(ἀπελεύθερος). A freedman. I. Greek. The Greeks had no special legal form for the process of emancipating slaves, and consequently no legal differences in the status of freedmen. At Athens they took the position of resident aliens (μέτοικοι), and lay under certain obligations to their liberators as patrons. They could be called to legal account for any injury done to their patrons, and if condemned could be given back to them as slaves, or sold by the State. In the latter case the price was paid to their liberators. Occasionally the State set free a slave or a body of slaves who had rendered an important public service, as in the case of those who fought in the battle of Arginusae and at Chaeronea ( Ran. 33, 192, 693; Dio Chrys. xv. 21). In such cases the owners of the slaves received compensation. The Greek inscriptions record the emancipation of more female than male slaves.
II. Roman. As a class, freedmen were called by the Romans libertini, but in relation to their former masters liberti (i. e. liberati). Slaves were emancipated either formally or informally. There were four kinds of formal emancipation: (1) By the manumissio vindicta, according to which the owner brought the slave before the praetor or some other competent official. In his presence a free citizen (usually an officer of the court) laid a staff (vindicta) on the slave's head and declared him free. The master, who was holding the slave by the hand, thereupon released him as symbolizing his assent (manu misit).
(2) The manumissio censu, when the master formally caused the slave's name to be enrolled in the official list of citizens.
(3) The manumissio testamento, where the master either bequeathed his freedom to the slave by will, or stipulated that the heir to the estate should free him.
(4) In later times, a form called manumissio in ecclesia was introduced by the emperor Constantine. Here the owner emancipated the slave in the presence of the congregation.
Informal mancipation was emancipation brought about by a verbal statement of the master in the presence of friends (manumissio inter amicos), or by letter (per epistulam), or by an invitation to the slave to dinner (in convivio).
After formal emancipation freedmen at once became Roman citizens and members of the city tribes and of the lowest classes in the centuriae, with full right of voting; but, not being free born, they were not eligible to office, and were excluded from military service. The latter was, however, the case only till the first century B.C. They obtained the right to be enrolled in the country tribes several times in the republican period, but not permanently till the imperial age. Their descendants, however, were, as being free-born (ingenui), admitted into all the tribes, and in the second, or at least in the third generation, eligible to office. Informal emancipation conferred only practical freedom without civic rights. It was not until A.D. 17, under Tiberius, that freedmen of this kind won the commercium, or the right of acquiring and transferring property. Even then they had no power of testamentary bequest, and their property, at their death, went to their liberators. It was permissible, however, to pronounce a formal emancipation after their death.
To obviate abuses, and to check the excessive increase in the number of freedmen, the right of manumission was limited in several directions under Augustus. Among other things, if a slave under thirty years of age was to be manumitted vindicta, a proof of sufficient reason was required; and, in case of testamentary manumission, the number was limited to a certain proportion of the whole number of slaves, and never allowed to exceed one hundred.[p. 954]
A mutual obligation continued to exist between the freedman and his liberator, based on the fact that the freedman belonged to the family of his patron. This is seen in the circumstance that the freedman assumed the nomen and the praenomen of his patron. In and after the first century B.C. we generally find a Greek cognomen added. A well-known freedman of Lucius Cornelius Sulla , for instance, was called Lucius Cornelius Epicadus. The patronus was bound on his side to care for his libertus, and in consequence either retained him altogether in his home and service, or supplied him with a farm and capital to start it; buried him in the family tomb after his death, and took charge of his children if not grown up. On the other side the freedman was bound to support his patronus, in case of need, out of his own resources, and if he was reduced to poverty to maintain him. If the freedman died childless, the patron inherited his property; but the rights of the patron in respect to his freedman did not pass to his patron's heirs. If a freedman neglected his duty towards his patron, he was liable to severe punishment, and in some cases might be sold for his patron's benefit, or re-enslaved to him.
The manumission of slaves was a source of much profit to the State, as a tax of five per cent. on the value of the slave was paid into the treasury after his liberation.
On the status of freedmen who were not full Roman citizens, see Dediticii and Latinitas. See also the articles Manumissio; Servus.