Edinburgh Research Explorer

The king’s treasurer, the dey’s secretary: Gaius Rabirius Postumus and James Leander Cathcart. Accidental captivity, voluntary service, or public slavery? A definitional analysis

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPublic Slavery Across Time and Space
EditorsFranco Luciani
StateIn preparation - 2018


The paper offers a comparative analysis of the slaveries experienced by Gaius Rabirius Postumus, a wealthy Roman who served as treasurer to the Egyptian King in the first century BC, and James Leander Cathcart, an American sailor who was taken captive in West Africa and served as Christian secretary to the dey in Ottoman Algier in the late 18th century.
Cathcart’s case has been heavily discussed by modern scholars, often with a considerable level of ambiguity regarding the man’s slave status, and a similar ambiguity can be found also in contemporary 18th century sources. By contrast, our chief ancient source for Postumus’ activity in Egypt, Cicero, clearly refers to Postumus’ slavery. Yet, Postumus has not hitherto been brought into connection with slavery by modern scholars, demonstrating an even greater reluctance to identify the slave status of a member of the political, social and economic elite of his day. By comparing and contrasting the slaveries of Postumus and Cathcart, the paper argues for the identification of the men’s statuses as that of slaves, as well as for the identification of their slaveries as forms of public slavery. The paper thus raises broader questions about the nature of slavery and slave status.

ID: 47365814