The Roman Monster-Market

The slave market in ancient Rome is also known as the area of the Graecostadium. Unfortunately, the exact location of the Graecostadium is unknown but literary sources, in conjunction with a fragment of the Marble Plan, suggest that the location was somewhere south of the Roman forum, between it and the present church of S. Maria della Consolazione; between the vicus and the Basilica Julia; and between the Vicus Iugarius and porticus Margaritaria. Graecostadium







An intriguing passage from Plutarch tells of a separate area which he calls the τεράτων ἀγορὰν, or the “market of monsters”:

Plutarch, De Curiositate 10/Moralia 520c: “Therefore just as at Rome there are some who take no account of paintings or statues or even, by Heaven, of the beauty of the boys and women for sale, but haunt the monster-market, examining those who have no calves, or are weasel-armed, or have three eyes, or ostrich-heads, and searching to learn whether there has been born some commingled shape and misformed prodigy, yet if one continually conduct them to such sights, they will soon experience satiety and nausea ; so let those who are curious about life’s failures, the blots on the scutcheon, the delinquencies and errors in other people’s homes, remind themselves that their former discoveries have brought them no favour or profit.” (Translation W.C. Helmbold, 1939)


Note:  The Greek is as follows: περὶ τὴν τῶντεράτων ἀγορὰν ἀναστρέφονται, τοὺς ἀκνήμους καὶ τοὺςγαλεάγκωνας καὶ τοὺς τριοφθάλμους καὶ τοὺς στρουθοκεφάλους καταμανθάνοντες καὶ ζητοῦντες εἴ τι γεγένηται σύμμικτον εἶδος κἀποφώλιον τέρας. Interestingly, the final words (σύμμικτον εἶδος κἀποφώλιον τέρας) are a quotation from Euripedes’ Thesus (Fr. 383).


Another passage describes the practice of confining slaves in cages with the painful result of deformed limbs and shrunken bodies:

Longinus De Sublimitate 44.5: “And so, my friend adds, if what I hear is true that not only do the cages in which they keep the pygmies or dwarfs, as they are called, stunt the growth of their prisoners, but their bodies even shrink in close confinement, on the same principle all slavery, however equitable it may be, might wee be described as a cage for the human soul, a common prison.” Translation W. Hamilton Fyfe, 1995.













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