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Lex Fufia Caninia and Lex Aelia Sentia

These laws come later in the Augustan period than the main body of legislation. They relate primarily to the status of freedmen and the procedures by which slaves were freed.

The lex Fufia Caninia was passed in 2 BC. The lex Aelia Sentia was passed in AD 4.

The Lex Fufia Caninia

The law is known primarily from a later legal source, Gaius, Institutes 1.

(42) Moreover, by the Lex Fufia Caninia a certain limit is established with reference to the manumission of slaves by a will.

(43) Hence, he who has more than two slaves and not more than ten, is permitted to manumit as many as half of that number. He, however, who has more than ten and not more than thirty slaves, is permitted to manumit a third of that number; and he who has more than thirty slaves and not more than a hundred, is granted authority to manumit one fourth of his slaves. Finally, he who has more than one hundred and not more than five hundred, is not permitted to manumit more than a fifth; and, no matter how many slaves a man may have, he is not permitted to manumit more than this, as the law prescribes that no one shall have the right to manumit more than a hundred. Still, where anyone has only one or two slaves, his case does not come under this law, and therefore he has free power of manumission.

(44) Nor does this law have any reference whatever to persons who manumit in any way except by will, and therefore those who do so either in the tribunal of the Praetor, or by enrollment on the registers of the census, or in the presence of friends, are permitted to liberate their entire bodies of slaves; provided however, that no other reason prevents their receiving their freedom.

(45) What we have stated with reference to the number of slaves which can be manumitted by will should be understood to mean that where a man has a right to liberate the half, the third, the fourth, or the fifth part of his entire body of slaves, he shall in no case be restricted to a smaller number than he would have been permitted to manumit had the estimate been made according to the next preceding scale. This provision is in accordance with reason, for it certainly would be absurd for any one to be permitted to liberate five out of his ten slaves, because he is granted authority to manumit half of that number; while another, having twelve slaves, would not be permitted to manumit more than four; and anyone who has more than ten and not more than thirty, under the same rule should be permitted also to manumit five, the same number which he who has ten is allowed to liberate.

(46) If freedom should be granted by a testator in his will to a greater number of slaves than is above mentioned, and the names are written in a circle so that no order of manumission can be ascertained, none of the said slaves shall become free; because the Lex Fufia Caninia, as well as other special Decrees of the Senate, have declared all testamentary provisions devised for the purpose of evading the law to be void.

The law relates to the right of a Roman to free slaves by his will and sets limits on the proportion of slaves he is able to free depending on the number of slaves he has. In general, the higher the number of slaves he has, the lower the proportion he can free. This law has been interpreted as Augustus being anxious not to have too many foreign- or slave-born admitted into the Roman population and has thus be seen as precursor to modern concerns with race and immigration. But the text of the law we have is not about such matters.

  • It allows for up to 100 (from a household of 500+ slaves) to be manumitted by will.
  • It does not concern itself with slaves manumitted while the master is alive.

Romans tended to free significant number of slaves by their wills in order to reward the slaves for loyal service. But the question arises as to how many slaves a household could lose before its functioning was damaged. The law is shaped to preserve the transmission of functioning households to the next generation. It thus has similarities with the lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus.

The Lex Aelia Sentia

This law is also described in Gaius, Institutes 1.

(13) It is provided by the Lex Ælia Sentia that slaves who have been placed in chains by their masters, or have been branded, or have been subjected to torture for some offence and convicted, or have been delivered up to fight with others or with wild beasts, or to contend with gladiators, or have been thrown into prison and have afterwards been manumitted by the same, or by another master, shall become free, and belong to the same class as that of enemies who have surrendered at discretion.

(14) Those enemies are called dediticii who, having formerly taken up arms and fought against the Roman people afterwards have been conquered and have surrendered at discretion.

(15) From this it is evident that slaves who have been guilty of criminal acts of this kind, no matter in what way, or at what age they may have been manumitted, and even though their masters had complete authority over them, can never become either Roman citizens or Latins, but must always be classed among enemies who have surrendered at discretion.

(16) If, however, a slave has not been guilty of such criminality, we declare that by manumission he sometimes becomes a Roman citizen, and sometimes a Latin.

(17) Where the following three requisites are combined in the person of a slave, that is to say where he is over thirty years of age, where his master is invested with full civil rights, and he is set free by proper and lawful manumission through the intervention of the prætor, by enrollment on the register of the census, or by will, he becomes a Roman citizen; if, however, one of these requisites should be lacking, he will become a Latin.

(18) The requisite of the age of the slave was introduced by the Lex Ælia Sentia, for this law did not permit slaves under the age of thirty years, who had been manumitted, to become Roman citizens unless they were set free by the staff of the prætor, after proof of good reason for the manumission had been established in the presence of the Council.

