Household slave and her master

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “It is evident from what has been said that abundant means were necessary to support the state in which every Roman of position lived. It will be of interest also to see how the great mass of the people made the scantier living with which they were forced to be content. For the sake of the inquiry it will be convenient, if not very accurate, to divide the people of Rome into the three great classes of nobles, knights, and commons into which political history has distributed them. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“The “nobles” during the Republic had come to be the descendants of those men who had held curule office. As the senate was composed of those men who had held the higher magistracies, the nobles and the senatorial families were practically the same, for the political influence of this group was so strong that it was very difficult for a “new man” (novus homo) to be elected to office. At the same time it must be remembered that for a long time there was no hard and fast line drawn between the classes; a noble might, if he pleased, associate himself with the knights, provided the noble possessed $20,000 which one must have to be a knight. |+|

“During the Republic any free-born citizen might aspire to the highest offices of the State, however poor in pocket or talent he might be. The drawing of definite lines that under the later Empire fixed citizens in hereditary castes began under Augustus, when he limited eligibility for the curule offices to those whose ancestors had held such offices. This regulation formed a hereditary nobility, to which additions were made at the emperor’s pleasure. The emperor also revised the lists of the knights, and so controlled admission to that Order.” |+|

See Separate Articles on SLAVERY and SLAVE REBELLIONS

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Jobs in Ancient Rome

Among the members of the Roman workforce were shield makers, bath attendants, blacksmiths and medical orderlies. Romans had many skilled individuals including drillmaster for training, fortress engineers and aqueduct designers. Slaves did nearly all the work, the worked the fields and the mines, they practiced medicine and tutored children. They ran stores and delivered mail.

shop activity

The Employments of the Romans comprised many of the chief occupations and trades with which we are familiar to-day, including professional, commercial, mechanical, and agricultural pursuits. To the learned professions belonged the priest, the lawyer, the physician, and the teacher. The commercial classes included the merchant, the banker, the broker, the contractor, to whom may also be added the taxgatherer of earlier times. The mechanical trades comprised a great variety of occupations, such as the making of glass, earthenware, bread, cloth, wearing apparel, articles of wood, leather, iron, bronze, silver, and gold. The artisans were often organized into societies or guilds (collegia) for their mutual benefit; these guilds were very ancient, their origin being ascribed to Numa. The agriculturists of Rome comprised the large landowners, who were regarded as a highly respectable class, and the small proprietors, the free laborers, and the slaves, the last mentioned forming a great part of the tillers of the soil. In general, the Roman who claimed to be respectable disdained all manual labor, and resigned such labor into the hands of slaves and freedmen. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\]

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The professions and trades, between which the Romans made no distinction, in the last years of the Republic were practically given over to the libertini and to foreigners. Of these something has been said already. Some occupations were considered unsuitable for a gentleman. Undertakers and auctioneers were disqualified for office by Caesar. Architecture was considered respectable. Cicero put it on a level with medicine.1 Teachers were poorly paid and were usually looked upon with contempt. Vespasian first endowed professorships in the liberal arts. The place of the modern newspaper was taken by letters written as a business by persons who collected all the news, scandal, and gossip of the city, had it copied by slaves, and sent it to persons away from the city who did not wish to trouble their friends and who were willing to pay for the news. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

A fresco in the House of the Vettii in Pompeii depicts a carpenter using a hammer and chisel to carve notches in a piece of wood. Other woodworking tools lie on the ground. Dr Joanne Berry wrote for the BBC: “This wall-painting is rare evidence of a craft that must have had an important role to play in the ancient city (particularly so in Pompeii, after the devastating earthquake that shook the town in A.D. 62), yet which normally leaves little trace in the archaeological record. In general, we know much more about crafts that needed large-scale equipment - such as milling, baking, fulling (cleaning cloth), dying, and tanning. Around 200 workshops of different kinds so far have been identified in Pompeii.” [Source: Dr Joanne Berry, Pompeii Images, BBC, March 29, 2011 |::|]

Soldiers Versus Workers in Ancient Rome

"superiority of the warrior class"

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The free-born citizens of Rome below the nobles and the knights may be roughly divided into two classes, the soldiers and the proletariat. The civil wars had driven them from their farms or had unfitted them for the work of farming, and the pride of race or the competition of slave labor had closed against them the other avenues of industry, numerous as these must have been in the world’s capital. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“The best of these free-born citizens turned to the army, which had ceased to be composed of citizen-soldiers, called out to meet a special emergency for a single campaign, and disbanded at its close. From the time of the reorganization by Marius, at the beginning of the first century before our era, this was what we should call a regular army, the soldiers enlisting for a term of twenty years, receiving stated pay and certain privileges after an honorable discharge. In time of peace—when there was peace—they were employed on public works.

