Define: A Manu Servus

A Manu Servus
A Manu Servus
Quick Summary of A Manu Servus

A manu servus, also known as a handservant, scribe, or secretary, is a Latin term. They serve their employer in various capacities, such as writing down important information, managing appointments and correspondence, and performing tasks like cooking, cleaning, and running errands. These examples demonstrate that a manu servus serves another person in multiple ways, including writing, organising, and completing tasks. Typically, they are employed by individuals of higher status and are expected to be loyal and obedient.

What is the dictionary definition of A Manu Servus?
Dictionary Definition of A Manu Servus

A manu servus is an individual who serves as a handservant, scribe, or secretary. They assist their employer by transcribing information, maintaining records, and performing other duties requiring excellent penmanship and meticulousness.

Full Definition Of A Manu Servus

“A Manu Servus” is derived from Latin, translating roughly to “a slave by the hand.” While archaic, this term holds historical significance within the context of servitude and slavery, particularly in Roman law and subsequent legal systems influenced by Roman jurisprudence. This overview explores the legal framework, historical context, and implications of servitude as encapsulated by “A Manu Servus,” tracing its evolution from ancient practices to its eventual abolition and the lingering legal and societal effects.

Historical Context

Roman Law

In Roman society, slavery was a deeply entrenched institution, fundamental to the economy and social structure. The concept of “A Manu Servus” referred to slaves who were directly controlled and owned by their masters, often involved in domestic work or skilled labour. Roman law categorized slaves as property, devoid of personal rights and subject to the whims of their owners.

The legal status of slaves in Roman law was complex. Slaves were considered res (things) rather than personae (persons), and as such, they could be bought, sold, inherited, and punished without legal repercussions. However, Roman law did grant certain protections and avenues for manumission, where a slave could be freed by their master, often in recognition of loyalty or service.

Medieval and Early Modern Periods

As the Roman Empire waned, the institution of slavery transformed into serfdom in much of Europe. Serfs were not slaves in the strictest sense but were bound to the land they worked on and to the will of their lords. This period saw a gradual shift from outright slavery to various forms of bonded labour, where individuals were tied to their labour obligations but not considered chattel.

During the Middle Ages, the legal status of serfs and similar labourers was codified in various feudal laws. While serfs had more rights than slaves, including the right to marry and own property, they were still subject to significant legal and social restrictions. The evolution from slavery to serfdom marked a transitional phase in the legal perception of forced labour.

Transatlantic Slavery

The advent of the transatlantic slave trade in the 15th century marked a return to more overt forms of slavery. Europeans transported millions of Africans to the Americas, where they were forced to work on plantations under brutal conditions. The legal frameworks in the European colonies codified the status of slaves, often stripping them of any legal personhood and subjecting them to severe controls.

Laws such as the Barbados Slave Code of 1661 explicitly defined slaves as property with no rights to self-determination, legal protection, or personal freedom. This period saw the entrenchment of racialized slavery, where the status of being a slave was tied to being of African descent, perpetuating a legacy of racial discrimination.

Legal Framework and Evolution

Roman Legal Codification

Roman law, particularly through the Corpus Juris Civilis compiled under Emperor Justinian, provided a comprehensive codification of the legal status and treatment of slaves. This body of law influenced many European legal systems in the centuries following the fall of Rome. Key aspects of Roman law regarding slavery included:

  1. Ownership and Rights: Slaves were the absolute property of their owners, who had the right to use, sell, or punish them as they saw fit.
  2. Manumission: Owners could free their slaves through various legal mechanisms, granting them limited rights and social standing as freedmen.
  3. Protections: Although minimal, Roman law did include certain protections for slaves, such as prohibitions against excessive cruelty and avenues for slaves to appeal for better treatment.

Medieval Legal Transformations

With the decline of the Roman Empire and the rise of feudalism, legal systems adapted to the new socio-economic realities. The rigid slave systems gave way to more nuanced forms of servitude:

  1. Serfdom: Feudal law codified the rights and duties of serfs, who were bound to the land and under the protection and control of their lords. While serfs were not property in the strictest sense, their freedom was heavily restricted.
  2. Guilds and Labour Laws: As medieval economies grew more complex, guilds and emerging urban legal frameworks began to regulate labour, providing more protections for workers and reinforcing hierarchical structures.

Colonial and Transatlantic Legal Codes

The resurgence of slavery during the colonial era brought with it new legal codifications:

  1. Slave Codes: Laws such as the aforementioned Barbados Slave Code and similar statutes in other colonies explicitly defined the status of slaves, legalising their treatment as property and institutionalising racial discrimination.
  2. Abolition Movements: The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw the rise of abolitionist movements, which led to significant legal reforms. The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 followed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which put an end to slavery in most of the British Empire.

Legal Implications and Modern Perspectives

Abolition and Legal Reform

The abolition of slavery was a significant legal milestone, but it required substantial legal reforms to ensure the rights and integration of former slaves:

  1. Emancipation and Civil Rights: Post-abolition, former slaves sought to secure civil rights and legal protections. In the United States, this culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the 14th Amendment, which aimed to provide equal protection under the law.
  2. International Law: The abolition of slavery also influenced international legal standards. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, explicitly prohibits slavery and servitude, reinforcing global norms against these practices.

Residual Legal and Social Challenges

Despite legal abolition, the legacy of slavery has continued to manifest in various forms:

  1. Racial Discrimination: The historical association of slavery with racial discrimination has left enduring social and legal challenges. Many countries have had to implement anti-discrimination laws and affirmative action policies to address these issues.
  2. Modern Slavery: Contemporary forms of slavery, such as human trafficking and forced labour, persist, necessitating ongoing legal efforts. International treaties, such as the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (2000), seek to combat these modern manifestations.


The concept of “A Manu Servus” provides a lens through which to examine the historical and legal evolution of slavery and servitude. From the strict legal codifications of Roman law to the feudal transformations and the brutal realities of transatlantic slavery, the legal frameworks surrounding servitude have undergone significant changes. The abolition of slavery marked a critical legal and moral victory, but the legacy of these institutions continues to shape contemporary legal and social landscapes.

Modern legal systems must continuously address the remnants of these practices, ensuring that the protections against slavery and forced labour are robust and effective. The historical journey from “A Manu Servus” to the present underscores the importance of legal evolution in pursuing human rights and dignity.

A Manu Servus FAQ'S

A Manu Servus is a type of slave in ancient Roman law who was primarily used for agricultural labour.

No, owning a Manu Servus is not legal as slavery is illegal in most countries.

A Manu Servus had no rights and was considered the property of their owner.

Yes, a Manu Servus could be freed by their owner through manumission, which was a legal process of granting freedom to a slave.

There were no legal protections for Manu Servus, so mistreatment was not punishable under Roman law.

No, there were no laws regulating the treatment of Manu Servus as they were considered property and not human beings.

No, a Manu Servus could not own property as they were considered property themselves.

No, a Manu Servus could not marry as they had no legal rights or status.

No, there were no restrictions on the sale of a Manu Servus as they were considered property.

The practice of owning Manu Servus ended with the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD.

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This glossary post was last updated: 11th June 2024.

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