Archive | August, 2017

Water Transport in Antiquity D.17.08.31

30 Aug

Shipments from Egypt to Rome travelled as they did in the Greek period, by water. Water was still the main means of transport.
Romans controlled all of the Mediterranean and referred to it as Mare Nostrum, Our Sea. They shipped things from one end of it to the other.
A lot of the shipping technology has remained the same – The political unity of the Mediterranean world under the Romans, and the increase in trade and shipping around the Mediterranean and the Atlantic along the coast of Spain and France and England.
There were some trade routes the Romans had to the East in the Arabian Sea, and this shows that the Roman world here was connected with Egypt for the grain trade and also with the eastern provinces of the empire, but that that trade went much further, it went down the Red Sea, into The Persian gulf even, across the Indian ocean and the Arabian sea to the coast of India.
How much direct connection there was between Rome and India or Rome and Africa is not quite clear.
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Egyptian Wheat Harvest D.17.08.30

29 Aug

Egyptian wheat was crucial to the Egyptian economy. It was crucial to the Roman economy too. Rome could not survive without shipments, regular shipments of Egyptian wheat coming from the Nile valley and delta, to the city of Rome, and in fact the city of Rome had a population of around 2 million people in the Imperial age, and that was an enormous number of people. It is an enormous number of people today, but in the conditions of antiquity, this was an enormous number of people to have in one place.
There was no way that many people could be fed from just the produce of the surrounding countryside, and the only way the city of Rome could function as a city, was to have these enormous shipments of Egyptian grain that came straight from Egypt to Rome.
The grain was distributed free of charge to all Roman citizens, whatever their income level, they were given free food as part of their rights as citizens of Rome.
If you just came to Rome and you weren’t a Roman citizen enrolled in one of the Roman neighbourhoods, then you wouldn’t get the free grain. But if you were part of the community that had been established there for some time, whatever your income, you got free food.
The reason for this was not kindness. It was to stop revolts of the urban population that could undermine the power of the emperor.
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Labour in the Roman Empire D.17.08.29

28 Aug

Slavery was a complex institution in all parts of Roman society. An interesting point to contemplate about Roman slavery is that Romans didn’t need slaves in the sense that wage labour in the Roman Empire was very cheap.
People were paid very little for their labour, and much of the population lived at a subsistence level. So, it wasn’t that slaves saved you money. It was just a way to have more control over the people that were working for you.
This was a tradition that had been inherited both in Roman and Greek culture going back a long way. Nobody really questioned it.
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Manumission D.17.08.28

27 Aug

One difference between Roman slavery and Greek slavery is that in the Roman world there was a tradition of what was called Manumission which was that a master at any point, and especially in his will, or her will, could free their former slaves.
And once someone was freed they were referred to as a free man.
At that point they entered regular society and in some cases the social possibilities of this were enormous.
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The Tasks of Slaves D.17.08.27

26 Aug

Slaves performed a variety of tasks. Some slaves were highly educated and were employed as tutors, accountants and so on.
We know this from all sorts of records of powerful Roman men that had slaves in their households that did quite sophisticated things.
A lot of slaves worked in mines, and in prostitution, and in all sorts of unpleasant and very hard jobs.
In 73 BCE, the greatest slave revolt in Roman history occurred when the slave, Spartacus, led a revolt of 70,000 slaves in Italy. Spartacus had been a former gladiator, he had some military training, and he built up an army of 70,000 slaves which was a very terrifying prospect to the Romans. They sent six legions against him. Crushed his rebellion, and they crucified 6,000 slaves along the roads leading to and from Rome.
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Slavery of Ancient Times D.17.08.26

25 Aug

Roman slaves were often depicted in neck chains. Slavery was common in the Roman world as it had been in the Greek world. It was brutal.
The number of slaves differed depending on which part of the Empire they lived. There were relatively few slaves in Gaul, that is modern France, or in England. In Italy there were a lot of slaves partly because there were so many powerful people living there, associated with the capital in Rome.
In Asia and the former Greek world slavery had always been common. It is estimated that 40% of the Italian population were slaves under the Roman Empire and this might have been as many as 2 to 3 million people.
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The Empire Paved D.18.08.25

24 Aug

The empire lasted in the west for 400 years from the time of Augustus and in the east as the Byzantine Empire for another 1,400 years.
When we think of progress particularly paved road we think about the Romans. Prior to the Romans, all over Europe there were networks of roads, but they were local cart tracks and dirt. They were hard to travel over and rocky, not maintained, bumpy.
What the Romans did was they invented how to pave a road out of stone and mortar and made it solid. Additionally they discovered that roads worked better when they were straight.
The Romans paved the roads. They made the roads straight. And that meant that their armies could move all over Europe effectively. This had never been done before on anything like the scale the Romans did it. And, its advantages are obvious, not just for the military, but of course for everyday transportation.
So, wherever you are in the world, if you are driving on a paved road today or walking on a paved sidewalk, there’s Roman history behind that.
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