“The pay was small, perhaps forty or fifty dollars a year with rations in Caesar’s time, but this was as much as a laborer could earn by the hardest kind of toil, and the soldier had the glory of war to set over against the stigma of work, and hopes of presents from his commander and the privilege of occasional pillage and plunder. After he had completed his time, he might, if he chose, return to Rome, but many had formed connections in the communities where their posts were fixed and preferred to make their homes there on free grants of land, an important instrument in spreading Roman civilization.” |+|

Workers, Free Laborers and the Unemployed in Ancient Rome

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The Proletariat. In addition to the idle and the profligate attracted to Rome by the free grain and by the other allurements that bring a like element into our cities now, large numbers of the industrious and the frugal had been forced into the city by the loss of their property during the civil wars and the failure to find employment elsewhere. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

tomb of fishmonger and freedwoman

No exact estimate of the number of these unemployed people can be given, but it is known that before Caesar’s time it had passed the mark of 300,000. Relief was occasionally given by the establishing of colonies on the frontiers—in this manner Caesar put as many as 80,000 in the way of earning their living again, short as was his administration of affairs at Rome—but it was the least harmful element that was willing to emigrate. The dregs were left behind. Aside from beggary and petty crimes the only source of income for such persons was the sale of their votes; this made them a real menace to the Republic. Under the Empire their political influence was lost, and the State found it necessary to make distributions of money occasionally to relieve their want. Some of them played client to the upstart rich, but most of them were content to be fed by the State and amused by the shows and games.

“Literature has little to say about the free laborer. Inscriptions, particularly those that deal with the guilds, tell us more. In spite of the increase of slave labor and the decrease of the native Italian stock, there continued to be free laborers working in many lines, their numbers constantly swelled by the manumission of slaves. They worked at many trades, at heavy labor, in the cities, and even on the farms. They were not always as well off as many of the slaves or freedmen, as they were dependent on their own efforts and the labor market and were without owner or patron on whom they might fall back. It is difficult to learn anything about wages, but they cannot have been high. The free distribution of grain helped the poor citizen at Rome, and vegetables, fruits, and cheese made the rest of his diet. He could nearly always afford a little cheap wine to mix with water. If he married, his wife helped by spinning or weaving. He lived in a cheap tenement, and in that mild climate there was no fuel problem. His dress was a rough tunic; if shoes were worn they were wooden shoes or cheap sandals. The public games gave him amusement on the holidays, and the baths were cheap, when not free. The guild gave him his social life, and decent burial was provided by membership in guild or burial society. |+|

Small Tradesmen in Ancient Rome

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “Little is to be found in literature about the small tradesman or the free laborer. From the excavations at Pompeii, however, we may form some idea of the shops and the business done in them. It has been said already that the street sides of residences might be rows of small shops, most of which were not connected with the house within. Such a shop was usually a small room with a counter across the front, closed with heavy shutters at night. The goods sold over the counter were often made directly behind it. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]


“The shoemaker (sutor) had his workbench and his case of lasts (formae), and made, sold, and repaired shoes. Some masonry counters have holes for several kettles, where the hot food prepared in the shop was kept for sale. In one case change was found lying on the counter as it was left in alarm at the time of the eruption. Locksmiths, goldsmiths, and other craftsmen had the necessary equipment and sold their own goods. There were also retail shops where goods were sold that were produced elsewhere on a larger scale, as the red glazed Arretine ware from Arretium and Puteoli, the copper and bronze utensils from Capua, and so on. The shopkeeper might work alone in his small room by day and sleep there at night. |+|

“The plan of the house of Pansa shows that there were also larger establishments of several rooms, as the bakery, for instance, which, as usual, included mills for grinding the grain, because there were no separate mills. Some shops have stairways leading to a room or two in the floor above, where the family, we may suppose, lived over the shop. Shoppers drifted along the street from counter to counter, buying, bargaining, or “just looking.” Martial describes a dandy in the fashionable shopping district at Rome going from one shop to another. He demands that the covers be taken off expensive table-tops and that their ivory legs be brought down for his inspection, he criticizes objects of art and has certain ones laid aside, and, leaving at last for luncheon, buys two cups for a penny and carries them home himself!” |+|

