03 November 2008
A Typical Roman : Free Laborer
...Free Laborers were men who were not slaves yet they worked for other men. They were generally from the lower class, men who were not wealthy enough to own their own slaves or posses their own business. Fishermen were free laborers, as well as artists, masons, entertainers and actors. "Free" does not mean that they provided unpaid services, rather it denoted that these men were not slaves but Roman citizens or Roman citizen wannabees.
...What would life have been like for a single free laborer without much wealth in imperial Rome? Lets say our man is twenty and a Roman citizen, his profession is overseeing slaves building projects, and his family is of the old Roman stock; devoutly religious, patriotic, and superstitious.
...A typical day begins before the sun is fully up. Our laborer lives on the third floor of an apartment building. The lower floors are reserved for wealthier folks, and their rooms are much more spacious than the Laborers. As the man makes his way down the creaky stairs he is reminded of the fact that the third floor was an afterthought, designed hastily to bring in more money from poor tenants. It was not unusual for the structures to collapse around their inhabitants heads; but one must live somehow! It was a necessary risk. Lives are cheep in Rome.
...Outside the sun is slowly climbing and market stalls are beginning to open. Lazy slave girls yawn and irritated pedagogues hurry their young charges to school. Because out laborer comes from a poorer family he received very little education, some of the basics - about the equivalent of eighth grade.
...Breakfast consisted of a small loaf and some cheese, the man promised himself a more substantial meal later in the day. For now he was late and made himself walk quicker, all the while trying to avoid the great stinking piles of human and animal refuse which lined the streets.
...He arrived just in time to take his place at the head of a work gang of slaves; he would oversee their labor and carefully watch for signs of insubordination which would be promptly settled with his whip. The job payed a good amount, and other than standing under the fierce heat all day and barking orders until his throat was hoarse, out laborer found that it was pretty easy made money. At least he was not one of those slaves breaking their back in Nero's new building project, rebuilding Rome to ten times its former glory after last years terrable fire. The laborer sometimes wandered had started the fires himself, but he would never dream of saying so aloud - no, far better to let the blame rest where the emperor had placed it, with the Christians.
...Later that day, as evening was coming close, the laborer walked back to his dwelling. On the way he stopped to buy a fig cake and some wine. He thought of the onions and cheese he had in his room and grinned anticipating his coming feast. Of course, his meager fare was nothing like the sumptious festivals Nero had been conducting lately. Our man only hoped the emperors indulgent actions continued, he would like more free bread and gladitorial shows. of course, some in the senate resented Nero's behavior and reckless spending; and there was the widespread slaughter of the Christ-followers to think about. But those Christians defied the gods and would bring down judgement on Rome, the man shivered and muttered a prayer to Jupiter. What if things went bad?
...O well, if this job failed him he could always become a gladiator. Not so comforting as assuring a thought.