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Material Realities of Suffering IV: The Zoninus Collar

In this series, I discuss the material proof of slavery in the Roman Empire. See part I on housing , part II on art and part III on marks and restrains.

CW: topics discussed in this series include slavery and include mentions of violence (physical, sexual and psychological)

“The dominant theme was the master’s control over the slave. This included mastery over the boundaries of the slave’s body, redefined by the metal collar; the power to inscribe and identify the slave and to appropriate his or her voice; the power to say where the slave should be; the corralling of spectators in support of the master’s property rights. Within this overarching theme, the collars could serve several purposes: deterring future escape attempts, punishing past escape attempts, warning other people to keep their hands off the owner’s property” (Trible, 2016, 461).

The found slave collars are from the fourth and fifth centuries, and have been mostly found in Rome, with inscriptions that ask the finder of the slave to stop the slave’s attempted flight, often with an address to return the slave to (Trimble, 2016, 447-8). The timing of the collars, as Constantinian, is linked to Christianity (Trible, 2016, 453). It has been suggested that the collars were instituted on slaves that had attempted to escape as a punishment (Trible, 2016, 461). On the other hand, if this is the case, it “point[s] to an ongoing calculus about whether, when, and how to run away, about whether a different owner might be an improvement, about how to ease their lives, if only in small ways” (Trible, 2016,468).

Some of the collars contain the owner’s name, presented in the genitive (Trible, 2016,454). This highlights the slave’s position in the society as property rather than person. Some funerary findings suggest that to some slaves, the collar was a life-long reality (Trible, 2016, 457). This permanent mark then can be seen as proof of the all-encompassing nature of slavery: the role dominated the wearer’s whole life, with a constant unremovable reminder of a physical reality.

Some collars also contain possibly derogatory notions, as in the translated “I am Adultera, a prostitute”/ “I am a slutty prostitute”, depending on the interpretation of the word adultera as either name or adjective (Trible, 2016, 457). Nevertheless, forcing some slaves to live as sex workers again demonstrates the lack of power slaves had over their bodies.

The size of the collars suggests that they could be worn by men, women and children (Trible, 2016, 460). The proportions of the collars suggest that where they were fairly tight and could not be removed, they did not prevent breathing nor were they instantaneously painful (Trible, 2016, 460).

The use of different means of restraint was a tool of physical control, a mark that decreased the possibility of flight, and a symbol of the slave’s position in the society, marking them as possession. As explained by Trible, “[zoninus and other] collars are a phenomenon of urban slavery in the Late Antique west and especially the city of Rome. At the same time, they participated in longer-term Roman practices of marking and controlling the bodies of enslaved people” (2016, 449).

 

Bibliography

Bradley, K. (1994), Slavery and Society at Rome, Cambridge.

Bryant, E. K. (2016), Paul and the Rise of the Slave: Death and Resurrection of the Oppressed in the Epistle to the Romans, Leiden/ Boston.

George, M. (2011), ‘Slavery and Roman material culture’, in K. Bradley and P. Cartledge (ed.), The Cambridge World History of Slavery: The Ancient Mediterranean World, Cambridge, 385-413.

Scheidel, W. (2012), ‘Slavery’, in W. Scheidel (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Economy, Cambridge, 89-113.

‘The Projecta Cascet’, British Museum, https://research.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=36296001&objectId=59394&partId=1. Accessed 7 April 2020.

Thompson, F. H. (2003), The Archaeology of Greek and Roman Slavery, London.

Trimble, J. (2016), ‘The Zoninus Collar and the archaeology of Roman slavery’, American Journal of Archaeology 120.3: 447-72.

An English major, Campus Correspondent, feminist and aspiring literary scholar.
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