Manumission and Sexuality in Ancient Greece, and a Friendly Visitor to Manchester

This week we bid farewell to our friend and colleague Deborah Kamen. Professor Kamen, of the University of Washington, Seattle, was our Simon Visiting Professor in Ancient History. Taking time out from her sabbatical at the American Academy in Rome, we had the pleasure of her company for a fortnight, during which she offered us a wonderful array of contributions.

Professor Kamen, Visiting Simon Professor of Ancient History, November 2014

Kamen’s work is characterised by its readiness to tackle broad-reaching, interdisciplinary, questions in a critically-informed way, and its re-assessment of the role of groups traditionally perceived as peripheral. Her publications have concentrated on slavery and status in classical Greece; her work on slave-prostitution, manumission, slave agency and slave invective constitutes an important contribution to the history of non-elite groups in classical Athens. Her most recent major publication is Status in Classical Athens (Princeton University Press, 2013), which has been heralded by Professor Sara Forsdyke (Michigan) as an ‘important contribution to scholarship’. Kamen challenges the widely-held belief that questions of status in classical Greece can be reduced to the tripartite division between citizens, metics (resident foreigners), and slaves, a division which is predicated largely upon the high valuation of citizen-male-oriented civic and political freedoms. The book has wider implications, too, leading its readers to ask whether Greek thought (about status, and other subjects too) was as binary as it is presented by modern scholars.


While she was with us only for a short time, she made great contributions to our teaching and research, and, admittedly we worked her very hard. She gave a lucid and informative lecture to our first-year students on slavery in archaic Greece, introducing them to sources, scholarship, and problems with the topic. Deborah and I co-taught an MA core module on Greek epigraphy, with Deborah introducing and opening up discussion of three epigraphic documents important for research into status and status-dynamics in ancient Greece; this was followed up by a Friday-morning seminar for our graduates and undergraduates. Last but not least, Deborah gave our Research Seminar an excellent paper, entitled ‘Prostitutes, maidservants and slave boys: manumission and sexuality in ancient Greece’.  Sex with slaves – including slave-prostitutes, beloved maidservants, and attractive slave boys – was commonplace in ancient Greece. Deborah explored  the role that sex and sexuality played in who was freed and why, drawing on inscriptions, literary texts, and legal evidence. In particular, she drew upon the texts inscribed upon the ‘Manumission Wall’ at Delphi, which documents the manumission process of several hundreds of slaves, many of whom were freed through the process of a fictive sale to the god Apollo. The evidence of these records strongly suggests that sexual relations may well have played an important role in the selection of individuals for liberation.Her paper went down a treat with the audience, and after the paper and she was joined for dinner at Zouk by 18 colleagues and postgraduates.

Thank you, Deborah, for all your work while you were here; we look forward to seeing you again soon!


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