My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There was a time when all the roads led to Rome that lasted approximately 1,500 years ranging from the era of B.C. to that of A.D. It was from this Roman world where the art of politics was crafted and exemplified; it was also from this grandiose empire where Christianity gained ground and dispersed Christendom/Christianity to Urbi et orbi. However, what piqued me most was the key phases of life in the Roman world; what life was like in the various spectrum of society, ranging from the slave to the aristocrat? How different was the life in the Roman world from the life in our modern world? This book by the erudite historian Lionel Casson presents elegant sketches of such aspects of the Eternal City, particularly during the first and second A.D.
Although Rome was the center of the Empire, its strength came from its provinces. For instance, the grain, wine, and oil came from Egypt, France, and Spain. The businessmen who traded such goods were largely provincials, so were the army recruits. Moreover, even slaves could achieve upward social mobility once they became freed through manumission which granted them Roman citizenship. In fact, it was this practice of incorporating into the state the communities it claimed and the populace it governed by bestowing upon them citizenship on the whole. To illustrate, Horace, the famous Roman poet, was a son of a freed slave who later became a wealthy farmer. Felix, who threw St. Paul in a jail, was himself a freed slave who rose above the planes of his melee. These nouveau citizens joined the citizen body and contributed their labor to the society.
Most girls married between the age of twelve and fifteen, and they must possess a dowry. If her husband died, or the couple divorced, it was returned, except a portion for the raising the children by the husband and penalty in case of her misdemeanor. No dowry, no husband in this paterfamily society. Also, the common law marriage was accepted, such as in the case of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor ruling Rome from 161 A.D. to 180 A.D. After his wife died, he lived with the daughter of his wife’s business agent as concubine. An upper-class woman could have a lover of humble status, even including a slave.
There are lots of other interesting facts that will surprise the reader with a feeling of closeness to these citizens of the Eternal City because they were not much different from the citizens of the modern world in many ways; the scenery changes, and the people change, but the human nature does not change as long as the humankind exists.