Essential facts about Roman society
- It was incredibly competitive, hierarchical, and, by modern standards, extremely violent.
- Rome was a slave-owning society and the enslaved had no legal status. Under law they were considered property; if you injured or killed a slave, you paid the owner a fine dependent on the value of the slave.
- In the Late Republic in particular elite competition was fierce; families and individuals would bankrupt themselves to gain the , the most significant magistracy; competition was also fierce for lower positions. Spectacle became a vital way for elites to compete with each other. In addition to running for and then being responsible for presenting public , elites vowed private , meant to fulfill a vow given in battle, to honour a fallen father, or to mark a victory, which were entirely presented using their private means. Spectacles might have started off small, but they rapidly escalated due to elite competition.
- Rome was an empire, and in such a set up, the provinces’ function is to send money and goods to the centre of the empire. So wealth was sent from all over to the capital to fund it.
- Romans were far more used to seeing death and the threat of death than most of us in Western society are: not only was physical abuse common from those of higher status towards those of inferior rank (even among free people), but disease was rife, injuries were easily fatal, and many, many children died young.
- All people who sold their bodies for a living – a category that included prostitutes, actors, gladiators, and pimps – were , a legal category that meant they lost their legal status as Roman citizens, though, not their civic status.
- Rome, the city, was an extremely dangerous place to live; there was no police force and most people either did not venture out after dark or travelled in groups to protect themselves.The same was true of other urban centres.
- Spectacles cost real money to put on; the money either came from the individual putting them on or the state (with people usually adding their own money into what the state provided as it was never enough). Almost all of the spectacles described here seem to have been non profit generating, and, in fact, represented one of the most serious non-military costs of the Roman state and Emperor.
- Rome was not a capitalist society, not because they didn’t like money, but because capitalism is a modern creation. So trying to think of Roman spectacles in modern economic terms, is generally an unfruitful idea.
The chief military and civilian commander of Rome. Two were elected each year and competition to become consul was incredibly intense as it represented the apex of a political career. After their term in office consuls could go on to be governors of provinces, where, under the Republic, they were wont to rob the provincials blind in order to recoup the costs of their political campaigns.
The first rank on the cursus honorum, the course of public offices, these magistrates were in charge of maintaining public buildings and space and supervised and organized the public festivals. There were two types of aedile, curule, and plebeian.
A ludus may refer to any type of school, including a gladiatorial one. Ludi also refers to games, the public games held as part of religious rituals.
Literally “gift”, “duty”, or “favour”, particularly one owed to the dead. As gladiatorial shows were given to honour the dead and in accordance with vows they were called munera. A munus in this sense was a private obligation and thus the cost was paid by whoever vowed it, not the state. Later the munera were integrated into the other games and incorporated into imperial spectacles.
An infamis person was someone who had lost their legal and/or social standing as a Roman citizen. All entertainers were infamis: that included charioteers and actors as well as gladiators. So too were all prostitutes, pimps, and gladiatorial trainers.