When did freeborn free servants appear in Europe?

Mar 2015
858
Europe
#1
Well, when?
In Classical Antiquity, poor free citizens might take land for rent and retain personal freedom and citizenship.
Greece also had thetes, who could work as day labourers for hire and keep personal liberty and citizenship. Though oligarchic philosophers disdained any paid work as unfit for a free citizen.
But men and women who worked as servants inside another manĀ“s household seem to have been slaves through antiquity.

Roman legionaries were regarded as free men even though their officers could order and punish them in manners improper in civilian life.
When the barbarians conquered Roman Empire, their kings and rich chieftains had military retinues. And it seems that free men could and did join military retinues.

But the kings and rich land/officeholders also continued to need menial household servants, male and female.

Precisely when did it become acceptable in Europe for a poor freeborn woman or man to enlist as a menial servant in the household of another man and remain free?
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,077
Dispargum
#2
It was probably always acceptable, going far back into prehistoric times. In Ancient times, like Greece and Rome, slavery had become popular and was probably necessary, at least to the extent that many domestic workers were needed but few free workers were willing to do the work. The number of paid servants increased as slavery declined, probably due to the rise of Christianity.
 
Mar 2015
858
Europe
#3
At least some Merovingian queens were slaves. Bilichildis, Balthild...
Was Fredegund actually a slave?
Gregory - AND the continuation history - hint at servile origin... but flinch from directly stating it.
Why?
Were they somehow afraid to flat out specify that she was a slave? While smearing her in every other way?
Or was it because she was not actually slave, and leaving the matter unspecified allowed Gregory to hint at her servile origin without being directly debunked?

If in ancient times, menial servants had been all slaves, and then were replaced by freeborn employees over a long time, there would have been a time when most servants were still slaves and free servants were a rare and new thing.
If Fredegund was a freeborn but humble Frank volunteered to be servant of Audovera by herself or her family/guardians then Gregory could imply that a free servant was still as bad as a slave - and pass over in silence about Fredegund having been free though humble, rather than outright slave.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,077
Dispargum
#4
That's my sense, too, that Fredegund came from humble origins. Do you have a specific reference in Gregory? I've checked just now and can't find a statement of her origins. Gregory was something of a snob. He looked down on anyone who wasn't born into the patrician or senatorial class, so we have to take his statements on Fredegund's origins with a grain of salt. Gregory and Fredegund were bitter rivals on opposite sides of a civil war. That gave Gregory ample incentive to disparage Fredegund. Gregory's work was probably not published until after he died, so he was not afraid of any retaliation.

I'm sure there always was a mixture of free servants and slaves performing domestic duties. The ratio of one to the other changed over time with the highest percentage of slaves occurring during Greek and Roman times and then declining in the Medieval period.