Bakeries and Bread-Sellers in Ancient Rome

Dr Joanne Berry wrote for the BBC: A wall-painting from Pompeii “depicts the sale of bread - loaves of bread are stacked on the shop counter, and the vendor can be seen handing them to customers. It is thought that the inhabitants of Pompeii bought their daily bread from bakeries rather than baked it themselves at home, since ovens rarely are found in the houses of the town.” The high “number of bakeries that have so far been excavated tends to support this belief. Bakeries are identified by the presence of stone mills to grind grain, and large wood-burning ovens for baking. [Source: Dr Joanne Berry, Pompeii Images, BBC, March 29, 2011 |::|]

“Bread may have been bought directly from the bakery, but it is likely that it was also sold from temporary stalls set up at different parts of the town. Two graffiti discovered on the precinct wall of the Temple of Apollo are an indication of this. They read Verecunnus libarius hic and Pudens libarius, which can be roughly translated as 'Verecunnus and Pudens sell sacrificial bread here'. |::|

bread selling

Lava mills and the large wood-burning oven identify” a building “as a bakery. Each mill consists of two mill-stones, one stationary and one hollow and shaped like a funnel. The funnel-shaped stone had slots, into which wooden levers could be inserted so that the stone could be rotated. Each mill would have been operated either by manpower or with the help of a donkey or horse (in one bakery, the skeletons of several donkeys were discovered). In order to make flour, grain was poured from above into the hollow stone and then was ground between the two stones. In total, 33 bakeries have so far been found in Pompeii. The carbonised remains of loaves of bread were found in one, demonstrating that the oven was in use at the time of the eruption in A.D. 79.” |::|

Charles King wrote in his website “A History of Bread”: “A Bakers’ Guild was formed in Rome round about the year 168 B.C. From then on the industry began as a separate profession. The Guild or College, called Collegium Pistorim. did not allow the bakers or their children to withdraw from it and take up other trades. The bakers in Rome at this period enjoyed special privileges: they were the only craftsmen who were freemen of the city, all other trades being conducted by slaves. [Source: Charles King, “A History of Bread” |~|]

“The members of the Guild were forbidden to mix with ‘comedians and gladiators’ and from attending performances at the amphitheatre, so that they might not be contaminated by the vices of the ordinary people. We suppose that the bakers, instead of being honoured by the strict regulations, must have felt deprived by them. |~|

Guilds in the Roman Era

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The trades were early organized at Rome into guilds (collegia), but the original purpose of the guilds seems to have been to hand down and perfect the technique of the crafts; at least there was no obstacle in the way of the workmen who did not belong to the guilds, and there were no such things as patents or special privileges in the way of work. Eight of these guilds were older than history, those of the tanners, cobblers, carpenters, goldsmiths, coppersmiths, potters, dyers, and, oddly enough, the flute-blowers. They all traced their organization to Numa. Numerous others were formed as knowledge of the arts advanced or the division of labor proceeded. Special parts of the city seem to have been appropriated by special classes of workmen, as in our cities, like businesses are apt to be carried on in the same neighborhood; Cicero speaks of a street of the scythe-makers. The use of guilds and clubs for political purposes in the later years of the Republic led to the suppression of most of them, and from that time the formation of new ones was carefully limited.2 There seems however to have been no restriction on the formation of the burial societies described in Chapter XIV. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

leather merchant

“Most of our information in regard to the guilds comes from inscriptions of the Imperial age. These organizations differed from both the medieval guilds and the modern trades-unions. There was no system of apprenticeship, and the members did not use their organizations to make demands for better wages or working conditions. As the necessity for competition with slave labor made such demands useless, there were no strikes. The guilds became largely social organizations for men engaged in the same line of work. The drift to specialization shows in the guilds, for, whereas in early times there had been only the guild of the cobblers (sutores), there came to be guilds of those who made each kind of shoe, the calceolarii, the solearii, and so on through the list. |+|

“The guild gave the poor man his best opportunity for social life, and offered to the freedman and occasionally the slave the right to hold office and manage affairs therein that was denied to him outside. Its organization was based on that of the towns; the guilds had their magistrates, decurions, and plebs. When there was a distribution of money, the members shared in proportion to their rank in the guild. Each guild had a patron, or patrons, chosen for reputed wealth and generosity. The members of a guild had their regular times and places for meetings of business and festivity, and if prosperous or blessed with a generous patron might own their own hall (schola). They filled their treasuries by means of initiation fees, dues, and fines. On the great holidays they marched in processions with their banners. Each guild had its patron deity and common religious rites. Even when a guild was not organized as a funerary association, it often maintained a common burial ground.” |+|

