Roman slave collar

9:32 AM

In the Museo Nazionale Romano–Terme di Diocleziano in Rome is an
iron neck ring with a bronze tag attached. Five lines of mysterious text were carved on it:

FVGITENEME
CVMREVOCV
VERISMEˇDMˇ ZONINOACCIPIS
SOLIDVM ⸙

Expanded and punctuated, this inscription reads “Fugi, tene me. Cum
revoc(a)veris me d(omino) m(eo) Zonino, accipis solidum” 

After translating we can discover one of the most amazing artifacts ever found.

I have run away; hold me. 
When you have brought me back to my master Zoninus, 
youwill receive a gold coin


This is a Roman slave collar, one of about 45 surviving examples that all date to the fourth and fifth centuries C.E.  Most have been found in Rome and central Italy, with three more from
the North African cities of Thelepte, Lambaesis, and Bulla Regia. The collars were inscribed either on the neck band itself or on a pendant tag, as this one was. The Zoninus collar is important because it is the only known example of a tag still hanging from its neck ring. The inscriptions on these collars and tags typically ask the viewer to stop the wearer from running away. Many also name the slave owner and provide an address to which the slave should be returned. Some include Christian terms and symbols, such as a ChiRho or this palm frond.  The Zoninus collar is unique
in promising a reward.  Not all enslaved people were required to wear such collars; most scholars have interpreted them as a punishment for an escape attempt and an alternative to the long-standing Roman practice of tattooing runaway slaves on the face. The Zoninus collar is important because it offers direct, physical evidence of Roman slavery. It tells us something about how enslaved people were treated and seen and what they experienced; it can help illuminate ideas and enforcement practices concerning the ownership of human bodies and their labor. 


The Zoninus collar is made of iron and bronze; as with other collars, the utilitarian materials match the everyday language of the inscription. The pendant tag was cut from a flat sheet of bronze into a rectangular shape with rounded corners, with a long, ribbonlike extension left at the top. This extension was bent forward and down, back onto the surface of the tag, to create a built-in attachment hoop, or bail, that was then riveted shut. The neck ring is heavily corroded but appears to have been made from an iron wire doubled back on itself and twisted along its entire length, creating loops at either end. This iron wire was probably threaded through the tag’s attachment hoop
during the making of the neck ring. 

Alternatively, the tag’s attachment hoop was folded over the finished neck ring and then riveted shut.  The inscriptions help clarify that purpose. The very first words on the Zoninus collar are fugi, tene me (“I have run away; hold me”). Almost all Roman slave collars ask viewers to stop the wearer from running away. The two most common phrases employed are tene me ne fugiam (“hold me so I do not run away”) and tene me quia fugi (“hold me because I have run away”). 

About half the collars also ask the reader to return the slave to the owner: revoca me (“return me”) or, phonetically spelled, reboca me. Throughout the Roman era, slave escape was a preoccupation of owners and punished by flogging, keeping the slave in chains, and tattooing letters or words on the forehead.  The Zoninus and other slave collars are a phenomenon of urban slavery in the Early Christian period in the western Roman empire, especially the city of Rome. At the same time, they participated in longer-term Roman practices of marking and controlling the bodies of slaves. Roman slave collars show how Roman visual, epigraphic, and material culture were marshaled to explain and enforce ideas about human property.  


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