Monday Night Lecture Series - Wesleyan University

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Wesleyan University | Center for the Humanities


How the Romans Abolished Slavery in the Enlightenment

How the Romans Abolished Slavery in the Enlightenment

DAN EDELSTEIN • Stanford University

April 24 @ 6 P.M. | Daniel Family Commons, Usdan University Center

Montesquieu’s On the Spirit of the Laws (1748) is widely considered to have been the founding text for Enlightenment abolitionism. Curiously, however, the passage where he condemns slavery most vividly is a translation/paraphrase of a well-known section of the Corpus Juris Civilis, the fifth-century collection of Roman law. How could the slave-owning Romans be cited as authorities for abolishing slavery? The answer requires a detour through natural law theory, Christian apologia, and early-modern concepts of international law, and constitutes an unusual chapter in the history of human rights.

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