View Full Version : Information on Roman Lower Classes

05-13-2010, 10:32 PM
Ok, I'm working on a fantasy that has a technological level of about early Roman Empire, and deals with characters in the lower classes (day laborers, migrant workers, escaped slaves and such).

While I have resources detailing everyday ancient Roman life for middle and upper classes, I have found information on lower classes to be difficult to find. I assume this is because people find it less interesting, coupled with the fact that there is probably less archeological evidence.

So anyway, I am looking for books, websites, etc. that could detail what life would be like for these people. What were their tools, clothes, food, houses, and overall lifestyles? Also, how would they travel from one place to another (my characters will become refugees of war, and they need to travel) and what would they take with them? I'm not only interested in big city life (slums included), but life in smaller cities and towns as well.

Of course, an expert replying would be much appreciated, but I'm asking for such a broad spectrum of information that I think research sources would be more helpful, then if I have specific questions I can always come back!

05-13-2010, 11:08 PM
The Roman system of patronage was somewhat like a feudal society. The local patron was the big cheese and everyone from peasant on up looked to him for protection and he in turn would tell them what was expected of them. Out in rural provinces this was very geographical and a day laborer would have to get permission to do work. If a thief beat up the laborer, then the patron would maybe send a few guys over to "talk" to the thief.

In the cities it was less geographical and more behind the scenes but still everyone answered to someone. Think a mostly at least theoretically benevolent mafia.

05-13-2010, 11:36 PM
Thanks for the reply. I'm familiar with the patron system; in fact, much of the conflict in my story comes from the "refugee" status of my MC taking away any patronage (and therefore, work) he had in his previous home.

I'm more focusing on physical details, such as what the houses, tools, and foods were like for the lower classes.

05-13-2010, 11:40 PM
A trip to Pompei or Ercolano would help!!! :)

05-14-2010, 12:28 AM
I'm sorry that I'm not an expert, but I think that you should be more specific as to date and location. Although as refugees they would have lost almost all of what little they had. If they lived in a rural area, their hovel would have been a poorly constructed hut, but the actual type of construction would have varied with location. If they lived on a patron's farm, then they might have lost a fairly good house. They wouldn't have owned much, and most of that would have been lost. If they were lucky, they got away with a couple of pots and a knife each in addition to their clothes. They would have been wearing most of their clothes at any given time.

There have to be some good sources, but i can't think of them.

05-14-2010, 12:33 AM
Like I said, it's a fantasy, so I'm not going after historical accuracy quite so much as technological levels and basic living arrangements.

The broadness of my questions is really better suited to sources (so that I can sift through all the info myself) than replies relating to one question, but these are much appreciated.

05-14-2010, 02:21 AM
Plautus's comedies have a lot of slaves and other lower-class characters in them.

Though I haven't read it, the book The Culture of the Roman Plebs by Nicholas Horsfall also looks like it would be useful to you. It was published in 2003, so the bibliography should also have some useful and fairly recent leads.

05-14-2010, 03:06 AM
Ariella, that sounds just about perfect. Thanks.

Anyone else know of anything?

05-15-2010, 02:52 AM
For a look at a fantasy book whose authors did really good research (IMHO): Household Gods by Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove. And while the characterization seems to come more from East End London, The Falco series by Lindsay Davis has the flavor of the time. All IMHO.

05-16-2010, 07:27 PM
There is a funny series of historical documentaries called The Worst Jobs in History you can watch on YouTube.

The Worst Jobs in History - The Dark Age - Part 1 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuDa3xvt080)

The Worst Jobs in History - The Middle Ages - Part 1 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZrE1mVcB2k)

The Worst Jobs in History - The Tudor Age - Part 1 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69B7DWEKANY)

There's also Terry Gilliam's Medieval Times (http://www.youtube.com/show?p=s-Gqsjg9y-8&pl=ACCA53B9E70D7028) which offers some fun insights.

05-18-2010, 01:24 AM
Thanks everyone!