Professional Training in Ancient Rome

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “For training in certain matters, a knowledge of which was essential to a successful public life, no provision was made by the Roman system of education. Such matters were jurisprudence, administration and diplomacy, and war. It was customary, therefore, for the young citizen to attach himself for a time to some older man, eminent in these lines or in some one of them, in order to gain an opportunity for observation and practical experience in the performance of duties that would sooner or later devolve upon him. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“So Cicero learned Roman law under Quintus Mucius Scaevola, the most eminent jurist of the time, an in later years the young Marcus Caelius Rufus in turn served the same voluntary “apprenticeship” (tirocinium fori) under Cicero. This arrangement was not only highly advantageous to the young men, but was also considered very honorable for those under whom they studied.

“In the same way the governors of provinces and generals in the field were attended by a voluntary staff (cohors) of young men, whom they had invited to accompany them at state expense for personal or political reasons. These tirones became familiar in this way (tirocinium militiae) with the practical side of administration and war, while at the same time they were relieved of many of the hardships and dangers suffered by those, less fortunate who had to rise from the ranks. It was this staff of inexperienced young men who hid in their tents or asked for leave of absence when Caesar determined to meet Ariovistus in battle (Caesar, De Bello Gallico, I, 39), although some of them, no doubt, made gallant soldiers and wise commanders afterwards.” |+|

Plutarch on Specialized Training Versus General Education for All

shoemaker's leather cutter

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “11. In the next place, the exercise of the body must not be neglected; but children must be sent to schools of gymnastics, where they may have sufficient employment that way also. This will conduce partly to a more handsome carriage, and partly to the improvement of their strength. For the foundation of a vigorous old age is a good constitution of the body in childhood. Wherefore, as it is expedient to provide those things in fair weather which may be useful to the mariners in a storm, so is it to keep good order and govern ourselves by rules of temperance in youth, as the best provision we can lay in for age. Yet must they husband their strength, so as not to become dried up (as it were) and destitute of strength to follow their studies. For, according to Plato, sleep and weariness are enemies to the arts. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

“But why do I stand so long on these things? I hasten to speak of that which is of the greatest importance, even beyond all that has been spoken of; namely, I would have boys trained for the contests of wars by practice in the throwing of darts, shooting of arrows, and hunting of wild beasts. For we must remember in war the goods of the conquered are proposed as rewards to the conquerors. But war does not agree with a delicate habit of body, used only to the shade; for even one lean soldier that has been used to military exercises shall overthrow whole troops of mere wrestlers who know nothing of war.

“But, somebody may say, while you profess to give precepts for the education of all free-born children, why do you carry the matter so as to seem only to accommodate those precepts to the rich, and neglect to suit them also to the children of poor men and plebeians? To which objection it is no difficult thing to reply. For it is my desire that all children whatsoever may partake of the benefit of education alike; but if yet any persons, by reason of the narrowness of their estates, cannot make use of my precepts, let them not blame me that give them for Fortune, which disabled them from making the advantage by them they otherwise might. Though even poor men must use their utmost endeavor to give their children the best education; or, if they cannot, they must bestow upon them the best that their abilities will reach. Thus much I thought fit here to insert in the body of my discourse, that I might the better be enabled to annex what I have yet to add concerning the right training of children.”

Clients — Slave-Like Dependents — in Ancient Rome

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The word cliens is used in Roman history of two very different classes of dependents, who are separated by a considerable interval of time and may be roughly distinguished as Old Clients and New Clients. The former played an important part under the Kings, and especially in the struggles between the patricians and plebeians in the early days of the Republic, but had practically disappeared by the time of Cicero. The latter are first heard of after the Empire was well advanced, and never had any political significance. Between the two classes there is absolutely no connection, and the student must be careful to notice that the later class is not a development of the earlier. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“The Old Clients. Clientage (clientela) goes back beyond the founding of Rome to the most ancient social institutions of the Italian communities. The gentes that settled on the hills along the Tiber had as a part of their familiae numerous free retainers, who farmed their lands, tended their flocks, and did the gentes certain personal services in return for protection against cattle thieves, raiders, and open enemies. These retainers, though regarded as inferior members of the gens to which they had severally attached themselves, had a share in the increase of the flocks and herds (peculium), and received the gens name, but they had no right of marriage with persons of the higher class and no voice in the government. They were the original plebs, while the gentiles were the populus, or governing body, of Rome.