(19) A good reason for manumission exists where, for instance, anyone offers for manumission before the Council a natural son or daughter, or brother or sister, or foster-child or teacher, or a slave with the intention of appointing him a steward, or a female slave on account of prospective marriage.

(20) The Council in the City of Rome consists of five senators and five Roman knights of the age of puberty. In the provinces it consists of twenty magistrates who are Roman citizens, and who are convoked on the last day of the term. At Rome, however, manumissions take place in the presence of the Council upon certain days. Slaves who are more than thirty years of age can be manumitted at any time, and the ceremony can be performed even while walking in the streets, as for instance, when the prætor or the proconsul is on his way to the bath or the theatre.

(21) A slave, who was under the age of thirty years when manumitted, can become a Roman citizen if he was granted his freedom and appointed heir by the will of his master who died insolvent. . . .[1]


(25) Those, however, who belong to the class of dediticii can, under no circumstances, take under a will, any more than a foreigner; nor can they, in accordance with a majority of the decisions, themselves make a will.

(26) Hence, only the lowest degree of freedom is possessed by those who belong to the class of dediticii nor is any way afforded them of obtaining Roman citizenship either by a law, by a Decree of the Senate, or by an Imperial Constitution.

(27) Moreover, they are forbidden to dwell in the City of Rome or within the hundredth mile-stone of the Capitol; and if they should disobey, they and their property are ordered to be publicly sold under the condition that they shall remain slaves beyond the hundredth milestone of the City of Rome, and that they shall never be manumitted; and if they should be manumitted, they are ordered to become the slaves of the Roman people; and these things are included in the Lex Ælia Sentia.

29) For, by the Lex Ælia Sentia, where slaves under the age of thirty years are manumitted and become Latins, if they marry either women who are Roman citizens or Latin colonists, or those who belong to the same condition as themselves, and prove this by the testimony of not less than seven Roman citizens who have arrived at the age of puberty; and they have sons, and the latter are a year old, authority is granted them by this law to appear before the prætor — or, in the provinces before the governor — and prove that they have married wives in accordance with the terms of the Lex Ælia Sentia, and have sons by them who are a year old; and if the magistrate before whom this proof is adduced should declare it to be true, then the Latin and his wife, provided she and her son are of the same condition, are ordered to become Roman citizens.

(36) Every one who desires to manumit a slave is not permitted to do so.

(37) For he who manumits a slave for the purpose of defrauding his creditors or his patron, commits an act which is void, for the reason that the Lex Ælia Sentia prevents the grant of freedom.

(38) Likewise, by the same law a minor owner under the age of twenty years is not permitted to manumit a slave, except by the intervention of the prætor, after proper cause has been shown for the manumission in the presence of the Council.

(39) The following are proper causes for manumission, for instance, where anyone manumits his father, his mother, his teacher, or his foster-brother. Moreover, the reasons which we have designated above with reference to a slave under thirty years of age may be adduced also in the case of which we speak; and likewise, on the other hand, the same reasons which we stated with reference to an owner under the age of twenty years may be advanced where the slave is less than thirty years old.

(40) Therefore, as a certain restriction on the manumission of slaves is imposed upon owners under the age of twenty years by the Lex Ælia Sentia, the result is that anyone who has completed his fourteenth year, although he can make a will, appoint an heir to his estate, and bequeath legacies, still, if he is under the age of twenty years, he cannot grant freedom to his slave.

(41) And even though an owner under the age of twenty years may desire to constitute a slave a Latin, he must, nevertheless, prove before the Council, that he has a good reason for doing so, and afterwards manumit the said slave in the presence of friends.


The law governs the status of freedmen and limits rights of freedmen.

  • It creates an inferior class of freed who are freed under the age of thirty and strongly discourages the freeing of younger slaves by reducing their rights.
  • It limits the ability of masters under the age of twenty to free slaves.
  • It provides for supervision of the processes of manumission in these instances.
  • It allows for special circumstances in the freeing of younger slaves and for freed to transition to full Roman citizenship if they marry and have children.

The law seems not to be about limiting the number of slaves transitioning into the citizen body by being freed, but about establishing control over that process.

It is perhaps our best evidence for the number of slaves in Roman households. The range of the number varies from 2 to more than 500. It seems likely that many Roman households had small numbers of slaves, but that some had numbers in excess of 500. It is difficult to move from these numbers to an estimate of the number of slaves in the Roman population.

Augustus      Reforms and Order         Moral Reforms    Lex Iula de maritandis ordinibus     Lex Iulia de adulteriis coercendis       Augustan Reforms of the Senate       Minor Laws

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