Original Research - Special Collection: Eben Scheffler Festschrift

‘The barbarians themselves are offended by our vices’: Slavery, sexual vice and shame in Salvian of Marseilles’ De gubernatione Dei

Chris L. de Wet
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 75, No 3 | a5302 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i3.5302 | © 2019 Chris Len de Wet | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 October 2018 | Published: 16 April 2019

About the author(s)

Chris L. de Wet, New Testament and Early Christian Studies, Department of Biblical and Ancient Studies, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa; and, Australian Lutheran College, University of Divinity, Adelaide, Australia


The purpose of this article is to examine Salvian of Marseilles’ (ca. 400–490 CE) invective in De gubernatione Dei against his Christian audience pertaining to their sexual roles and behaviour as slaveholders. It is argued that rather than considering the oppressive practice of slavery in itself as a reason for moral rebuke and divine punishment, Salvian highlights the social shame that arose from the sexual vices Christian slaveholders committed with their slaves. Salvian forwards three accusations against his opponents that concern slavery and sexual vice. Firstly, he asserts that Christian slaveholders have no self-control. Secondly, the polyamorous relationships slaveholders have with numerous slaves resemble shameful and adulterous unions, namely concubinage and even polygamy. Thirdly, Roman-Christian slaveholders behave in a worse manner than barbarians (i.e. the argument of ethnicity). Each of these accusations is examined in detail in the study.


Theology; Religious Studies; Church History; Early Christian Studies; Latin


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