Magnus Goffin
© Magnus Goffin

Magnus Goffin

University of Bonn
Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies
Research Associate in
Research Area C Institutions, Norms and Practices
Niebuhrstraße 5
D-53113 Bonn
Phone: +49 / (0)228 / 73 62483


Extrema Necessitate?
Self-sale in the Classical Roman Law

If we believe Marcian in D. (Digest) 1,5,5,1, under Roman Law, freeborns could become slaves not only by birth or through war enslavement, but also under civil law; namely, if someone over twenty years of age allowed himself to be sold in order to share in the purchase price. In addition to this path to slavery, which is often labelled as "fraudulent self-sale", we also find sources that permit self-sale by those who wish to become asset managers of the slave master (so-called actor).

Was the enslavement of the over 20-year-old, who put himself into slavery in order to share in the purchase price, really a mere punishment for fraudulent behavior or did this person also consciously want to become a slave? But why would a freeborn use the freedom he was entitled to to give up precisely that freedom by selling himself into slavery? What was the motivation behind entering into slavery purposefully? If we take a look at Roman society and particularly Roman slavery, we find that, while all slaves were united by their legal status as "slaves", their social recognition and treatment differed greatly. Those slaves who toiled in the mines had much worse prospects than those who managed assets for a respected master. In such a heterogeneous group, it is not surprising that slavery often also offered opportunities and thus had its incentives.

A parallel case is the sale or abandonment of children. Children who could no longer be fed by the family or who had no prospects in the family were often abandoned and then raised by the finder. In contrast to the self-sale, however, this case lacks the legal regulation that enabled the child to become a slave.


  • 2019–present             Ph.D. in Law, University of Bonn, Germany
  • 2013–2019                  Law, University of Bonn, Germany (03/2019: First State Examination, Oberlandesgericht Köln, Germany;
                                           03/2018: State Part of the First State Examination, Oberlandesgericht Köln, Germany;
                                           01/2016: Certificate for Roman Private Law, Institute for Roman Law and Comparative Legal History, University of Bonn, Germany)                          

Academic Positions

  • 2019–present             Research Associate in Research Area C Institutions, Norms and Practices, University of Bonn, Germany
  • 2019                             Research Associate, Institute of Roman Law and Comparative Legal History, University of Bonn, Germany
  • 2015–2019                 Student Assistant, Institute of Roman Law and Comparative Legal History, University of Bonn, Germany  

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