The Man in Chains from Baratti, the slave that dreamt of freedom

Mariangela Galatea Vaglio Center for Public Archaeology Studies ‘Archeostorie’, galatea.vaglio@gmail.com
  • Translated by Charles East
Open Access
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A possible narrative of the Man in Chains from Baratti, the slave hailing from Africa and buried with chains in an Etruscan tomb from the 4th century BC, recovered in Autumn 2016 in the Gulf of Baratti (Livorno) and displayed at Populonia in Summer 2017

Vaglio, M.G. 2018. The Man in Chains from Baratti, the slave that dreamt of freedom. Archeostorie. Journal of Public Archaeology. 2: pp. 127-128.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.23821/2018_5a

CC BY 4.0 © The author(s). This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Baratti, second half of 4th century BC

Who knows how they accompanied him to the tomb. A small procession, two or three people, in the discolored dawn of an ordinary day. Their faces gaunt and gray, exhausted, overexerted, maybe fearful for those few stolen moments at work. Their feet in shackles, the same chains that he also wore. A silent procession of slaves that accompany him to his eternal resting place, he who, in life, never rested.

The Man in Chains from Baratti. We do not know his name, but rarely does time preserve the names of the conquered. He must have been defeated by life even before he was shut in that grave on the beach. He came from far away, from Africa. A dark-skinned, ebony-eyed giant who arrived through who knows what routes at that corner of Etruria. Perhaps a prisoner captured in some battle. His powerful limbs and massive size had determined his fate. A slave, his feet shut into chains that were connected by leather strips to a collar, making it possible for him to work with his hands but never escape. A beast, condemned to work the iron ore extracted from the mine until his last breath.

Cruel masters, the Etruscans. Lovers of the good life, of wine and banquets, but ruthless and cruel with their enemies, prisoners, and servants. Their rich, hedonistic civilization rested on the tears of those who had been sent off to the mines, to break open rocks one by one to extract precious metals, iron for swords, shining ornaments for shields and armor.

He was one of these unfortunate souls, the Man in Chains from Baratti. Having come from far to die alone, exhausted from work and endless struggle.

Who knows whether his eyes turned towards the sea one last time, looking for that distant horizon from which he came. Who knows whether, between the mist of Elba and the fog of the sea, he dreamt of the sunny beaches of his homeland. Who knows whether he recognized in the chimeras and other fantastical beasts that decorated the vases and houses and temples of his masters, the profiles of the wild beasts he had known as a child, in his birth country.  Who knows how many times he called to mind his past freedom while the grip of his shackles reminded him of his present misery.

A small procession, in the discolored dawn, towards a pitiable tomb. Slaves with feet locked in chains, who struggle to walk, leaving heavy footprints in the sand. The earth closes itself over the Man in Chains from Baratti, his companions mourning that his life was so unfortunate. No one seems destined to ever remember him, he who has no family, no relatives, not even a name. No one could ever imagine that millennia later, when there would no longer be any trace or memory of his masters, and their name would be lost in the dust of history, his skeleton would emerge again, for us, to tell his tale and, his ankles pressed by chains and eye sockets now empty, to look for freedom.

Baratti, G., Camilli, A. & Megale, C. 2018. Sepolti incatenati. Storie di schiavi e prigionieri in Etruria e nel Mediterraneo antico. Pisa: Pacini Editore.