An interesting life through the eyes of a slave driver
Books on self-help and business management have always been popular and many of them make useful reading, but one I picked up recently comes from a very different angle.
Given its intriguing title, How To Manage Your Slaves, one feels that had it been published 2,000 years ago, it might well have topped the bestseller charts. I couldn't resist buying it and found the content both amusing and well researched, with lots of interesting historical facts concerning the ownership of slaves.
Now before you explode in anger at my purchasing and enjoying a book with such a politically incorrect title, bear in mind that it was written by Dr Jerry Toner, an Irish professor of classics at Cambridge University, using the voice of Marcus Sidonius Falx, a fictitious Roman of noble birth and a wealthy slave owner, as the narrator.
It is Falx who gives us detailed advice on purchasing slaves, how to encourage them to work harder, how to punish them and, in general, how to ensure we can get the best out of them while taking care they don't murder us in the meantime.
It even touches on the delicate matter of controlling sex among slaves, as well as with their owners, and when to set them free, which was apparently quite a common reward for being a good slave. The content gives us an insight into what life was like when people had a very different mindset to today and should be read in that context.
One wealthy Roman apparently kept a slave solely to note and remember the names of all the people they met and then remind his master of whom they were when required. Now that would have been useful. How many of us encounter embarrassing moments when we cannot recall the name of someone we know well? Politicians and auctioneers take note.
I would imagine also that anyone involved in difficult negotiations with intransigent trade union leaders might yearn for a time when you simply told your slaves what to do and if they refused or made a botch of the task, you could have them whipped or even put to death.
While the narrator is a fictional character, the book contains fascinating historical data as well as some horrific descriptions of the treatment meted out to any slave who attempted to defy his or her owner. But there were also many who gained their freedom and even went on to become wealthy Roman citizens and slave owners in their own right.