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Was St Patrick a slave or a slave trader?

In his writings, St Patrick describes how he was captured from his home in Britain and sold into slavery in Ireland. He later escaped and headed back to Britain before returning and settling in Ireland.

However, a British professor has presented a controversial theory that Patrick was more likely to have been a slave trader than a slave.

St Patrick - photo copyright Andreas F. Borchert cc3

He also says that Ireland’s patron saint came from a family of tax collectors for the Romans.

Dr Roy Flechner, research fellow at Cambridge University’s Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, said that Patrick’s father was a Roman called Calpornius. He says that Caplpornius was a Decurion, which was an official who collected tax in Wales for the Romans.

It was a dangerous job as the Roman government was on the verge of losing power in Britain. Dr Flechner says that Calpornius may have joined the clergy so he could quit his position as a tax collector.

The job would have passed to Patrick. However, according to Dr Flechner, Patrick didn’t want the job and fled to Ireland and become a slave trader.

He told the Irish Independent: “In the troubled era in which Patrick lived, which saw the demise and eventual collapse of Roman government in Britain in 410, discharging the obligations of a Decurion, especially tax collecting, would not only have been difficult but also very risky.

“It may seem strange that a Christian cleric of Patrick’s stature would own slaves, but in late antiquity and the early middle ages the church was a major slave owner – early medieval Irish legal texts regulate the church’s ownership of slaves.

“The traditional story that Patrick was kidnapped from Britain, forced to work as a slave, but managed to escape and reclaim his status, is likely to be fiction.

“The traditional legend was instigated by Patrick himself in the letters he wrote, because this is how he wanted to be remembered.

“Escaped slaves had no legal status and could be killed or recaptured by anyone. The probability Patrick managed to cross from his alleged place of captivity in western Ireland back to Britain undetected, is small. “

Dr Flechner’s theory has caused controversy among online readers. Many have questioned his decision to discard what Patrick wrote and replace it with a theory that has no evidence to support it.

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