During the 1st century CE, Sabina was a slave in the elite household of Servius Cornelius Dolabella Petronianus, a senator and consul under the Emperor Domitian in 86 CE. She was assigned as wet-nurse to the filiusfamilias, either because it was expected that families of means would employ a nutrix (see Gellius' passage on breastfeeding) or because Metilianus's birth resulted in the death of his mother Metilia (naming practices). Sabina herself would have been lactating after the birth of her own child, whom she may have lost, given the high mortality rate for Roman children of all classes. Her child’s father was possibly a fellow slave in the elder Dolabella’s household with whom she had some kind of a relationship (see contubernales; marriage was impossible between slaves). It is not evident what Sabina’s duties were after her charge was old enough to be turned over to a tutor, but it is likely that she performed household tasks typical of female slaves within any large familia, such as cleaning, weaving, serving. Sabina's name, "the Sabine woman," is not a typical slave name (see names). Rather than an indication of her birthplace in the Sabine territory, her name suggests a link to the gens Metilia, whose paterfamilias was Publius Metilius Sabinus Nepos (consul suffectus in 91 CE). She may have been brought to the Dolabella home as part of her mistress's dowry when Metilia married Petronianus. While her lot was undoubtedly better than that of many other slaves, she was still a slave, with little personal freedom or choice in her duties or relationships. Some time before her death, Sabina was officially manumitted. We do not know when this occurred, but manumission probably did not change her life significantly since it appears that she remained in the Dolabella household. Metilianus's association with his nurse must have been a long and affectionate one, given the care he took to erect this monument in her honor. He also included his citizen name on her epitaph: the full formal name of Sabina's successful foster child who became consul suffectus in 113 CE can be found in an honorary inscription (CIL 9.3154) awarded him by the municipium of Corfinium (cf. also CIL 9.3152). Her monument was found near the fifth milestone on the Via Ardeatina in the ager Romanus southeast of Rome, which suggests that Metilianus maintained his childhood nurse in his villa suburbana until her death. The actual inscription has been lost; we depend on a transcription of it made in 1842 (CIL 6.16450).
SER[vius] • CORNELIVS
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