Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Servi, Serfs And Servants

In Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilization, we find a Terran Empire based on the Roman Empire, even including the restoration of slavery and occasional use of Latin phrases.

In SM Stirling's Draka History, we find a small militarized society reviving Classical military terminology, e.g., "Centurion," and dominating a much larger population of serfs differing only in name from slaves (Latin: servi). The status of the Draka's serfs is approximately that of slaves:

"...under Roman law: pro nullis, pro mortis, pro quadrupedis: 'as nothing, as one who is dead, like a beast.'" (Marching Through Georgia, p. 407)

They were called indentured servants or "bondservants" until the colloquial term "serfs" was legalized in the 1880s.

it is remarkable that, in our timeline, a single word-root has survived essentially unchanged through three historical eras:

Roman servi, property;
feudal serfs, tied to the land;
modern servants, wage-earning workers.

Economic systems change but language preserves history.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Where slavery in Poul Anderson's Terran Empire differed from that of Stirling's Draka is that the former used it as a punishment for crime, and that it was not necessarily life long (varying in length according to the severity of the crime). Nor was manumission forbidden.

And the Draka's use of "indentured servants" or "bondservants" before settling on "serf" dates back to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1832. I think the Drakians of those days came close to openly rebelling against the Empire. If they had they might well have been defeated. But cooler heads among them settled for such dodges as "indentured servants." And by the 1880s the Dominion (as it then still was) had become too powerful to be forced into abolishing the de facto slaves it called "serfs." A pity, of course!