“Rome’s policy of expansion soon brought within the city a third element, distinct from both gentiles and clientes. Conquered communities, especially those dangerously near, were made to destroy their own strongholds (oppida) and move to Rome. Members of communities that were organized into gentes were allowed to become a part of the populus, and these, too, brought their clientes with them. Those who had no such organization either attached themselves to the gentes as clients, or, preferring personal independence, settled here and there, in and about the city, to make a living as best they might. Some were possessed of means as large perhaps as those of the patricians; others were artisans and laborers, hewers of wood and drawers of water; but all alike were without political rights and occupied the lowest position in the new state. Their numbers increased rapidly with the expansion of Roman territory, and they soon outnumbered the patricians and their retainers, with whom, of course, they, as conquered people, could have no sympathies or social ties. To them also the name of plebs was given, and the old plebs, the clientes, began to occupy an intermediate position in the state, though politically included with the plebeians. Many of the clientes, owing perhaps to the dying out of ancient patrician families, gradually lost their dependent relation and became identified in interests with the newer element. |+|

“The New Clients. The subject of the new clients need not detain us long. They came in with the upstart rich, who counted a long train of dependents as necessary to their state as a string of high-sounding names, or a mansion that was crowded with slaves. These dependents were simply needy men and women, usually obscure, who toadied to the rich and great for the sake of the crumbs that fell from their tables. There might be among them men of perverted talents, philosophers or poets like Martial and Statius, but they were, for the most part, a swarm of cringing, fawning, time-serving flatterers and parasites. It is important to understand that there was no personal tie between the new patron and the new client, no bond of hereditary association. A striking difference is in the fact that the new client did not attach himself for life to one patron for better or for worse; he frequently paid his court to several at a time and changed his patrons as often as he could hope for better things. The patron in like manner dismissed a client when he had tired of him.” |+|

Mutual Obligations, Duties and Rewards of Clients

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The relation between patrician patrons and plebeian clients is not now thoroughly understood; the problems connected with it seem beyond solution. We know that it was hereditary and that the great houses boasted of the number of their clients and were eager to increase them from generation to generation. We know that it was regarded as something peculiarly sacred, that the client stood to the patron as little less than a son. Vergil tells us that a special punishment in the underworld awaited the patron who defrauded a client. We read, too, of instances of splendid loyalty to their patrons on the part of clients, loyalty to which we can compare in modern times only that of Highlanders to the chief of their clan. But when we try to get an idea of the reciprocal duties and obligations of clients and patrons, we find little in our authorities that is definite. The patron furnished means of support for the client and his family, gave him the benefit of his advice and counsel, and assisted him in his transactions with third parties, representing him if necessary in the courts. On the other hand the client was bound to advance the interests of his patron in every way. He tilled his fields, herded his flocks, attended him in war, and assisted him with money in emergencies. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“It is evident that the value of this relation depended solely upon the predominant position of the patron in the state. So long as the patricians were the only full citizens, so long, that is, as the plebeians had no civil rights, the client might well afford to sacrifice his personal independence for the sake of the countenance and protection of one of the mighty. In the case of disputes over property, for example, the support of his patron would assure him justice even against a patrician, and might secure more than justice were his opponent a plebeian without another such advocate. It is evident that the relation could not long endure after patricians and plebeians became politically equal. For a generation or two patron and client might stand together against their old adversaries, but sooner or later the client would see that he was getting no equivalent for the service he rendered, and his children or his children’s children would throw off the yoke. The introduction of slavery, on the other hand, helped to make the patron independent of the client, and, though we can hardly tell whether its rapid growth was the cause or the effect of declining clientage, it is nevertheless significant that the new relation of patronus and libertus marks the disappearance of that of patronus and cliens in the old and better sense of the words. |+|

