II. Ancient and Classical Periods, 3500 B.C.E.–500 C.E. > E. Rome > 2. The Republic, 264–70 B.C.E. > b. Economy, Society, and Culture
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  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
 
b. Economy, Society, and Culture
 
In 225, Roman citizens living in all parts of Italy numbered about 280,000; the free population was between 3,000,000 and 3,500,000; and slaves brought the total population to over 5 million. Foreign wars of the 3rd century brought significant numbers of slaves to Italy, and during the 2nd century the number of war captives vastly increased. Between 225 B.C.E. and 14 C.E., the population of Italy seems to have increased by 50 percent, slaves accounting for most of the increase. The economy of Italy was consequently transformed by the slave labor, which was fundamental to the creation of latifundia—large, scattered estates devoted in part to the production of grapes and olives. The upper classes invested wealth newly acquired from conquests in these estates. To facilitate such investments, small citizen farmers, many of whom were also burdened by extended military service, were pressured to leave their land and emigrate to Rome. The consequent economic dislocation led to chronic social and political problems. The devastation during the Hannibalic War of large stretches of Italian land, particularly in the south, also contributed to the growth of latifundia, as well as that of large-scale sheep farming. Much of this land was confiscated by Rome and rented as ager publicus to wealthy citizens. To meet the needs of a city swelled by immigrants and slaves, as well as those of Rome's armies, grain was imported on a large scale, primarily from Sicily. Sometime before the mid-third century, wheat (triticum) had displaced emmer (far), allowing bread to replace porridge as the staple of the diet, although Greeks continued to refer to Romans as “porridge eaters.” Public bakeries were said to have been introduced in Rome c. 170. After the disruptions of the Pyrrhic and First Punic wars, trade revived. Grain, metals, slaves, and wines were imported into Italy, and beginning with the second half of the 3rd century, wines of Latium, Campania, and Etruria began to be exported to the Adriatic, and later, to southern France. The 2nd-century conquests of Spain and Cisalpine Gaul, and then of the Aegean, opened up markets which were fully exploited by Roman and Italian businessmen who brought wealth to the towns of Italy, as well as to the capital. The earliest Roman money was minted in bronze, beginning in the 4th century. The first silver coinage was produced c. 300, and what would become the standard silver coin—the denarius—was first issued in 211. Like all ancient states, Rome produced coinage to facilitate the collection of taxes and state payments, not to encourage trade. A technological revolution occurred when the traditional method of building in stone was replaced by stronger, more flexible, and cheaper concrete construction, with the discovery of pozzolana mortar made from volcanic stone. Cement's first use was purely functional, that is, the building of the warehouse—the Porticus Aemilia, in Rome's new dockyards (193). By the century's end cement was being fully exploited in the construction of vaulted and terraced sanctuaries, such as that at Praenestae, and in high-rise urban tenements.  1
The Roman family had become nuclear and smaller by the 2nd century, and most marriages seem to have been sine manu (without authority). Restrictions on women were legislated—the lex Voconia (169) limited the amount a woman could inherit by will. But by the 1st century these and other restrictions could be circumvented by various legal dodges, and a woman who was sui iuris (independent) could acquire considerable freedom—to transfer property and to divorce—through a legal device which permitted her to select her own guardian. Educated Greeks began working as teachers in the early 3rd century, and Rome's first elementary school opened in 234. By the mid- to late 2nd century most upper-class Romans knew some Greek; literacy in Latin existed among the elite, and, to a lesser degree, among skilled craftsmen. With the ending of the Struggle of the Orders, a new nobility of office-holding families, both patricians and plebeians, grew up. A man without office-holding ancestors was called a novus homo, or “new man,” and required the help of a nobleman to obtain high office.  2
A major social change that occurred during the 3rd and 2nd centuries was the growing disparity of wealth, owing to the unequal distribution of riches acquired from foreign conquests. The traditional aristocratic practice of spending on public building was augmented by private spending and public largess. Viewed as luxuria, such conduct raised opposition expressed in the form of censorial reprimands, sumptuary laws (in 215, 181, 161, and 115), and numerous speeches. This prompted the wealthy to seek the pleasures of a Hellenic private life in suburban villas or, beginning in the 170s, in villas in Greek Campania.  3
From the 3rd century on, the major cultural phenomena were Hellenism and, beginning in the mid-second century, the articulation of a Roman culture that attempted to define itself, first in literature then in art, in opposition to Hellenism. Latin literature began formally in 240 with the translation of a Greek play by Livius Andronicus, a Greek freedman who had been captured at Tarentum in 272 and who also translated Homer's Odyssey. Before Livius, Latin poetry consisted of hymns and drinking songs. Greek culture continued to exercise its influence as seen in the Latin epic on the First Punic War, Bellum Punicum, by Cn. Naevius (c. 270–200), who also composed dramas. Enormously popular Latin comedies modeled on Greek originals were written by T. Maccius Plautus (?–184). Q. Ennius wrote in many genres and produced the national epic, the Annales, in a Greek meter (dactylic hexameter). The comic tradition was carried on by the highly regarded P. Terentius Afer (194–159), Caecilis Statius (fl. 179), and L. Afranius (c. 160–120). Tragedies were written by M. Pacuvius (220–131), a nephew of Ennius who was also a noted painter, and by L. Accius (170–87). It was C. Lucilius who invented the Roman genre of satire. Rome's earliest historians, Q. Fabius Pictor, L. Alimentus, A. Postumius Albinus, and C. Acilius, composed in Greek. The first to write a history in Latin was the “new man” from Tusculum, M. Porcius Cato (234–149), whose Origines was about Rome and Italy. Cato also wrote a treatise on agriculture and numerous influential speeches. He was a critic of Greek culture. In 173 and 161, Greek philosophers were banished from Rome. Noted Roman orators included C. Sempronius Gracchus (154–121), M. Antonius (c. 140–87), and L. Licinius Crassus (140–91). Q. Mucius Scaevola (c. 140–82) wrote to organize Roman civil law by Greek logical categories. Beginning with the 3rd century, Roman art celebrated victory, its principal manifestations being representations of battles or triumphant generals and the decoration of Rome with art plundered from major Hellenistic capitals—Syracuse and Tarentum, and later, Corinth and Carthage. By the mid-second century, Rome's wealth was attracting artists from all over the Greek world. The result was that eclecticism became a fundamental element of Roman art. It was in portrait sculpture that Roman art sought to define itself against Greek models by stressing hard-headed maturity, warts and all (realism), over beauty and youth. Architecture remained conservative in the 3rd century, continuing to produce traditional Italic temples, along with aqueducts—the Anio Vetus (272), and roads—the Via Aurelia (241) and the Via Flaminia (c. 220). The basilica, a building type with multiple civic functions, was introduced to Rome in the early 2nd century. The first stone bridge, the Pons Aemilia, was begun in 179; in 144 a large new aqueduct, the Aqua Marcia, was constructed, followed by the Aqua Tepula (125). In religious architecture, distinctively Greek influences began to appear both in plan and building material (e.g., the round temple in the Forum Boarium, c. 146 or 125, which in form resembles a Greek tholos and which was built with imported Attic Pentalic marble). Private architecture was marked by the addition of the Greek peristyle garden to the Italic atrium house and by the construction of large luxury villas outside of Rome. Romans followed the Greek fashion of decorating their houses with painting. The First or “Masonry” Style imitiated marble architectural decoration in single-dimensional painted walls.  4
 
 
 
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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