Still Enslaved, on A Technicality

Pliny, Letters 4.10

To My Friend Statius Sabinus,

You were describing to me that Sabina, when she designated us as heirs, did not explain that her slave Modestus should be freed, but still left him a legacy by saying, “to Modestus whom I ordered to be freed”. You ask to hear what I think. I have talked to people who are experienced in the law. It is agreed by all of them that he is not owed freedom since she did not give it nor the legacy because she gave it to him when he was a slave.

But this seems to be a clear error to me and I think that we would act as if she had written it out because she believe that she wrote it. I have faith that you will agree with my take on this, since you are customarily sedulously in carrying out the will of those who have passed away—it should be understood by good heirs as if it were the law. Respect puts no less a demand on us as law does for others. Therefore, let Modestus enjoy his freedom with our approval and receive the legacy as if Sabina had cared for everything with utmost precision. Truly, she did care, since she chose her heirs well! Goodbye!”

C. Plinius Statio Sabino Suo S.
Scribis mihi Sabinam, quae nos reliquit heredes, Modestum servum suum nusquam liberum esse iussisse, eidem tamen sic adscripsisse legatum: “Modesto quem liberum esse iussi.” Quaeris quid sentiam. Contuli cum peritis iuris. Convenit inter omnes nec libertatem deberi quia non sit data, nec legatum quia servo suo dederit. Sed mihi manifestus error videtur, ideoque puto nobis quasi scripserit Sabina faciendum, quod ipsa scripsisse se credidit. Confido accessurum te sententiae meae, cum religiosissime soleas custodire defunctorum voluntatem, quam bonis heredibus intellexisse pro iure est. Neque enim minus apud nos honestas quam apud alios necessitas valet. Moretur ergo in libertate sinentibus nobis, fruatur legato quasi omnia diligentissime caverit. Cavit enim, quae heredes bene elegit. Vale.

File:Roman slave shackles.jpg
Roman Slave Shackles

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