Daily Life in Ancient Rome

October 16, 2006 By ekr

Daily Life in Ancient Rome 

Does higher education mean a higher salary? Modern-day statistics certainly suggest so, but for ancient Romans looking for a big pay day, it was better to shun the life of a well-read lecturer and instead pursue a career as a Roman Centurion soldier. 

Throughout history’s most famous and infamous empire, money was used to pay salaries, purchase slaves and glorify emperors. Visitors to the American Numismatic Association Money Museum can learn about life in ancient Rome through its coinage at the new exhibit, “The Die Is Cast: Money of the Ancient World,” which opens Nov. 9. 

Not surprisingly, the phrase “All Roads Lead to Rome” is derived from the city’s place as the cultural, military and economic center of the ancient world. The economy was based on agriculture, mining, trade and slave labor. The health of the economy was chiefly the responsibility of the emperor, who issued coinage, set wages for soldiers and had the power to cancel debts. 

Taxes were as sure a thing for Roman citizens as they are today. Imperial taxes were paid in Roman coins and grain, and were used to pay the army, maintain the Imperial household and bureaucracy, and subsidize the city of Rome, from grain for the poor and entertainment to imperial palaces and magnificent public buildings. 

Like much of today’s currency, ancient Romans could expect to find the likeness of political leaders on their money. Emperors used coins to let their subjects know of their ascendance to power, promote their policies, and showcase their accomplishments. 

The silver Denarius served as the standard monetary unit, while smaller coins used in daily life included the brass Sesterius (4/denarius) and the copper As (16/Denarius). More than 2,000 years before the low-carb revolution, bread was the staple of the Roman diet, and you could expect to pay 2 asses for a one-pound loaf. A half-liter of top-shelf ancient wine cost up to 30 asses, while a new tunic cost about 15 sestertii. 

More expensive purchases for Romans included a cow (100-200 denarii), a male slave (500 denarii), a female slave (2,000-6,000 denarii) and an apartment (48-288 denarii/year). Unlike today’s high-priced sporting events, a seat at the Coliseum or Circus Maximus was free, as it was a chance for the emperor to gain favor from his people. 

Life for a Roman soldier might not have been long, but it did pay well. A Centurion on the front lines of battle was given 300 denarii/month for his services, while a Praetorian Guard stationed in Rome took home 60 denarii/month, also a comfortable salary. In contrast, jobs requiring a high education level supported a more modest lifestyle. A secretary or lecturer pulled down 12-15 denarii/month, only slightly more than a fortune teller, who was paid around 10 denarii/month. 

Originally Release Date: October 16, 2006
ANA Contacts: Phone: 719-482-9864
                            Email: pr@money.org
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