December 11, 2020

The life of a trafficked slave as seen through the eyes of his trafficked funerary portrait.


Earlier this week ARCA talked about two suspect funerary portraits tied to the ancient city of Ostia identified in the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Tampa Museum of Art and a campaign by Italian Senator Margherita Corrado (5-star Movement) to revitalize Italy's attempts to return looted artworks back to their proper contexts. 

Given that a funerary relief should be seen not just for its aesthetics as an ancient art object but as a memorial for the person it was carved for, we thought to add a bit more detail to the man behind the plundered portrait, L. Caltilius Diadumenus, who lived the mid to the late century CE. 

Our portrait sitter was a Greek freedman. As a freed slave his epitaph reads: 

D.M / L. CALTILIO / VIXIR ANNIS XXXV /L. CALTILIUS EUHODUS / SENIOR LIBERTO / OPTIMO FECIT / L CALTILIUS DIADVMENVS HIC CONDITVS E ST 

‘To the souls of the dead, for Lucius Caltilius Diadumenus. 

He lived 35 years.  

Lucius Caltilius Euhodus Senior made it for his best freedman’.

But while the inscription directed by his wealthy patrician informs us about the passage of this slave's 35 year long life, from chattel to independence, during the reigns of the emperors Antoninus Pius or Marcus Aurelius, it is his portrait that shows the real evolution Lucius Caltilius Diadumenus' life underwent.

In ancient Rome inequality was an accepted part of life. Unlike Roman citizens, slaves could be subjected to corporal punishment, sexual exploitation, torture and summary execution.  Their status was so low that even a freed criminal had more rights.   

A male slave who had acquired libertas (freedom) was known as a libertus.  To achieve this status, Lucius would likely have been freed by his owner either in return for services rendered or by buying his freedom from his own earnings, if his owner had allowed him to keep money.  Given the grandeur of this monument, it is reasonable to assume that the two maintained a relationship after Lucius was set free. 

Why Lucius Caltilius Euhodus Senior considered him to be his "best" freedman, implying he had more than one, is unclear.  What is known is that he chose to honour his former slave by having the artisan depict him wearing a toga, the one-piece outer garment worn in public by male citizens in ancient Rome, remembering him as a citizen of society, who apparently lived out his free life in Roman society until his death in Ostia. 

Ostia Antica, the harbour city of ancient Rome,
from its early Republic days to the late Empire period.

Just think about that for a moment...  

Likely captured in some foreign war, and the subject of human trafficking, Lucius Caltilius Diadumenus lived his life, treated as property, during the Pax Romana in Ostia until he was able to claw his way out of the lowest social strata to freedom,  choosing to live out the remainder of his days (we don't know when his freedom was granted), alongside his former "owner" only to, again in death, be trafficked as property for a second time, offered for sale, first to the Kelsey Museum in Michigan and then to the Tampa Museum. 

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