Roman society was to a great extent built on slavery, as were the surrounding cultures of the day. Once the borders of the Republic began to expand through Italy and beyond, conquered people were brought back from the wars as booty, but slaves could also be sold to the Romans by pirates or other powers, abandoned or sold into slavery by parents or simply be born to a slave. Whatever the tragic back story to a slave, they were an important commodity and as such were bought and sold in the market just like any other. Unlike in more modern times, there seems to have been no suggestion by anyone in the ancient world that this was morally wrong - simply a part of the natural order of things, and once someone owned a slave they could do almost anything they wanted with them. However a slave was an investment, so it was important to get the right one when shopping, and this aspect of ancient commerce has now been represented by this set from Linear-B.
As you might expect, this is a collection of slaves plus those in the process of selling or buying them. The arrangement of some of these figures on the back of the box gives some insight into what the designer was thinking when they were created, and we have followed that lead in our own photographs. The top row includes a handler pulling at a child, and the next figure could easily be the grieving mother. There was nothing to make sure slave families were kept together, so scenes such as this would have been common enough. The third figure in this row is clearly in rags and also very upset, so likely to be a slave unhappy with the current turn of events.
The second row shows a half-naked man holding his head, perhaps flinching from the expected blow from the man with the club, while the other slave in this row is being pulled along by a soldier wearing his sword and a military belt. This is not the kind of thing you would see in a slave market, for while soldiers were sometimes given conquered people as slaves they generally sold them to the accompanying slave traders who would then take them back home for sale. Since this is a soldier it suggests the other man, bound at the hands and with a top knot so clearly a foreigner, is a recent prisoner of war who is probably facing either execution of slavery. This piece then is not one for an urban slave market, but for the informal market that would have sprung up behind an army once a successful action had been concluded.
The final row begins with a well-dressed citizen holding a stick and perhaps a purse of money, so is clearly a buyer. Beside him is an individual which we might use as either a buyer or a trader, and he is followed by two naked women. The first is having her covering removed by a man who gives the impression of 'showing off the goods', so is also likely to be working for the trader. Much as you would buy a horse today, it was important to inspect a slave to ensure they were not damaged and were suitable for the intended task, which could range enormously. Although physical characteristics were important for most slaves, when it came to women and boys the purchase was often for sexual purposes, so it was particularly important that the body was thoroughly examined. However even if the woman was being bought for what we today would consider a slightly more acceptable role, her general health and lack of defects had to be shown to encourage a buyer. The second woman is crouching, perhaps attempting to cover her nakedness, and is a particularly pitiable figure.
The horrors of slavery in any age are not the easiest of subjects to depict, and while we must be careful when judging past civilisations by the standards of our own time, the poses in this set do a reasonable job of bringing some of the aspects of this trade to life. The piece with the soldier will be very useful in a scene of prisoners being processed after a battle, but not for an ordinary civilian slave market. The man with the club is certainly a reminder that these people are probably enslaved through violence, although beating a slave in full view of the buying public would be a desperate measure as it would show that the slave was unruly, and it would also damage the body - both things likely to make the sale less likely, or at least lower the price. All the other poses are fine, and while it is easy to think of many others that could have been included, this is a fair selection of the people to be found at such a market.
The costume is fine. The slaves wear little (so that the customers can see the goods) and the handlers the basic tunic most Romans wore. The buyer with the toga would have been fairly unusual as the toga is a difficult garment to wear and even those that were allowed to wear it tended to avoid doing so if they could - a trip to buy a slave hardly seems like a good reason to dress up. Still everything here is plausible.
The sculpting is in the usual Strelets style, and while none of the clothing requires any fine detail, in some cases the sculpting is really quite poor. Some of the faces are hard to even recognise as such, yet that of the crouching women seems to us to have the features of an African, which is impressive at this scale. There is a noticeable ridge of plastic where the mould halves meet, but otherwise little flash, and the chosen poses means there is no problem with excess plastic in hard-to-get-at places.
Although slavery is still a problem today it is no longer legal, so we are spared scenes like this in public. Slave markets were perfectly common and acceptable in ancient times however, although we cannot now know how often there were tears and acts of violence like those depicted in this set. It is understandable however that the set would include such dramatic figures, and while we don’t care for this style of sculpting we thought all the poses were useful and this little set does a decent job of bringing such a thing to life.