Work and task
Several different types of work and task during Ancient Rome would have been address at the daily needs of the people of Rome. Men’s work during Roman times would also depend on where you lived either the city or the country. Different types of work that were done in the city and other Roman Empire cities were tradesmen, shopkeepers and craftsmen. Shops in Ancient Rome included Bakers, Barbers, Booksellers, Butchers, Cobblers, Fishmongers, Food Shops, Furniture Sellers, Olive Oil Sellers, Perfume Makers, Taverns and of course Money Lenders.
In the Roman Countryside, work would be centered on the villa. The land would need to be worked to produce crops. A form of wheat called “emmer” was grown for Roman Bread. Vines were grown for grapes to make wine. There would have been olive groves to tend; olives were an important crop for their oil. There were also animals to tend. The Roman farmers kept goats, horses, pigs and small birds. Agriculture was the basis of Rome’s economy. Good soil and a mild climate led to rich harvests of grain, vegetables, fruits, and nuts.
The building industry accounted for a continual supply of skilled labor in the form of architects, surveyors, supervisors, foremen, sculptors, stonemasons, carpenters, and brickworks’ managers. The import business was centered on Ostia, where goods from overseas were unloaded, checked, and stored in warehouses before being transferred to barges for the journey upstream. Since the Roman workday began at sunrise, work was usually over at little after noon. About 2:00-3:00 pm, men would go to the baths and plan to stay for several hours of sport, bathing, and conversation, after which they would be ready for a relaxing dinner.
Romans rose early and usually worked a six-hour day. Women in Ancient Rome did not take part in the daily work life of the empire in the same way as men. Although women were respected, their place in Roman Society was the home. They were expected to cook, clean, sew and in general maintain and run the household. Of course, wealthy Roman families would have had slaves to take over and do many of the more boring household chores for the lady of the house. Whilst a Roman Mistress of a house in the city, a Domus, might choose to go out into the streets and shop herself, shopping for the household was generally done by slaves.
Slaves were often very badly treated in the wealthy ancient Roman families. Slaves would be used to keep furnaces burning for the bath houses and central heating. Roman Slaves would be expected to cook, clean and do other household chores and jobs. Unfortunate Roman Slaves were used down mines to mine silver, lead, tin and gold for their masters – they might not get to see sunlight for months at a time. Slaves were also used in Ancient Rome’s galleys and in gladiatorial combats in the arena.
In the country, Roman farms, slaves would have to do all the hard and back-breaking work needed in running a farm. During war time, captured prisoners were used as slaves in the Roman Empire. One of the laws that were in operation at the time of the Emperor Hadrian was if a master was murdered by a slave, then all the other slaves within hearing were executed, as well as the slave who did the dastardly deed. The emperors had households of at least 20,000 slaves. Many of the shopkeepers would have been slaves or ex-slaves, and Roman Slaves would certainly have done all the work requiring muscle power.
Soldiers work in the Roman army at the time of Emperor Hadrian did not just include fighting the enemies of Rome. Soldiers would also have been involved in building projects for the Emperor. Soldiers would also have been involved in building other defenses, walls, forts and encampments all over the Empire. Soldiers also built and maintained the Empire’s network of roads. One of the most famous building projects for the Roman Army from the days of the Roman Empire was the building of Hadrian’s Wall in Britannia.
Although Roman Slaves and captured prisoners would have worked on Hadrian’s Wall, most of this fantastic building achievement would have been done by the Roman Soldiers stationed in Britannia. Besides Hadrian’s Wall in Britannia, Emperor Hadrian had the soldiers build a continuous wooden wall along the Danube frontier, a wall along the Rhine River in northern Germany, and stone walls in Numidia. After work, or the daily round, a visit to the public baths was usually the order of the day, for women as well as men. The Roman day began with dawn.
The first activity of the day in the first two hours after dawn brought upper and lower classes together in the early morning greeting ritual called the salutatio. This ritual was the outward sign of the close bond that worked for the benefit of both the lower class client and his upper class patron (derived from pater, “father”). When a client went to visit his patron at his house early every morning, he was acknowledging his dependency on the patron and in turn received a basket of food called a sportula or in its place. a small payment of money.
An invitation to dinner was another typical gift. For many poor unemployed Romans, this was their only income, although some clients did have jobs. Another favor that a patron could perform for a client would be to give him legal advice or to defend him in court (cf. the modern meaning of “client”). In return, the client owed his patron political support such as his vote and if possible, to be a member of an entourage for the patron in his movements in the city, especially in the Roman Forum, the center of political activity in Rome.
With the empire, when elections had disappeared and emperors chose magistrates, about all that a client could do for his patron was to bolster the ego of his patron by flattering him. The next activity for a Roman noble after the salutatio was to go to the Forum and either plead cases in court or engage in political activity (not mentioned by Martial). Martial doesn’t specify any of the activities of lower class Romans, because they would just be too varied to mention.
A Roman aristocrat who wanted to reach the highest level of society (senatorial aristocracy) did not have a great variety of choice for a career; he was for the most part limited to unpaid public service in different magistracies, in the Senate, and in the courts. There was another class of aristocratic Romans called the equites, who did not participate in politics at all, but were primarily businessmen. They were not held in the same esteem as the senatorial aristocracy because, like lower class Romans, they worked for a living.
The equites, however, still managed to maintain retain a high level of respect in Roman society, because they conducted business on a large scale and made large amounts of money. Rome was, like some of the great cities of North America, a mass of palaces, apartment blocks, and tall tenements. The palaces were scattered through the city, chiefly on the hills, except that the Capitoline Hill was reserved for the two great temples of Jupiter Capitolinus and Juno of the Mint, the Records Office; while the Palatine Hill was occupied by the emperors.
The palaces were as luxurious and as spacious as the tenements were crowded and poverty-striken. . The Romans earned their living by farming, fishing, mining, and simple manufacturing. The government owned natural resources, such as mines, and spent large sums on roads, buildings, and other public works. Manufacturing and trade were generally financed by individuals. Rome carried on trade throughout the empire, from Britain to Egypt, and with independent countries, such as India and even China. Mining was important to Rome.
From mines in many parts of the empire, Rome obtained metals for tools, utensils, and weapons, and stone for building. Small amounts of coal were mined for use in the forges of metalworkers. Transportation and communications in the empire were aided by the magnificent roads that Rome built in all provinces. These highways were among Rome’s greatest achievements. Rome’s merchant fleet was of major importance. At the height of the empire, ships were built that carried more than 1,000 passengers or immense cargoes.
And so the many workers, traders and businessmen of the city, be they freemen or freedmen would work all morning, adding to the wild hustle and bustle of the their town or city. Trade of all sorts naturally centered around Rome. Ostia was a hive of activity, where goods from overseas arrived and was loaded onto barges which carried them up the river to the great capital. All kinds of jobs would be at Ostia. From simple labourers who unloaded the ships, to bureaucrats who checked the arriving goods, wholesale tradesmen and warehouse managers. The construction industry would also require enormous numbers.
For in a time without building machines, it would be simple manpower which would shift earth or break stones. Architects and engineers, surveyors, foremen, sculptors, stonemasons, carpenters, bricklayers and simple day laborers. All these were necessary to build not merely grand monuments, but also the apartment blocks to house the masses, or the residences of the rich. The cities and towns contained markets of all kinds, shops, inns and taverns, all in turn consuming raw materials or requiring agricultural produce which needed to be brought in from the countryside.