Departmental Bulletin Paper Slave: persons and property? : The Roman law on slavery and its reception in Western Europe and its overseas territories

Berg, Peter A. J. van den

63pp.171 - 188 , 2016-02 , Graduate School of Law and Politics, Osaka University
In Roman law, slaves were regarded as objects that could be the property of somebody else. Since slaves were also human beings, an ingerent ambivalence was inextricably connected to the Roman conception of slavery. The Romans did not have any moral objections to slavery, however, and did not feel the need to grant slaves at least some legal capacity. Slaves were just res and, therefore, unable to conclude a contract or enter a marriage. The Roman law on slavery did not disppear from Western Europe with the Fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century. Especially in Southern Euroean countries, where slavery persisted until well into the sixteenth century, the Roman notion of slaves as "things' was still adhered to by medieval lawyers. The ambivalence that was so strongly connected to this notion became, however, increasingly problematic under the influence of Chritian theology. As a respose to this, slaves were granted a certain as a 'legal person', but only in spiritual affairs. In the fifteenth century, Western European countries started to acquire overseas territories, where slavery became an important institution. The rules regulating slavery in most of these colonies were (again) directly influenced by the relevant Roman law provisions, In the overseas territories of Spain and France, the medieval approach to slavery was predominant, meaning that slaves were legally regarded as things, as in Roman law, but at the same time enjoyed some rights as persons, especially in spiritual matters. In the colonies of the Dutch Republic, the influence of Roman law was even stronger. Consequently, slaves remained legally just res.

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