II. Ancient and Classical Periods, 3500 B.C.E.–500 C.E. > E. Rome > 1. The Monarchy and the Early Republic, 334 (338)–264 B.C.E. > c. Economy, Society, and Culture
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  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
 
c. Economy, Society, and Culture
 
The economy of early Rome was agrarian, and most citizens were farmers working privately owned land. Their diet centered on hulled wheat or emmer (far) consumed as porridge (puls) rather than bread, together with garden vegetables. Cultivation of grapes seems to have begun in central Italy in the 8th century B.C.E., and the olive was introduced in the 6th; both became staples. Meat played a greater role in the diet of ancient Romans than in that of Greeks, and while sheep and larger stock animals were raised by wealthier Romans, the major source of meat in Rome was the ubiquitous pig. That a significant number of Roman farmers were relatively affluent in the mid-sixth century is shown by their organization into a force of hoplite soldiers who provided their own armor. The majority, however, worked plots too small to allow farming above near-subsistence levels, which had to be supplemented with labor on land that was either public or belonged to the wealthy.  1
The importance of trade and small-scale industry for the economy of archaic Rome is suggested by its site on the Tiber River at the point of a natural ford (Tiber Island). Commercial activity is confirmed by archaeological evidence. By the mid-sixth century local Roman industry was producing fine pottery and bronze work, as well as public and domestic buildings decorated with high-quality terra-cotta ornaments. From the earliest times, however, economic well-being at Rome was dependent on military success. Increases in population during the 7th and 6th centuries, and the overall Roman prosperity during the 6th century was a function of expansion under Etruscan rule. Conversely, 5th-century military setbacks coincide with economic decline, which continued until the end of the century when conquered land was distributed to poor Romans. The pattern recurs in the 4th century, with decades of economic dislocation and social unrest following the Gallic sack of Rome in 386 (390), ending with Roman victories midcentury. Great victories over the Samnites, Etruscans, and Greeks in the late 4th and early 3rd centuries placed the economy of Rome on a higher level. Large numbers of Romans were granted land both in the greatly enlarged Roman territory (ager Romanus) and in the Latin colonies established in more distant parts of Italy. War captives increased the numbers of rural and urban slaves, and, to meet the needs of the city's swelling population, aqueducts, the Aqua Appia in 310 (312) and the Aqua Anio Vetus in 272, were constructed. The technology for Rome's first aqueducts was probably modeled on earlier drainage tunnels. Public buildings paid for by war booty, especially temples, were erected at an unprecedented rate. Pottery made in Rome began to be exported in quantity, and Roman artisans produced sculpture in terra cotta, stone, and bronze. In the early 3rd century state-issued coinage was introduced. The Etruscans had introduced technological advances to archaic Rome in the form of drainage projects, both urban and rural, and impressive public buildings. The conquest of Veii in 392 (396) gave Rome access to a superior building material, Grotta Oscura tufa. Rome's monumental stone wall, begun in 374 (378), was constructed principally of this stone, which remained the city's chief building material for almost two centuries. By the end of the 4th century the first of Rome's major roads had been built, the Via Appia to Capua 310 (312).  2
From early times the Roman family was governed by the principle of patria potestas. This was the power held by the oldest surviving male ascendant (paterfamilias) over the property, conduct, and survival of his agnatic descendants—sons, unmarried daughters, grandchildren by sons, married daughters in sine manu relationships, and daughters-in-law if married with manus, plus slaves (these together constituted the familia). All these remained under the power of the paterfamilias until his death, at which time each son became a paterfamilias and head of his own familia,while daughters gained limited independence under the supervision of a male guardian (tutor) and slaves together with other property were passed on through inheritance. Inherited property, including land, was equally divided among heirs. From at least the mid-fifth century, there were two forms of marriage at Rome; under one, the wife passed into the manus (authority) of the head of her husband's family, while under the other she did not.  3
Beyond the familia, the larger social unit was the gens (clan), whose development is reflected in early onomastic practices. The gens consisted of those who shared a nomen (family name), who were sometimes thought to descend from a common clan ancestor. Men had personal names (praenomina), women did not. The division of large clans into subgroups came to be denoted by a third name, the cognomen, which was certainly in use by the 4th century. Sometime during the regal period a group of gentes, called patricians, secured for themselves certain political and religious privileges to the exclusion of other plebeian gentes. Various theories try to explain the basis for the distinction—native vs. immigrant; patron vs. client; cavalry vs. infantry—but none is entirely convincing. A characteristic feature of Roman life was patronage (clientela). This extralegal relationship that occurred at a variety of social levels involved mutual obligations between a free Roman citizen of inferior status (cliens) and a more powerful citizen (patronus). Its origin, stability, extension through society, and political function are obscure and debated, but its importance is undeniable. Slavery is mentioned in the mid-fifth century Twelve Tables butmust have been practiced on a relatively small scale in the Archaic period. At that time the need for labor on the estates of wealthy Romans would have been met by citizens who had fallen into debt-bondage, nexum, which is also mentioned in the Twelve Tables. Enslavement of defeated enemies was the principal source of slaves, and the military successes of the 4th century increased the supply greatly. It is not coincidental that debt-bondage was formally abolished at the beginning of a major war in 323 (326). The institution of a tax on manumissions in 353 (357) attests to a substantial number of slaves. A Roman slave on being manumitted was called a freedman (libertinus) and became a citizen.  4
The cultural life of archaic Rome was heavily affected by Etruscan and Greek influences, the latter either direct or mediated through the Etruscans. The presence in 6th-century Rome of the Italic (Etruscan) temple and the Latin alphabet (adapted from the Etruscan, which in turn was adapted from Greek) reflects Etruscan variations on Greek forms. Direct Greek influence is attested in the 6th century by a votive inscription to the Greek gods Castor and Pollux at the pan-Latin sanctuary at Lavinium, by the syncretization in Rome of native and Greek deities, and by early 5th-century Roman temples dedicated to Greek deities. Political revolution, foreign invasion, and internal unrest brought on a century of decline that ended with the cultural advances produced by late 4th-century military successes and prosperity. Rome was once again open to foreign, particularly Greek, influences, which can be seen in the renewed production of pottery and bronze work. The “publication” of the civil law by Cn. Flavius in 303 (304) shows that writing, though still limited to relatively small numbers of citizens, had gained a new importance. The capture of cities of Magna Graecia in the early 3rd century brought substantial numbers of Greek slaves to Rome. The Tarentine Livius Andronicus worked as a teacher and poet, but other captive Greeks were employed in a variety of occupations throughout the city. The process of “Hellenization,” therefore, was taking place in the streets as well as the salons of Rome long before the 2nd-century conquest of Greece.  5
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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