Life in Greece and Rome.
GREECE AND ROME
VALERIE L. HARVEY
PROF. DEBBIE CASSETTA
SEPTEMBER 28, 2009
The cities of Greece and Rome had many similarities and also had many differences. Many similarities and differences were in the government, religion, slavery, and family life.
The Greeks established poleis, or city-states. These poleis were established as a citadel, or fortified sites that offered local communities refuge in times of war or other emergencies. Two famous city-states were Athens and Sparta. The Spartans did not wear jewelry or elaborate clothes, nor did they pamper themselves with luxuries or accumulate private wealth. They preferred to live a lifestyle of simplicity, frugality, and austerity. The Athenians, however, established a government based on democratic principles. Citizenship was open to free adult males who played a role in political affairs—foreigners, slaves, and women had no direct voice in government.
Rome was originally a small city-state ruled by a single king. During the late 6th century B.C.E., the city’s aristocrats deposed the king and ended the monarchy. They instituted a republic—which is a form of government in which the delegates represented the interests of various constituencies The Roman republic survived more than 500 years and under republican constitution, had established itself as a dominant power in the Mediterranean basin.
Family life in Greece meant that the male heads ruled the households. They even had the right to decide whether or not to keep infants born to their wives Although it was illegal to kill the infants, they could decide to leave them abandoned in the mountains or countryside, where they would eventually die from the exposure if they were not rescued by other people. Greek women were under the authority of their fathers, spouses, or sons. Upper class women spent most of their time in the family home, and if they did venture outside, they did so in the company of servants and chaperones, often wearing veils to discourage the attention of men from other families. Most cities did not allow women to own landed property, but did allow some to operate small businesses, like shops and food stalls. The only position public position open to women was priestess of a religion or cult.
Roman law vested authority in male heads of families, or “pater familias.” They had the authority to arrange marriages for their children, determine the work or duties they would perform, and even punish them for offenses as they saw fit. They even had the right to sell them into slavery or to execute them if they saw fit. However, Roman “pater familias” rarely ruled tyrannically over their charges. In fact, the women sometimes supervised the domestic affairs in the household and by the time of middle age, generally wielded considerable influence within the families. They even help select spouses for their offspring and help manage the financial affairs of the family. Although Roman law placed strict limits on the ability of women to receive inheritances, enforcement was inconsistent, and clever individuals found ways to evade the law or take advantange of its loopholes. During 3rd century B.C.E. when Roman expansion in Mediterranean brought wealth to the capital, women came to possess a great deal of property. By 1st century B.C.E., in spite of authority legally vested in “pater familias,” many women supervised the financial affairs of family businesses and wealthy estates.
The Greeks did not recognize a single- exclusive, all-powerful god. Indo-European ancestors attributed supernatural powers to natural elements such as sun, wind , and rain. They personified these powers and came to think of them as gods. They constructed myths that related the stories of the gods, their relations with one another, and their roles in bringing the world to its present state. Religious cults usually admitted only women since they were not allowed to participate in legal and political life, this provided them with the opportunity to play roles outside of the home. Once such cult is the Cult of Dionysus—god of wine, known also known as Bacchus.
In the early days Romans recognized many gods and goddesses, who they believed intervened directly in human affairs. Jupiter was principal god, lord of heavens; Mars was god of war, Ceres the goddess of grain; Janus the god who watched the threshold of individual houses, and Vesta the goddess of the hearth. In addition, Roman households also honored tutelary deities—gods who looked after the welfare of individual families. Romans also adopted the deities of other peoples and used them for own purposes: from the Etruscans, Juno, the moon goddess; Minerva, the goddess of wisdom; as well as other religion practices such as divination of the future through examination of the internal organs of ritually sacrificed animals.
Slavery was a prominent means of mobilizing labor. Slaves came from several different backgrounds—some where formerly free Greeks who entered slavery because they couldn’t afford to pay their debts, many came from ranks of soldiers captured in war, a large number came from peoples with whom the Greeks traded: slave markets at Black Sea ports sold seminomadic Scythians captured in Russia, while Egyptians provided African slaves from Nubia and other southern regions. Greek law regarded all slaves as the private chattel property of their owners, and conditions of slaves’ lives depended on the needs and the temperament of their owners. Physically powerful slaves with no special skills most often provided heavy labor on the estates of large landholders. Other unskilled slaves worked at lighter tasks as domestic servants or caretakers or their owners’ children. Educated slaves and those skilled at some craft or trade had special opportunities. Their owners often regarded them as economic investing, provided them with shops, and allowed them to keep a portion of their earnings as incentive and reward for efficient work. Sometimes they succeeded well enough in their businesses to win their freedom.
Slavery in Roman society made extensive use of slave labor: 2nd century B.C.E., slaves represented 1/3 of population of Roman empire. The countryside—they worked mostly on “latifundia”, where they also labored in state quarries and mines. Rural slaves worked under extremely harsh conditions, often chained together in teams. In the cities, the conditions were much less difficult than the countryside. Female slaves commonly worked as domestic servants while males toiled as servants, laborers, craftsmen, shopkeepers, or business agents for their owners. Slaves who had an education or possessed some particular talent had the potential to lead comfortable lives. Urban slaves could hope for manumission as a reward for a long term of loyal service: it was common, though not mandatory, for masters to free urban slaves about the time they reached thirty years of age. Until freed, however, slaves remained under the strict authority of their masters, who had the right to sell them, arrange their family affairs, punish them, and even execute them for serious offenses.
Life in Greece and Rome were the same for families in that the male heads generally had the authority over females, except in Rome where some women could sometimes have a say in financial matters and even businesses and wealthy estates. Life for slaves in both city-states were still generally the property of their masters and in both city-states, they even succeeded well enough to win their own freedom. Government in Greece seemed to be devoted to democracy, whereas in Rome, it was pretty much a republic. Religion in both Greece and Rome seemed to worship gods and goddesses of nature,sun, or wind.
Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past. Jerry Bentley & Herb Ziegler. Pp. 231-256, 259-284.