“Duties and Rewards. The service rendered by the new clients was easy enough. The chief duty was the salutatio: the clients, arrayed in the toga, the formal dress for all social functions, assembled early in the morning in the great man’s atrium to greet him when he first appeared. This might be all that was required of them for the day, and there might be time to hurry through the streets to another house to pay similar homage to another patron, perhaps to several, for some of the rich slept late. On the other hand, the patron might command their attendance in the house or by his litter, if he was going out, and keep them at his side the whole day long. Then there was no chance to wait upon the second patron, but every chance to be forgotten by him. And the rewards were no greater than the services: a few coins for a clever witticism or a fulsome compliment, a cast-off toga occasionally, for a shabby dress disgraced the levee, or an invitation to the dinner table if the patron was particularly gracious. One meal a day was always expected; this was felt to be the due of the client. But sometimes the patron did not receive, and the clients were sent away empty. Sometimes, too, after a day’s attendance the hungry and tired clientes were dismissed with a gift of cold food distributed in a little basket (sportula), a poor and sorry substitute for the good cheer they had hoped to get. From this basket the “dole” itself, as we should call it now, came to be called sportula. In the course of time an equivalent in money, fixed finally at about twenty-five cents a day, took the place of the food. But it was something to be admitted to the familiar presence of the rich and fashionable; there was always the hope of a little legacy, if the flattery was adroit, and even the dole would enable one to live more easily than by work, especially if one could please several patrons and draw the dole from each of them.” |+|


Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “Finally we come to the hospites, though these in strictness ought not to be reckoned among the dependents. It is true that they were often dependent on others for protection and help, but it is also true that they were equally ready and able to extend like help and protection to others who had the right to claim assistance from them. It is important to observe that hospitium differed from clientship in this respect, that the parties to it were actually on the footing of absolute equality. Although at some particular time one might be dependent upon the other for food or shelter, at another time the relations might be reversed and the protector and the protected change places. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“Hospitium, in its technical sense, goes back to a time when there were no international relations, to a time when there were not two different words for “stranger” and “enemy,” but one word (hostis) denoted both. In this early stage of society, when distinct communities were numerous, every stranger was looked upon with suspicion, and the traveler in a state not his own found it difficult to get his wants supplied, even if his life was not actually in danger. Hence the custom arose for a man engaged in commerce, or in any other occupation that might compel him to visit a foreign land, to form previously a connection with a citizen of that country, who would be ready to receive him as a friend, to supply his needs, to vouch for his good intentions, and to act if necessary as his protector. Such a relationship, called hospitium, was always strictly reciprocal: if A agreed to entertain and protect B when B visited A’s country, then B was bound to entertain and protect A if A visited B’s country. The parties to an agreement of this sort were called hospites, and hence the word hospes has a double signification, at one time denoting the entertainer, at another the guest. |+|

wool merchant

“Obligations of Hospitium. The obligations imposed by this covenant were of the most sacred character, and any failure to regard its provisions was sacrilege, bringing upon the offender, the anger of Iuppiter Hospitalis. Either of the parties might cancel the bond, but only after a formal and public notice of his intentions. On the other hand the tie was hereditary, descending from father to son, so that persons might be hospites who had never so much as seen each other, whose immediate ancestors even might have had no personal intercourse. As a means of identification the original parties exchanged tokens (tessera hospitalis: see Rich and Harper’s, s,v.), by which they or their descendants might recognize each other. These tokens were carefully preserved, and when a stranger claimed hospitium, his tessera had to be produced and submitted for examination. If it was found to be genuine, he was entitled to all the privileges that the best-known hospes could expect. These seem to have been entertainment so long as he remained in his host’s city, protection, including legal assistance if necessary, nursing and medical attendance in case of illness, the means necessary for continuing his journey, and honorable burial if he died among strangers. It will be noticed that these are almost precisely the duties devolving upon members of our great benevolent societies at the present time when they are appealed to by a brother in distress.” |+|

Freedmen (Freed Slaves) and the “Civil Service” in the Roman Era

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “It is impossible to estimate the number of freedmen at any given period of Roman history, but the practice of manumission had grown general enough to cause alarm by the end of the Republic, and Augustus limited it in some degree by legislation. In certain respects the effects of manumission were good. The prospect served to make the slave ambitious and industrious. The practice greatly increased the number of the free laboring class. On the other hand, as the slaves came from all parts of the world, a constantly increasing cosmopolitan population was thus added to the native citizen-body, which had been impoverished and weakened by the civil wars. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“The Greeks and Orientals, clever and industrious, were particularly successful in adapting themselves to the conditions of their slavery and in working their way to freedom. The large Oriental admixture changed the character of the free population in many respects, and for the worse, as the new citizens thus added did not have the same political traditions as the native Italians, and had no knowledge and understanding of Roman institutions. The freedmen filled the ranks of many of the trades and professions, particularly those despised by the freeborn. Some were highly trained and educated; many were masters of a craft or trade learned in slavery. |+|

manumission (freedom from slavery)

