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Ancient Rome: Key Groups

Learn all about the political, economic and social systems of Ancient Rome and how they have influenced our world today.

Key Terms

Barbarian - A term used by the Romans to refer to people who lived outside the Roman Empire. 

Censor - A government official who counted the people of Rome. He also was responsible for public morality and some of the government finances. 

Citizen - A Roman citizen had certain rights and privileges including the right to vote. Only freeborn men were fully Roman citizens. 

Consul - The highest position in the Roman government. There were two consuls elected each year for a one year term. 

Gladiator - A person who fought for the entertainment of Roman audiences. Gladiators sometimes fought to the death. 

Patrician - A member of the original elite land-owning families of Rome. 

Plebeian - A common person or person not of the patrician class. 

Praetor - A high ranking official in the Roman government. 

Senate - A group of prestigious men who advised the consuls. In most cases the consuls did what the Senate recommended. 

Tribune - An elected representative of the Plebeian Council. Tribunes could veto laws made by the Senate. 

Nelson, Ken. (2016). Ancient Rome for Kids: Glossary and Terms. Ducksters. 

Books

Roman citizens

The patricians were the ruling class of the early Roman Empire. Only certain families were part of the patrician class and you had to be born a patrician. The patricians were only a small percentage of the Roman population, but they held all the power. Patricians wore a distinctive tunic and a shoe with an ivory crescent.

Nelson, Ken. (2016). Ancient Rome: Plebeians and Patricians. Ducksters.

The Roman Patrician Cornelia with Her Sons, Tiberius and Caius Gracchus. (2015). In Research in Context. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale.

Plebeians were the farmers, craftsmen, laborers, and soldiers of Rome. 

Early Rome 
In the early stages of Rome, the plebeians had few rights. All of the government and religious positions were held by patricians. The patricians made the laws, owned the lands, and were the generals over the army. Plebeians couldn't hold public office and were not even allowed to marry patricians. 

The Plebeians Revolt 
Starting around 494 BC, the plebeians began to fight against the rule of the patricians. This struggle is called the "Conflict of the Orders." Over the course of around 200 years the plebeians gained more rights. They protested by going on strike. They would leave the city for a while, refuse to work, or even refuse to fight in the army. Eventually, the plebeians gained a number of rights including the right to run for office and marry patricians. 
 
Plebeian Nobles 
As time went on, there became few legal differences between the plebeians and the patricians. The plebeians could be elected to the senate and even be consuls. Plebeians and patricians could also get married. Wealthy plebeians became part of the Roman nobility. However, despite changes in the laws, the patricians always held a majority of the wealth and power in Ancient Rome. 

Nelson, Ken. (2016). Ancient Rome: Plebeians and Patricians. Ducksters.

As in many ancient civilizations, slavery played a big part in the culture of Rome. Slaves performed much of the labor and hard work that helped to build the Roman Empire and keep it running. 
 

A fairly large percentage of the people living in Rome and Italy were slaves. Historians aren't sure of an exact percentage but somewhere between 20% and 30% of the people were slaves. During the early parts of the Roman Empire, as many as one third of the people in Rome were slaves. 

How did someone become a slave? 
Most slaves were people captured in times of war. As the Roman Empire expanded, they often captured slaves from new lands they conquered. Other slaves were bought from slave traders and pirates who captured people from foreign lands and brought them to Rome. Children of slaves also became slaves. Sometimes criminals were sold into slavery. A few people even sold themselves into slavery in order to pay their debts. 

What work did slaves do? 
Slaves did all sorts of work throughout the empire. Some slaves worked hard labor in the Roman mines or on a farm. Other slaves worked skilled jobs such as teaching or business accounting. The type of work generally depended on the previous education and experience of the slave. 

There were two main types of slaves: public and private. Public slaves (called servi publici) were owned by the Roman government. They might work on public building projects, for a government official, or in the emperor's mines. Private slaves (called servi privati) were owned by an individual. They worked jobs such as household servants, laborers on farms, and craftsmen. 

Were they treated well? 
How a slave was treated depended upon the owner. Some slaves were likely beaten and worked to death, while others were treated almost like family. In general, slaves were considered valuable property and it made sense to treat them well. Sometimes slaves were paid by their owners if they worked hard.

"Gladiators Fighting in the Ring in Ancient Rome." Research in Context. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2015. Research in Context. Web. 17 Mar. 2016

Nelson, Ken. (2016). Ancient Rome: SlavesDucksters

Throughout the history of Ancient Rome, women were considered second to men. They had little official role in public life. Despite this, women played an important part in the culture and history of Ancient Rome. Women had little official political power in Rome. They were not allowed to vote or hold political office. In general, they were not accepted into political debate or other areas of public life. Unofficially, some women in Rome held power through their husbands or sons. Wives of senators, and even the emperors, advised their husbands and often had a significant influence on the government and the workings of Rome. 
 

Marriage 
Once a woman was married she had even less rights. The husband had all the legal rights when it came to the children. In the early years of Rome, the wife was actually considered the property of the husband. This changed around the time Rome became an empire in 27 BC. 

Occupations 
Married women ran the Roman household. All aspects of home life was ran and managed by the woman of the house. She was called the "materfamilias", which means "mother of the family." Some women also held jobs outside the home. They worked a variety of jobs including merchants, wet nurses, midwives, scribes, and dancers. 

Wealthy Women 
As you might expect, wealthy women had a much better life than peasant women. They were often educated and taught to read and write. Once married, they had servants and slaves who did most of the hard work around the house. The wife managed the servants, but still had plenty of time for leisure and planning house parties.

Nelson, Ken. (2016). Ancient Rome: Roman Women. Ducksters. 

When a new baby was born it would be laid at its father's feet - if the father picked the baby up it would live, but if he ignored the baby it would be taken away to die.

Most children in Roman times did not go to school. Only quite rich families could afford to pay a teacher. Most schools were in towns. Not many girls went to school, but some were taught at home by tutors, who were often educated slaves. Boys from rich families learned history, maths, and literature at school, to prepare them for jobs in the army or government. In poor families, girls and boys had to work, helping their parents.

BBC. (2014). Romans: Family and children.

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Gladiators

In the ancient Roman world, fighters known as gladiators engaged in combat with one another or with wild beasts for the entertainment of the people. The shows were held outdoors before large crowds, eventually in amphitheaters. For the most part the gladiators were prisoners taken in war, slaves, or criminals. When a gladiator was disabled or disarmed, the spectators shouted and gestured with their thumbs to indicate whether the vanquished man should be spared or slain. Some people speculate that a thumbs-up sign meant the gladiator should live while a thumbs-down sign meant he should die. The successful fighter was at first typically rewarded with a palm branch. In later years, however, the top gladiators were given valuable presents and prize money.

Gladiator. (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. 

Crowe, Russell: still from the film “Gladiator”. [Image]. In Encyclopædia Britannica.

Interesting

Fierce females Appleseeds. (Oct. 2009)

Did you know that women fought against each other as gladiators too?