Textual Communities and the Circumcellions
By the fourth century, various aspects of Roman civic life—commodities, communal structures, and public speaking—had spread to the North African countryside. This chapter addresses the question of how they came to undermine verecundia, the modesty and respect that were the proper attributes of the peasant in his relations with his superiors. It starts by considering the Donatist “circumcellions,” who were accused of preventing creditors from collecting their debts, reversing the position between master and slave, and attacking imperial officials for distributing charity to the poor. The chapter then compares some Catholic incidents known from Augustine's letters—a bishop telling coloni that they need not obey their landlord, a band of rural clergy flogging a magistrate who had seduced a local nun, and clerics freeing coloni who had been wrongly enslaved.
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