Sale and Transfer Document for Slave in Roman Britain

Textbooks of Roman law tell students that sale is a consensual contract and transfer of res mancipi is made either by the ceremony of mancipatio or by cessio in iure. This is undoubtedly the strict legal position. The Romans, however, being a practical people, liked to record transactions.

A document found in London, and now in the Museum of London, records the sale and transfer by mancipatio of a slave girl, known as Fortunata, of the Diablintes, a people who lived in the northern part of what is now France. She had been sold by one Albicianus to Vegetus, a slave, who is the slave of Montanus, who is a slave of the Emperor, and formerly the assistant slave of Iucundus. Fortunata is warranted to be in good health and not prone to wander or run away. The clause providing for compensation of double should another claim her has not been entirely preserved, as the second tablet of the document is missing. The document can be dated to the end of the first-century CE.

Many issues of significance for first-year students of Roman law come up in this document: a slave "owned" by another slave, that is, constituting part of the peculium of that slave, who then himself purchases, presumably using his own peculium, another slave. The distinction between sale and conveyance is very clear, as are the various warranties normally given. These reflect the edict of the Aediles, who controlled the market-place at Rome.

It is not clear if the document records a transaction in Britain. Vegetus may have brought it and the slave-girl from elsewhere. If it does reflect a sale and conveyance in Britain, it indicates that Roman law was being applied to these members of the familia Augusta,  presumably slave adminstrators prominent in government of the province.

See further, R. S. O. Tomlin, "The Girl in Question", Britannia, 34 (2003), pp. 41-51.