|A bearded slave carries his master's shield and helm, 380–370 BC.|
On the Genealogy of “Slave” --- Leverett (1844) and Partridge (1966)
While working on a chapter Classical views of human variety that unfortunately did not appear in the final version of Until Darwin, there arose the need to look into the origin of the word “slave.” A colleague had mentioned being told that the word meant a “protector, preserver or guard” who could be trusted to watch over the property of the master. I was not sure about this and so found that slave is derived from Slav, while servant or servitude is derived from servus. The Slavs happened to have been enslaved by the Romans, but were not, one could say, “slavish.” Note below that Partridge mentions regarding “The OSI Slovene, a slave, lit ‘the speaker’ hence ‘intelligent person’ derives from the OSI slovo, a word opp[osed] to the Germans, who were called ‘the mutes.’”
Varro, who remains a source despite his limitations, uses servos in the context of three buyers of slaves in Ephesus: “Sic tres cum emerunr Ephesi singulos servos...” De Lingua Latina, VIII. 21.
Consider this comment by Ferdinand de Saussure from his Course in General Linguistics [1906-1911] (Chicago: Open Court Classics, 1983, pg 233.)
But it is doubtful whether information of this kind [i.e., on “the nature of the common ethnicity” that is inferred from the “community of language”] can be sought from the evidence provided by language, for the following reasons.
The first is the uncertainty of etymologies. Only gradually has it become apparent how few are the words whose origins can be considered definitively known. We are now much more cautious than formerly. An example of the temerity of the eariler days is the following. Latin servus (‘slave’) and suvare (‘keep, guard’) were – perhaps unjustifiably – assumed to be connected, and from this it was inferred that the slave was originally someone who kept guard over the house. In fact it is not even clear that suvare originally meant that.
A] servio (servus, is, ivi, and i itum, n.) to be a slave, serve in the capacity of a servant or slave... Also of things, as houses, fields, etc. to be subject to certain servitudes, or to be the subject to any one in some respects. Also figuratively to serve for anything, to be serviceable or fit for anything, to be used for anything. Also to serve, show kindness, do a favor, be obliging, please, humor, gratify. Also to be at one's service.... Also to pay attention to, have regard to, take care of anything, bestow pains upon, aim at... Also to conform or accommodate one's self toB] Servitium --- slavery, servitude, bondage, serviceableservus, or servos serving, ministering, bound to service, slavish, servile.... servus potenstatis subject to your power --- Also of house or lands, subject to certain servitudes, liable to certain burdens, or duties, of base tenure.
Leverett, F.P. 1844. A new and copious Lexicon of the Latin Language compiled chiefly from the Magnum Totius Latinitatis Lexicon of Facciolati and Forcellini and the German works of Scheller and Lueneman. Boston: J.H. Wilkins and R.B. Carter.
A water color by Jean Baptiste Debret - www.slaveryimages.org
Slave (n, hence v with cpd enslave, whence enslavement) whence the agent slaver, slavery, slavish; Slave Slavic – Slavonia, whence Slavonian (adg, hence n) and Slovonic --- Slovak (cf Czechoslovakian) and Slovene (n ,hence adj.)1] Both slave and Slave occur in ME as Sclane, sclave, and sclavne, Sclave, both from ML sclavus, Sclavus, that of “slave” arose as mainly from the fact that 'during the eastward expansion of the Germans in the Middle Ages the Slav populations were enslaved or destroyed' (M. O'C. Walshe. 1952. A Concise German Etymological Dictionary, who aptly cfs, sem, the OE wealh a Celt, a slave: see Welsh) and much less, from the raids made by the Venetians upon Slovonia during the Crusades (O. Bloch and W. von Wartburg. 1950) Dictionaire etymological de la langue francaise, 2nd edition). Cf MF-F esclave, and Slave, and late MHG slave and, as in G. sklave, a slave.The OSI Slovene, a slave, lit 'the speaker' hence 'intelligent person' derives from the OSI slovo, a word opp to the Germans, who were called 'the mutes.'OE wealh a stranger or foreigner (not of Saxon origin; from the land of the Wealas—Celts, Britons, hence Wales and Welsh...ServantServe1) Behind all of these words stand Latin servus, ML servus, slave, adj hence n, and its derivative serutre, ML servire, to be a slave, (ut) to be a slave to, hence to serve. The Latin s and r seruu (ML serv---) answers to the IE r *Swer--- which like *uer- (wer-), is a var of the IE *swer--, to be in the service of, perhaps to guard, but the often alleged kinship between the Latin servus, a slave and seruare, ML servare, to guard, to preserve, is far from being proved......5) seruus, ML servus, becomes OF-F serf, slave, hence, feudally, a bonded servant, adopted by E, as in the OF-F deriviative servage, usually anglicized as serfage.
Partridge, Eric. 1966. Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English. New York: Macmillan Company.