“A great many became wealthy, and, though many such were often generous and highly useful citizens in their communities, the self-made man, vulgar, purse-proud, and ostentatious, was a ready subject for the satirists. Petronius, who died in Nero’s reign, has left us in “Trimalchio’s Dinner” a brilliant sketch of the wealthy and vulgar freedmen. In any case neither the freedman nor his son could attain true social equality with the free citizen. The freedmen reached their greatest wealth and power as officials in the Imperial household in the first century, holding important administrative offices that later were transferred to the equestrian order. |+|

“The free persons employed in the offices of the various magistrates were mostly libertini. They were paid by the State, and, though appointed nominally for a year only, they seem to have held their places practically during good behavior. This was largely due to the shortness of the term of the regular magistrates and the rarity of re-election. Having no experience themselves in conducting their offices, the magistrates would have all the greater need of thoroughly trained and experienced assistants.

“The highest class of these officials formed an ordo, the scribae, whose name gives no adequate notion of the extent and importance of their duties. All that is now done by cabinet officers, secretaries, department heads, bureau chiefs, auditors, comptrollers, recorders, and accountants, down to the work of the ordinary clerks and copyists, was done by these “scribes.” Below them came others almost equally necessary but not equally respected, the lictors, messengers, etc. These civil servants had special places at the theater and the circus. The positions seem to have been in great demand, as such places are now in France, for example. Horace is said to have been a clerk in the treasury department.” |+|

Jobs for the Boys in Roman Britain

Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “Another report of work assignments shows how these men could be employed. Of 343 men present, 12 were making shoes, 18 were building the bath-house, others were out collecting lead, clay and rubble (for the bath-house?), while still more were assigned to the wagons, the kilns, the hospital and on plastering duty. Other accounts indicate that the completed bath-house had a balniator, a bath-house keeper called Vitalis. The remains of the third-century bath-house on the site give a very good idea of what Vitalis' bath-house must have been like. [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, November 16, 2012 |::|]

“Other trades attached to the fort were two vets called Virilis and Alio, a shield-maker called Lucius, a medic called Marcus and a brewer called Atrectus. Most of these must have been soldiers, though we shall see later that civilians also played their part within fort life. Atrectus the brewer owed money to the local pork butcher for iron and pork-fat, which smacks of a little economic diversification on the butcher's part. It is not at all clear whether the butcher was a civilian or a soldier. He is likely to have been a civilian, if two other documents are anything to go by. The first is an intriguing account of wheat which, to me, paints a marvellous picture of everyday life at the fort. It is a long account, so I have excerpted only the clearest entries. [NB: a modius is a measure of weight] (Tab. Vindol. II.180): |::|

“Account of wheat measured out from that which I myself put into the barrel: To myself, for bread... To Macrinus, modii 7 To Felicius Victor on the order of Spectatus, provided as a loan, modii 26 In three sacks, to father, modii 19 To Macrinus, modii 13 To the oxherds at the wood, modii 8 Likewise, to Amabilis at the shrine, modii 3 To Crescens, on the order of Firmus, modii 3 For twisted loaves, to you, modii 2 To Crescens, modii 9 To the legionary soldiers, on the order of Firmus, modii 11[+] To you, in a sack from Briga... To Lucco, in charge of the pigs... To Primus, slave of Lucius... To Lucco for his own use... In the century of Voturius... To father, in charge of the oxen... Likewise to myself, for bread, modii ? Total of wheat, modii 320½” The document is clearly the account of a family business run by two brothers, whose father occasionally tends the oxen. |::|

Patronage and Promotion in Vindolanda

Vindolanda was a Roman auxiliary fort just south of Hadrian's Wall in northern England. Over 400 tablets, with readable Roman-era letters and messages, have been found there. Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “Flavius Cerialis was the praefectus in command of Cohors IX Batavorum, which occupied Vindolanda from around A.D. 97 onwards. His name indicates that his family was granted the citizenship by the Flavian dynasty of Vespasian, and the cognomen Cerialis may have been in honour of Q. Petilius Cerialis, who brought the Batavians over to Britain. He was a Batavian nobleman of equestrian status, which meant that his family had amassed a fortune of over 400,000 sesterces (100,000 denarii), the property qualification for entry into the equestrian order.” [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, November 16, 2012 |::|]

“He was therefore, an important man in the area, and it was only natural for those who knew him to request letters of recommendation for their friends. One of these survives, from a certain Claudius Karus. (Tab. Vindol. II.250): ‘Brigionus has requested me, my lord, to recommend him to you. I therefore ask, my lord, if you would be willing to support him. I ask that you think fit to commend him to Annius Equester, the centurion in charge of the region at Luguvalium, by doing which you will place me in debt to you, both in his name and my own’.

