The Golden Age is counted among a handful of “slaveless societies” envisioned by Greek and Roman thinkers, typically on the grounds that the earth’s spontaneous abundance in this era precluded the need for slave labor. This argument has been traced back to Athenian comedy of the fifth century BCE on the specious authority of Athenaeus, a Greek rhetorician whose Learned Banqueters appeared c. 200 CE. Other authors, beginning with the Augustan historiographer Pompeius Trogus, embed the absence of slavery under Cronus/Saturn in etiologies of the Saturnalia, a festival whose extension of license to slaves was believed to reflect a primordial time when there were no slaves at all. This talk re-examines the evidence for the so-called absentia servorum to identify the parameters of an ancient debate, waged primarily among Cynics and Stoics, about how to justify the exclusion of slavery from the social structure of the Golden Age.
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