Ancient Roman Society

Ancient Roman Society

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The society of the ancient Romans has often been considered the bases for our modern society. When one thinks of the Roman society, pictures of grand villa's and of senators wearing Toga's come to mind. Also, Roman society is often associated with great feasts and extravagance among the rich. There is more to Rome, however, then these symbols and the Classical Roman society is one with a complicated history that covers the history of the ancient city and involves the family, the home, education and much more. The social structure of ancient Rome was based on heredity, property, wealth, citizenship and freedom. It was also based around men: women were defined by the social status of their fathers or husbands. Women were expected to look after the houses and very few had any real independence.
The three main social classes in Ancient Rome were the Patricians, Plebeians and the slaves. The Patricians were the wealthy Romans and for wealthy Romans, life was good. They lived in beautiful houses – often on the hills outside Rome, away from the noise and the smell. They enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle with luxurious furnishings, surrounded by servants and slaves to cater to their every desire. Many would hold exclusive dinner parties and serve their guests the exotic dishes of the day. Many Patricians were powerful leaders in government or the military.
The Plebeians were more of the poor group of Romans and poorer Romans, however, could only dream of such a life. Sweating it out in the city, they lived in shabby, dirty houses that could collapse or burn at any moment. If times were hard, they might abandon newborn babies to the streets, hoping that someone else would take them in as a servant or slave. Poor in wealth but strong in numbers, they were the Roman mob, who relaxed in front of the popular entertainment of the time, the chariot races between opposing teams, or gladiators fighting for their life, fame and fortune.
Although their lives may have been different, they did have some things in common. In any Roman family life, the head of the household was a man. Although his wife looked after the household, he controlled it. He alone could own property. Only he decided the fate of his children and who they would marry.
The ancient Romans were notorious for their keeping of slaves and everyone, including the people of the lower classes, had at least one slave.

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These slaves were used for important tasks like farming, hard labor and housekeeping. Slaves also made up many of the Gladiators and Chariot Racer's in the arena. Also, slaves were used in the Roman warships or Gallies, in which they were usually responsible for rowing the ship. It is often believed that Galley slaves had the hardest conditions because they were forced to row constantly and at high speeds. Galley slaves almost always went down with the ship when it sank because they were tied to it.
Slaves were acquired by the Romans through many different means. Most slaves were acquired after great military victories or after being conquered. Also, people who owed other people money but could not pay it were made slaves until their debt was paid. Slavery was also a punishment for criminals.
Near the end of the Western Roman Empire slavery became more widespread and they were used for almost every task and service. What resulted with this overuse of slaves was great unemployment for the working class of Rome and a disintegration of the Roman economy. Increased slavery is often considered one of the causes of the fall of the Western Empire.
Spartacus had been born in Thrace and received training in a Roman army, probably as an auxiliary, before becoming a slave. He was sold, in 73 B.C., into the service of Lentulus Batiates. Spartacus and two Gallic gladiators led a riot at school. Of about two hundred gladiator slaves, less than eighty escaped, using kitchen tools as weapons. In the streets they found wagons of gladiator weapons and took them. When soldiers tried to stop the band of escaped slaves, the band used their gladiator weapons, easily defeating the soldiers. Then they took the better, military weapons from the beaten soldiers, and set out on their way south to Mt. Vesuvius. Along their route, they picked up rural slaves. Instead of the Romans putting an end to the slave revolt, the slaves took the Roman camp. Then the slaves headed towards the Alps, picking up a total of 70,000 slaves along the way. Spartacus intended for his men to disband and head to their pre-slave homes after a quick march to the Alps. He had shown remarkable skill in creating a force capable of defeating Roman legions, but he didn't have what he needed to be a great leader of his men. Many of his men preferred to pillage the countryside. Now the Senate in Rome had to take the slave revolt seriously. Sparticus's army achieved several victories until its defeat by the superior Roman troops. Sparticus was finally killed on the battlefield, fighting to the last, even though he knew he was beaten.
The rapid expansion and incredible success of the Roman Empire was largely due to the Roman army. It was first formed to defend the city of Rome, but it went on to conquer an empire. The Roman army was the military powerhouse that conquered most of the known world in classical times. It acted as a well-oiled machine: efficient, exacting, and victorious.
A soldier's life consisted of a basic repetition of everyday activities. Every 15 days each soldier received their rations. They each received 1/2 a bushel of grain. With this grain, they could prepare many types of food including bread, porridge, wheat, and barley. When meat was available, it was eaten. Most of the meat was purchased from the traveling merchants. The soldiers were recommended to eat cheese, olive oil, and honey whenever available. Each soldier only received 45 dollars a year. This was not a lot, even by Ancient Rome's standards. But the soldiers all received a portion of the "spoils of war". These gifts of land and valuables made the soldier's life a very profitable one. In addition, with normal generals in charge the higher ranks would receive more land than the lower ranks. Caesar was the first to distribute all the spoils of war evenly among all the officers and soldiers.
Every soldier was equipped with the basic defensive and offensive equipment. All clothing was military standard, so everyone would look uniform. There were three basic defensive tools used to prevent attack. The Lorica, also known as the breastplate, was built to withstand frontal attack. The Galea, Latin for helmet, was made to prevent crushing blows to the head and face. The most important of the three however was the Scutum. This shield was used to ward off attack in close battle, and utilized for many other protection schemes.
The offensive tools consist of two types of weaponry. The first is the javelin. The javelins were constructed to bend once inside the enemy, that way the enemy could not pull them out or reuse them for their own needs. The second offensive weapon the soldier was equipped with was the Gladius. This was the basic short sword that was good for close attacks.
Side by side with these weapons were the standard issue clothing. As a soldier, you were required to wear certain clothing. The first of which was the Tunica. The Tunica was like an undergarmet we have today. The next layer of clothing was much like a jacket, a cloak of sorts that was worn over the tunica. And to top off the look, every soldier wore a pair of Caligae, extremely heavy boots made for marching. In addition, all the equipment was carried over the soldier's shoulder in a sarcina. The sarcina would weigh about 50 pounds when completely full.
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