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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Inscriptions at Delphi – Freeing a Slave

Manumission Inscriptions at Delphi by Joy of Museums - 2

Freeing Salves at Delphi

This 2,000-year-old inscription represents the act of liberating a slave in antiquity. Most of the inscriptions discovered at Delphi are manumission inscriptions, of which there are over one thousand. Most of the dedications date from 200 B.C. to 100 A.D.

Manumission was an act of liberating a slave in antiquity. Slaves belonged to their masters until they served for a defined period or until they gathered the necessary sum of money for their liberation. When that moment came, the act of manumission had to be guaranteed by a god. The slave was thus symbolically sold to a deity so that the sale action could not be reversed. The act was recorded on inscriptions with a strict formulaic expression. The majority of the manumission inscriptions of Delphi are gathered in two main spots, on the supporting wall of the theatre and the back wall to the Stoa of the Athenians.

These manumission acts were attended by witnesses, whose names were also mentioned on these inscriptions. The priests of the Temple of Apollo are also mentioned in these inscriptions, thus these inscriptions are a fascinating source of historical information.

Manumission

Manumission is the act by an owner of freeing a slave. Different approaches to this process of conferment of freedom on the enslaved by enslavers were developed at different times and different cultures. In Ancient Greece, this process came in many forms. A master could choose to free their slave at the master’s death and specify this desire in their will. A slave could earn money in their labour and be able to buy their freedom. In rare circumstances, a city could affranchise a slave following acts of bravery and sacrifice. A slave could also be sold symbolically to a sanctuary or god, from where a god could free the slave as is evidenced by the Manumission Inscriptions at Delphi.

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Reflections

  • What will future generations, thousands of years from now find challenging to accept about us, in our time?
  • If you were a slave in Ancient Greece, which type of slave would you prefer to be?
  • What will our descendants deplore about us?

Manumission Inscriptions at Delphi

  • Title:          Manumission Inscriptions at Delphi
  • Date:          200 B.C. and 100 A.D.
  • Material:   Limestone
  • Town:        Delphi
  • Country:   Greece
  • Site:           Archaeological Site of Delphi

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“Love of money and nothing else will ruin Sparta.”
– Oracle of Delphi

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Photo Credit: JOM

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