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Conference Papers Year : 2017

Separating and joining again captive families in Late Antiquity


During Late Antiquity captivity increasingly involves groups of civilians rather than soldiers. As a consequence, the victorious authority often has to deal with whole families of captives. Whether they are reduced to slavery or settled under a free status, in both cases they generally suffer deportation. At this point, especially when captives are reduced in slavery, the choice of separating families or not has to be made. Some Roman writers, as Victor of Vita, blame the Vandals for systematically separating families ut moris est barbaris (Vict. Vit. 1. 25). This assumption has to be challenged by a wider scrutiny of the practice. As a matter of fact, the sources shows that Vandals not always separate families, nor do other ‘barbarian’ armies and authorities, while Romans can also separate the fate of captives using an age or sex criterion. Nevertheless, this fear of family separation, reflected in numerous Roman sources, reveals an important aspect of the experience of captivity and deportation in Late Antiquity. Being held away from one’s family is felt as the main woe of captivity and uprooting seems to be the very meaning of adversity. As a proof, the harshness of servile work is almost never mentioned. Indeed, in a world where identity is given by family, cutting bonds with it is the first step of dehumanisation. Such a conception is corroborated by the arguments surrounding the redemption of captives. In classical jurisprudence, for instance, family bonds cancel the commercial dimension of redemption. Moreover, christian justifications of redemption boast family reunification as the main blessing of such an operation. From this it appears again that the breakdown of family ties is the main feature of deportation experience.


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Dates and versions

hal-03479228 , version 1 (14-12-2021)


  • HAL Id : hal-03479228 , version 1


Hervé Huntzinger. Separating and joining again captive families in Late Antiquity: strategies of deportation and redemption. Forced Movement in Late Antiquity, c. 300-700, Julia Hillner; German Historical Institute, Apr 2017, Londres, United Kingdom. ⟨hal-03479228⟩
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