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History of Rome - Civilisation in Roman times

History of Rome - Civilisation in Roman times

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Roman society was divided mainly into patricians and plebeians. The rights and duties of these castes changed with the passage from one era to another.
Society in the Republican Era
The Roman population was divided into two groups: patricians and plebeians.
The patricians were the descendants of the oldest and most powerful families and owned a lot of land. The plebeians, on the other hand, were mostly artisans or peasants who worked the land of the patricians. The latter exercised political power; the plebeians, on the other hand, could not participate in government. The two communities were clearly distinct: the patricians married among themselves and did business only among themselves. The plebeians could only shorten the distance that divided them from the patricians in one way: by becoming clients (=obedients) of some patrician family. They offered their services and in return received protection from the head of the patrician family, who became their patron.
All those who descended (or thought they descended) from a common ancestor formed a gens, i.e. a lineage. The members of a gens felt deeply united by blood ties, although very often the common ancestor was legendary.
Within the gentes (plural of gens) there were then the families, quite similar to those of today. In them, the father exercised great authority over his wife and children.
Slaves were also part of the family. Each Roman had the name of the gens to which he belonged ( nomen ): those belonging to the Claudia line were all called Claudius. The nomen was preceded by the personal name ( praenomen ) and finally the nickname ( cognomen ) was added. The cognomen, many times, originated from a physical detail of the person or place of origin of his lineage. Thus every Roman citizen had three names.

Society in the Imperial Age

During the empire the social classes underwent an evolution that affected the nobles, the middle classes and the army. Among the nobles there was a change: the new rich had formed in the provinces and many of them had joined the senate. The signs of their wealth were their houses and sumptuous dinners. In the provincial towns the Romans favoured the formation of an active bourgeois class: landowners, merchants, professionals, state officials. Also included in the Roman bourgeoisie were the craftsmen who owned very active workshops, who gathered in professional organisations called 'colleges'.
The army also showed a high degree of efficiency under the Flavians and Antonines. Many provincials served in the legions, who obtained Roman citizenship at the end of their service. Being a soldier did not only mean fighting, but also colonising lands, building roads, bridges and fortifications, founding the first nucleus of future cities and supervising their civilisation and security.
The conditions of the Roman plebs, however, had not changed at all. The state still had to support almost 200,000 idlers, who demanded free food and free entertainment (panem et circenses) as a right. On the other hand, the emperors preferred to curry favour with the plebs in this way.

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