marcus Petacius Severus enjoys the full rights and privileges of being a Roman citizen. He is known hereafter by his tribal designation, and is unfettered by his father and mother's status as freedman and woman. Furthermore, the epitaph shows that the son of freedmen and freedwomen might automatically be aligned with the tribe of the patron, or former master. In this case, Marcus was a member of the Menenian tribe, one of the 35 major Roman tribes. Note that neither the freedman nor the freedwoman can claim tribal membership.
Once liberated, freedmen and women were "excluded from reaching the ranks of the governing class," and could only "achieve positions of importance and act as benefactors of the community at a lower level," (Cooley and Cooley, 2004, p. 147). Both Marcus Petacius Dasius and Petacia Vitalis could have found gainful employment within or outside of the patron's household. Occupations open to Petacia Vitalis included midwifery; as a man, Marcus Petacius Dasius had greater leeway and occupational freedom. If he chose to, Marcus Petacius Dasius could actually own his own slaves because it was permissible for freedmen to become slave owners. Young Marcus Petacius Severus can, because he was born free and male, serve in public office at any level and enjoys all rights and privileges of citizenship.
p. 1 "inscriptions carved in stone on public and private monuments were intended to perpetuate the memory of the individuals concerned."
p. 2 is one of the "documents which Pompeii preserves on a unique scale, and which provide a vivid picture of life in an ordinary town," 2)
Brackets indicate that part of the original text is missing, but the reader gets the point: this is an epitaph.
"Freedmen and freedwomen…were a distinctive feature of Roman society, and became increasingly prominent from the Augustan period onwards," until 212 CE…