Approximately 2000 years ago, the world was governed by Rome. The Roman Empire was the largest social and political structure in the western civilization. By 300CE the Roman Empire was administered by the central government at Rome which was consequently divided into an Eastern Empire and Western Empire (Poblome, 2012). This Empire started when Augustus Caesar became the first emperor of Rome and collapsed during the reign of Romulus Augustulus who was defeated by the Odoacer (476CE) a Germanic king. Ancient Rome grew steadily from being a small town in the center of Tiber River to become a huge empire which dominated most parts of the world including northern Africa, much of western Asia, Britain, and most of continental Europe. In this article, we will discuss the life in Rome between 12-62CE.
The early years of the Roman Empire were characterized by brutality and mixed sophistication which propelled the empire to suddenly lurch from strength, civilization, and power to tyranny, terror, and greed. Administrative positions were occupied by Emperors who were always men some of them were good, but a lot of them abused their power and position. However, there was one major threat a lot of Emperors faced, assassination. The assassination had become a type of occupational hazard, and Emperors life could often be shortened by these doings. Despite this threat, Emperors were considered the powerful, and there were at the top of the social order. Specific needs were required for Romans to be chosen as senators or equestrians.
Life in the Roman Empire between 12-62CE was fascinating. Rich Romans led a good life with everything at their disposal. They relished an extravagant lifestyle and lived in beautiful places outside Rome which were free from the smell and noise. Moreover, wealthy people were surrounded by slaves and servants who were responsible for catering to their masters desires. The poorer people, on the other hand, could only wish for such a life. Most of them lived in squalid and shabby houses that could burn or collapse at any time. The quality of life of people in Rome was based on their position within the social hierarchy.
Augustus Tibullus was a 30-year-old patrician man who came from a very wealthy family. He was a general in the Roman Empire, and despite being a rich person, he was also a highly respected person in the Empire. Tibullus owned a lot of slaves and servants who always provided him with whatever he wanted. Moreover, he lived with his entire family in a lavish countryside villa. The life of Augustus Tibullus was a perfect epitome of the life the wealthiest Romans led. His house was built around an atrium which acted as the living area and the reception. In the Roman Empire, everyone had to eat. However, the diet of people took depended on their economic status. For instance, the family of Tibullus would often have three courses. The appetizers which would include eggs, vegetables, and shellfish. On occasions, he would organize a dinner party and put on extravagant meals to impress his friends. Sometimes he would spend his time enjoying his favorite music, hunting, poetry, and horse racing. In general, Tibullus life was indulgent, extravagant, and luxurious.
Since Augustus Tibullus was born into a patrician family, he always had an opportunity to receive extensive education often from a private teacher. The education he received focused on the knowledge units a leader would be required to understand. Some of these knowledge units included: geography, history, poetry and literature and other essential languages such as Greek. Moreover, most Romans including Augustus Tibullus father believed the knowledge of the law and public speaking was important of a good education. Using the knowledge gained from these two courses young patrician people would venture on to careers in government and politics. Tibullus chose to be a general in the empire. And being a general in the Roman Empire, he was exempted from some duties such as paying taxes, and he even had an opportunity to become an Emperor.
When you evaluate the life of Augustus Tibullus on a wider spectrum, you will notice that he also accrued his wealth by controlling the taxes and trade throughout the colossal Empire. His wealth allowed him to indulge his appetite for the best chef, food, wine, entertainers, jewelry, bathing pools and resident philosophers. Tibullus admired glorious gardens with fountains and marble sculptures, and he always wanted his walls to be painted with interesting tableaux from theatre and myth. Whenever the guests to his place, the most important visitor would sit next to him where he could relish the best views of the gardens, mountains or bays
Social status determined the life people led in the Roman Empire. In fact, people were categorized into four divisions: the Slaves, the plebeians, the equestrians, and the patricians. Slaves constituted the lower class and had no rights at all in the Empire. They were owned by other people. After the Slaves, the following category were the plebeians. Plebeians were free individuals however they had no say in the Empire. The top two classes were the patricians and the equestrians. The equestrians who were people from the second highest division were rich individuals and were given horses to ride whenever they were called to fight for Rome. The highest division were the Patricians who were the nobles of Rome. The powerful men of this Empire came from this class. At the top of the Roman family order was the elder man in the family called the father of the family or the paterfamilias. Paterfamilias was responsible for looking after familys property and business affairs and had the responsibility of performing religious rites on behalf of their families (Wells, 2004). Moreover, paterfamilias had absolute authority over their children and their households. In events where paterfamilias was angered by their family members, they had a legal right to kill, disown or even sell their children into slavery. The Romans valued sons since they were responsible for continuing the family name.
In general, the social and economic structure of the Roman Empire was based on wealth, property, freedom, citizenship, and heredity. Despite the inflexibility of this empire, property and wealth were well-known paths to social advancements. Day to day life was entirely dependent on a persons economic status. The rich had the advantage of slave labor, whether it was serving them their dinner, heating the water at the baths, or educating their children. The poor people, on the other hand, lived in shabby houses and had no access to education.
It is difficult to understand the economy of the Roman Empire because of lack of evidence. There are no central records of taxation, government accounts, ancient evaluation of economic phenomena, and systematic assessment of trade. However, the Roman Empire economy depended on agriculture. Trade and industry had limited significance since the empire was economically and socially hierarchical. Wealth, great power, and status resided in the hands of a few great individuals. Roman Empire was a class-conscious and highly hierarchical community, in fact, there was a huge gap between the wealthy class and the poorer class, though it was possible for one to move up the ladder from a lower class to a wealthy class. We should also note that the economy of the Roman Empire was set up in a manner which could only benefit people from the upper class. Economic benefit and power were concentrated in the office of the emperor. In conclusion, it is fair to explain that during 12-62CE the Roman Empire was performing economically well. However, it suffered severe decline and crisis after some time due to the battles the Empire was facing. The empire collapsed four decades later, however as historians we are still attempting to understand whether it was due to the influx of barbarians or religion.
Moorhead, Sam. The Roman Empire. Interlink Books, 2011.
Poblome, Jeroen, et al. Pottery, Roman Empire. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History, 2012, doi:10.1002/9781444338386.wbeah18104.
Wells, C. M. The Roman Empire. Harvard University Press, 2004.
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