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7.1 The Daily Life of a Roman Family

The family unit was the cornerstone of Roman life. Since the father held the ultimate authority to dispense justice within a family, its members sought to further the family’s prosperity through various means. While elite Roman men served in politics or in the military, women oversaw the household. Children were trained for this arrangement from a young age; boys were educated with these careers in mind, while the marriage of a family’s girls was of prime concern. Yet women could and did hold occupations outside the home, and lower-class Romans had to rely on less stable employment. The domus, or family home, was where wealthy Romans conducted much of their business; a Roman patron would invite his clients to his home, and luxurious estates were places of wealth display. Roman values about the family were mirrored in politics and culture, where those who embodied Rome’s cultural ideals were looked upon favorably. This especially applied to emperors, their families, and others in the public eye.

7.2 Slavery in the Roman Empire

Rome relied on the labor of enslaved individuals who were mostly war captives but who might also have been born into slavery, kidnapped, or abandoned in infancy. Manumission was common, and freed people formed a substantial class in a number of skilled professions. Enslaved life was often brutal, however, and the wars of the first century BCE show the frequency with which the enslaved chose violence as a way to escape. Gladiators were often enslaved men made to fight in violent spectacles that remained hugely popular throughout the imperial period.

7.3 The Roman Economy: Trade, Taxes, and Conquest

The Roman Empire produced, imported, and exported a variety of goods. The government attempted to control this trade through several means, including enticing shipowners to sign contracts with the state and supplying grain to the populace. The collection of taxes was carried out by publicani at the local level, but the system was imprecise, and reforms by Augustus and Diocletian show that taxation was an ongoing issue.

In many ways, the military was an extension of Rome’s attempts at economic domination. Areas conquered by the army could contribute resources to the economy, especially Egypt as Rome’s primary supplier of grain. Rome was in perpetual conflict by the time of the later empire, and despite the incentives for service in the army, these military engagements must have taken a toll on the Roman people.

7.4 Religion in the Roman Empire

Traditional Roman religion had both public and private elements. In the public sphere, the imperial cult that worshipped deified emperors was a representation of the power of the imperial throne. The vestal virgins were a way for a few women to hold a priesthood, though the occasional punishments inflicted on them shows their precarious status. Romans also practiced religion in private, especially with rituals in the home.

Mystery cults were a means to participate in esoteric religious rituals. The cults of Mithras and Isis were especially popular, with secret initiation rituals and a hierarchical membership. Unlike members of mystery cults, early Christians suffered periods of persecution, especially in the third century, because of their refusal to participate in traditional Roman religious practices such as animal sacrifice.

7.5 The Regions of Rome

As the borders of the Roman empire grew, Britain and Gaul became sites of conquest and militarization. But their local communities were able to thrive as they interacted with the military, trading with them and embracing aspects of Roman culture. In the east, Romans maintained a measured reverence for Greek culture, embracing some elements of Hellenism. And elite Romans adopted facets of Egyptian art, architecture, and religion.

Citizenship was a complex issue in Rome, and Romans were perennially concerned with how to incorporate foreigners, eventually extending citizenship to all residents of the empire in 212. The Jewish people were a special case. Romans occasionally expressed respect for the deep history of the Jewish people, but this was offset by negative attitudes that culminated in wars during the first century and the destruction of Second Temple by the Romans.

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