“Brigionus is a Romanised Celtic name, and it does not take a great leap of imagination to see this as a classic example of patronage, by which the subjects of the frontier region were absorbed into the Roman system. Karus, a fellow officer, recommends to Cerialis a British client, and requests that he pass him on in turn to the regional administration officer for the legions, Annius Equester, whether as a potential recruit or for some other purpose is not clear (though given that it is being done through military channels, I would suspect the former). |::|

“Cerialis clearly had good contacts of his own, with which he was trying to wangle a promotion. Here are a couple of letters that paint an interesting little picture: ‘[Cerialis ] to his Crispinus... Since Grattius Crispinus is returning to [you], I have gladly seized this opportunity, my lord, of greeting you, whom I dearly wish to be in good health and master of all your hopes. For you have always deserved this of me, right up to your present high office... greet Marcellus, that most distinguished man, my governor. He offers opportunity for the talents of your friends, now that he is here, for which I know you thank him. Now, in whatever way you wish, fulfil what I expect of you and... so furnish me with very many friends, so that thanks to you I may be able to enjoy an agreeable period of military service. I write this to you from Vindolanda, where my winter quarters are’. (Tab. Vindol. II.225)

‘Niger & Brocchus to their Cerialis, greeting. We pray, brother, that what you are about to do is most successful. It will be so indeed, since our prayers are with you and you yourself are most worthy. You will assuredly meet our governor quite soon.’ (Tab. Vindol. II.248) |::|

“We do not know who Crispinus is, but he was clearly a high-ranking official in the province, with the ear of the provincial governor, L. Neratius Marcellus (Leg. Brit. A.D. 100-103). Cerialis obviously hoped by his patronage to gain a promotion from the governor, and his friends and fellow officers, Niger & Brocchus, clearly wished him well. The somewhat tart: 'I write this to you from winter quarters in Vindolanda.' might give some indication of how Cerialis viewed life up on the cold north-west frontier, as does another letter to a fellow officer, an aptly named September, offering to send him some goods: 'by which we may endure the storms, even if they are troublesome.' “ |::|

“We do not know whether Cerialis was successful in pursuing his promotion, but we do know about his friend. C. Aelius Brocchus went on to command the prestigious Ala Contariorum in Pannonia. At times, official channels could be abused, or at least stretched, in order to accommodate those in the position to take advantage of them. A legionary centurion called Clodius Super asks Cerialis to send him some clothing Cerialis had picked up from a friend in Gaul, saying: 'I am the supply officer, so I have acquired transport'. (Tab. Vindol. II.255).

Working Women in Ancient Rome

Suzanne Dixon wrote for the BBC: “People did not always work for a wage in the ancient world. Most people worked on the land and in the home, while upper-class men and women supervised households and estates. Although there were specialist cloth shops, all women were expected to be involved in cloth production: spinning, weaving and sewing. Slave and free women who worked for a living were concentrated in domestic and service positions - as perhaps midwives, child-nurses, barmaids, seamstresses, or saleswomen. We do, however, have a few examples of women in higher-status positions such as that of a doctor, and one woman painter is known. [Source: Suzanne Dixon, BBC, March 29, 2011 |::|]

“How do we know about women's work? From men saying in print what women should be doing - poets (like Virgil), and philosophers (like Seneca), and husbands praising their dead wives on tombstones not only for being chaste (casta) but also for excelling at working wool (lanifica). |::|

“We can also learn about women's work from pictures on vases and walls (paintings), or from sculptural reliefs on funerary and public art. Septimia Stratonice was a successful shoemaker (sutrix) in the harbour town of Ostia. Her friend Macilius decorated her burial-place with a marble sculpture of her, on account of her 'favours' to him (CIL 14 supplement, 4698). |::|

“Graffiti such as the ones on the wall of a Pompeian workshop record the names of women workers and their wool allocations - names such as Amaryllis, Baptis, Damalis, Doris, Lalage and Maria - while other graffiti are from women workers' own monuments, usually those of nurses and midwives (see CIL 14.1507). |::|

“Women's domestic work was seen as a symbol of feminine virtue, while other jobs - those of barmaid, actress or prostitute - were disreputable. Outside work like sewing and laundering was respectable, but only had a low-status. Nurses were sometimes quite highly valued by their employers/owners, and might be commemorated on family tombs.” |::|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons and Roman Forums

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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