January 9th, 2016

dog knotwork
  • bunn

What happens to elderly slaves in Britain, 197 AD?

Setting: Roman Chichester ( Noviomagus Reginorum) in 197.  About 17 years after the Antonine Plague, which has depressed population levels considerably .

A character born into a poor family was sold as a slave at about the age of about 13.  She's now 44 years old.  She's not very bright, not very lucky, has few skills and recently she has been owned by a small provincial brickworks run to squeeze out immediate profit with little concern for the welfare of the workers.

She has not saved up enough to buy her freedom.  After a lifetime of poor diet and hard work, she's prematurely aged and unable to productively continue doing heavy work.

Is it improbable that her owner would simply free an aging slave and encourage her to go away?  Or if not, what would they do with her?  

In my story, she is caught stealing food at a farm some distance away.  It would be convenient if she were legally free, but if that is really unrealistic I suppose I could make her an escaped slave that nobody can be bothered to look too hard for.

Context : I am aware of Cato's recommendation that elderly slaves should be sold on, but that is from a considerably earlier period, and I assume that as Cato was an aristocrat, even his older cast-off slaves would still have some value.   I am aware that Claudius ruled that sickly slaves that were abandoned should be considered free, and that  Hadrian had prohibited masters from killing their slaves.

I'm also aware that there was social/cultural pressure on masters to provide for old slaves.  I'm assuming in this case that the brickworks would do the absolute minimum they thought they could get away with.